With email scams and high-profile hacks making the news as of late, some RVers may wonder if their data is safe when they connect to the internet. Large companies store our data and know more about us than we do. It is also legal for your internet service provider (ISP) to not only log but sell your browsing data to advertisers. Because we use a combination of public WiFi and our phones to connect to the net, RVer’s data is vulnerable in many ways. Before going into what a VPN is and how it can help keep you safe, let’s dive into the vulnerabilities.
ISP Data Collection
It is easy to think that your ISP is just selling a list of your browsing history for companies to pour-over. Unfortunately, for most companies interested in your data, that list isn’t all that helpful. It’s what browsing history can tell them. You may not know it but how you conduct yourself on the internet says more about you than just the sites you visit. Below is a screenshot of some of the data Google has collected about me.
Most of those categories and interests can be gathered by anyone who knows me. I assume data mining companies like google would know I have an interest in politics and the outdoors. But oddly, I have never told Google I don’t have children. I don’t search the internet for not having children. How do they know?
No one except for a select few knows precisely what Google’s data mining algorithms look like, but clicking the category gives us a little insight.
As you can see, though I never said it directly to Google or made searches for it, Google’s software could connect the dots.
A VPN won’t stop Google from logging your searches if you are logged into your google account or using chrome. However, if Google can figure out every aspect of your life and personality with limited access to your data, imagine what your ISP can collect and sell about you. They are the gatekeepers of all of your internet activity. They may know private information about your health, finances, and family.
To add to this problem, Google stores the information about you somewhere. So does your ISP. By allowing these companies to create this file on you, you have to trust their ability to keep it secure from hacks. Some of the high-profile data breaches of the recent past have shown that they can’t always keep your data safe.
Public WiFi Dangers
When you connect to a public WiFi network, such as at a coffee shop, RV park, or airport, you join a network. Imagine every RV using park WiFi is connected with invisible wires. That means, in theory, all data going from your laptop, phone, or smart TV can be intercepted before it leaves the park’s router.
Some public networks are very insecure, and this data interception can be done easily with a smartphone. This can leave any information you send over public networks vulnerable to hackers attempting to steal information about you. There are security measures that many sites like banks and email take to encrypt the data you put into them. Much of that relies on the security measures the site your visiting takes.
How A VPN Works
In short, a VPN or virtual private network creates an encrypted connection to the VPN company’s server. When you choose to go to coach-net.com using a WiFi connection in a standard internet connection, your data makes several stops before returning a response. But the simple version is the ISP contacts the server where the information you want is stored and returns the response to the park’s router. The router gets the information back to your specific device by assigning you a unique address known as a local IP address.
There are several ways a hacker might intercept this information. Most of them involve finding ways to trick your system or the park’s into running all the data through their device first. Most major VPN companies use sophisticated methods of swapping encryption keys to ensure you are connected to their server, and your connection is encrypted.
Once you have a connection to the VPN network, all communication to websites and the internet goes first through the VPN and is encrypted. This hides your internet traffic from your ISP and hackers. Anyone attempting to intercept the information will get a bunch of gibberish that would take thousands of years to crack, even with the most sophisticated computer systems.
How To Get A VPN
Remember that when you use a VPN company, you are sending your data through their servers. So make sure the company you are using has a good reputation and doesn’t log traffic. It is a good idea to stay away from free VPNs, as many of those log data to make their money.
A few of the top VPNs on the market today are ExpressVPN, NordVPN, and Hotspot Shield. All of them are fast, secure, and easy to use. For the most part, all you have to do is sign up, download the software, and press a button to turn it on when you browse the internet.
A Coach-Net plan can offer peace of mind and prevent you from being stuck on the road. Using a VPN while on the net can do the same for your sensitive data.
About The Author: Levi Henley
Levi Henley and his wife, Natalie, have been full-time RVers for over 5 years. They have also been Coach-Net customers for the same amount of time. They travel and workcamp around the U.S. in their 26-foot Itasca Sunstar motorhome with their two cats. They write for multiple RV-related publications and recently co-wrote “Seasonal Workamping for a Living: How We Did It.” You can follow their adventures on the road at henleyshappytrails.com
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How about apps on your mobile device? Is a VPN useful when I use an app like Yelp, solitaire , or even the CoachNet app ?