A virtual private network (VPN) lets you encrypt your connection to the internet, helping to keep your data private and secure.
A VPN is usually created by software installed on your computer or mobile device. It establishes a private tunnel using strong encryption to a VPN server somewhere on the internet, where all your data passes through.
What Does a VPN Do?
To understand what a VPN does, you need to know how data gets from your computer to the websites you visit.
Think of it like a relay race with many runners (network operators), each taking turns carrying the baton (your data) from one point to another to reach the finish line (the website you want to visit).
Each time the baton is passed, a ‘hop’ takes place. These hops continue until the baton hits the finish line.
At any hop, your data may be accessed or stored by the network operator, which can be people connected to your local network or your internet service provider (ISP).
Using a VPN, the data you send and receive doesn’t go directly to the website but to your VPN server. Data is encrypted between your computer and the VPN server that’s managing your connection.
Because it’s encrypted, the network operator—and those sharing your local network–can’t see the website you visit nor the data that’s going to and from your computer or mobile.
Who Uses VPNs?
VPN users typically want to protect their privacy and security when accessing online content. Remote workers who need access to a secure and private network often use VPNs.
A VPN isn’t just for companies and employees, it’s used by people accessing the internet for regular browsing activities.
A VPN hides your IP address—that is, your current internet location—so it’s used by people who want to appear to a website they’re in a certain location. Some websites only let you connect or view content if you’re from a certain country. A VPN helps people circumvent this roadblock as it makes it appear as though your web-request is coming from another country.
What VPN to Use
There are considerations to make when choosing a VPN provider. Some are more reputable than others in terms of trust and security. There are paid services which have more features, while others are free with simple features and questionable security.
You should consider which devices you use to access the internet and what features you want to have. Some VPN providers have more servers than others and can better manage the load; providing a better service and user experience.
Above all, you need to trust the VPN service provider with your data as they have some ability to read your network traffic.
Are Free VPNs Safe?
Your VPN provider has the ability to know which website you want to visit and potentially read the data you’re transmitting. Therefore, it’s important to carefully choose a trusted VPN provider. Ensure they’re bound by the laws of the country in which they operate and are transparent when about their data storage practices.
VPN services cost money to operate. That’s because they need to manage infrastructure and often use lots of bandwidth. For a service like this to cost no money to use, it typically means you’ll have to agree to the VPN service provider being able to use some or all the information you share with them.