Have you ever connected to a public Wi-Fi network and wondered if anyone could see your web activity? That’s completely logical, given the forces that may invade your privacy. It’s a good time to ask yourself: What does a VPN do?
What is a VPN and How Will it Help You?
In layman’s terms, a VPN connects your PC, smartphone, or tablet to another device on the internet and helps you to access the internet using the computer’s internet connection. So if the server is in another country, it will look as if you’re coming from another country, and you can theoretically have access to information that you can’t usually do.
You can use a VPN for the following:
- Bypass regional limits on blogs or on streaming audio and video.
- Watch streaming media such as Netflix and Hulu.
- Protect yourself from snooping on insecure Wi-Fi hotspots.
- At least achieve some anonymity online by covering your true location.
- Secure yourself from being logged while torrenting.
Nowadays many users are using a VPN to torrent or circumvent regional constraints to watch content in another region. They’re always really handy to shield yourself when working in a coffee shop, but that’s not the only need anymore.
Do You Need a VPN for All Your Devices?
Yes, you need a VPN on all of your computers. Many of the VPN clients are the same for both Windows and macOS. But that’s not always the case, and I’ve seen marked output discrepancies depending on the device.
For handheld devices, the problem is a little more serious. Most businesses sell Android and iPhone VPN applications, which is nice because we use these smartphones to connect to Wi-Fi all the time.
VPNs don’t often play well with wireless connections, although it takes some considerable work to intercept cellular data. That being said, law enforcement or intelligence services may have better access to those data or metadata through contacts with cell networks or the use of specialist equipment.
Are you using a less popular OS? That’s not always going to protect you online. From here. Those who spy on network traffic don’t care what sort of machine they’re coming up with.
How Do You Get a VPN and Which One Should You Choose?
Depending on your needs, you can either use a VPN from your office, set up a VPN server on your own, or even host one from your home—but realistically, the overwhelming majority of people are only searching for something to shield them while torrenting, or help them watch any of the media online that they don’t seem to be able to reach from their country.
The easiest thing to do is simply head to one of these sites, sign up, and download the VPN client for your Windows PC, Mac, Android, iPhone, or iPad.
1. ExpressVPN – This VPN server has the best combination of ease-of-use, really fast servers, and supports streaming media and torrenting, all for a cheap price.
2. StrongVPN – not quite as easy to use as the others, but you can use them for torrenting and streaming media
3. Tunnelbear – This VPN is really easy to use, is great for using at the coffee shop, and has a (limited) free tier. It’s not good for torrenting or streaming media though.
All of them have free trials, so you can easily get your money back if you change your mind.
How Does a VPN Work?
When you connect your computer (or another unit, such as a smartphone or tablet) to a VPN, the computer will behave as though it is on the same local network as the VPN. All your network traffic is transmitted through a secure VPN connection.
Since your computer feels like it’s on the network, it helps you to easily access local network services even though you’re on the other side of the planet. You would now be able to use the Internet as if you were present at a VPN location, which has some advantages if you are using public Wi-Fi or wish to navigate geo-blocked websites.
When you search the web when connecting to a VPN, your device can contact the website with an encrypted VPN connection. The VPN forwards the request to you and forwards the response back to the website via a secure connection. If you are using a US-based VPN to reach Netflix, Netflix can see your connection coming from inside the USA.
VPNs do have some real pitfalls. Some sites and providers are looking at VPN traffic as dubious, and will not let you connect. That’s a real challenge, particularly when you’re trying to reach your bank. In cases like these, you may use a different VPN server, but you may have to wait before you can use a trusted network without a VPN.
Speed is another big problem for VPNs. Using a VPN will increase the lag and reduce the speed at which you upload or download data. It’s very hard to predict which VPN would have the least effect on your surfing, but thorough research will give you an indication of which service is the fastest VPN.
Although download speeds are one thing, gamers have specific reservations about internet connectivity. Although there are several VPNs for games, there are few and far from them. But a few VPNs provide split tunneling, which pushes traffic from other applications outside the VPN. It’s less secure, but it also has less effect on latency.
What Does a VPN Do? It Protects You
When the internet was first broken up, there wasn’t any attention given to encryption or privacy. At first, it was just a lot of shared computers at research universities, and computing capacity was so scarce that any encryption could make things incredibly difficult. If anything the emphasis was on transparency, not protection.
Nowadays, most of us have several gadgets that connect to the internet that are much more powerful than the top computers of the early days. Yet the internet has not made a lot of technological changes. Remember that it is only in the last few years that HTTPS has become widespread.
This indicates, sadly, that it is up to people to protect themselves. Antivirus software and password managers go a long way to making you secure, but a VPN is a powerful tool that you should certainly have in your security toolkit, particularly in today’s connected world.