What is a VPN?

What is a VPN? VPN Tunnel

Not too long ago hardly anybody knew what a Virtual Private Network or VPN was. However, since mid 2013, when Edward Snowden spilled the beans on the US Government’s secret world-wide data collection activities, many Internet users including many governments, started looking into protecting their communications from prying eyes. One such measure is encrypting your Internet connection and hiding your real identity through the use of a VPN.

If you already know what a VPN is you can safely skip this post, if not, here is what you need to know.

What is a VPN?

A virtual private network, or VPN, is a way of encrypting your Internet traffic and hiding your real IP address. You do this by installing special software (VPN client) on your device that connects to dedicated servers (VPN servers) on the Internet. Think about the connection as follows: instead of connecting from your device directly to the Internet you connect from your device through the VPN server to the Internet, allowing you to assume the VPN server’s identity.

What are VPNs used for?

The most obvious use for VPN is to encrypt your Internet traffic to hide your online activities from nosy government and corporations. However, there are a lot of other legal and, of course, not so legal uses for VPNs. Here is an incomplete list:

  • Unblocking region restricted content
  • Avoiding censorship
  • Accessing blocked websites
  • Hiding your real identity
  • Protecting confidential information
  • Anonymously browsing torrents
  • etc…

Where to get a VPN?

How to gain access to a VPN depends on your security needs and technical abilities.

Technically literate users are able to setup their own VPN at little to no cost; however personal VPNs, while very safe, often lack the features a commercial VPN provider offers, such as multiple IP address and IP addresses in other countries to unblock region restricted content.

Another option is your employer if you are working for a larger company or a company that has remote employees. These companies often employ VPNs to protect the communications between the employee and the company network and/or employees and employees; for example media organizations use VPNs to communicate securely with journalists in the field.

The most common and simplest solution is a commercial VPN provider that will allow customers access to their network of VPN servers for between USD 5-10/month on average. Most VPN vendors provide free software to setup their service that doesn’t require much, if any, technical knowledge and offer support if needed.

Where to go from here?

There is a lot more to VPNs than just this basic introduction. The most interesting part of VPNs are the encryption mechanisms used to establish a secure connection, aka VPN protocols, and you can find out more about those in this article: https://vpnspectrum.com/vpn-protocols/

If you are looking for a VPN you might want to read our article about how to choose a VPN here: https://vpnspectrum.com/vpn-vendors/

With the need for privacy and confidentiality online increasing, more and more people of all kinds and nationalities will choose to connect to the Internet through VPNs. Signing up with VPN providers will get easier and cheaper. VPN protocols (the software used to establish a secure connection between a remote device and a VPN server) will become even more sophisticated, and therefore more difficult to compromise or infiltrate NSA style. Your data is yours and a VPN is one method to ensure it remains that way.

Image Credit: itravelNZ®

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