Does someone else have designs on your content?

Over the last few years, the shift away from computer software being installed on a machine, towards working with SaaS (software as a service) platforms in the cloud has become almost total.

It would be unusual nowadays to create graphical assets with a software package you had installed directly onto your own desktop computer’s hard drive. Years ago, software came on Digital Versatile Discs (DVDs) with a long ‘product key’ – you only needed to copy the disk and write down the key code to pass the software on between friends and family. Some small businesses even ran multiple pirated copies of packages like ‘Dreamweaver’ - a web design html authoring tool from Macromedia; or they might have used duplicated copies of the ubiquitous Adobe Photoshop.

More recently, software has become almost impossible to run as counterfeit, as it won’t start up if its provenance can’t be verified from its manufacturer’s server. It’s true that a version of the software is installed on the machine you might be using, but unless that software package can ‘phone home’ to verify that you’re paying your subscription – the package simply won’t function.

So, if it’s essential to use the internet to validate any type of software you want to use, then you might as well not bother having it running from your hard drive and instead control the functionality from your desktop with all the processing work happening in the cloud. Fiber broadband connections and more efficient internet service provider (ISP) servers now make this arrangement perfectly possible from anywhere with an internet connection.

You’ve got the power!

But switching to processing power that is operated remotely comes with one significant downside – that of security. In simple terms, the more time you spend with your computer connected to remote servers, the greater the opportunity for hackers to find you and install malware for their nefarious purposes - to steal your content or worse.

The best way to avoid this happening is to use a VPN free of any restrictions from your ISP. A VPN (virtual private network) places an intermediary server between your regular ISP and the device you’re using to access the web, be that a phone, iPad, laptop or desktop machine. The VPN usually works as a browser extension, thereby protecting any data traffic routed via that browser, whether that’s webmail, Instagram graphics, online ecommerce shopping or using an online graphics package such as Pixelike.

The VPN ensures anonymity, so not even the customer’s ISP can tell who is accessing the internet, nor can they keep a log of their browsing activity. There are even free residential proxy lists that will give IPs that cost hundreds per year. Furthermore, the VPN also uses an encrypted server with an IP address that doesn’t disclose the location of the VPN user. In short, with a VPN, your ISP and destination online service have no idea who or where you are. This carries several advantages, especially for the work from home (WFH) digital nomad or graphic designer. Let’s take a quick look at the most significant of these benefits:

Safeguard your socials

The generation of emerging ‘influencers’ on social media use platforms like TikTok, Facebook, Instagram and others to promote their sponsors’ messages. But such a high-profile online presence can often engender unwelcome attention by people wanting to harass influencers. If a hacker knows your name and the approximate area where you live, it doesn’t take them long to track you down and start sending nasty stuff to your home via the mail, or hi-jacking your social accounts to put up fake content or simply make your chosen platform unusable. But a VPN can safeguard against all this by hiding the influencer’s identity and location – and it’s installable in a couple of clicks onto the person’s iPhone or whatever.

Don’t get throttled!

Fortunately, this is nothing to do with being strangled as you walk home down a dark alley! ISPs tend to throttle (meaning to slow to an unusable crawl) the data transfer rate of heavy internet users, in order to prevent the ISPs’ networks from slowing down. This happens either on an individual basis (perhaps to several gamers or graphic designers living in the same property) or by whole geographical areas in response to news stories or popular sporting events.

For example, if a football team in a small Iowa town reached the finals of the NFL, everyone in that town is going to stream the match as it happens, so their ISPs might throttle all the town’s residents’ connections to prevent the regional network being overwhelmed. But whether it’s an individual customer or a whole county, VPN users would be protected from being throttled because their ISPs can’t know who they are or where they are located.

The dirty little secret of dynamic pricing

The price of most goods and services that you buy via the internet are fixed and transparent. But there are certain websites, especially hospitality and travel resellers, that use AI analytics and algorithms to charge what they can get away with, based on value-judged demographics of your sensitive data.

If you don’t use a VPN, then every time you arrive at a website to, say, book a hotel room somewhere, the algorithms find where you’re located, the device you’re on, and decide whether you’re likely to be rich, or maybe buying for a business trip or maybe you’re an impoverished student. If you visit the site and your IP address shows you’re in New York City on a brand-new MacBook Pro, the chances are that you’re a rich businessperson, so the hotel room you seek inflates in price. But if you use a VPN, not only is your device cloaked, but you can make it appear that your IP address is from Michigan rather than Manhattan – watch those prices decrease in front of your eyes!

In summary, whether you’re a WFH designer, Instagram influencer or a retired cop, it always makes sense to use a VPN every time you use the internet – so stay safe out there.

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