What the heck is a VPN?  How does VPN work?   Do I need a VPN?

A VPN, or Virtual Private Network, is an encrypted network connection between your device(s) and the Internet. Since your Internet activity is typically an open book for advertisers, ISPs, nosy network administrators, and hackers, it can effectively disguise your Internet activity from those prying eyes. It is the easiest and most effective way to protect your Internet traffic and keep your identity private online. As your device connects to a secure VPN server, your Internet traffic travels to a different Internet connection than what are you connected to locally so that your activity is kept private. Most VPN services available today state they do not log or store activity for their customers.

Without a VPN:

When you access the Internet without a VPN, you are being connected to that site through your Internet Service Provider, or ISP. The ISP assigns you a unique IP address that can be used to identify you or your business to the website. Because your ISP is handling and directing all your traffic, it can see which websites you visit and your activity can be linked to you by that unique IP address. Apart from the ISP, other members of your network can potentially see your activity.

With a VPN:

When you connect to the internet with a VPN, the VPN app on your device (also called a VPN client) establishes a secure connection with a VPN server. Your traffic still passes through your ISP, but your ISP can no longer read it or see its final destination. The websites you visit can no longer see your original IP address, only the IP address of the VPN server, which is shared by many other users and changes regularly. The technical term for this is proxying. It’s as if your IP address is wearing a mask.

Before we get into when and why a person would use a VPN, you need to understand that if you’re not concerned with online privacy or security, then a VPN would likely not provide any value to you. You’ll only see that it makes things a little bit less convenient. You also need to understand that the difference between security and privacy, as they are not, in fact, interchangeable terms. Online Security is concerned with keeping your personal and financial data secure and out of the hands of those trying to steal it. Online Privacy, however, is strictly concerned with your anonymity and people knowing as little about you as possible. The value you place on maintaining these 2 things will determine which, if any, VPN you should use. Okay, now that we’ve cleared that up, let’s get back to it.

“Why should my business go through all this trouble?”

For years now, businesses have been using VPNs for their remote workers to connect from their remote locations to the central office’s network. Whether the remote worker is using private or public Wi-Fi, the VPN keeps the internet activity private. This gives business owners peace of mind that their company data and processes are safe from prying eyes. With the rise in remote work tin 2020, the need for and use of VPNs has risen tremendously. The benefits greatly outweigh the inconvenience of learning how to set it up and use it.

Businesses aren’t the only ones who benefit from VPNs. Individuals can use VPNs to keep their online activity private and ensure access to sites and services that might otherwise be restricted. More and more people are putting VPNs on their personal devices including cell phones. Why is that? Well, let’s look at the benefits of using a VPN in a little more detail.

Changing or disguising your location: Have you ever come across a website or a movie on Netflix that was blocked because of where you are? There are some websites and streaming services that block or filter content depending on your geographical location. Netflix, for example, has nearly 4,000 movie titles available for viewing in the U.S., but if you travel to Italy for vacation, you would only have access to about 2,500 titles. Using a VPN while you travel or stream content allows you to access geographically blocked content.

Hiding from your Internet Service Provider (ISP): Your ISP has enormous insight into what you do online and your ISP can sell anonymized data about its customers whenever they want to. That means you’re paying them for internet access and they’re making money off of your data. Using a VPN will hide your internet activity from your ISP and help maintain your online privacy.

Gaming – While gaming, a VPN gives you a secure connection to your online gaming platform. This typically means a better connection and less lag time. This isn’t necessarily about better security or privacy, but better game quality. While a VPN CAN be used to spoof your geographical location to get games that are not yet released in your country, it IS NOT advisable to do so. This could result in you being blocked from the gaming platform and that’s obviously not the goal.

Increasing your online security in general: If online security is truly important to you then please consider using a VPN for at least these 2 occasions: 1. Using public wifi and 2. Online Shopping. If you’re browsing on a public Wi-Fi hotspot (airport, coffee shop, etc.), a VPN instantly secures your connection—making it possible for you to send sensitive information online without having to worry about your network being logged, recorded, or spied on.

These are the technical details of what is actually happening within the VPN:

  • Proxying: The VPN server acts like a proxy, or stand-in, for your web activity: Instead of your real IP address and location, websites you visit will only see the IP address and location of the VPN server. This makes you more anonymous on the internet.
  • Authentication: Establishing a secure connection is a tricky problem solved by clever mathematics in a process called authentication. Once authenticated, the VPN client and VPN server can be sure they are talking to each other and no one else.
  • Tunneling: VPNs also protect the connection between client and server with tunneling and encryption. Tunneling is a process by which each data packet is encapsulated inside another data packet. This makes it harder for third parties to read in transit.
  • Encryption: Data inside the tunnel is also encrypted in such a way that only the intended recipient can decrypt it. This keeps the contents of your internet traffic completely private. Even your internet service provider won’t see it.

How do you choose the right VPN provider?

You know we always say that cybersecurity is like a bear chase. You don’t have to outrun the bear; you just have to outrun everyone around you. VPNs are one way to put yourself ahead of the pack. ANY VPN is better than no VPN. That being said, you should also know that free VPNs are NOT interested in your online privacy; security yes, but not privacy. They make their money on selling your data. That’s why I said earlier that when it comes to selecting the right VPN for you, it’s important to know how important your privacy and security are to you. If your privacy is important, pay for your VPN. If not, go ahead and use the free ones.

Below are some blog posts with reviews to guide you to choose the correct provider for your needs: