Skip to content

Medicare open enrollment has begun! Learn all about it in AARP's guide to Medicare made easy.

BrandAMP by AARP What's This?

Are You Staying Safe Online and Protecting Your Personal Data?

A virtual private network (VPN) can keep you safer

Now that he's retired, Joe's typical Monday morning includes a stop at his locally-owned coffee shop where he sips a mocha while surfing the web and checking email on his iPad using the shop's public WiFi.

Donna and Jim are exploring the world one city at a time. They make good use of any free WiFi hotspots they find available in airports, restaurants and hotels to do their banking and post fun pictures of their travels (and their new granddaughter!) on Facebook and Instagram.

Nate volunteers as a tour guide at a museum. During his breaks, he uses the museum's guest WiFi connection to play games on his smartphone and occasionally to shop online.

The Dangers of Public WiFi

What do these people have in common? They're taking advantage of free public WiFi, something many of us do when we're out and about. While it's convenient, easy to use and readily available, public WiFi is just that: public. That means using it is about as secure as if you stood up and shouted all your passwords, banking information and private details to everyone in the room.

Public WiFi leaves your passwords, browsing history, financial information, social media accounts, emails, private pictures and videos vulnerable to a variety of attacks that even inexperienced hackers can commit. Between cybercriminals who target public WiFi to nab your credit card numbers and banking info and malicious software (malware) distributors who can infect your device with viruses, ransomware, adware and spyware, it's safe to say that the oh-so-free-and-easy connections you might be making come with serious risks.

Woman sitting outside using a laptop


How a Virtual Private Network (VPN) Helps

So how can you safely take advantage of the convenience of public WiFi? Use a virtual private network (VPN). A VPN creates your own private connection, keeping your data, browsing history and even your IP address encrypted and completely hidden from potentially prying eyes.

If you use antivirus software on your device, you may think you're already protected. However, antivirus software and VPNs have different roles. While antivirus software protects your device from viruses, malware and other threats, it can't protect any of the data you send and receive over the Internet. A VPN bridges this gap, maintaining your privacy and keeping all your information secure.

Even when you’re on a trusted connection like the one in your home, using a VPN is still a good idea. For one thing, Internet service providers (ISPs) are now allowed to collect and sell your Internet browsing data to third-party companies for advertising purposes. However, a VPN encrypts your web traffic, preventing your ISP from keeping tabs on you and protecting you from other would-be thieves, snoops and spies.

By adding a low-cost VPN plan, Joe, Donna and Jim and Nate gained the freedom and peace of mind to use their devices anywhere in the world without worry.

To see just how easy it can be to protect yourself as you bank, shop, browse and more online, check out Webroot® WiFi Security. As an automatic VPN that never needs complex steps or setup, it’s your secret weapon against cybercriminals and spies. Webroot also offers free learning videos to help you stay secure and cyber-savvy. 

Watch free learning videos from Webroot, the Smarter Cybersecurity® experts

October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month—an opportunity to further commit to practicing safe online habits and recognize that we each play a role in keeping our families, our communities and our country protected from cyber threats. Help spread the word by sharing this article with the hashtag #CyberAware on social media. Together we can make the Internet safer and more secure for everyone.