What is a VPN and Do You Need One?
(Technical writer, ex-robot manual creator gone privacy enthusiast/VPN expert)
Discover how, with the help of a VPN, you can watch movies that are blocked in your country, get access to websites that you otherwise could not, stay invisible to the FBI when you download torrents, and more.
Note: Go to the paragraph after the illustration if the technical explanation does not interest you and you only want to know what can be done with VPN.
VPN is an acronym for Virtual Private Network.
VPN applications were originally designed for use by large organizations with more than one PC, the purpose being to connect computers in distant locations. To this day, the use of VPN is popular among organizations with multiple computers.
Imagine, for example, that the Coca-Cola Company has an office building in Atlanta in which all of the computers are connected to the company’s server via a network of cables, and there is little danger that hackers will break into Coca-Cola’s private network.
Coca-Cola then opens an office in Canada, and its employees in Toronto need access to the private network. Running a cable from the office in Atlanta to the office in Toronto is a very inefficient way to maintain privacy. Alternatively, the company could use a VPN to create a virtual private network (hence the acronym for “Virtual Private Network,” VPN).
This is how a connection could be formed between the computers in Toronto and the main server in Atlanta in a secure way. The different communication protocols of the VPN are responsible for the security, which is, of course, not as perfect as a real private network, but is close.
This connection that is established between these computers without any real cables is, of course, made through the internet, which is how many workers – whether from home, from a hotel, or other means of telecommuting – can connect to Coca-Cola’s virtual private network if they have proper credentials. If you’re a business user who requires access to your company’s intranet, you are aware of the fact that work documents are inherently very sensitive, and in the wrong hands, it could spell big trouble for your company.
Have a look at the illustration we made which demonstrates, simply, how a VPN works.
Anonymous surfing with VPN
Although the above explanation refers to large organizations, VPN services have become popular due to their secondary feature: The ability to appear as if you are surfing from the server location when you might actually be in a different country.
Since the communication between your computer and the VPN service is encrypted, neither Google, your internet service provider (ISP), nor the National Security Agency (NSA) can find out which sites you visit, read the emails you receive, other access any other private information. The entire communication looks as if it came out of the VPN’s main server, which is usually located in a different country and more importantly, is encrypted using one of a few protocols.
There are three main types of VPN users:
- The average (savvy) user who knows that when they uses public Wi-Fi, or even at their home, hackers can “spy” on their internet data, steal their identity online, record credit card information, read emails etc. Savvy users also know that they can toggle between different geographic IPs and find better deals for their next vacation, if they, for example select a Irish IP instead of US IP, which may show more expensive prices. This category also includes the business travelers we mentioned above, who regularly transmit sensitive information.
- Users who want to unblock certain sites- facebook at school, Netflix’ full library from outside the US, or BBC Prime/iPlayer from outside the UK.
- Users who have reason to hide their information from their ISP or government, who may spy on them. This does not necessarily have to be a terrorist; it can be the average Joe that doesn’t want their ISP to know what videos they is watching (in some countries it is even illegal to watch certain videos that are common in the western world… yes, we are talking about that). This also includes those who want the ability to download P2P torrents safely (even some VPNs don’t allow for this).
To be sure, however, almost any user in Russia or China is aware of the fact that the government is collecting data on him/her and may use it against them. And if you listened to Snowden, you can see that the US is doing the same, as unlikely as it seems that they will use it against their own citizens.
What can be done with a VPN?
Some of the most common uses of VPN are listed below:
- Unblocking TV programs – VPN can serve gain access to videos that are not available in the country in which you are located. For example, Hulu and Netflix movie services, British BBC series, Soccer matches and other sports that are broadcasted online for free but only in certain countries.
- Unblocking sites – Some countries block services like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and more. A VPN service allows you to be in China (where many websites are restricted) and surf as if you are in the USA. Similarly, some schools and organizations restrict access to popular sites and social networks, the solution to which is using a VPN.
- Torrents encryption – In some countries, downloading Torrents is a criminal offense. In other countries, internet service providers detect that a user is downloading Torrents and slows down their internet speed as a way of punishment. A VPN service encrypts the transmitted data so that even your internet service provider will not know you are downloading Torrents, therefore cannot punish them.
- Hide identity – With VPN you can impersonate a user from a foreign country for a handful of reasons. (This is very useful in the internet community).
Recommended VPN services
Nowadays, numerous VPN services are available. It seems as if every website developer is maintaining servers in different countries and calling themselves a VPN service, when in fact, they are not truly a VPN.
Nevertheless, one should evaluate a VPN by numerous factors:
- Load management ability, which ensures that your surfing will not be slowed down because many people are using the server. NordVPN is very good in this category.
- Speed of connection, which varies widely amongst providers, though can be hard to judge at times as speeds for specific servers fluctuate. For good speed, we recommend Express VPN, known as “the fastest VPN on Earth.”
- The ability to slip past Netflix and its counterparts, which constantly try to detect the VPN services and block them, for which we recommend PureVPN.
- Security, which of course cannot be overlooked. VyprVPN has created proprietary technology called Chameleon, which reduces the recognizability of data to those who seek to intercept it.
- The ability to do specific activities, such as torrenting. Some VPNs do not allow peer-to-peer (P2P) traffic, which mostly refers to torrenting (i.e. downloading) media such as movies, music and games from other internet users. Some, such as NordVPN, have special servers dedicated for such activity.
Almost any VPN will get you where you want to go, but some excel in particular areas. If you have any other questions about VPNs, please don’t hesitate to contact us on our live chat!
5 Best VPN Services
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Important Note: We do not encourage you to perform illegal actions because you are using a VPN and cannot be caught, but we do encourage freedom of internet, as well as clicking on one of the social network buttons below and sharing this article 🙂