The coronavirus outbreak forced us all into the house — and thus dramatically increased the value of our internet connections.
With our online activity rising to such prominence in our lives, many people are looking to protect both their privacy and data. Virtual private networks seem to be one of the more popular choices for doing so. Demand for these ‘VPNs’ in April was between 22% to 36% higher than pre-pandemic levels, companies report. Demand peaked in late March with an increase of 65% above previous levels.
“Online searches for VPN began to surge around the world in mid-March in the days following the World Health Organization’s declaration of a pandemic on March 11,” writes Simon Migliano, a Digital Privacy & Censorship expert for CNet. “We’ve seen demand suddenly double in countries where lockdowns have been announced or expected.”
VPNs work by extending a private network, such as one you’d set up with a few cables between two computers in your home, over the internet. Think of it as a ‘residents only’ lane of the internet. They’re called ‘virutal’ because they aren’t exactly private networks, but use the (public) architecture of the Internet as we know it to create networks that function like private ones.
Machines that are part of this network enjoy a greater degree of privacy and security of data. Robust encryption is one of the key features of popular VPNs like Atlas VPN.
Other popular uses of VPNs are as smokescreens to protect a users’ identity and real-life location (through the use of a proxy server), usually in order to bypass georestrictions, or as a means of avoiding censorship or surveillance.
All in all, powerful tools — but not something that the vast majority of people would have given mich thought to a few months back.
They have gained major interest during the lockdown, however. Both business and private user demand have increased in 75 countries, with Egypt showing the greatest increase, of 224%. Other companies have reported a 36% increase in global users from February to March.
Work, education, entertainment, and social events are all increasingly moving online. Internet traffic as a whole shot up by 50% in the week of March 23, after restrictions were set in place to curb the outbreak in the EU and US. The more time we spend digitally, the more important issues such as net neutrality and access become as well.