What is a VPN?

what is a vpn?

VPN Defined

A VPN or a Virtual Private Network is a service that acts as your gateway to a private and safe internet.

VPNs allow you to browse the internet on a secure connection on a different network somewhere else in the world.

What a VPN does in simple terms, is securely connect you to another computer with end-to-end encryption, and effectively use that computer’s internet connection.

Protecting Your Privacy

Everytime you browse the internet, your internet service provider (ISP) receives the request and connects you to whatever website you want to visit.

When your ISP receives the request, all of your online activities are in plain sight.

It’s not uncommon for ISPs to track your browsing history and the content you consume.

More than that, your ISP can hand off your data to whoever they wish (including government agencies).

When you browse the internet through a VPN, all of your online activity is encrypted.

In essence, your ISP will only know that you are connected to a VPN.

Your ISP cannot possibly identify what you are doing since a VPN encrypts all the data it sends and receives.

Securing Yourself with a VPN

In this digital age, it’s hard to live without any internet.

It has become human nature that we connect all of our devices on the internet whether we’re at home, at work, or even in public places.

Without the protection of a VPN, all of your web traffic is just out there in the open.

The absence of a private and secure connection can attract hackers and thieves. Usually, they are well-prepared with the right tools to have access to all of your data.

These hackers can access your files and accounts, know your activity or even steal your identity.

A VPN encrypts point-to-point connection; in effect, it will deter snooping of any kind.

VPN Encryption

We’ve been using the term “encryption” in this article, and we owe it to you to explain what it means.

The idea behind encryption is quite simple: every time you transfer any data, your computer turns that data into ciphertext.

Ciphertext is basically an unintelligible string of characters that a computer generates.

For example, a simple “hello” could possibly look something like “byFFI” after it’s encrypted. Try using tools like this to see how it works.

In essence, anyone who attempts to snoop into your activities will only see gibberish and useless data.

A VPN encrypts your traffic and the keys to decrypt it are only granted to your device alone.

VPN Uses

There is so much that a VPN does to provide access to the Internet in a secure way. The best VPNs meet all the checkmarks and can fill these requirements. From Netflix streaming to bypassing government censorship, this one tool is quickly becoming a must-have for everyone living in this digital age.

Unblock Geo-Restrictions

It isn’t news that some websites and content providers block content to certain regions due to copyright laws or licensing issues.

Since a VPN routes your connection to servers in different locations around the globe, you are granted an IP address from those locations.

The streaming giant Netflix, for example, restricts people living in the EU from accessing US-licensed content.

If someone living in Germany would like to watch The Office on Netflix, it would normally be impossible. It’s because The Office has an exclusive license in countries like U.S. and Canada only.

Now if that person uses a VPN and connects to a US VPN server, it would effectively hide their true location, make them appear like a US-based viewer and bypass Netflix’s geo-restriction.

Note: not all VPNs work with Netflix. Netflix is quick to blacklist VPN servers, so it’s highly recommended you use a premium VPN provider who provides Netflix-dedicated servers.

Peer-to-Peer File Transfers

A peer-to-peer network is a self-organized network, in which users can send and receive data to each other with their own computers acting as servers.

A computer can host a file and will send data over the network when anyone attempts to download it.

The P2P network is most often utilized by torrent clients when sharing files.

File sharing websites are known to have viruses, everyone should be aware of this and take measures to block harmful programs from their devices.

The other problem with P2P is that you are openly sharing your data with random strangers on the internet.

The biggest concern is a copyright holder could be snooping on your file sharing activities right now. They are notorious for going after individuals and suing them to bankruptcy.

Masking your IP with a VPN from the general public is your responsibility and yours alone.

Besides the security threats, there’s another problem. Some regions outright block P2P and torrenting. Like bypassing Netflix’s geo-restrictions, a VPN can also allow you to bypass country restrictions on P2P networks.

Safety in Public Networks

If you visit coffee shops, airports, etc. often and connect your devices to the publicly available WiFi networks, you are already at risk.

This goes for all public WiFi networks. We consider all of them to be risky.

You can never know if there is someone attempting to perform a “man in the middle” attack through a public WiFi connection, or if the person providing the WiFi connection is actually logging & spying the data going through their network. This opens up possibilities where your login credentials can be leaked.

In fact, it’s not that difficult at all for a hacker on the same network to see all your data.

A VPN will protect you from these prying eyes by encrypting your data.

Overcome Censorship

There are some ISPs that block websites on their network whether it’s a government mandate or not.

A classic example of this would be those living in China. The country has banned websites like Google, YouTube, and even Twitch.

Remember we went over how no one can read your encrypted data over a VPN? This applies to your own ISP too. And since they can’t read your data, they don’t know where you’re connecting to – meaning, you could have access to Google, YouTube, and Twitch for example in China.

Save Money on Flights

The reality is websites are able to detect where you’re connecting from with your IP.

Travel sites often use this information to determine the prices that they show you.

If you’re shopping in the U.S., you may see higher rates than a lower-income country like Argentina.

Another way for them to raise prices is if you’ve visited their website before. They will leave a “cookie” on your browser so when you re-visit their website, the cookie tells them you’ve been looking around. At this point, travel sites can bump up the prices knowing you’re ready to pull the trigger.

Airlines and travel sites are notorious for this activity; they know if you’ve been searching for flights they can raise the prices up and you’re still likely to buy them at a higher rate.

To save money on fights using a VPN, your first step is spoofing your location. You can also delete cookies and history from your browser. Make sure to connect to a VPN server in a lower-income country.

The differences are significant, in some cases, you can save hundreds of dollars on flight tickets.

Avoid Restrictive Networks

Restrictive networks behave in similar ways that governments censor websites.

Network administrators blacklist websites, such as adult-related or gambling sites. If you’re connected to a school network or company network, your traffic is most likely restricted.

A VPN will allow you to tunnel out of those restricted networks and access the Internet freely.

More importantly, these networks usually track your activity and monitor the sites you visit thereby taking away your privacy.

Using a VPN will not only give you Internet freedom. It will also protect your privacy.

Hide Your Identity

Let’s say you’re a political activist who covers very sensitive issues such as government scandals and the like.

It’s inevitable for the people you are exposing to try and find you. They will want to know who you are, try to talk to you, or do something far worse.

A VPN masks your identity and your location making you untraceable.

It’s a powerful tool to provide anonymity wherever you are.

Conclusion – The Internet is Not a Safe Place

The Internet is home to people who want to take away your information and steal from you. It’s a place full of trackers and governments will try to limit your freedom.

A VPN serves as your primary defense against hackers and intruders. By browsing the internet on secure, encrypted connections you can ensure no government agencies, employers, ISPs, or hackers are eavesdropping on your packets.

More than that, VPNs allow you to bypass internet restrictions. VPNs grant you a freer and more open Internet without compromising your online safety.

If you haven’t used a VPN yet, the perfect time to start is now!

Published by

Jamie Cambell

Ethical Hacker. Ph.D., M.S. in Computer Science at University of California, Berkeley. Technology enthusiast and also a part-time gamer. My goal is liberating the Internet.

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