What’s a VPN and Why Should You Use One?
The core tenets of freedom, privacy, and security are being challenged and redefined as rapid technological innovations carry us further into uncharted territory. Because of this, these tenets have become a primary consideration when consumers seek solutions to their various issues. The popularity of anonymous messaging apps, powerful antivirus programs, and cryptocurrency is a testament to the demand for freedom, privacy, and security today.
VPNs: what are they?
VPNs, or Virtual Private Networks, have increased in popularity recently, indicating a mainstream demand for internet security and privacy. These networks imitate private networks while you navigate public internet connections. VPNs accomplish this by masking your data, online activity, and IP address. With a secure and encrypted connection, they create a haven for your internet use and protect you against unwelcome intrusion.
VPNs have become a necessary tool for those who value internet freedom, privacy, and security. Originally, VPNs were created to help business networks connect and to allow remote access to a specific network while operating from any internet connection.
Although there are many types of Virtual Private Networks available, the most commonly used VPN works by creating an encrypted pathway. Your data (browsing history, IP address, etc.) is channeled through this pathway to your VPN service provider’s remote server. From there, your VPN’s server transmits the data to whatever website you’re visiting. By acting as the middleman, your VPN protects your true identity and behavior.
How does a VPN protect you?
There are a few processes by which an effective VPN operates:
Authenticating your connection: By ensuring that there is exclusivity in the connection between you, your VPN server, and your desired website, no one can intercept your data.
Acting as a proxy: Your Virtual Private Network server keeps you anonymous by acting as a surrogate for your activity.
Encrypting your data: Your VPN pathway scrambles the data with highly advanced encryption processes. By being encrypted, your data is unreadable.
Escorting your information on a secure pathway: The VPN acts as a protective escort that shields your data packet inside another data packet through a process known as “tunneling.”
A VPN’s effectiveness is measured by its use of these four important concepts.
What exactly does a VPN safeguard?
By using authentication, encryption, “tunneling,” and proxying, you minimize the vulnerability of the following:
Your IP address: Your IP address is the unique address containing sensitive information like your home address and internet service provider. Your VPN will use an IP address that’s not your own, preventing your internet usage from being traced back to you.
Your location: With your IP address anonymous, VPNs help protect your location. With your location hidden or remotely designated to a new location, you can gain access to certain location-restricted content or resources on the internet.
Your search and browsing history: Each one of your moves on the internet is being tracked. But even the most innocuous of internet users still feel squeamish when they hear this fact. In addition to the privacy issue, there are several commercial reasons why this concerns many people. Targeted advertising is just one of the reasons why some hope their history would remain private. A VPN protects your history from being viewed by anyone.
Practical use cases for Virtual Private Networks: why VPNs are so popular these days
Protect yourself (your devices) on public Wi-Fi networks: Many of us bounce between different public Wi-Fi networks all day. Devices on public Wi-Fi networks can easily become victims of cybercrime. Whether it’s your laptop, tablet, or smartphone, a VPN protects whatever data you send and receive through networks.
Stay anonymous online: With our social, financial, professional, and romantic lives moving online, it’s best to have the option of remaining anonymous whenever you want. VPN encryption and its ability to tunnel your data through its server, your IP address (and identity) remain cloaked in anonymity.
Access geographically restricted content while traveling: Due to licensing and regulatory issues, the internet in many countries is not nearly as universally uniform as you’d expect. Many VPNs allow you to choose your virtual location and access geographically restricted content (including gaming and streaming services).
Example: Many report price discrimination while shopping. Some websites use a combination of location and purchasing data to display different prices depending on who is viewing. Using a VPN can assist you in getting the best list price on certain products or services online.
Bypass internet censorship in specific countries: Many travelers who are used to unrestricted internet freedom are dismayed when they travel to certain countries and their favorite websites are blocked. Using a VPN allows users to get around internet censorship issues.
Hide your browsing history: Given the right knowledge and skillset, anyone can see your browsing activity if you’re visiting certain websites on a public network. VPNs are the safest bet if you’re looking for more privacy regarding your browsing activity.
Access home or business networks while traveling: Many VPNs can help you access your home network while traveling. You can access your files and programs on another computer as if you were in your own home using your own network. This also applies to businesses. While traveling, your VPN can connect you to your business network without exposing your company’s assets to whatever network in which you find yourself.
Avoid bandwidth throttling: Some internet service providers (ISPs) may slow down your internet speed if you're using certain online services, such as streaming videos or downloading multiple large files. With a VPN, you can hide your online activities from your ISP and avoid bandwidth throttling.
While there are free VPN options available, the adage rings true here: you get what you pay for. If you seriously value your privacy and security, it’s better to invest in something that will deliver the highest quality protection, features, and speed.
Which VPN is right for me?
Here’s a selection of the most popular VPNs available:
- ExpressVPN: A VPN known for its commitment to speed and privacy
- NordVPN: Built for reliability and speed
- Private Internet Access: An affordable, feature-rich VPN
- Surfshark: A budget VPN that still manages to deliver the essentials with a low price tag
- ProtonVPN: A leader in security and speed standards
- Norton Secure VPN: A reliable VPN released by a leader in the security world
- Mullvad VPN: A simple, no-gimmicks kind of VPN service
- CyberGhost VPN: A VPN known for its abundance of features while still remaining user friendly
Although each VPN will be different in its setup, the fundamentals of setting one up are simple.
Here’s the initial process for most VPNs:
- Go to your VPN’s website and choose the appropriate plan for yourself
- Download and install the VPN app on the devices you’ll use
- Once downloaded, make sure to do your research into your chosen VPN and adjust the settings to suit your style, security preferences, etc.
With your VPN installed and activated while using the internet, you can rest assured knowing your privacy, security, and freedom are valued and fully intact.
Alex is a contributing writer for Acer. Alex is a Texas-based writer and B2B email marketing strategist specializing in helping technology brands connect to their customers. He has lived all over Asia and has consulted with business clients in numerous industries to grow their brands.