With the prevalence of restrictions on our digital freedom, VPNs are quickly gaining popularity. Because of the ever-growing need for VPNs, you may have heard the acronym before, but what exactly is a VPN anyways?
VPN is the abbreviation for Virtual Private Network. Basically, a Virtual Private Network is a remote server that can secure your internet session. It does this by hiding your location and acting as an encrypted tunnel that your online traffic is routed through.
Since all of your internet traffic is routed through the VPN, the location and IP address of the VPN’s remote server will be shown instead of your own. You’ll see why this is so important in just a moment.
An encryption is a hard code to crack. Imagine trying to unlock a safe with several million combinations required just by guessing. It can take years or even centuries to decipher the code. By the time a hacker is able to “find the right combination,” you’d be long gone and the data would be irrelevant anyway.
If you’re keeping important information on your device, such as customer data or anything else you don’t care to share, it’s essential you have a service to safeguard it from threats on the internet. With a good VPN, those worries are a thing of the past.
A VPN is one of the best tools for avoiding any sort of identity theft, as an open connection with no security is no different than an open bank vault to hackers. Now let’s look at why you might need one.
To Unblock Websites
Countries are starting to enforce restrictions put in place on the internet. This means that you could be traveling, or even residing in a country that is blocking certain online content from its internet users. The only way to get around these types of restrictions is to use a VPN because it can make it appear as though you are in a different country or city in which the website is not blocked.
Free proxy servers are unreliable and should really be avoided. In most cases, their security can’t be verified and they may even be around for the purpose of stealing people’s information. A VPN, such as ExpressVPN, on the other hand, has a certain degree of reputation and reviews to verify their integrity.
You’ll save a lot of time using a VPN because the only other way is actually traveling to a different location, which might come at considerably time and cost. For most of us, traveling isn’t usually a practical option to begin with.
To Safely Access Public WiFi
If you have a smartphone or enjoy hanging out at cafes with your laptop, it’s a wise idea to always use a VPN on both of your devices. Public WiFi may be convenient, but it’s really not as safe as it seems because it’s an unsecured network that anyone can access.
Hackers and other criminals routinely camp out on unsecured WiFi looking for victims. A recent article shows that even a child can hack into your device if it’s connected to a public network (and in less than 15 minutes too!).
An encrypted connection puts a stop to hackers, even if you’re using the internet on the go. An un-encrypted connection is vulnerable to all sorts of exploits, including bad data insertion (sending you malware) or simply connecting directly to your device.
To Avoid Handing Out Your Info
Whether it’s websites, apps, or even operating systems, it seems like everyone wants to be in your business. If they know what you’re doing online, when, and where you are at the time, they can tailor any advertisements that show up for you on the net and potentially make some money for their companies in the process. Sometimes tailored ads can be a good thing, but at the same time, the idea of companies tracking your information is a bit creepy, isn’t it?
If you use a VPN, you’ll be keeping your information private from those who have a vested interest in tracking what you do online. It’ll keep your information out of the hands of hackers as well.
Depending on the location, government entities may also be spying on your activities. Even though you may be using the net in a legal, harmless way, there’s still a chance you could end up on the wrong end of someone else’s criminal activities.
While using your VPN, be sure to occasionally change servers to avoid falling into an obvious pattern. If you’re truly looking to remain anonymous and untracked, you’ll need to disable cookies in your browser and avoid disconnecting from your VPN.
We have created this infographic,to demonstrate use of a VPN for secure communications!
So you know what a VPN does now, but are they all the same?
Not All VPNs Are Equal
A VPN is a great form of security software, yet not everyone knows where to find one or how much they cost. Though you can get a VPN for free, it will be lacking in quality as far as speed, bandwidth limit, and customer service goes.
Expect to pay anywhere from $5 to $15 per month for service. While there are many options, your needs may be different and so you’ll need to be discerning before subscribing to any particular service.
Take HideMyAss, for example. Up until a few years ago, they were one of the most well-known, premier providers out there. Their clever name and large selection of servers meant they were a great choice for new users.
But shortly thereafter, HideMyAss was implicated in a scandal regarding their customers’ private data. By now, you’ve probably figured out that a VPN is meant to maintain your privacy, but HideMyAss was actually keeping logs of their users internet activities. When the government came knocking, they were all too happy to surrender their clients’ information.
You wouldn’t want your bank handing out your account info or routing numbers, so it seems odd that a company dedicated to helping their customers remain anonymous and secure would do such a thing. But many VPNs operate under a similar policy.
Choosing the Right VPN
So what exactly should you be looking for out of your VPN? A few things come standard in virtually all paid VPNs. Those things are:
- Unlimited bandwidth (data limits for your device still apply, of course)
- 256-bit industry standard encryption
- Different server locations
- Access for multiple devices
- Some form of software or app
- Customer support
However, there are different degrees to which each VPN is willing to offer each service. Though most VPNs will guarantee unlimited bandwidth, their actual performance may vary. OpenVPN and HideMyAss both occasionally suffer from speed issues on some of their non-US servers.
Most providers won’t have that problem. But these providers also offer something important—a money-back guarantee. It’s never easy to tell whether you’re going to like a product or not, so having the opportunity to test it is pretty great. Respectively they offer 30-day and 7-day guarantees.
Be sure to consider what type of device you use, as not every VPN supports every device. What might work for your Windows PC may not necessarily have an app for your iPhone or iPad. If you’re planning to use multiple devices, you’ll need to be sure your VPN allows you to connect the right number of devices for your needs.
Your VPN’s location will determine a few different things. Some companies may be subject to data seizure based on their countries’ laws, so there’s another reason why it’s important for them not to keep logs. Their location also may determine their business hours.
For a company that doesn’t offer 24-hour support, you could find yourself in trouble if their business hours are in US time and you’re in China. Customer support may be over the phone (rarely), live chat or email. Most companies offer email support, but only a few offer live chat.
check out this article by Secure Thoughts that further explains some of the currently available options and their different strengths.
One of Many Great Tools
Remember that although a VPN is undeniably useful, there is no guarantee that all of your information will be protected all of the time. It’s important for the risks and threats to your security to be properly understood in order for you to determine the approach you should be using to protect your information.
There is no single cure-all for security. VPNs can help mitigate some mistakes, but they won’t help you create good passwords or keep you from visiting dangerous websites. You’ll still need to use anti-virus software and practice safe, educated internet usage for maximum effect.
Like anything else, knowledge is one of your greatest assets. Knowing about VPNs gives you just one more tool to use for your security in the never-ending battle against crime.
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