There’s a good chance that you’ve heard of VPNs, but you may still be wondering exactly what they are and why you may need to start using one. In this article we’ll explain what you need to know - and in terms even non-techie types will be able to understand. It’s not difficult to grasp the concept and it’s easy to install and begin using a VPN, but there are some things you will want to consider before deciding whether or not you really need one (actually, we recommend their use for everyone who goes online) and choosing the one that’s right for you.
What is a VPN?
The abbreviation VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. In the simplest terms, a VPN does exactly what the name implies - it enables a user to access a private computer network over a public network, namely, the Internet. A VPN provides all the benefits of a private network - particularly security - while being accessible from any Internet connection.
Companies and institutions use VPNs to connect far-flung networks and individuals use them to maintain privacy while surfing online. A VPN allows individuals to connect to proxy servers to mask their identity and location, while also providing a means to send and receive encrypted communications. This capability is attractive to users for a number of reasons, which we’ll discuss in more detail, but in short, VPNs offer individuals a safe and secure way to access the Internet while remaining anonymous. This is beneficial for several obvious reasons and some that may not be so obvious at first glance.
Who Are Typical VPN Users?
Anyone who wishes to be secure while online should be a VPN user, as we mentioned above, but the majority of individuals who access the Internet currently do not. Employees and students often are required to use VPNs. People living in countries who limit access to certain types of content often use VPNs, as well. But there are many other good reasons why any individual who goes online should consider installing and using a VPN.
Why Do I Need a VPN?
Any time you go online using an unsecured network (such as an Internet cafe, hotel, airport, library, etc.) you are vulnerable to prying eyes. It’s very easy to monitor someone’s online activities on an unsecured network, and even if you think you have nothing to hide, unencrypted communications over such a network can lead to serious problems. A VPN will allow you to communicate privately over unsecured networks, making it impossible for someone to steal your passwords or spy on your activities.
For instance, a VPN will make it safe to do online banking transactions, even at an Internet cafe. Even if you don’t bank online or have anything in particular to conceal from anyone, there is always a danger of identity theft or other threats presented by unscrupulous or malicious online presences.
Many people choose to use VPNs to protect their privacy in general, as a matter of principle. Who wants the government or anyone else, for that matter, to have easy access to their online activities? For a lot of folks it’s about the right to privacy, whether or not they have anything to hide.
The case of Edward Snowden helped to reveal just how much information governments collect from unwitting citizens. If you believe in the principles of free speech and the right to privacy, and don’t want your own government spying on you, then you should definitely start using a VPN.
If you download content from the Internet, you may also want to protect yourself by using a VPN. Even if you are not into pirating copyrighted or stolen content, anyone who uses a torrenting app should consider guarding against those who might suspect you of piracy merely for having a torrent app installed on your computer.
And there are some practical reasons to use VPNs that have nothing to do with privacy or security. For instance, if you’d like to have access while traveling to certain content that is blocked abroad, such as sports broadcasts or sites like Netflix, a VPN will allow you to do so.
Which VPN Should You Use?
There are a lot of choices out there and choosing the right VPN for your needs can be a little tricky. You may already be wondering how much it will cost you - the good news is that there are free VPNs available that do the job well. The main issue with VPNs in general is that some may slow down your computer or they may crash often.
One potentially confusing aspect of shopping for the right VPN is selecting which protocol type you want. There are several types of VPNs available with protocol names like SSL/TLS, IPSec, PPTP, etc. The average VPN user needn’t worry too much about which protocol to use, they all basically provide the same security and anonymity.
An important consideration when choosing a VPN, depending on your needs, may be the location of the service’s headquarters and the selection of exit locations available. In other words, if you are wanting to access a certain country’s television stations, for example, or are trying to get around a country’s internet restrictions, the location of the service may be a crucial factor.
Another aspect worth taking into account is the fact that some VPN services log your online activity. Even though you may be surfing anonymously using a VPN, the service you use has access to your logs. Some VPN services don’t keep a record of your activities, others do - free VPNs are more likely to keep logs. So it’s important to use a trusted service and it may be worth the money to pay for one that has a good reputation and which has a policy of not keeping logs of your data.
Choosing the right VPN provider is really about finding a balance between performance, price, location, security and other features such as anti-spyware and anti-malware bundles (just because you’re using a VPN doesn’t mean you’re immune to downloading viruses or malware).
The smart thing to do is read up on the various services available, trying to find the most non-biased reviews. If you choose one of the well-known services that have been around for a while, you can be reasonably certain that you are purchasing a VPN that will perform well and which will give you a balance of the features you need.
There is a lot of stiff competition between VPN services, so you should be careful about the claims some of them make. If you don’t have time or patience to do a lot of in-depth research and you’re willing to pay for a service, using CyberGhost or one of the other main providers is a safe bet. CyberGhost is one of the leading VPN services and provides a good balance of features at a reasonable price.
IPVanish and Vyprvpn also have a great reputation, they are the one we’ve been using for a quite some time now and therefore the only ones we’ve fully tested and can honestly endorse.
But, as we mentioned already, the one you choose should be suited to your individual needs, so we recommend taking some time and doing a bit of research before making your selection.