VPNs: An Introduction

October 14, 2019

Almost 25% of Internet users run a VPN connection when they access the web each month. That pretty much means around 1.1 billion people use a VPN regularly.

It’s hardly surprising VPNs ended up being so popular – they’re user-friendly, and they significantly improve the online experience.

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If you’ve yet to use a VPN, or have been using a VPN for some time but want to learn more about them, here’s a useful, easy-to-understand guide that should help you better understand these services.

What Are VPNs & How Do They Work?

Simply put, VPNs are online services that help you hide your real IP address and encrypt your Internet traffic.

As for how they work, here’s a quick overview:

  • You download and install a VPN client on your device.
  • You run the client and connect to a VPN server.
  • The client and the server negotiate and establish a secure connection.
  • When the connection is established, the server replaces your IP address with its own address.
  • The VPN client then encrypts your connection requests and data, and sends them to the server through your ISP.
  • When the server receives the traffic, it decrypts it, and forwards it to the web.
  • Once the server receives the content you want, it encrypts it and sends it back to the client on your device.
  • Lastly, the VPN client decrypts the data so that you (and only you) can view it.

If that doesn’t help, just think of a VPN as a security truck that transports money (your data) between two banks (your device and web servers).

3 Good Reasons You Need a VPN

So now you’ve got a good idea of what a VPN is. But what specifically can it do for you?

Well, here’s exactly why you should use one:

1. VPNs Help You Unblock Web Content

The Internet is full of amazing shows, entertaining videos, great video games, and extremely informative articles and news.

Unfortunately, not everybody can access them. If you’re unlucky enough, you’ll come across geo-restrictions at one point or another when you browse the web.

What are those? Think of them as a technology that allows content providers to decide who gets to interact with their platforms and who doesn’t.

A good example of that is you trying to access Pandora Radio when you’re outside the US. All you’ll get is a message telling you the service doesn’t work in your country.

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Tons of other services do that too, of course – Netflix, Hulu, HBO GO, BBC iPlayer. The list can go on and on.

One can argue that geo-restrictions are understandable. They help content providers respect copyright regulations and avoid high licensing fees.

That’s true, but let’s face it – it’s still not fair that you can’t access quality entertainment just because you happen to be from “the wrong” part of the world.

Luckily, a VPN makes this problem go away. Since it hides your IP address (which websites can see), it can mask your geo-location (IP addresses contain geo-data), and trick websites into thinking you’re from a whitelisted geographical region.

For instance, connecting to a VPN server in the UK would give you access to BBC iPlayer content.

2. VPNs Can Bypass Any Firewall

Whether you’re at work or school, or live or vacation in a country with an oppressive regime, you’re going to deal with firewalls eventually.

When that happens, you can lose access to any website or online service. If the firewall blocks it, you’re stuck.

Well, until you use a VPN. Since it hides your IP address, it lets you bypass any firewall you encounter – without anyone knowing!

3. A VPN Protects Your Data

VPNs encrypt your traffic, meaning they make it completely indecipherable for anyone trying to monitor or steal it.

That can be extremely useful when you’re using public WiFi. Why? Because public networks often don’t use any encryption, or just use WPA2 which isn’t secure at all.

That means hackers will have an easy time eavesdropping on your traffic.

Sure, they might not be able to see everything you type on HTTPS websites, but they can still try to intercept data packets, and they’d be able to view what you type on HTTP websites.

Not to mention cybercriminals can create fake WiFi hotspots in an attempt to trick you into sharing sensitive data with them.

Basically, without a VPN, any hacker could steal stuff like:

  • Credit card info;
  • Bank account details;
  • Login credentials.

4. With a VPN, Your Privacy Is Finally Safe

Looking up what you want on the web in the privacy of your home is definitely comfy. It’s just you and the Internet, right?

Well, not really. Your ISP can actually see what you do online:

  • What websites you connect to.
  • What you type on unencrypted platforms.
  • How much data you use.
  • What files you download.
  • What you search for on the web.
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And no, incognito mode won’t help at all.

Worst of all – some ISPs might even sell your browsing history to advertisers to make a profit.

No need to panic, though. If you use a VPN, you encrypt your traffic. So your ISP won’t be able to spy on it anymore – and neither will government agencies or advertisers for that matter.

How to Pick the Best VPN

You’d think choosing a VPN is pretty easy, but it takes some time and effort on your part. You need to be sure you’re picking a VPN provider who will offer you a smooth experience and truly protect your privacy.

Basically, you need to look for things like:

  • Military-grade encryption;
  • High-speed servers with unlimited bandwidth;
  • No-log policies;
  • Secure protocols (SoftEther, OpenVPN, IKEv2)
  • DNS leak protection;
  • Kill Switch features;
  • Free trials and/or money-back guarantees.

In case you’re wondering what the best VPN services are out there on the market, just follow that link to see an in-depth but easy-to-understand comparison of the most popular VPNs.