What is a VPN?

2020-02-27 - 6 min read

Password managers, 2FA, encrypted messaging apps, antimalware, secure file sharing — people are starting to really pay attention to their online security. But there’s one more tool you can use to take your cybersecurity game one step further — a virtual private network (VPN). Read on to find out what it is, how it works, and why you should start using it.

How does VPN work?

Whenever you go online, your browser connects to your internet service provider (ISP) first. They redirect you to where you want to go, and that’s that. But this means that everything you do online goes through your ISP first, and they can see what websites you visit and how much time you spend there. Furthermore, if the site does not have an SSL/TLS protocol in place, your ISP will see everything you do on that website, what you click on, and what information you enter.

That is alarming all by itself. But unfortunately, it gets worse — ISPs have the right to give away this information about you to the authorities, sell it to advertising companies, or use it any way they want. Ever wondered why you keep seeing an ad for that pair of sneakers you googled once? That’s because your ISP shares this data with advertising companies so they can bombard you with targeted ads.

A VPN can change the situation drastically. If you connect to a VPN, it does two things before connecting to your ISP:

  1. It redirects your internet traffic through one of its servers. A VPN provider usually has thousands of servers in all corners of the world, so you can choose one that’s closest to your home for the fastest connection. When you connect to the server, you also get it’s IP address — your real one stays hidden as long as you are using a VPN.

  2. Once your device connects to the server, the VPN encrypts your data. It becomes impossible to read — your ISP, government agencies, and hackers are unable to see what information your device is sending or downloading. A VPN also hides your online identity by changing your IP (and, therefore, your virtual location) and shielding your activities from prying eyes.

Your data is at risk

You might think you have nothing to hide, but it’s far from the truth. You may not care about advertisers getting your data or the possibility that the government will demand to see logs of your online activity. However, you can’t be sure that your sensitive information won’t end up in criminals’ hands.

If a hacker intercepts your connection, they can see everything you do online, as well as your usernames and passwords, Social Security number, banking information, personal and work emails, and much more.

Do you have a lot of smart devices in your house? Cybercriminals can also use most of them to attack you. Think about your baby monitor, smart TV, Alexa, or smart locks. These devices have microphones and cameras that malicious actors can employ to harass you or gather valuable information that can be used to blackmail you. If you don’t have a secure home network, smart devices are a threat that should be taken seriously.

Why you should get a VPN

Online privacy

Getting a VPN comes with multiple benefits, but one of the main reasons people decide to use it is security — both at home and while traveling.

A VPN allows you to bypass government censorship and surveillance. Depending on where you live, this could make a world of difference. Many countries have certain internet regulations — some block particular services and websites; some don’t want you to connect to the world wide web altogether. A VPN makes these restrictions go away by changing your IP and virtual location. This way, your ISP doesn’t know where you go online, so they can’t block your access or track your actions.

Traveling

Even if you don’t leave your country while you’re on a business trip and censorship is not an issue, you still need to think about cybersecurity. Airports, hotels, conference centers, coffee shops — these are the usual places that business travelers look for a Wi-Fi connection.

Open Wi-Fi hotspots are notoriously dangerous and very easy for a cybercriminal to fake. Would you stop to consider before connecting to a Wi-Fi called “BurgerKing_Airport_WiFi”? It could be a fake hotspot created by a hacker to trick people into disclosing sensitive data that can be later used for social engineering attacks.

Genuine public Wi-Fi hotspots are not safe to use since they are most often unencrypted. It makes it very easy for someone else on that same network to intercept your connection or even inject your device with malware. By using a VPN, you encrypt everything you send out and receive. Your information stays unreadable, even if someone manages to get their hands on it.

Streaming

If you use streaming services frequently, you might have noticed that they do not offer the same content in different countries. But if you bought a subscription, it’s reasonable you would want to be able to watch your favorite series while traveling. A VPN allows you to stream TV programs, sporting events, and movies seamlessly. It grants you access without compromising your security.

A VPN is also very useful during popular events, like the Superbowl. When a lot of users are streaming at the same time, some ISPs start to throttle their customers’ bandwidth, which results in buffering and other connection issues. By using a VPN, you reroute and hide your connection. Therefore, your ISP is unable to see what you do online and interfere with your activities.

Gaming

A VPN is, without a doubt, a gamer’s best friend. It guarantees a stable and fast connection, protects you from distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, and allows you to bypass geo-blocking. Often new games are released at different times in different regions of the world. With a VPN, you are guaranteed to get that new shooter game the moment it hits the virtual shelves. No more waiting for weeks and even months for it to come out where you live.

Stay safe, use a VPN

A VPN gives you an additional layer of security and anonymity — and peace of mind. With a VPN, you can rest assured that you’re the only one who knows what you do online. No more ISP or government surveillance and restrictions means you get to enjoy the internet the way it was supposed to be — open and free to everyone.

VPNs work on all popular devices — Windows, macOS, Android, iOS, Android TV, Linux, and more. You can set it up on your gaming console or even the Wi-Fi router if you want to protect your whole network all at once.

VPNs no longer require you to have a lot of technical know-how. User-friendly interfaces mean that everyone can use them to protect themselves from online threats, bypass censorship, avoid surveillance, and enjoy quality entertainment no matter where they live.

Chad Hammond
Chad Hammond
Verified author
Chad loves traveling and technology. His global view and open-mindedness add interesting angles to various security topics. He has already traveled to over 80 countries and is not planning to stop any time soon.
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