More and more people are becoming concerned about their internet privacy. With news about data breaches and the dangers of big data, it only makes sense for people to seek security. In line with this, virtual private networks (VPNs) are gaining popularity. Their ads and collaborations do catch people’s attention and address an urgent need.
But what are VPNs? How do they work, and are they worth the hype? Here’s what you need to know before getting one.
What a Virtual Private Network (VPN) is
A virtual private network (VPN), creates an encrypted connection between you and a server. This server then connects you to the rest of the internet. It serves as a middleman between your device and the internet. Since it routes all your data to a distant server, you get to hide behind a different location and IP address.
Instead of your own information, the rest of the internet only sees the information of the VPN server. Any software designed to track user information sees the VPN instead of you. This provides a layer of protection. Your IP address and other device information remain hidden and secure.
How a VPN Can Help You
You can use a VPN on a wide range of devices. It can work on your phones, computers, and tablets, so long as they have internet access. Here are some of the ways that a VPN can help your daily life.
1. Security When Using Public Wifi
Public Wi-Fi is excellent to use when we’re out and about. It is convenient and helpful when we need to accomplish things on the go. However, these public networks aren’t the most secure. The large volume of users and the lack of network security pose a significant risk. You may never know who could see or track your online activity. And with your device information in plain sight, you might become a vulnerable target.
Man-in-the-middle attacks are a significant danger. This happens when someone inserts itself between your communication with a server. Once inside, they can access the information that you send over to the server. This can include your name, address, banking information, and other sensitive data. Using an unsecured network leaves you vulnerable to these attacks.
A VPN successfully masks your device’s identity. It might not be completely bulletproof, but it helps you use the airport or cafe wifi with a layer of safety.
2. Access To Geo-blocked Features And Content
Today is the age of streaming. As of May 2020, a majority of adults report subscribing to one or more streaming services. But as many of us have noticed, a lot of shows and movies are region-specific or geo-blocked. This means that only selected countries or regions have access to specific content.
The same is true for some application features. Some apps, such as Instagram, had region-specific features like Instagram Music and Reels. For a time, only the US, UK, Australia, New Zealand, France, Germany, Sweden, and Canada could access them.
Many VPNs have servers in several different countries. This gives you several choices. Upon connecting to a specific server, you also take on the location of the server you select. When you connect to a server different from your home country, it opens up a whole new part of the internet. You gain access to parts of the internet, content, and features that you otherwise wouldn’t see at home. This is a handy feature for people who enjoy streaming media.
3. Data Protection
Even when you’re using your home network, other parties still have access to your data. Tech giants like Facebook and Google have access to a lot of information you didn’t even know you had. Their services are so ingrained in our daily lives that we barely even question them. Your data is a commodity, and many websites use it to send targeted ads your way.
Using your browser’s incognito mode is not enough. Swearing off social media might help a bit, but they aren’t the only ones tracking your activity. Using the internet requires giving up some information to your internet service provider. They, too, can sell your data to third parties for advertising and other purposes.
A VPN masks your identity, device, and location. This way, websites, services, and ISPs don’t get direct access to your information.
A VPN’s Limitations
VPNs aren’t the end-all-be-all of online data security. They provide a layer of anonymity and security and disguise your device and location. However, they cannot control what you do online.
A VPN can hide your device and location, but websites and ISPs can still identify you in other ways. These can include the things you post, the websites you visit, and the content you consume. Website cookies are a common culprit. You can up your security by using Tor, a browser that allows you to browse the internet anonymously. No security method is bulletproof. It’s best to have backups and conduct thorough research.
The Bottom Line
If you deeply value your online security or if you just want to access geo-blocked content, a VPN is perfect for you. Make sure to consider your options carefully and get one from a trusted provider.