Unfortunately, it is up to individuals to protect themselves. Antivirus apps and password managers go a long way toward keeping you safer, but a VPN is a uniquely powerful tool that you should definitely have in your personal security toolkit, especially in today’s connected world.
Have you ever logged onto a public Wi-Fi network and gotten a creeping sense of dread, wondering what someone, somewhere might be able to see of your online activity? That’s entirely reasonable, considering the forces arrayed against your privacy. With a virtual private network (VPN), you can protect your information from prying eyes and regain a measure of privacy online.
When you’re at home, you don’t have to worry as much about someone spying on the Wi-Fi network because you own the network. But a VPN can help here, too. Your internet service provider (ISP) has enormous insight into what you do online, and, thanks to Congress, your ISP can sell anonymized data about its customers. That means the company you pay for internet access is making money off your data.
VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. It is an easy and efficient solution which offers you three essential things when using the internet: more security, privacy and freedom. If you are unfamiliar with the concept of a VPN, it can seem quite daunting. No worries! This page will explain to you how a VPN works and why people use it.
Getting started with VPN is very easy and takes only 5 minutes. We’ll walk you through 3 easy steps to get you started:
Sign up to your preferred VPN provider, you simply download the VPN apps of this provider on your smartphone, tablet or computer.
When the VPN app is enabled (usually by the press of a single button), the VPN connection will be established. Generally you won’t even notice it’s running, since it just runs in the background. But when it’s enabled, you will be browsing the web far more securely, privately and freely.
That’s all there is to it!
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A VPN offers security because it heavily encrypts all your internet traffic. This prevents others, such as governments and hackers, from intercepting your data. Even with the fastest super computer on earth, it would literally take tens of thousands of years to crack the heavy 256-bit encryption VPN providers offer these days. This is the reason it is highly recommended to use a VPN when using dangerous public wifi networks. But also at work or at home this extra layer of security can be very important.
With a VPN you can browse the internet anonymously because your personal IP address will be hidden for everyone else as soon as you connect with a VPN server. Normally, others can link your online actions to your identity and your location based on your IP address. For instance, your internet service provider, the websites you visit and many governments can generally see everything you do online. However, when you use a VPN, your online actions can only be traced to the VPN server, but no longer to you. Most VPN providers won’t disclose or even monitor what you do via their servers. You’ve thus become anonymous on the internet since you can’t be identified or traced through your IP address.
A VPN can offer you more freedom online. It allows you to connect to servers all over the world. When you connect to a VPN server in a certain country you will be able to access the internet as if you were physically in that country. This can be useful because the internet isn’t freely accessible in all countries. Some countries censor part of the internet or impose restrictions on social media sites or online streaming services. If you are on holiday or have migrated you will sometimes be unable to view streaming services of your home country. A VPN will enable you to connect to the internet via servers in your home country. This makes it possible for you to watch your favorite show or access your favorite website. It also works the other way around. If you want to gain access to websites or streaming services from a different country, you can do so via a VPN connection.
The VPN connection will encrypt your data traffic, making it virtually impossible for hackers or governments to intercept it. The secure connection also provides the user with anonymity because your internet traffic is rerouted through an external VPN server. Because you are surfing the web via the IP address of the VPN server your own IP address will stay hidden. Normally your location and even your identity could be revealed through your IP address because it is unique to your internet connection. By using a different IP address on the VPN server none of your actions online are traceable to you and you can now cruise the web anonymously.
The VPN application will run in the background of your computer, tablet, or smartphone. You can access the internet as you normally do and you won’t notice anything different.
Setting up your own VPN connection is simpler than it might seem. The VPN providers will do most of the work for you. First you will need to find an VPN provider that you like. When you find one that fits your needs, you subscribe to their service and download and install the software they provide. It will only take a couple of minutes before you can go online via the VPN servers. Now you can connect to the internet in a safe and anonymous manner, free from any restrictions or censorship that your geographical location might impose!
VPNs can also grant access to blocked websites. Some governments have decided that it is in their best interest to block certain websites from access by all members of the population. With a VPN, it’s possible to tunnel to a different country with more progressive policies, and access sites that would otherwise be blocked. And again, because VPNs encrypt web traffic, they help protect the identity of people who connect to the open internet in this way. That said, governments are wise to this, which is why we’re seeing VPN use being blocked in Russia and China.
We should note that there are multiple ways your behavior can be tracked online—even with a VPN, things like cookies allow companies to track your internet usage even after you’ve left their sites. Fortunately, we have a handy guide to pruning cookies on your browser.
VPNs also only do so much to anonymize your online activities. If you really want to browse the web anonymously, and access the Dark Web to boot, you’ll want to use Tor. Unlike a VPN, Tor bounces your traffic through several server nodes, making it much harder to trace. It’s also managed by a non-profit organization and distributed for free. Some VPN services will even connect to Tor via VPN, for additional security.
In order to ensure that you can’t access streaming content that is not licensed for your region, Netflix blocks most VPNs. Some VPN services, however, work hard to ensure their customers can still stream movies and TV shows. It’s something of a cat-and-mouse game, and a VPN that works with Netflix today might not work tomorrow.
Similarly, some VPN companies would rather not have to deal with the legal implications of their services being used to download via BitTorrent. BitTorrent is, of course, not inherently illegal but it is often used to pirate copyrighted material. Very few VPN companies outright ban BitTorrenting on their servers, while others restrict its use to specific servers.
Another major concern with VPNs is speed. In general, using a VPN is going to increase your latency (or your “ping”), and decrease the speed at which you upload or download data.
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