We've heard time and again how critical the threat of hacking is. Still, most of us either think we'll avoid it or have nothing to hide for hackers to expose anyway - so why worry? This is akin to thinking that we don't need to bother locking the door because we don't have an illegal store of drugs stashed away in our houses. Every person with an online presence benefits from using a VPN. It's not about not having anything to hide. It's about not having your information stolen or shared.

This is not necessarily a matter of theft. This is, first and foremost, a matter of privacy. Every 39 seconds, somebody is hacked, and there's a 1 in 4 chance that it will be you on the receiving end. Hacking is not a far-away, dystopian threat; it is immediate and gaining urgency each year. Therefore, we must increase awareness of the severity of cyber-attacks and encourage more people to use VPN networks to protect themselves.

The pandemic-fuelled shift to remote working led to a significant spike in hack-attacks. For example, the volume of ransomware doubled in 2021, surpassing the 600 million mark. This form of hacking involves hackers encrypting your data and demanding large sums in return for giving your data back. The average cost was an incredible $4.44 million

These kinds of attacks present a lose-lose situation for users - either they are forced to pay exorbitant sums to these cyber-criminals, or, as is often the case, they cannot afford the ransom, and their personal data is leaked. This is not merely a case of losing your favorite holiday photos. This can involve losing your PIN codes and passwords. In 2021, Americans lost a record $3.5 billion to cybercrime. In 2020, 37 billion data records were leaked, which was a staggering 140% increase from the previous year. 

The most frustrating aspect of these figures is that cyber-attacks are relatively easy to defend against. Firstly, people aren't aware of just how severe and extensive the cyber-security threat has become. Secondly, a substantial number of those who feel vulnerable do not know how to protect themselves. 

The answer is easy: use a VPN network every time you surf the internet. VPNs - Virtual Private Networks - mask the user's traffic patterns and block access to their IP address, which would otherwise reveal specific information about the computer being used. 

Around a third of the global population of internet users have a VPN installed, leaving the vast majority susceptible to cyber-attacks. This figure is even lower for the US, with only a quarter of North America using a VPN when they browse online. By contrast, almost three-quarters of Americans are fearful of their personal or financial information being stolen. 

VPNs are widely available and low-cost, yet most of those online do not have this protective software installed. The issue, then, is one of awareness. To tackle this, we can look to what can arguably be called the cyber-security capital of the world: Estonia. 

In 2007, Estonia suffered a series of hack-attacks in what was largely considered to be the world's first cyber-war. The swathe of cyber-criminality was spawned by the controversial moving of a soldier's statue, which served as a harrowing reminder of the years of Soviet oppression faced by Estonians. Since this incident, Estonia has established itself as a cyber-security hub; the keystone to this success has been boosting cyber-awareness across its population. 

Some of the measures included in Estonia's Cyber Security Strategy included offering cyber-training to preschoolers and older children and introducing various Media Literacy courses in secondary schools. In 2013, the government also instigated a state-private partnership project, which was designed to improve the security awareness of smart-device users, developers, and distributors. Furthermore, a Masters Degree in Cyber Security was launched in 2009, and the Police and Border Guard Board even appointed a 'web constable,' whose primary role was to boost public understanding about cyber-security and to help protect young people online. There are a multitude of VPN’s out there that offer huge protections at a low cost, such as Private internet access, Safernet VPN, Express VPN, tunnel Bear and Proton VPN among others.

The proof is in the Kohuke : Estonia is now the most cyber-secure country in the EU. The US government has reason to be reluctant about enforcing wider VPN usage, given that it regularly benefits from the gathering of voter data. However, it must act to improve awareness of core cyber-security issues at the very least. As is evident from the Estonia blueprint, education is essential for this; we must introduce more purpose-built Cyber-Security degrees, along with training programs for children and young people. The benefits far outweigh any negatives of using a VPN for the global community.