A Virtual Private Network (VPN) is software that creates an encrypted tunnel from your device to the remote server of the VPN service. When the VPN is active, all internet traffic from your device goes through this tunnel, securing your browsing habits and data from prying eyes.
When to Use a VPN
It’s normal for internet users to log onto public Wi-Fi networks without thinking about who else uses the same network. Even owners of the connection may see your traffic and other sensitive information.
Bear in mind that public Wi-Fi networks may not be what they say they are–just because it says Starbucks Wi-Fi doesn’t mean Starbucks runs it. Nefarious individuals have stolen unsuspecting user data this way.
But when using a VPN, not even the network owners can see your data. At home, your browsing data is more secure, but still visible to your Internet Service Provider (ISP). Note that your ISP, by law, can sell anonymized customer data without deferring to you.
Using a VPN prevents your ISP from profiting off your data. The VPN masks your location, allowing you to browse anonymously and protecting sensitive data that you transmit. You can also install a VPN as a browser extension, which allows you to use it when accessing certain websites but not others.
There are other situations when a VPN is necessary:
- When Traveling Abroad: Use a VPN to show a familiar location so that you can access the services you usually use. You can also use the VPN to access location-sensitive streaming services in another country.
- Access Different Results: In a web search, you may want results tailored to a specific location, and simply putting that location in the search bar may not give the best results.
- To Preserve Privacy: Remote workers or students may also use VPNs to ensure that their IP addresses match the regions they work/study for. Anyone can use a VPN for regular browsing to protect their traffic and identity.
It is worth noting that while effective, a VPN does not offer impenetrable protection. Powerful adversaries may still crack VPNs, especially free versions that only offer basic protection.
How to Choose a VPN
The first step is to find the right VPN for your needs.
Paid Vs. Free
Individuals browsing in the privacy of home may need only the free/basic plan of a highly reviewed VPN. Businesses, however, should consult with an IT security company to determine the best plan for their usage.
Some VPNs keep a log of users’ digital traffic, which makes you unsafe. They may sell this data or be forced to release them by government entities. Therefore, make sure your VPN doesn’t log your activity.
Low-level encryption, often used by free, low-level VPNs, can be broken. You should look for a VPN that applies the highest level of encryption, currently the AES-256 bit encryption.
A VPN is necessary for almost all browsing today. Talk to an IT security company if you can’t figure out the best VPN plan for your needs.