A VPN, or virtual private network, is a secure tunnel between your device and the internet. VPNs protect your online traffic from snooping, interference, and censorship. vpn service
Using a VPN to connect to the internet allows you to surf websites privately and securely as well as gain access to restricted websites and overcome censorship blocks. VPNs aren’t just for desktops or laptops — you can set up a VPN on your iPhone, iPad or Android phone, too.
How does a VPN service work?
Using a VPN to ensure the security of your personal data works like this:
- Once you connect to the internet with your VPN service switched on, you will be connected to one of the VPN provider’s servers
- At the same time they will provide you with the IP address (a unique set of numbers that identifies your device) of that particular server. Instead of using your own IP address you are using one that belongs to the VPN provider.
- Your internet connection is also encrypted (the process of converting data into code to prevent unauthorized access) between your device and the server you’re connected to.
- Hiding your IP address allows you to access the internet privately and helps to prevent your browsing from being tracked or traced. You are then able to surf the web privately and securely.
Encryption. What does that mean?
Encryption is the process of taking some information (your data) and scrambling it so that it can’t be read. When you connect to the internet using a VPN your connection is what becomes encrypted, which means that if cyber criminals were to intercept the stream of your data, all they would get is gibberish code.
You can consider encryption a form of secret code. The way your data is scrambled is called a cypher, and there is a key (or logic) that allows you to decypher the message so that it makes sense again.
The highest encryption standard available is known as AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) 256-bit and is used by the most recommended VPN providers. What does 256-bit mean? It’s the size (or complexity) of the cypher used in the encryption. The bigger it is, the more possibilities there are, and the harder it is to guess the key. In the case of 256-bit encryption, there are more combinations than there are stars in the universe. In fact, this level of encryption is so secure it’s used by banks and governments worldwide to ensure the security of their data.
Why are IP addresses important?
Your IP address is a unique set of numbers that identifies your device when you connect to the internet. Think of it as a home address for your device that usually looks something like this: 18.104.22.168 . Every device has one, and when you connect to a website, the address you typed in to get to it gets translated into the IP address of that website’s server. But just like your computer is collecting that server’s IP address to connect to it, so are the servers of every website you connect to collecting your device’s IP address.
Your IP address links your device to your ISP, and also to the region that you are operating in. This is how services go about restricting content by region: your IP address flags the region you’re in, and if the content you are trying to access is restricted where you are then you won’t be able to see it.
Why use a VPN service?
VPN technology was originally used to allow remote workers access to corporate files and folders when working from a location away from the central office. This meant they were able to access sensitive documents on a secure and encrypted internet connection. While this is still the case, when we talk VPNs in this article we’re referring to commercial services that offer people security and privacy when accessing the internet. vpn service
Not only does a VPN secure your browsing with an encrypted connection, it can also give you access to a freer internet by letting you choose where you are located globally. This combination of security and location swapping means VPNs have a lot of tricks up their sleeves. They let you:
- Make public Wi-Fi safer
- Stream regionally blocked content
- Access blocked websites
- Avoid censorship
- Prevent ISP tracking
- Prevent price discrimination
As you can see, VPNs can be used for all kinds of things these days. Some people even use a VPN for gaming.
Access blocked websites
Sometimes, you may find that certain websites are blocked in certain scenarios or locations. At work, school and university this happens a lot. Now we’re not here to judge. If you think being on Facebook at school is better for your education, then you do you. Same things goes for work. Is it really fair of your boss to block your access to LinkedIn? It happens.
VPNs get you around all kinds of access blocks even if you’re in an environment that restricts access to certain websites. Your connection gets encrypted and tunnels right through any restrictions, coming out the other end of your VPN provider’s server.
Not everyone is lucky enough to live in a country that embraces freedom of information. China, for one, imposes strict sanctions and censorship on the use of websites such as Google, Facebook and Twitter. Which means anything associated with them too. So that’s Gmail, Google Maps, WhatsApp, Instagram to name just a few. Even FaceTime isn’t an option. Not the greatest when you’re travelling and need that access. VPNs can get you around these censorship blocks in the same way they can get you around access blocks.
Evade ISP tracking
This one’s a biggie. Your ISP is your Internet Service Provider. In a nutshell, they’re the companies who supply you with an internet connection. Think AT&T, Verizon, Sky, BT etc. Did you know they can see everything you do online? Not only can they see what you do online, they can store it too.
In fact, in the UK your entire browsing history is stored by your ISP for a year. That’s everything you read, watch, view and click on. From the US? Your ISP is able to store and sell your browsing history to the highest bidder without your consent. Advertisers, subscription services, you name it, they can buy it.
Prevent price discrimination
Never heard of price discrimination? It’s when different prices are offered to different people based on their perceived ability to pay. This happens a lot more than you think online.
A lot of price discrimination mainly happens based on your location. For example if you’re based in New York or London, you’re more likely to have a higher income than someone in Kentucky or York. Which means you’ll often get shown the higher prices for goods. This happens a lot with airlines but can be applied to almost anything. Why? Because companies want to make money and they know how to do it.
Why is online privacy so important?
The internet always getting bigger, and when even your toaster’s getting online it’s easier than ever to have your entire life exposed. These days, everything we do is online. We google it, snap it, filter it, WhatsApp it — the list is endless. And the risk of exposure is higher than ever. Your browsing history, habits and behavior are all tracked and stored by ISPs, be it for government requirements or to sell to advertisers.
Your personal information should be just that. Personal. And because it’s personal, it’s important you’re able to limit others from sharing, selling, and tracking it. The consequences of not protecting your personal data on the internet can be dire. Without protecting your privacy, you’re wide open to attacks from cyber criminals, tracking by ISPs, advertisers targeting you, and government surveillance.
Can I still be traced online when using a VPN?
When you purchase a VPN you will often do so with your credit card details, so your VPN provider will likely know who you are. There are untraceable methods of payment such as certain cryptocurrencies similar to Bitcoin — Bitcoin isn’t as anonymous as you may think — but that’s a discussion for another time. But practically speaking, while they may know who you are, the most information a VPN company should ever have on your online activity is your IP address and the IP address of the server they connected you to.
Look out for a VPN that offers shared IP addresses: this means that when you’re connected to a server, you share its IP address with any other person connected to it. This makes it almost impossible to tie you to anything that is accessed from that IP address. In short, your internet browsing history should not be traceable by your VPN provider.
Okay so VPNs are secure, but are they legal?
VPNs are 100% legal. There’s nothing wrong with giving yourself a little bit of privacy online. But using that privacy to commit a crime is definitely illegal — a crime is a crime, no matter how you commit it. Some governments do view using a VPN as a hostile act as they demand more control over what is accessed online within their regions. Because of this we advise that you always check the country – specific laws on VPNs when you are traveling, as they can often change with new governments and bills (remember what we were saying about how what is acceptable behavior isn’t yours to define?).
You may, however, find that some services will detect the use of a VPN and block you from accessing their services. Netflix, for example, will see your VPN and disallow access.
What should I look for in choosing a VPN?
Well, we’ve been through all the details on why you need one and what you can use it for. So let’s lay out some simple points to consider when choosing a VPN.
- Paid VPN —Like we said, free versions are not secure, and they’re vulnerable and spammy. If you’re not paying for it, you’re the product.
- Shared IP — If a VPN service offers you access to shared IPs then you know you’re on to a winner, because that means multiple users are accessing it at the same time. That means it’s impossible to pinpoint that IP traffic to any one user.
- Logs — A good VPN service will have a no logging policy. Remember, that means that they are unable to track, trace, or view what you access online. The only information they will have on you is your IP and the IP of the server you connected to.
- Multi-device — Smartphones and tablets basically make the world go round these days. Make sure you choose a VPN that offers protection for all your devices.
We recommend VPNExpress service. This is why.
- Best overall deal: 12 months (but you can take it for month only or 6 months)
- Unrestricted access to Netflix
- Works in China
- 30-day money-back guarantee
- 24/7 customer support
- Unlimited access to video, social media, music, and games
- Connect to more than 90 countries
- Allows P2P/Torrenting
- Uses 256-bit AES encryption
- The fastest and most secure VPN