What is VPN?
A VPN, or a Virtual Private Network, is a system designed for online privacy and security. It uses a number of technologies to allow you to send and receive data securely, over both public and private networks. This includes internet hot-spots and broadband.
A VPN allows users, whether as part of an organisation, business, or as a private individual, to enjoy the security and privacy of a private network while sending data online. It lets you prevent other third parties from altering the data you send over the internet, or to see who you are communicating with or what you are viewing online.
A VPN also allows you to access content such as geo-restricted streaming sites from locations outside your own country. And it lets you access websites that may be censored in your own country.
The technology has found extensive application in two different spheres:
- Business: VPNs were originally developed for use by businesses to provide a complete solution for secure communications. VPN technology allows businesses and corporations to set up secure networks within the company that cannot be accessed by unauthorised users.
- Personal use: The technology has now found great popularity among ordinary internet users around the world, due to its ability to guarantee high levels of security and privacy. It guarantees anonymity for individuals in countries that impose restrictive online rules, or prosecute for torrenting or downloading. It also allows you to send and receive data securely, without your communications being monitored.
This article is going to look at the benefits of VPNs from the point of view of a personal user. It will explain how you can benefit from a VPN, and how to set one up.
What Does a VPN Do?
The technical details of how VPNs work are fairly complicated, but the end result is easy for anyone to appreciate. VPNs use a set of different protocols to help ensure that your internet traffic is kept private from everyone, including your internet provider and government agencies.
VPNs have three main functions:
- Online privacy: A VPN will hide your geographical location and IP address and encrypt your connection making it harder for your activity to be monitored.
- A secure connection: No one will be able to view your online data, including browsing and communications.
- Avoiding geo-restrictions and online censorship: By sending your traffic through a server located anywhere in the world, a VPN has the added benefit of making it seem as though you are accessing the internet from the server location. This means that you can view content which is exclusive to this country, or blocked in your own country.
What VPN Doesn’t Do?
While it is an effective tool for maintaining high levels of security and privacy, there are certain points that should be mentioned regarding using a VPN:
- A VPN doesn’t replace your Antivirus or Firewall. These are still essential for maintaining security. For instance, if you accidentally download malicious software, a VPN will not be able to provide any security or block the file. Similarly, a Firewall is valuable for filtering incoming and outgoing data packets to protect your computer. More details in our “Do you need a VPN if you use a firewall and an antivirus?” article.
- A VPN does not offer absolute anonymity. All services have few pieces of information which can be used, if enough effort is put in, to distinguish different users. While software engineers are working constantly to improve the privacy provided by VPNs, they still have their limitations.
Why Do I Need a VPN?
There are a number of reasons why VPNs have become more and more popular in recent years. Some of the major benefits include:
- Hiding online activity from your internet service provider or governmental agencies
- Safely accessing public networks and hot-spots
- Accessing geo-restricted content eg. viewing American streaming services from outside the USA
- Downloading and torrenting anonymously
- Downloading at a higher speed if your ISP slows torrent downloads
- Bypassing online censorship in countries where it is enforced
- Testing SEO and marketing strategies at different locations around the world
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How Does a VPN Work?
A VPN makes use of a number of different VPN protocols. This phrase refers to technologies with different features that are ideal for increased security and privacy. A VPN can ensure that your online activity is hidden from prying eyes.
The process of using a VPN online is as follows:
- Your device connects to a VPN server operated by your chosen VPN service provider. This server can be located in any number of different locations around the world.
- A secure VPN connection between your device and the VPN server is set up. This means that all your traffic is being routed through the server.
- Your IP address is changed to the IP of the server and your connections is encrypted. As a result, your location will no longer be visible to websites you visit or any other agencies or third parties that may be trying to monitor your activity. Sophisticated VPN protocols are used to encrypt all the data in your internet use. All readable data is converted into a code that cannot be deciphered without the relevant key. The key is not available to anyone outside your private network, meaning that all your online activity is kept completely confidential.
What is a VPN Protocol?
VPN protocol refers to the technologies and services VPN providers use to ensure you get the secured and fast connection to VPN servers and back. VPN protocol is a combination of encryption standards and transmission protocols.
If you want to get a more in-depth explanation, check out our article “How VPN works?“.
How Do I Get a VPN?
There are two main options for people looking to enjoy the benefits of a VPN service.
- You can rent a server and set up your own VPN. However, unless you’re very familiar with the technology involved, this will probably be an unnecessarily complicated option. You will also only be able to operate on a single server, which means that you will only have access to the content available within that country. Access to content is dependent on the location of a server, so if you’re only using a single one, that will be your only option.
- Sign up to a reliable VPN service provider. They regularly expand their services by setting up new servers, and update their technology to maintain high levels of security. They also employ professional tech developers to develop apps and extensions and to ensure that their service is constantly updated. With a reliable provider, you’re able to guarantee higher levels of security.
What is a VPN service provider?
A VPN provider is a company that offers online privacy and security services using Virtual Private Networks. These companies provide clients with access to a selection of VPN servers in multiple different countries around the world. Also they provide apps and technologies for easily connecting to those servers.
Free or Premium VPN?
There are a number of free VPN providers available, but these are not the best option. Many of them have very limited services, with a monthly restriction on the amount of internet use they allow. If you want to go beyond the limit, you will have to pay extra, and it can easily become more expensive than simply investing in a reliable VPN service.
Some free providers even go so far as to impose adverts within their service, making you wait longer to access online content. It has also been recently revealed that free VPN providers are taking advantage of their users. If a user had a high enough internet speed, free VPN providers will use his PC as an exit node, allowing other users to make use of an individual’s internet without their knowledge.
How Do I Set Up My VPN?
Most VPN technology today is compatible with a broad range of devices, whether desktop or mobile, and on a wide range of operating systems. There are two ways you can set up your VPN:
- Manually: Operating systems allow users to manually set up VPN connections. The method differs between operating systems, and your VPN provider will provide a step-by-step guide on how to complete setup.
- With an app: A downloadable VPN app is a more convenient way of setting up your VPN. Download from your VPN service provider, and follow the instructions for setting up. Relevant apps are usually available for the most popular platforms, including Windows, macOS, iOS and Android. Some providers also offer apps for Amazon Fire TV, Android TVs, Linux and other devices.
VPNs are one of the most reliable and widely used methods of maintaining privacy and security online. The combination of data encryption and access to geo-restricted content explains why this technology has become so popular among internet users worldwide. Thanks to the professional and comprehensive work done by VPN companies, you don’t need an in depth understanding of the relative technology to make use of one these fantastic services.
Here you have it: the concept of VPN laid out in the clearest way possible, so that the question “What is VPN?” is now finally answered!
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