Virtual Private Networks, or VPNs as they are more commonly know, are becoming more and more relevant with every data breach scandal that is publicised. There has been a lot of publicity around the usage of VPNs, with Apple recently removing all VPN apps from the Chinese app store, as well as the revelation that VPNs are an effective tool in the battle against Wi-Fi vulnerability. However, to the average computer user, VPNs don’t exist, and they probably don’t realise that they probably need one. Using a VPN is incredibly easy, and is considered to be a necessity for the consumer in 2019.
First of all, establishing how a Virtual Private Network actually works. In the most basic sense, without a VPN, your computer could be seen as vulnerable. Your internet service provider is able to see all the content you are accessing, such as streaming sites, torrents, as well as games. However, when connected to a VPN, the server that you connect to will act as a gateway between your personal computer and the websites. The VPN acts as a middleman for your browsing activity, you send a request to the VPN, the VPN then sends a request to the server, and the process runs in reverse. The VPN will act as a block between your internet service provider and the content you are viewing, meaning that they will be unable to access the content that you are viewing. VPNs also protect you in other ways, such as encrypting your internet traffic, as well as allowing you to use a completely new IP address, so your real one remains anonymous, making the necessity for a VPN two-fold.
Why is it important for your internet traffic to be encrypted? Well, in a nutshell, encryption uses very advanced complex algorithms to make your data unreadable to third parties. The VPN will be able to protect your browsing information from not only your internet service provider but also from anyone else who you are sharing your Wi-Fi network with. If you are using public Wi-Fi, as many people do nowadays, then a VPN is essential, in order to take the necessary steps to protect yourself when browsing the internet.
The fact the VPNs will also allow you to use a new IP address is also important for internet safety. This ensures anonymity, although this isn’t the only benefit. It also broadens the amount of content that you have access to when browsing the internet. To put it into context, your IP address can be compared to your address in real life; it tells internet servers where to send information and content. However, when connected to a VPN, and therefore a new IP address, you are able to access content not previously possible. Streaming websites such as Netflix and BBC iPlayer use your IP address to determine where you are in the world, and therefore which content you will have access to. Using a VPN will allow you to connect to a different server in a different country, unlocking a wealth of content. This is also what separates a good VPN from a bad VPN; a good VPN will give you a unique IP address, which will be undetectable by these content providers. However, a bad VPN, which is often free, will give you a generic IP address, of which are often recognised by the streaming sites. On that note, how do you pick the best VPN?
There are plenty of reviews out there comparing the different VPN services, both free and paid services, although there are a few things to consider before pulling the trigger on a specific VPN. One of the first things to consider is what devices is the VPN available on? The top VPN providers will be able to offer you the service across a variety of platforms. If you are someone who likes to watch Netflix on the go, then they should be able to offer you a VPN on your smartphone or tablet. Even the most basic of VPN’s will offer you the service on either your desktop computer or laptop, although may limit the number of devices you can use the VPN on. Being able to apply the VPN to your network router is equally as important, as this can protect your entire household against potential data breaches, and should be considered when deciding on the right VPN for you. VPN protocols are something else that should be considered. They basically dictate how data is passed between your device, and the VPN server.
PPTP is the most efficient protocol time-wise, however is also the least secure. OpenVPN is the the most secure, but not available on all devices. A good VPN provider will have multiple protocols available, and will allow you to switch between them depending on your personal needs. The final thing to consider, is the locations of the servers that the VPN service will provide. If you are using a VPN to access a streaming site in order to unlock geoblocked content, such as browsing from the UK attempting to watch content only available on the US version of Netflix, you will want to make sure this is a service that is offered. Most if not all of the paid VPN services have US servers on there, however if you want something that may be slightly more obscure, it’s best to double check before you purchase a VPN service. The most important thing, above all else, is security. There have been some cases of free VPN services selling users data, so it is always best to go for a paid VPN service. Most of them are comparable in price, and work on a monthly subscription basis.
If you make sure to read reviews about potential VPN providers, and even trial out the different services, then you’ll be sure to find a VPN service provider that suits all of your private browsing needs.