Virtual Private Network (VPN)
What is a VPN?
A virtual private network, or VPN, is a service that creates an encrypted tunnel to transmit data over the internet while ensuring the user’s online privacy and protecting sensitive data. Unlike website security tools used by site owners to protect visitors’ information on certain pages, VPNs keep users secure through their entire online journey by hiding their IP address in order to make any action virtually untraceable.
How does a VPN work?
A VPN works by creating a secure and private data tunnel between your computer and a server in another location, successfully masking your data and allowing you to browse the internet from a secondary location. In order to do so, the VPN first uses encryption to scramble all data sent over a Wi-Fi connection and make it unreadable. Then, it directs your traffic to a VPN server before forwarding to the rest of the web, thus concealing your IP address and showing only the VPN address to any websites and services you use.
As a result, anyone with the ability to see your online journey when navigating without a VPN - such as your internet provider, the government, other users on your shared network and even random strangers - will find it nearly impossible to view your identity, location or activities.
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When to use a VPN
No one likes to feel like they’re being watched, even if they have nothing to hide. This is why as people become more conscious of their online privacy and the amount of data they’re sharing publicly, the use of VPNs is raising exponentially.
If you’re still wondering whether you need a VPN, here are some of the most important reasons why you should be using one:
Using public Wi-Fi
Connecting to public Wi-Fi, such as free internet hotspots offered in cafes, parks and airports, leaves your data at the mercy of hackers. These types of unprotected networks are usually a goldmine for hackers, but using a VPN to encrypt your data will protect you against their attacks.
Masking your location
For people living under authoritarian regimes, VPNs offer a secure way to create private networks that allow them to work and share sensitive messages without being limited by the country’s limited freedom of speech.
Accessing blocked content
In spite of the internet’s role in globalization, there’s still a lot of content restricted to certain geos. Whether you’re facing government censorship or simply copyright issues, changing your location using a VPN will allow you to bypass this blockage.
Streaming without restrictions
While streaming services like Netflix and HBO are available in hundreds of countries around the world, the extension and content of their media libraries depends on where you’re watching from. For example, while Netflix US library contains over 1,800 TV shows, only 17% of those are available in Netflix Italy. In order to gain access to the entire catalog regardless of your location, you can use a VPN to connect to the geographic area of your choice.
Avoiding tracking and surveillance
By using a VPN to encrypt your traffic and IP address, you’ll prevent government agencies from collecting your online activity, messages, social interactions and other private data.
Playing online videogames
The benefits of using a VPN for gaming are threefold. First, and most importantly, you’ll be protected from DDoS attacks and doxxing. Second, it will allow you to evade bandwidth throttling and reduce ping and lag. And lastly, you’ll be able to access maps, skins and add-ons restricted to certain geos.
Encrypting your data
Using a VPN to change your IP address will minimize your online footprint and protect your identity from websites and services that want to track you. Additionally, by encrypting your data you’ll hinder your internet service provider’s ability to sell your information to third parties.
Getting better prices
Online stores and service providers generally show different prices depending on the site visitors’ geo. Changing your location using a VPN will allow you to find better deals and benefit from regional sales, all while avoiding commercial targeting. This is especially valuable in the travel industry, as airlines, hotels and rentals tend to show better deals for locals.
What are some of the risks of using a VPN?
If you're using a lower quality VPN, it might slow down your internet speed and affect your browsing speed to. This can slow down how fast you work online. Using a VPN may put you at risk for security breaches and attacks, which can allow hackers to access your online information and data through the VPN. In some countries using a VPN is illegal, so it's best to check this first before using one.
How do I choose a good VPN service?
You'll want to consider the following: price, security (a VPN provider with a strong security track record is important), speed and other features, such as malware protection.