What is a VPN and Do You Need One?
Virtually anyone can benefit from VPN, whether it is to access content outside of your territory, protect your private information, or get access to cheap airfares. There are many attributes that must be considered when choosing a VPN as well; not all VPNs were created equal. Share
VPNs are incredible tools that can help you access blocked websites, hide your location, encrypt your data, and much more.
But how does it work? What does it do? How can I use one?
Those are all questions we answer below.
Not in the mood to read through this article? Watch the video below for a quick rundown on what a VPN is.
VPNs started with businesses
Before we get started on how VPNs work, let’s go back to why they were created.
VPNs, which stands for Virtual Private Networks, were originally designed for large organizations where employees needed to connect to a certain computer from different locations.
To make it easier to explain, we’re going to use an example:
Imagine that the Coca-Cola Company has an office building in Atlanta, Georgia where all of the computers connect to the company’s server via a network of cables. These cables are physical and secure, and it makes it very difficult for a hacker to break into Coca-Cola’s private network.
But then let’s say Coca-Cola opens an office in Canada, and its employees in Toronto need access to the private network in Atlanta.
Running a cable from the office in Atlanta to the office in Toronto is inefficient, to say the least. So instead, the company creates a virtual private network.
This is essentially a virtual private cable between the office in Toronto and the office in Atlanta.
This is how VPNs came about. They were originally used by big corporations and businesses so employees could connect and access important files from different locations without compromising security.
Great… But How Does it Work?
A VPN essentially creates a virtual cable between a computer and a server. That virtual cable creates a tunnel that encrypts any data that passes through it.
This prevents hackers, ISPs, governments, or anyone else from viewing your activity.
Let’s get into the nitty-gritty for a second:
A VPN has three main components to it.
- Security protocols
VPNs use a security protocol that protects any information that passes through the server.
This protocol creates a secure connection and also influences the type of encryption the VPN uses.
While the security protocols are not as perfect as a real private network (or a physical cable), it comes close.
There are different types of protocols that are used for different reasons. If you want to learn more about each security protocol and how they work, click here.
In general, though, the most secure protocol is OpenVPN, and it’s typically the best protocol to use.
Encryption goes hand in hand with the security protocol. This feature guards your data by encrypting it. So, even if a hacker or someone else gets a hold of your data, they won’t be able to decipher it.
The best VPNs use AES 128-bit and 256-bit. AES stands for Advanced Encryption Standard, and it’s the most common cipher. The majority of VPNs use this, and it’s compatible will all of the main VPN protocols.
The numbers 128 and 256 correspond to the key length, and it represents the possible number of combinations. To put it in perspective, the fastest computer would take more than a billion years to come up with all the possible combinations for AES 128-bit.
Encryption is a crucial factor when it comes to VPNs. We dive more into encryption and the possibility of VPNs getting hacked in this article.
A lot of times you’ll hear certain VPNs boasting their number of servers. This is because it is typically better to have a wide array of servers and locations.
Usually, when you use the internet, you send your data to a server with a request for a certain website. That server then sends the website information back to your device.
When you use a VPN, your data first goes to the VPN’s server, and then the VPN sends it to the intended server.
This is important because when you ping a server for a website, you constantly send data back and forth over that connection. If you insert a VPN in the middle, your request for the website goes to the server, but your data only moves between your device and the VPN’s server (which is also through an encrypted tunnel). Therefore, the intended server does not receive any of your information.
This is how VPN users remain anonymous online. This is also how VPNs can change your location to unblock certain websites (more on that below).
What can a VPN do?
Now that you know how a VPN works, let’s talk about what it does. Like we mentioned above, VPNs can do many things. We break it down below.
- Unblock content
Let’s say you live in France but want to watch a show on Hulu. Or, let’s say you’re vacationing in Greece but want to watch a show that’s only available on Netflix’s US library. Without a VPN, you won’t be able to access the website.
However, with a VPN you can change your geolocation so that it appears as if you are in America.
A VPN can also help you unblock other types of sites that your government or ISP might block. For instance, in China, you can’t access Facebook, Gmail, or Youtube without a VPN due to China’s Great Firewall.
Some countries block torrenting sites to prevent criminal activity, but a VPN can help you access the torrent sites.
A VPN is also useful in school or colleges, where specific sites might be blocked.
Unblocking content is probably the most popular way people use VPNs nowadays.
- Hide Your IP
The same way a VPN can unblock content, it can also hide your IP address. Your IP address is similar to your home address, only it’s for your device.
Your IP changes depending on which server you connect to.
When you connect to a VPN, your IP address is hidden behind the VPN’s server, so governments, ISPs, and hackers cannot see your actual location.
If you want to learn more about hiding your IP address, click here.
- Save money
Did you know that websites change prices depending on your country?
It’s true. If you want to buy a plane or hotel ticket, you can save a lot of money by changing your IP address.
We didn’t believe it at first either, but we tested it, and the results are pretty cool.
- Encrypt your data
We already talked about encryption above, but we didn’t mention the benefits of it.
VPNs are hard to hack, but it’s not impossible. Encrypting your information is incredibly useful so if anyone does somehow break your connection, your information won’t be compromised.
This is especially useful if you happen to be hiding from the government or do not want your ISP to track your activity.
Encrypting your data also protects you from an unsecured network connection. So, if you ever use public WiFi, a VPN comes in handy.
- Help you torrent
There are two ways a VPN can help you torrent. The first is that it can unblock torrent sites. Torrenting isn’t illegal, but downloading copyright material is. (Because of this, some wonder if VPNs are legal.)
Since not everyone downloads legally, many countries block torrenting sites. Other countries will fine you or send warnings if they see you torrent.
A VPN can hide your activity and change your geolocation to a country where torrenting sites are not blocked or tracked.
The second way a VPN can help you torrent is by preventing throttling. ISPs track your activity and they can slow down your connection. They tend to do this when they see you’re using a P2P connection.
Since a VPN hides your activity, your ISP won’t see you torrent and won’t be able to throttle your connection.
You can read more about how to speed up torrents and block throttling here.
What should you look for in a VPN?
Now that you know all about VPNs, how do you choose the right one? We go into detail about choosing the right VPN here, but we give you the gist below.
There are over 300 VPNs available on the market right now, but not all of them are the same.
Here’s what you should look for in a VPN:
Especially if you want to stream shows and movies, you need a VPN with high speed. ExpressVPN is definitely the fastest VPN available with NordVPN just behind it. (If you can’t decide between the two, we compare their features for you.)
- Number of servers
The more servers there are the more locations there are. While you probably don’t need a VPN is Uzbekistan, having servers situated in different locations is very important.
On top of that, the more servers available means that fewer users are connected to them. If you have a VPN with only 11 servers, every user will connect to one of those servers. If you have 60 servers, however, most likely fewer users will be connected to that server.
- Unlimited bandwidth and data
While there’s a lot you can do with 1GB of data, you’ll run out of it pretty quickly. It’s best to find a VPN that offers unlimited data and bandwidth so you can stream, post, and download all the content you want. All of our top VPNs offer unlimited bandwidth.
- Unblocking content
If you want to use a VPN to watch Netflix, Hulu, and BBC iPlayer, then you need a VPN that can access these sites.
Many streaming services put up a VPN block to prevent others from streaming content (Netflix is notorious for this). You need a VPN that has servers in the US that Netflix will not block.
These VPNs are the best ones to unblock Netflix and other streaming sites.
Security is the one feature that cannot be overlooked. It is crucial your VPN has high encryption, strong protocols, and a no-logs policy. Unfortunately, not all VPNs have this (especially the free ones).
Even more so, there are other security features that can make a VPN stronger or weaker. IPVanish is one VPN that goes the extra mile for security. They own each of their servers to ensure a more secure network.
- P2P and torrenting
Not every VPN allows torrenting and peer-to-peer (P2P) traffic. Some VPNs (like CyberGhost and PIA ) have dedicated servers that allow torrenting. Other VPNs, like IPVanish and VyprVPN allow torrenting on all of their servers.
You can check out the other best VPNs for torrenting here.
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!
Important Note: We do not encourage illegal activity with a VPN, but we do encourage freedom of internet, as well as clicking on one of the social network buttons below and sharing this article 🙂