What is a VPN?
What is VPN and How Does it Work?
With the rise in cybercrime and more awareness of just how much information the government likes to take, many people are looking for ways to be more secure on the internet. VPN or a Virtual Private Network is one way to increase your privacy and your security online. But what is it, and how does a VPN service work?
What does a VPN do?
A virtual private network is essentially a group of computers connected together. Businesses use this same type of network to share information easily from network to network such as from one business location to another. When you connect to this virtual private network, you actually connect to other computers around the globe. For this reason, most VPNs have a limited number of IP address available because they actually have to have a computer in that area in order to allow you to use the IP.
When you connect to a VPN it uses software to show your computer as from the location of the network. Some VPN services have a huge network of computers across the globe, allowing you to show your IP as a much different location than your own. For example someone in Europe could use a VPN to show their IP address as from the United States, and vice versa! Essentially, you get more secure browsing because no one can pinpoint your location while you are browsing the internet. You can also use VPN to get around local censorship to access banned websites. You can also use a VPN to surf the web more securely on public internet connections.
What are the disadvantages of VPN?
The most obvious drawback of using a VPN service is speed. Because you are connecting to a distant server and using its IP address, you are essentially sending all information to that server and back again. This means that your internet browsing can sometimes be significantly slower than it would be if you were using your own IP address. The further away the server the greater the problem, although some VPN services do have safeguards set up to solve part of this problem. Others offer very slow, albeit, safer internet use.
Another thing to consider is that not every VPN service is legit or safe to use. VPN services essentially handle all of your data so it is never a good idea to go with any option. Some people also recommend that you don’t enter passwords or buy items while using a VPN because this information is passed through a router belonging to the VPN host. Any good VPN will encrypt your data and offer ‘safe’ browsing. Many do not, but it is easy to simply check the website before downloading to see what they offer.
What to Look for in a Good VPN Service
VPN services include free and paid services with the best usually charging a monthly fee. Unfortunately not everyone can afford to pay $11 or more per month to surf the web more safely but there are also free options. However, there are literally hundreds of VPN services and it is almost impossible to name a tiny list of the best. Most offer very similar services but there are a few things you can look out for to help you choose a great one.
- Encrypted Surfing a.k.a. Protocol (SSL or IPSec are common)
- Choice of IP or IP in a Trusted location (Western Europe, UK, United States)
- Servers with Locations You Need
- A fair logging policy (check to see how much of your information is logged by the host)
Free vs. Paid VPN
Unfortunately both free and paid VPN services have their pros and cons. There is no easy choice for every individual because most require their own unique opinion and circumstances. Usually anyone who would like to heavily use their VPN should consider paying for one but both are options.
Free – Free VPN services most likely show advertisements and log a great deal of user activity in order to pay for the software. Free VPN services include browser based and downloadable software. Free options are best suited to anyone who is looking for security rather than privacy because usually Free versions have weak policies when it comes to your privacy. Many free VPN services also limit bandwidth while browsing.
Paid – Paid VPN services or subscription VPN typically offer more services, may offer malware, and are ad free. Prices can range from less than $4 per month to more than $20 depending on the VPN and the services offered. Speeds are usually faster than free options and typically privacy policies are much better than those for free VPN. NordVPN (review here) is a VPN service that has one of the best privacy policies in the industry. Bandwidth caps are much higher than free options but may still be limited.
Be sure to read our article on the best VPN services of 2019.
Choosing a VPN Service
Choosing a VPN service should include carefully evaluating estimated usage and then making a decision based on budget and personal needs. Anyone who is looking for more private browsing should consider getting a paid VPN while anyone who just wants to use a temporarily more secure service can use a free option. It is also important to carefully evaluate the VPN service, check for reviews of the software, and then if the VPN is free, avoid using any very personal information such as home address, credit card numbers, or etc. with the VPN on.
When you’re ready, read our article on how to use a VPN to get started.