FBI Portland
Portland Media Office
(503) 460-8060
October 29, 2019

Oregon FBI's Tech Tuesday: Building a Digital Defense Using Virtual Private Networks

Welcome to the Oregon FBI’s Tech Tuesday segment. This week: building a digital defense by using Virtual Private Networks.

As we wrap up our series of reports on popular cyber scams and tools you can use during Cyber Security month, we want to take some time to talk about the benefits of VPN’s.

Going even a few minutes without being connected to our digital selves seems difficult these days. Coffee shops, restaurants, and even airlines make it easy for us to stay connected with their offerings of public WiFi. We can chat, work, and play our favorite virtual games without eating up data.

However, free WiFi comes with the risk of making our personal information free for the taking. If you are using a network that isn’t secure, other people using this same network can see your traffic. But if you are using a VPN that encrypts your data, all they will see is gibberish.

VPN’s sound fancy, but what does a virtual private network really entail? In simple terms, a VPN allows you to create a secure connection with another network while using public WiFi. When you connect your computer or phone to a VPN, all of your network traffic is first sent through the VPN server before going to the public WiFi server.

There are many different types of VPNs on the market. Here are a few tips to consider when choosing one for yourself:

  • Research the VPN app before you use it to make sure that it really does encrypt your data. Not all do. It is important to read reviews, look at the app’s description and content rating, and do outside research on the app’s developer.
  • You should actually read the “Terms and Conditions” page before downloading a VPN, and carefully review the permissions that the app requests. It is best to find an app that does not store your connection logs on its company servers. Likewise, if an app requests permissions to sensitive information, like reading your text messages, consider whether you are comfortable with that.
  • Consider paying for a VPN service. Many VPN apps are free to you because they make money by sharing your information with third parties. Again, check the terms and conditions of the product and review the privacy policy to see how your information is shared before downloading.

As always, if you have been a victim of an online scam or any other cyber fraud, be sure to report it to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov or call your local FBI office.