VPNs or Virtual Private Networks are excellent tools for consumers looking to safeguard their privacy online. In this blog, we'll break down how VPNs work and their many different use cases.
In recent years, online privacy has developed into a hot-button subject as more people become aware of how their data is tracked and used online. As a result of this, many individuals have adopted tools such as VPNs or Virtual Private Networks to maintain anonymity online and protect their personal data from misuse.
As we’ll discuss in this article, VPNs are among the most versatile tools for the cautious consumer and are actually pretty straightforward to use.
Before we dive into the potential applications for a VPN, let’s explain in simple terms what a VPN does. A VPN works by creating a digital tunnel that your encrypted data travels through, keeping it secure and anonymous on the internet. One end of the VPN, often referred to as the “exit node,” can be set to another geographic location that could be thousands of miles away. (We’ll get into why this is useful soon). All VPNs can also be turned on and off whenever the user wants to return to normal internet browsing.
Internal protocol (IP) addresses are digital tags every device uses to access the internet. Because of how these tags work, your IP address can trace back to your physical location, ISP, and even browsing history. Think of your IP address as a return address on a letter in the mail- it can easily be traced back to you.
With a VPN, however, your data’s IP address is set to a random geographic location, often thousands of miles away from where you really are. This makes it seem like the device search originated from a different location, which provides you with almost complete anonymity. Some VPN services even allow users to set where their IP address appears from, so you can set your digital location to Canada, the UK, or almost anywhere you’d like.
Almost everyone has used a public Wi-Fi network at some point. These networks can be at your local coffee shop, library, airport, school, just to name a few. If you have your device set to connect to nearby Wi-Fi networks automatically, you might not even be aware that you were using one.
Unfortunately, unsecured Wi-Fi networks like these that don’t have passwords or use shared passwords can be used by hackers looking to intercept your data. On unsecured networks, hackers can use a variety of techniques such as man-in-the-middle attacks, session hijacking, or malware to intercept your data. You could be logging into your bank on a coffee shop’s network and not realize that a malicious third party can also see your login information. However, if you’re using a VPN, your data is automatically encrypted, so even if it’s intercepted, it’ll be in an unusable state for most hackers.
ISPs are increasingly interested in tracking their customers, as we’ve seen with controversial laws like net neutrality. Recent deregulation of ISPs makes it possible for your internet service provider to sell your data, including surfing history, location data, or app usage – to third parties. A VPN can combat this by encrypting the data you send and receive and masking your IP address. While your ISP will be able to determine that you’re using a VPN, they still won’t be able to track your location, browsing history, etc.
While the technology behind VPNs might be complicated, setting up a VPN is actually super straightforward and will probably take you less than 10 minutes.
#1 Find a VPN service that you like for your computer or mobile device.
#2 Download and set up your VPN service using the instructions provided
#3 Connect to a VPN server of your choice or have the app pick one with a fast connection
#4 Enjoy browsing anonymously
While most VPN services do cost a monthly subscription, there are a few free services that contain the basic features.
Some popular VPN services include