Wed Sep 13 2023
Hollywood to Bollywood - keeping safe online wherever you may be
The internet has shrunk the world more than anyone could have imagined. When Tim Berners Lee first connected a couple of computers via hypertext transfer protocol (http) back in 1989, could he have imagined that 35 years later, people would be using that technology to watch zany cat videos and stream blockbuster movies?
But with every technology or ecosystem, there will always be bad people who want to steal or cause harm to others for whatever malicious reason. That’s why it’s important nowadays to use a virtual private network (VPN) to shield your online activities from those bad guys.
Whether you work as a coder, programmer, marketer or wordsmith, the chances are that you’ll be working from a laptop keyboard somewhere in the world. Naturally, there are many advantages to becoming one of the growing army of digital nomads; no commute, flexible hours, no complaints from co-workers if you eat instant noodles just in your underwear, the list of benefits is endless. By the way, don’t try that last thing if you share an office with colleagues – it doesn’t mark you out well for future promotion!
But seriously, one of the few disadvantages of working from home (WFH) is the lack of an IT department, which can leave you open to security vulnerabilities when using your own devices to connect to the internet. Many of these threats can be mitigated by using a VPN and choosing a server in another country from your own. For example, you might want to select an India VPN server if you are a Bollywood fan and you fancy streaming some Shah Rukh Khan scenes on your lunchbreak. You might be a shopaholic logging on to check out your favourite social media influencer. Whatever – a VPN protects your identity and location online.
Equally, if you’re a Netflix subscriber who lives in India, but you want to catch up on any Hollywood blockbusters, just select a US-based IP address from the VPN and any geographical restrictions are similarly bypassed.
Aside from easy streaming, let’s take a look at a couple more advantages of using a VPN extension for remote workers:
Avoid dynamic pricing.
There’s an ongoing hot debate about the existence and practice of dynamic pricing by online retailers. The basic concept is that prices change rapidly in response to demand and market forces; but some of the factors that influence those dynamics are seen as immoral by many consumers.
Naturally, prices fluctuate due to availability, seasons of the year, weather and large planned events. For example, it’s no surprise that if a Formula 1 race is happening at Silverstone racetrack in the UK, all the nearby hotels and guest houses increase their prices for that long weekend. That’s merely supply / demand capitalism at work.
However, consider the following fictitious but potentially real scenario:
A man posts on social media that his mother is gravely ill. She lives in California; he lives in New York. The man logs into his favourite online flight reseller website and looks at prices for the first available flight to San Francisco. He’s dismayed to learn that it’s hundreds of dollars more than he can afford. Yet a colleague of the same man looks up the price for the same flight on her account of the same booking portal, to find that it’s around half the price.
The technology exists nowadays, mainly thanks to Artificial Intelligence that can handle Big Data, for the retailer website to scan the customer’s social media posts and recent purchase and search history, using cookies and web pixels, to find that person’s online activities preceding the price inquiry. With international agreements being drawn up on who can store data where, privacy is becoming a worldwide, not just a nationally domestic issue. So the announcement that the man’s mother is gravely ill triggers an algorithm on the seller’s website to increase the prices displayed because the man is flagged up as ‘desperate’ to travel.
Naturally, retailers deny that such pernicious practices exist (but then again, they would!) – however with today’s technology it’s perfectly feasible. But morally acceptable? It’s a grey area for sure. Using a VPN can counter such things as dynamic pricing based upon your location, your identity and even the device you’re using to access the internet. Remote workers especially take note when booking flights and hotel rooms at conference times.
A ghost in the machine? No, but that ambient coffee shop where a WFH programmer can buy a latte and log onto the free Wi-Fi might get more than they bargained for. A guy hunched over a corner table in a hoodie, tapping into his laptop, may have set up a phantom hot spot, with the same name as the genuine guest Wi-Fi and even the same password as that printed on the laminated table menus.
The WFH coder is tapping away with his site passwords and online banking, and the huddled hoodie guy is busy installing malware on the programmer’s machine - for keystroke recording and ransomware to kidnap the victim’s files.
Again, a VPN extension would detect such malicious activity and cut the potential hacker’s connection before any harm can be done. And think about this, with the IOT (internet of things) these days allowing you to control your heating, lighting and home environment remotely, you really don’t want that lot getting hacked while you’re out shopping.
In summary, if you use a computer of any kind to make a living, and you ever log onto the internet from anywhere that isn’t a strongroom in your employer’s office – a VPN is the most sensible precaution you can take to avoid being scammed or worse.