Don’t Be A Naked Surfer

By Branko Miletic

In the halcyon days prior to e-shopping, Facebook and blogging, it was easy to remain anonymous online. If someone did want to go after you, you were hidden behind a firewall and about the worst they could do was send a nasty email. Those days are long gone.

Online security will become more of an issue as the amount of personal data available in the ether that is the super information highway multiplies tenfold.

Along with e-shopping, social media and blogs, we now have online medical records, our CV in cyberspace, entire picture albums on cloud servers, iTunes and of course online banking. The recent circus surrounding the hacking of the PlayStation Network reminds us what happens when we forget the reality of the internet.

So how can we take back some of our lost Internet privacy and how can we protect ourselves in the online wilderness?

One way to keep prying eyes away from your personal data is to use encrypted emails. There are dozens of software suites that can help with this. For example Hushmail offers both free and paid secret email accounts that you can use on your Smartphone’s- although let’s be honest – you get what you pay for and paying $1 per week is not that uncomfortable for the premium service.

There is 4Securemail, which targets business users with its 128-bit encryption and there are a plethora of PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) encryption tools out there, which can turn your email client into Fort Knox.

However, if you want to protect your entire system- that is email, VoIP, desktop, folders, Skype, surfing, song downloads, Wi-Fi browsing and even any attached peripherals you have on your network, then the only way to go is by using a VPN or Virtual Private Network.

Put simply, this is literally like leasing your very own computer network that is based somewhere other than your real location, which uses encryption and other security mechanisms to ensure your digital data cannot be intercepted and stolen.

Up until a few years ago only large corporations used VPNs, but thanks to the wonders of technology, today anyone can set up their own VPN with a few clicks.

In short, a VPN will make you anonymous to the rest of the planet – all your surfing, online transactions, voice mail, pictures and even your location will become secret.

Once you set up a VPN, you will never be able to be attacked since hackers need to know your exact IP address to do that and a VPN will always give them the wrong IP address. Your ID will be forever safe in the soft, warm embrace of your VPN service.

Furthermore, having a VPN allows you to access blocked sites, and to access any site when you are in countries like China that routinely block Facebook, Twitter and Gmail and it will even prevent people from discovering that you exist online.

There are dozens of companies out there that offer a VPN service – some of the best being WiTopia, which starts at about $40 per year, OpenVPN, which is free but takes some configuring and SwitchVPN.

Another service is CryptoCloud, which is one of the fastest VPNs on the market and based in in Belize, Central America. Then there is the aptly named Hide my Ass, which is one of the pricier versions, although it does come with some best testimonials I have seen so far.

Basically there are literally hundreds of VPN services – some free, some that cost small amounts of money and others that are more expensive. Regardless of which one you choose, I suggest that you avoid the free services and fork out even a small amount of money to get the most stable, strongest and fastest VPN you possibly can.