VPNs or Virtual Private Networks have seen their popularity explode in recent times and are now seemingly everywhere.
But what exactly are they? And do you really need one?
Let’s dive into that first question.
What is a VPN
Virtual Private Networks provide you with online privacy by masking your IP (Internet Protocol) address and anonymizing your internet traffic. In simple terms, a VPN creates a private encrypted network or tunnel between your local network and an exit node or server in a different location, making it look as though you are in another place to where your physical location actually is.
As your data is now being sent through this encrypted tunnel, it makes it almost impossible for any snoopers or hackers to access what data is being sent, where it’s going or where it’s coming from, allowing you the freedom to browse the internet in relative security and peace of mind.
Do you really need one?
Now you know and understand how a VPN works, we need to look at whether or not you really need one, afterall, you’ve managed this far without one.
A common misconception is that VPNs are used by people with bad intentions. This couldn’t be further from the truth, in fact, most large businesses or companies have internal VPN systems in place which you may or may not have been aware of.
But how can they actually help you?
VPNs provide fantastic preventative measures against the ever growing threat of cybercrime. From scenarios like accessing public WIFI which is known to be a hotspot for hacking, they effectively shield your data in case anyone has managed to hack into the, usually unguarded, system. How many times have you logged on to public WIFI, be it at an airport, cafe or bar and not paid any notice to who else can be accessing the data being sent?
In the current digital age, Big Data is king, whether you like it or not. This means that everyone, and I mean everyone is attempting to profit from any data they can obtain. From your ISP to Advertising Corporations to Newspapers, everyone is trying to sell you something. With a VPN, you break the link between your device and the companies trying to profit from your information.
Another way you stay anonymous with a VPN is that your browsing history will remain just that, anonymous. Without a VPN, your ISP will have visibility over your entire browsing history. When you use a VPN, your search history is hidden because your web activity will be firmly associated with the VPN servers IP address and not your own.
Not strictly about privacy and security, VPNs still provide millions with geo-blocked content they would be otherwise unable to stream. Although media giants like Netflix and Amazon are doing all they can to prevent people from accessing their location specific content, VPNs are simply the fastest and easiest way around it. VPNs and Media companies are battling each day but there are a number of providers out there that offer consistent results in unblocking content such as ProtonVPN. It must be said that not all VPNs are created equal and it’s vitally important you make the right choice between security, performance and usability. A handy guide to the difference between a premium and free VPN can be found here.
Torrenting is another term that gets a bad name and sometimes rightly so. Names like The Pirate Bay and Demonoid give torrenting a bad name and with good reason. The work of musicians, filmmakers, artists and so on should be paid for their work. But there is also a much less spoken benefit to torrenting which includes the safety of file sharing. Either way, a VPN helps eliminate any risk to yourselves from your ISP by making it look like you’re not torrenting at all.
Andy James is the founder of Ninja Reviews and privacy advocate. Covering the latest in VPN technology.