Finding the right VPN for family use
From parental blocks to setting time limits, keeping your family safe online can feel like a minefield.
Once you’ve got the obvious bits covered – like installing a good home antivirus and teaching everyone not to use the password ‘password’ – it’s important to consider the range of things that different family members are using the internet for.
While younger children are more likely to spend their time playing games than checking emails, teenagers may be whiling away the hours on social media and streaming sites. As parents, your own internet use could cover everything from online banking and grocery shopping to planning next year’s holidays and scouting out recipes.
Some of these tasks don’t really warrant high-level security, but online tasks that involve entering payment details or sending personal information should be treated with caution, and given as much security as possible.
Virtual private networks or VPNs aren’t the first thing any of us think of when it comes to keeping our family’s details secure, but only because they aren’t yet as well known as simple antivirus software. Particularly if you have a growing family that get online across a range of devices, it’s worth knowing not just what a VPN can do for you, but also how to get the most for your money.
Security & Privacy
First things first, the purpose of a virtual private network. There are two key things to remember: 1) that a VPN can hide your IP address, to stop advertisers from tracking you online and bombarding you with creepy targeted marketing, and 2) that a VPN adds a layer of end-to-end encryption to any internet connection you use – whether that’s at home, work or out and about.
Additional data encryption may not be the first thing on your shopping list, but in an age where ordinary people become victims of cybercrime every day, it’s worth looking into. There were around 978 million victims of cybercrime in 2017, ultimately resulting in £130 billion being stolen from individuals and families through tactics like email conveyancing fraud, phishing and ransomware.
In simple hacks where a third-party views card details as they’re being entered, or intercepts and changes emails that are being sent, people’s data can be protected with the added encryption of a VPN. You’re unlikely to hunt one down for computer gaming unless you’ve got kids who are particularly keen on getting the latest releases before their friends, but if anyone’s borrowing your bank card to make orders from Amazon, make sure they only do so while taking advantage of extra encryption.
Even websites and webpages that appear to be secure can fall foul of cybercriminals who strip away their added defences. There have even been some well-publicised instances of ‘trustworthy’ organisations – like the UK’s TV licensing corporation – openly requesting payment details over insecure connections.
Regardless of whether the ability to hide your IP and dodge targeted adverts appeals, having your own personal encryption service definitely should.
When you want to keep your whole family safe online, it’s important that everyone gets the same level of protection. Though it’s likely that parental browsing is the most in need of security, if you’re sending emails back and forth to your kids or letting them share a computer that contains important documents or information, it’s crucial that they take advantage of any security that you use yourself.
Not all VPN services offer multiple device installations, so check the details before you sign up. Some VPNs offer a choice of individual or multi-device subscriptions, and naturally it’ll be more cost-effective to look for the latter than to have everyone sign up their devices to a separate service.
There are free VPN apps out there, but generally you’ll find they come with a monthly usage limit. There are also concerns that free VPNs sell user data in order to pay their bills, and obviously if you’re using a private network to stop third parties from pestering you about your browsing activities, a free service that sells that information on isn’t much use at all.
Ease of use
It almost goes without saying, but if you’re going to get the whole family playing it safe with a VPN, it’s going to need to be easy to use.
While the technically-minded among us may be thrilled at the idea that they could set up their own VPN using open-source software, chances are that you fall into the majority of web users who’d rather have a clean and simple app. Particularly when you’re planning on getting children on board with careful connections, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to prise them from their smartphones for long enough to manually configure a private network.
Most mainstream VPN services come with straightforward app interfaces, where you can switch between VPN protocols and server locations. Realistically, the default protocol will probably remain your number one choice, but if you’ve got web-savvy teens who might be looking to switch things up for a faster streaming connection, a good app will ensure they do so without dropping back onto an unsecured network version.
It can be tricky enough to get everyone to sit down for dinner at the same time some days, let alone get them all paying attention to online security. But cybercrime is on the rise and, just as many parents set rules about how much screen time their kids can have, it’s wise to educate your family about the dangers of going online without antivirus and a VPN – so that nobody puts information or their privacy at risk.