If your tutor just gave you a VPN page on the university website, you’re probably wondering what this thing is all about and what you are supposed to do with it. You will learn all about this method of digital security in this article. If your university doesn’t issue an in-house VPN, and you want the same level of security that your better-cared-for counterparts enjoy, read on to find out how you can join in.
Why do you Need a University VPN?
The university connects all of its computers together with a combination of cables and WiFi signals. Within the campus, the university can protect its infrastructure and make sure that no one can damage the cabling or tap into it to spy.
Now that the internet is everywhere, students want to be able to log into the university network from their residences, or from cafes around the town. Extending access to privileged information outside the private network presents a security problem. The physical infrastructure of the internet cannot be monitored, and data passes through networks owned by other people. This configuration creates a risk of disclosure.
What is a Virtual Private Network?
VPNs prevent people from snooping on traffic over the internet, and afford the same level of privacy as private networks.
Data travels over the internet in segments, which are bundled in a structure called a packet. This packet has a data payload and then a header on the front with routing information in it. Nowadays, it is possible to encrypt the contents of the payload so that no one can understand the information in it. However, snoopers can still get plenty of information from the header, and even use it to masquerade as a genuine connection to get into the university network from outside.
The VPN encrypts each packet entirely, including the header information. The routers that forward information across the internet need to be able to see the destination address, and so the VPN software embeds the entire packet inside another one. The outer packet has the address of a VPN server on it, so people looking at every packet that passes by will not be able to see the university’s IP address. Thus, snoopers are confounded.
University Access Restrictions
The VPNs offered by universities are only meant to be used for academic purposes. You get onto the campus network securely, but you have to comply with a long list of regulations in order to use it.
You aren’t allowed to use your university connection for entertainment purposes and there are a great many websites that you are blocked from accessing. If you want to use the VPN to access streaming services, or torrent download sites, forget it. You have to carry out those activities outside of the university without using its VPN. Universities are minefields of political correctness, so you will find that you are better off surfing the web in private.
Are Student VPNs Private
You can get thrown off your course for behavior deemed inappropriate by the university. These days, that could mean anything that could possibly offend any one of a constellation of very sensitive groups. Your conduct outside of university counts too, so you need to be constantly on your guard. If you visit porn sites, or web pages that include racy jokes or provocative ideas, you had better make sure that no one finds out about it.
Subscribing to a VPN service outside of university can help you. You can be certain that no one could ever possibly find out where your surfing has taken you, if you choose your VPN wisely.
If you choose to forgo the university VPN when you do your research on the internet, you need to be sure that your connection is secure. It can be great to get out for the day and work while sitting in a café. However, you cannot be sure that your communications are not being intercepted.
An increasingly common trick that data thieves use is setting up their own hotspots. Anyone with a laptop or smartphone can set up a WiFi network and make it available to those within range. Data thieves create a network name that sounds roughly similar to the hotspot provided by the café. They then slow down the regular router with superfluous traffic, forcing surfers to switch to the alternative WiFi network that the café seems to have provided. However, that network called “Drinks Café 2” is actually connecting you to the computer of someone else sitting in the café.
As the thief is in control of the connection, you can bet that nothing you type in gets encrypted. It may seem like you are on the web, because the thief will forward all of your communications onto the real router of the café. However, the snooper channels every piece of information that goes out of your computer and arrives at it through his/her device.
Fake hotspots are regularly used to harvest credit card details and banking information. They are also an easy route for hackers to get malware onto the computers of their victims. If you subscribe to a VPN service and use it while you are connected to a hotspot, everything that goes out of your computer is encrypted. Thus nobody can snoop on what you’re doing, even if someone else controls the connection you are on
Many students travel abroad for vacation, on study programs, or for internships. When you arrive overseas, you may find that the local TV stations are really dire. If you travel to a country that speaks a different language, you will probably struggle to keep up with the rapid speech of the actors and show hosts, even if you’ve taken the time to study that language.
The solution is to access streaming services from your own country over the internet. However, when you try to watch a show from abroad, the video delivery system will pop up a message telling you that you aren’t allowed to watch that company’s entertainment from another country.
Getting around the regional restrictions of media sites is another reason that many people use VPNs. Just about all commercial VPNs have servers located all around the world. Before you connect, choose a server that is in the same country as the streaming service that you want to watch. When you go to that website with the VPN engaged, the gatekeeper to the video library won’t be able to tell that you are overseas, and you can watch whatever you want.
Regain Internet Freedom With a Student VPN
It is becoming increasingly difficult to access all sites on the web – governments and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) try to block you from getting onto torrenting sites; router owners won’t let you use their WiFi for online gaming; and streaming services lock out cross-border access.
If you are at university, the restrictions on the sites you can access from the campus network make your options even more limited. Using the university VPN just extends campus controls out to your off-site location and makes your life harder, not easier.
Get your own VPN installed in order to expand your horizons back out to the furthest reaches of the internet. Keep your activities secret to prevent yourself being caught out by crazy “offensive behavior” rulings. Get access to movies, online games, and download sites from all over the world with a VPN.
VPNs for Students: Conclusion
If your college or university doesn’t provide a free VPN, you are not missing out on much. In fact, those people who are so honored probably end up ditching the sanctioned VPN because they can’t access very much from within the university network anyway.
Look out for VPNs that offer free trials or money-back guarantee periods. That gives you the opportunity to test out that service’s capabilities without being trapped into a pre-paid service that doesn’t give you all of the functionality that you need. Check reviews of the best VPNs to get a good idea of which ones are the best services, so you don’t get scammed by some of the fake or unsafe charlatan VPNs out there.