Understanding cybersecurity: What are VPNs & why do they matter?

Understanding cybersecurity: What are VPNs & why do they matter?

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As Australians are prompted to jump online more and more in the face of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, there have been growing concerns regarding the safety of our homes, schools, and businesses in these rapidly evolving digital environments.

Over the course of this past year alone, the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) has recorded significant spikes in the nation's total cases of cybercrime.

Alongside this, the federal government has had to take continuous measures to ensure that its COVIDSafe initiatives and MyGov systems aren't susceptible to hacking, as security breaches may result in sensitive user information being harvested by unknown parties.

Cyber security isn't just a matter of national security, however, and cyber security experts across Australia assert that it's time for us to invest in digital security measures that can be implemented with ease both in our homes and in our workplaces.

All Australian households should ideally be using a VPN service coupled with antivirus software being installed on all personal devices, including mobile phones.

Understanding VPNs & their role in cybersecurity

A VPN (or 'virtual private network') is a service that protects your personal user and device data when surfing the web.

VPNs work by creating an encrypted tunnel within which you can access the internet without having to reveal your ISP (internet service provider), your computer's IP address, or any other personal user or data information to any potentially malicious third-party observers.

As hackers can oftentimes use IP addresses to unearth the geographic location of web users or even gain remote control over their devices, using a VPN is largely considered to now be standard practice for all tech-savvy internet users.

With the unprecedented growth that Australia experienced in regards to online shopping trends over the past year, cybersecurity experts assert that individuals or households that don't have digital security measures in place could be vulnerable to phishing attacks, exposure to malware, and other forms of cybercrime including fraud and identity theft.

VPNs are seen as foundational tools in any strong cybersecurity game plan.

Data encryption is essentially considered to be one of the simplest and easiest steps that you can take to ensure hackers are dissuaded from attempting to breach your network and minimising your risks of falling victim to easily avoidable dangers online.

Reactive vs. proactive approaches to cybersecurity

There are two approaches to cybersecurity measures: reactive and proactive.

Whilst a reactive approach to cybersecurity is largely reliant on experiencing security breaches and then assessing where the holes in your system exist from there, a proactive approach is about minimising your risks of ever falling victim to breaches at all.

Currently, the ACSC is working alongside Services Australia to ensure that the federal government's MyGov digital hub initiative is able to keep user information secure after a major security breach last year left hundreds upon thousands of Australians vulnerable to digital fraud and identity theft.

In cases of national security, Australia cannot afford to adopt a reactionary approach to cybersecurity. However, the same can be said for small businesses, tertiary institutions, and households across the country.

The most common threats that await us online

If you have any questions regarding the most common dangers that Australians are facing online, it's advised that you head to the ACSC website.

The site has been designed to be not just an archive of Australia's most dangerous digital threats, but also a compilation of resources that can be utilised by homes, workplaces, and also by government officials.

You can also report cybercrimes with ease through the ACSC website rather than heading to your local police station.

The incorporation of the ReportCyber digital channel has already played a pivotal role in Australia's fight against cybercrime, as the ACSC revealed they received just under 59,806 reports of cybercrime between the channel's launch in June 2019 through to June of 2020.

The most common threats outlined in this report were malicious emails and other forms of phishing, followed by security and network breaches.

How you can keep your family safe from threats online

As network breaches make up a large portion of Australia's total recorded cases of cybercrime, security specialists urge that a simple VPN service coupled with antimalware software can help to keep Australians safe when browsing the web.

Alongside these digital tools, it's recommended that you practice caution when engaging with unknown or unfamiliar web pages, emails, or text messages and think critically about how you interact with these materials.

With educational reform and a greater focus on cybersafety in schools, homes, and workplaces, we can keep Australia safe from even the most malicious threats online.