A woman with bobbed dark hair stands at a worktable in a warehouse and types something on an open laptop. The woman wears a dark red shirt, a long necklace with a pendant, and belted jeans. In the background, out of focus, are rows of industrial shelving packed with cardboard boxes and plastic containers of various size. A person in a plaid shirt stands next to one of the shelves.
When used in the workplace, VPNs encrypt your company's data and digital communication while also protecting against online security threats. — Getty Images/shapecharge

VPN stands for "virtual private network." This technology creates a private network connection between your computer, smartphone, or tablet and a VPN server. All the data transmitted between your device and the VPN server is encrypted, ensuring that it remains private and protected from unauthorized access.

A VPN is a core component of keeping your online activity private and improving your data security. Most experts recommend using a VPN to make it difficult for hackers and cyber criminals to intercept and access your data.

How do VPNs work?

A VPN is a simple but effective way to browse the internet without cookies or malicious bots tracking your every move.

First, some background: When you use the internet, your internet service provider gives you a unique IP address. Anything you do look at — websites, videos, social media, etc. — is linked to that unique IP address. That means your internet service provider can see all the websites you visit.

A VPN does two things. First, it encrypts your data at the source, meaning any search terms or websites you submit on your device are protected. The VPN server sends that data via “tunnels,” which makes sure no outside party can see what data you’re sharing.

The second thing a VPN does is anonymize that source of your data. The VPN “masks” your IP address by replacing it with the IP address of the VPN server. As a result, your online activities appear to originate from the location of the VPN server, providing you with anonymity and privacy.

“Your traffic still passes through your ISP, but your ISP can no longer read it or see its final destination. The websites you visit can no longer see your original IP address, only the IP address of the VPN server, which is shared by many other users and changes regularly,” explained ExpressVPN.

[Read more: Newly Remote Workforce? Take These 4 Cybersecurity Steps Now]

A VPN is a simple but effective way to browse the internet without cookies or malicious bots tracking your every move.

What are the benefits of using a VPN?

Primarily, a VPN allows employees to work remotely without compromising the security of your company's data.

A VPN is a core component of cybersecurity. The encryption a VPN provides prevents hackers from stealing valuable data, such as customer information, employee records, or financial data. “A VPN is essential for your small business if you want to protect your and your clients’ data and avoid security threats that could cripple your business,” wrote NordVPN.

Additionally, a VPN makes it safe for your employees to connect to the company’s internal network from anywhere. If you have a hybrid or remote workforce — or employees who travel frequently — a VPN can secure connections via public WiFi, such as those at coffee shops, public libraries, or airports.

VPNs are user-friendly and affordable, too. Rather than use expensive remote access servers, your small business can use a VPN to browse the internet anonymously by concealing your real IP address and providing you with a virtual one from a different location.

[Read more: 7 Tools That Will Help You Work From Home]

How to choose a VPN

There are many different VPN providers available. As you sort through the options, look for providers that have had a recent, published back-end security audit, ideally carried out by a third party. Check to see what the VPN’s privacy policy says: clear and easy-to-read terms of service and privacy policies can help give you confidence that the VPN isn’t collecting your data.

Then, look at industry guides. Wirecutter, CNET, PCMag, and The Verge all offer their take on the best VPNs for individuals and businesses. Depending on your budget and the number of users, you should be able to find a vendor who meets your needs.

Keep in mind that a VPN is just one aspect of cybersecurity. Adding a VPN will not make your business completely immune to all threats. Remind your team to exercise caution online and use other security measures, such as keeping devices updated and using strong, unique passwords.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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