What Is A VPN, And Should You Use One?
VPN Explained – What Is A VPN, And Should You Use One?
In the modern world, data is currency. Websites sell and advertisers purchase personal information so they can more accurately target you with advertisements. I think we can all agree that we should be in control of our personal data, not the websites we visit nor the internet providers we use.
All data from your shopping habits to your physical location and even who you communicate with is for sale. If this data ends up in the wrong hands, it could easily lead to identity theft or other cybercrimes. Consequently, we must protect our data. One of the main ways we can do this is through VPNs. This article will detail what a VPN is, how it works and the pros and cons of using one.
VPN stands for Virtual Private Network, and in its most simplistic terms, it is a way to hide your IP address from websites you interact with via a shared intermediary network.
Why You Should Use A VPN
Privacy and data sovereignty
A VPN hides your physical location from the internet, preventing advertisers, data collectors, hackers or governments from piecing together your online activity to build a digital profile. Essentially, it puts you in control of your data.
Safely access public WiFi
Using public WiFi increases the risk of a hacker compromising your device. However, with a VPN, your connection is rerouted through an intermediary network, so hackers cannot access your device via the wifi connection.
Unrestricted access to the internet
Many websites (such as Netflix) are location restrictive and only show certain shows based on the country you are in. A VPN allows you to switch sites to “content unrestricted”.
Send and receive sensitive data
A core principle for many VPN users is freedom of speech. In some countries, there are high levels of censorship on topics such as religion, politics and government. Using a VPN when sending or receiving sensitive data allows users to hide their identities and protect themselves from potential repercussions.
How do VPNs work
This section gets a little technical, don’t worry if you get lost; the main thing to know is that a VPN server acts as an intermediary between the user and a website to create a secure, anonymous connection.
Essentially, a VPN masks your identity by rerouting your connection to a web server via one of its networks. Your connection to the VPN is secured by encryption, with the only parties who have access to your decrypted identity being you and the VPN service provider itself.
Your internet service provider (ISP) has access to all your digital data, as it is how you connect to every internet server. They can legally sell all this data to advertisers. For a VPN to be effective, it must mask your identity from your ISP while connecting to the VPN server. This is done through what is known as a VPN client and VPN server connection.
The connection between the client and server is the encrypted tunnel that masks your identity. The VPN client is a piece of software on the user’s device, and the server is computing hardware managed by the VPN provider.
The connection works by the VPN client and server exchanging public keys via the ISP connection. The client then encrypts the user’s data and sends this encrypted data to the server. The server can decrypt the data using its private keys. The server can then send decrypted data to websites, and the user’s anonymity is secured as the connection comes from the server’s IP address. The server then returns this data to the client VPN, thereby returning it to the user. This entire process happens in a matter of seconds.
Paid VPNs offer a secure, private connection to the internet that is critical in this day and age. However, there are also some limitations to VPNs.
Firstly, as discussed in the previous section, the connection between users and websites is complicated when VPNs are involved. Therefore, some VPNs can slow down your internet connection. This is only sometimes the case, so it is important to choose a highly-rated VPN.
Another limitation, which is even more important, is that some VPNs log your web browsing data in the same way an ISP would. It can be challenging to tell which VPNs log your data; almost all free VPNs will log and sell your data, but it has been found even some paid ones do as well. This means you need to put a lot of trust in your VPN provider. It is challenging to be sure that a VPN provider does not log data, so make sure to cross-examine the provider’s reviews before enrolling its services.
Finally, if a skilled hacker or government agency wants to track your web activity, there are many ways to do so. A VPN gives you much more significant privacy than no VPN, but it does not make you anonymous.
A trusted, paid VPN is an excellent way to protect your privacy from hackers, advertisers and governments online. However, the VPN must be trusted, and even then, your browsing activity is still not totally secure.