“What is VPN?” A virtual private network, VPN for short, is a private network system that was and still is used primarily by companies to protect their outgoing and incoming Internet traffic. In essence, these companies use VPN as a tool to protect their privacy as well as to shield their sensitive data from potential online hazards. In the past few years, the use of VPN has also risen in households due to VPN’s capability of adding an extra layer of online security. But that is not the only reason casual Internet users are using VPN. VPN also allows you to bypass geographic restrictions and access geo-restricted websites and streaming channels that would usually be geoblocked in your territory. I will discuss this part in detail in this article.
What is VPN? How Does It Protect Online Privacy?
You have probably seen the term VPN while configuring your iPhone’s or Android’s network settings. When you connect to a VPN server, all your Internet connections is encrypted. Your real IP address is masked and changed. Thus, protecting your privacy against government agencies, hackers, or other prying eyes who wish to eavesdrop on your online activity.
How to Get Started?
You need to subscribe to a VPN service in order to get started. With the rise in privacy concerns, there has also been a spurt in the number of VPN providers. Beginners must be aware that not all VPNs are equal. Some cheap or free VPNs might also be fake and full of loopholes that endanger your online security.
Before picking a VPN, take the advice of other VPN users, and make sure to read reviews about the most popular VPN services. The best ones won’t be cheap, least of all free, but will give you a wide array of features and options. Here is a list of our favorite VPN service providers:
What to Look for When Choosing a VPN Service?
A few of the things to keep in mind when choosing a VPN service are:
- Price: While you don’t have to choose the most expensive option on the market, don’t pick something ridiculously cheap either. Look for a VPN that offers the maximum security, privacy functionality, and configuration options at a reasonable price.
- Speed: Using a VPN automatically eats into your connection speed because of the processing time required by encryption. This means you need to choose a VPN that offers fast and stable speed that does not get affected by demands of encryption.
- Privacy: All VPNs claim to provide privacy, but some free or cheap VPNs are notorious for keeping logs of user activity. In this regard it is always wise to choose a reputed VPN provider that is known for respecting the privacy of users.
- Ease of use: A VPN should be easy to set up and use for even the most nontechnical user – even if your name is Harry Solomon or Napoleon Dynamite!
- Security: How good is the VPN provider at preventing hackers and cybercriminals from accessing your data? This is a major question that needs to be answered to determine the worth of a VPN.
- Number of servers/ countries: if you need to connect to servers all over the world, the more number of countries the VPN has servers in, the better.
- Number of simultaneous connections: While some VPNs allow you to connect only one device to the service at a time, more expensive services allow multiple simultaneous connections. The more, the better.
Advantages of a VPN
There are several benefits of using a VPN. Some of these are:
- Automatic encryption: With a VPN, all information transferred online is kept private and encrypted. When you connect via a VPN, your data is passed through a secure tunnel. Even if someone tries to intercept your data, it won’t mean anything because your information is encrypted and unreadable to everyone else.
- Secure public WiFi: Several people use open or public WiFi to access the internet. But free WiFi is also vulnerable to hackers and malware because the connection is open and unencrypted. Anyone can read your private information or use it for unethical purposes. A VPN keeps you safe on public Wifi by encrypting your connections and hiding your personal data.
- Bypass Internet censorship: People living in an oppressive regime are unable to access the internet freely. Internet censorship makes it impossible to access important information. In these cases, a VPN is immensely helpful in bypassing internet censorship. A VPN encrypts connections, hides your actual IP address, and lets you securely and anonymously browse the Web by getting past censorship.
- Secure online conversations: A lot of people use VoIP services like Skype and Google Voice to communicate with others. These services don’t come with encryption, which means all your messages and conversations can be intercepted by outsiders. A VPN is beneficial in encrypting all your calls and messages and keeping them private, even helping you bypass tracking and censorship by keeping you anonymous.
- Stop Google tracking: Everyone knows how Google collects personal data by tracking user activity. Using a VPN is a brilliant solution to this annoying breach of privacy. A VPN keeps you safe and anonymous online, so Google or any other search engine cannot track your activities on the Web.
- Bypass geo-specific blocks: Ever wanted to access Netflix USA shows while sitting in India? A VPN is the answer. Since a VPN has servers all over the world, it lets you easily bypass geo-specific blocks and access Netflix from any region by connecting via servers in that country.
- Safe downloads: Even though songs and movies are freely available on download sites, most of these sites are illegal and infringe upon copyright. The government keeps track of such sites, often making them a little risky to use. A VPN encrypts your connection, keeps you anonymous, and makes your downloads safe without the danger of being tracked.
How safe is a VPN?
A good VPN service will provide you with the maximum online privacy and security. You will be protected against cybercriminals, malware, spyware, government surveillance, prevents tracking, and keeps you anonymous from your Internet service provider.
A VPN works on all devices—PC, laptop, smartphone, tablets, and even devices like smart TVs. There are VPNs that allow you to use multiple devices on the same subscription, and other VPNs require a separate service for each device. Given the wide range of choices available in VPNs it shouldn’t be difficult to find one that suits your needs, whether you are an advanced user or just do some basic browsing.
However, be aware that a VPN cannot protect you if you are indulging in illegal activities. For every other harmless purpose, a VPN is a wise choice at a time when Internet privacy and security is under serious threat.
What is VPN? VPN Protocols Explained
VPN uses different protocols to encrypt your connection. Each of these protocols has a different level of security. The main protocols used by VPN are PPTP, OpenVPN, IPsec, and L2TP. The drawback is that the higher the security level of the VPN protocols you are using, the more your Internet speed might suffer. OpenVPN, also known as SSL, is one of the most commonly used VPN protocols, especially among corporate firms. Take a look at the most secure VPN protocols, from highest to lowest.
- IPsec (Internet Protocol Security)
- LT2P (Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol)
- PPTP (Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol)
What is VPN? Bypass Regional Restrictions
The other benefit of using VPN is that it allows you to unblock and watch streaming channels that are geoblocked. Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, HBO Go, ABC, BBC iPlayer, Sky Go, and Showtime are all examples of streaming services that are not available abroad. These channels look at your IP address to determine your location and thus decide whether you are eligible to watch them or not. Using VPN, you can change your IP address. For instance, if you are an American expat working overseas, you can get a US IP address by connecting to an American VPN server, effectively unblocking all American channels in UK, Canada, Australia, Germany, France, or anywhere else overseas.
VPN is also very useful when it comes to accessing torrent sites like The Pirate Pay, KickAssTorrent, or TorrentHound. VPN allows you to securely download torrents without having to worry about your ISP monitoring your downloads.
Another place where VPN comes in handy is at school, college, or at work in the office. In such places, social network websites like Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, or Instagram are often blocked. Using VPN, you can unblock and access blocked websites at your school, college, or work.
Best VPN Providers
There are a number of elements which differentiate a good VPN provider from a bad one. First, you need to make sure that the VPN service you are using does not keep logs of your online activity.
Second is the speed of the VPN servers in use. This part is very important since it determines whether you can stream videos online without buffering issues. You can measure your Internet speed while connected to a VPN server by visiting SpeedTest.net.
The third aspect you should take into account is the number of VPN servers the VPN service provides and the countries it has VPN servers in. Moreover, proper VPN providers offer their users VPN apps/clients which can be installed on PC, Mac, Android, iPhone, or iPad. These apps make setting up and connecting to VPN relatively easy.
Last but not least is the VPN provider’s customer service. While using VPN, you might run into some issues especially if you are not techsavvy. Having a 24/7 customer service you can call upon when you run into VPN-related problems is very important.
I have tested and tried numerous VPN providers, evaluating their VPN server speeds and customer service in the process. You can find my review of the best VPN services in 2017 here.
What is VPN? Final Thoughts
Registering with a reliable VPN provider will set you back a couple of bucks each month. However, the benefits, both in terms of protecting your online privacy or unblocking geoblocked channels, more than make up for the money you are paying.