VPNs are now increasing in their commonality – but explaining what they are and how they work is sometimes not the easiest thing. It might be easier for you if you are an expert or even interested in the world of cyber security, like if you are looking for the most secure VPNs – but for the rest of us, that notion of a VPN just does not make much sense. In the quest to understand it, it can be helpful to know the first word in the VPN acronym – a virtual private network.
Once you know the meaning of ‘virtual’, the rest is easy. Private networks are those that are basically protected from anyone that is unauthorized to see them, like something you would see in a crime thriller movie when the NIS is searching for information on their servers.
The ‘virtual’ part just means that you can access this private network virtually, such as from the comfort of your smartphone or laptop while you are in your house.
But really, what is a VPN?
In simple terms, VPNs are a set of servers, which you use to connect to the internet through your ISP, also known as Internet Service Provider. When you establish a VPN connection, which is also known as tunneling, the server will then take over and become your virtual home when you use the internet. Think of it as a way of securely moving yourself into a great office space without actual moving to that location.
When you use this secure space to surf the web, all your activities are under the protection of encryption, which will give you a great extent of privacy. When you are using it, this means that no one can see what you are doing on the internet, not even the annoying spying agencies or governments.
Why is it important to use a VPN?
The most obvious reason in this case is offering you security. Since all your data is under encryption protection, it will stop any efforts from prying eyes to see what you are doing or the information you are sending and receiving. For instance, when you are making a transaction online, hackers cannot see your credit card number when you enter its details.
That is also why it is very important to use a VPN when you are using public Wi-Fi networks (even if they have a password), such as in airports and your local coffee shop.
Promotion of privacy
The other reason for its importance relates to the issue of promoting privacy. For instance, no one needs to know the details of what you are shopping for in case you want an item online from Singapore or Denmark. Therefore, through encryption of your data, you can keep your business to yourself – whether that is shopping online, your searches, the things you say in forums and social media, and what you watch and stream.
However, it is also essential to remember that while VPNs will guard your data from prying eyes, it will not necessarily protect you from other web trackers like cookies. That also means you can set cookies on your browser, even though you are using a VPN.
In order to avoid these tracking efforts though, it is advisable to surf using private or incognito mode. Other than that, there are specific search engines that will not log your searches, like DuckDuckGo, or you can also install software that specifically blocks tracking applications and software, like ghostery.
Masks your actual location
The third reason why using VPNs is important is their ability to provide you with a virtual location. If you are worried that your searches or online shopping activities and details will make the police come knocking, using a VPN is important because it masks your real IP address – therefore they cannot link it to your physical address.
If you also want to access media that is banned in your country, like playing poker room, then you can use a VPN to mask your IP address and tunnel to a country that allows the game, in order to play it. Or, you can watch YouTube videos and Netflix movies that your government bans.
This idea can also work in an opposite way. For instance, if you are traveling to a country that is far from your home and still want to watch a movie or show that you can only access back home, you can use a VPN tunnel there in order to view it. This same case applies to services that you can only access from your country, such as banking and financial types.
Choosing a VPN
Despite the wide variety of VPNs, not all will work for you and not all are the best choice due to security issues. Some of the things to look for include:
The cost vs. security
The more expensive VPNs will offer higher security levels, and the opposite is true in many cases. Therefore, before making a decision, take the time to see what others are saying about different providers, especially experts in the field, and prioritize those that have a good reputation for protecting users.
This is a very important matter, because it affects the VPN security. The ones with a no-log policy have better security because they will not keep records of what you are doing, therefore reducing the chances of someone tracking you.
Find out if the service is giving multiple users the same IP address, which will make it harder to track specific people.
This can be important, depending on what you want to do. If you want specific server locations because you want to see something from that country, then make sure the VPN allows you to tunnel there.
Regardless of your reason for using a VPN to access content from outside your country, you are still bound by state laws in your own nation. VPN use will also not make you completely anonymous, but just private and not as easy to trace. Therefore, if you are using your VPN to conduct suspicious activities online, the government agencies will still find you – as long as they have enough time and resources to do so.