124%

da-kuk/E+/Getty Images

Whether you need a secure connection for work, or you just really want to pirate some movies, virtual private networks (VPNs) are a great way to keep your online activity private. The trick is to make sure you're paying for them, though, as free VPNs are always costing you something. Usually your browser history, privacy, or literal money by pushing your electricity bill up while discreetly using your processing power to mine cryptocurrency. Risks aside, plenty of Americans are embracing the VPN as a fundamental WFH tool.

Atlas VPN reports that in the past two weeks the use of its service in the U.S. has jumped 124 percent, second only to Italy. In the past week alone — as stateside coronavirus cases increased 782 percent — use of Atlas's VPN went up 71 percent. Atlas can't vouch for other VPN services, of course, but we suspect the trend would be similar. More time at home means more time both to figure out how things like VPNs work, and greater impetus to do so.

Why VPNs are so important now — Internet traffic (and video conferencing apps in particular) is booming as COVID-19 protective measures go into effect. Plenty of companies offer enterprise VPN solutions so that their employees can safely access business resources remotely, but seldom have so many people needed to use them. While a company-mandated VPN is great, having one for your own use is a good idea, too.

Not only does it hide your traffic from your ISP or mobile operator, but a VPN is essential if you plan to use public Wi-Fi in your local coffeeshop, library or airport when we're all eventually able to leave the house again. Without one, connecting to public Wi-Fi is reckless because of how rudimentary it is for someone to spoof the network in question and intercept all of your traffic. Think of it as a prophylactic for your online life. In the time of COVID-19, we all know prevention is better than cure.