Virtual private networks (VPNs) are a critical lifeline to protecting your security online. Whether you connect to the Internet using your mobile carrier’s service, through public Wi-Fi, or through a cable connection, your data is at risk and your online activities can be tracked without a VPN service.

VPN connections encrypt your data and block your true IP address. This means that your location is not revealed to a third party gathering statistics on the geographic location of visitors to shopping sites and other websites.

VPNs create a secure connection tunnel between your computer or mobile device and your Internet destination. VPN services also encrypt the data that flows to and from your computer or mobile device so it is safe and secure from prying eyes.

VPN services are available for free and through low-cost subscription, depending on the level of service you desire, and are typically activated with the mere click of a button.

Growing Need For Security

If you are a typical student, you frequently check your social media feeds. You log onto your bank account. You enter your debit or credit card to buy things online. Any one of these recurring activities exposes you to identity theft and puts your personal information at risk.

Public Wi-Fi networks are known not to be trusted when it comes to online security, and your school’s wireless network may pose similar risks. You are connecting with an unencrypted connection, meaning that even novice hackers can intercept your Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connection to gain access to your data and install malware.

Adding a virtual private networking option to your computer can help bolster the security on open, public, and campus WiFi networks. Adding a free service puts your Internet connection through an encrypted pipeline. This protects you from potentially malicious people lurking on the same Wi-Fi network and keeps them out of your data.

Steps You Can Take

At the very minimum, you should make sure that any connection you use is secure through your browser. Check the browser settings to make sure that your web browser is set to use a secure connection.

Check the browser’s settings periodically. When a browser is updated, the settings are sometimes reverted back to default without warning. You want to make sure that the updated default settings did not alter the security priorities.

Go to “Settings” and browse through the options for “Browser Connections.” The category names will vary depending on the browser. Look at the options and make sure that you select the settings that tell websites not to track you. Also, look for a setting to tell the browser to notify you of unsafe websites.

You should also get into the practice of looking at your URL window when you connect to a website. If you connect to a URL that is not a secure service connection, you will not see “https:” in the URL window. If this is the case, promptly leave that website.

These measures will not give you all the protection provided by a VPN connection, but will help strengthen your security. To ensure that data in your wireless connection is not intercepted, add a VPN connection.

Use a VPN Connection

Connect to OpenVPN Networks. This is a free service developed by OpenVPN Technologies, Inc. It is an open-source software application that implements virtual private network techniques for creating secure point-to-point or site-to-site connections. It uses a custom security protocol that utilizes SSL/TLS for enhanced security. It is capable of traversing network address translators (NATs) and firewalls.

You can use OpenVPN to handle Internet connections on computers running Mac, Windows, and Linux operating systems. You will still need a service provider – either through subscription or public Wi-Fi providers – to give you Internet access, but OpenVPN can assure a secure connection when you go online.

For mobile devices such as cell phones and tablets, users can access OpenVPN through the company’s mobile apps to create a safe VPN connection.

Android users can download the OpenVPN Connect app. OpenVPN Connect is the official full-featured Android VPN client for the OpenVPN Access Server, Private Tunnel VPN and OpenVPN Community, developed by OpenVPN Technologies, Inc.

The same company provides a free app for apple products here.

Other VPN Apps to Try

OpenVPN is not the only virtual private network provider available for cell phones and tablets. Here are a few other free mobile apps, some of which provide VPN software for your desktop and laptop computers.

(You can find more VPN apps on the iTunes Store and the on the Google Play Store. Other paid products might give you additional features, but start out with a free app.)

  • TunnelBear VPN is available for Windows and Mac OS X. It can unblock websites blocked by a firewall, is easy set up and use, and effectively hides your IP address from trackers.
  • Hotspot Shield VPN Proxy provides free access to websites that are blocked by the network connection you are using. It protects from hackers as well as snoopers looking to take advantage of anyone connected to the network. It encrypts your connection and hides your IP address.
  • SuperVPN encrypts all of your Internet connections and provides access to blocked sites, however, is is not completely free. SuperVPN only offers a 20-day trial period for unlimited traffic. After that initial free access, you will get 60 minutes of free use for each session. You can game the offer by disconnecting and reconnecting again to start a new session, making it free for another 60 minutes.
  • Cloud VPN lets you hide your IP address while you are browsing the web. You can use it on both mobile networks and Wi-Fi. You get unlimited traffic, and the service is easy to set up and use.
  • Betternet Free VPN Proxy is free with no ads or upgrades. You can access blocked sites and encrypt your traffic while browsing the web. The company also provides a free Chrome extension to bring its free VPN service to your Chrome browser.