Virtual Private Networks or VPN can save you a lot of trouble. If you are you wondering what is a VPN, how VPN works, or what does a VPN hide then you are not alone. In this guide, we will discuss VPN basics and in no time you will know all there is to it.
So, if you are sick and tired of looking up for VPN meaning in your mobile phone and simply cannot cut through the technological jargons, here’s all the info you will ever need. We shall start with VPN basics and then move forward to discuss what is VPN.
VPN Basics Unveiled!
In the virtual world, there are two major concerns — Security and Privacy. With big corporations such as Facebook selling user data for profit, the US abandoning net neutrality, and increasing cases of cybercrime, it is becoming a must to use a VPN.
While the primary purpose of a VPN is to offer secured communication over the internet, it provides other benefits such as bypassing geolocation blocks, secured file-sharing, and avoiding price discrimination.
So what does a VPN Hide?
A VPN hides the identity and activity of the user by not letting the Internet Service Provider (ISP) track activities such as web searches, downloads, websites visited, etc… On the whole, the user’s browsing history and IP address are masked, which ensures a high level of privacy for users.
Now that we are done with VPN Basics and what does a VPB hide, its time to get more technical. So, let’s dive deeper into what is VPN and how VPN works.
What Is A VPN?
A VPN is a private network that encrypts your communication when browsing the internet and protects your online identity. It creates an encrypted tunnel between you and a network, which cannot be accessed by any third-party, including your internet service provider.
A VPN secures your internet communication by routing your traffic through a VPN server instead of sending it directly to your ISP. This in a way makes your internet connection appear as if it’s from the VPN server and not from your device, thereby masking your identity and location.
Without a VPN, your communication over the internet is virtually open to everybody, especially when you access an HTTP website which does not encrypt client-server traffic. For an average user, that means your IP address can be traced by hackers, governments, or spies, and be used to retrieve sensitive information.
Things can be much worse if the intercepted data was confidential and sensitive, such as information connected to your business, finances, or personal data. To satiate the need of the end-user, there are many different types of VPN available, however, broadly speaking, they can be classified into two different types.
- Commercial VPN: This is for individuals concerned about their internet security and online privacy.
- Business VPN: This is for businesses that want to ensure the security of their resources, within and outside their premises. Especially, when employees are working remotely and the chances of security breaches are higher.
Before concluding what is a VPN, it is worth mentioning that not all VPN service providers are safe. So, you need to choose from the most reputed VPN Service providers like Nord VPN.
Should I hide my IP Address?
Whether you should or should not hide your IP address is entirely your choice but using a VPN can prevent several cyber attacks. It can be extremely powerful against packet sniffers, man-in-the-middle attacks, and more. So, should you hide your IP address? Maybe the below listed basic uses of VPN can help you decide whether or not should you hide your IP address.
What is VPN and Why is it used? | Basic Uses of VPN
Now that we have discussed what is a VPN and how a VPN works, its time to figure out why this is used. Understanding this would help you appreciate the security it accords and the wonderful things you can do with it. Below mentioned are the many reasons why a Virtual Private Network is used.
A VPN ensures better security on Public and Private Networks
You probably know of the two main suspects to all security breaches — rogue websites and malicious apps. But what if we told you there was something else that could be even more dangerous? Over 35% of all security breaches involve MITM attempts. While MITM takes many different forms, one of the easiest ways to intercept your data is when you are on a public WiFi network.
Always remember that public WiFi networks such as those found in airports and coffee shops are not secure. If you live in NYC, you know how amazing the free NYC WiFi is but what’s the harm in being a wee bit cautious? So, even there, you are also exposed to threats and must safeguard your virtual activities.
To retain a level of control on your data and who accesses it, you must use a VPN. The VPN will hide your IP address and encrypt your personal data and browsing history from potential hackers or interested entities. With your network connected to a VPN, your ISP won’t even be able to access your data log either.
Most WiFi MITM attempts are made by third parties interested in your login credentials and personal data, which they intercept. A few to mention are ISPs, advertisers, and hackers. You sure don’t want to let them win by breaching your privacy.
Virtual Private Network helps retain Online Anonymity
The internet offers a whole world of benefits but that does not cover up for the risks associated with it. Plus, if you wish to remain anonymous then you have the right to, don’t you?
Moreover, with online identity theft on the rise, you don’t want a creepy thief stealing your identity to perpetrate criminal or unsavory acts that leave you in a truly uncomfortable situation. So, using a VPN can prevent hackers and cybercriminals from tracking your internet activity.
This lets you browse the web without having to worry about someone knowing your life choices, whether it’s your favorite movie or something else. Also, it is worth mentioning that the degree of anonymity offered by a VPN is far superior to that offered by web proxies and incognito modes.
Stream from Anywhere
As mentioned in the VPN basics and further explained in the ‘what is VPN’ section, you can use it to stream from anywhere. Back in the day when Netflix was only available in the US, people holidaying in Bali could catch up with their favorite flick via VPN.
In fact, video streaming is one of the most popular reasons why people use a VPN. Certain content and services cannot be accessed in certain countries and geographical locations. Examples are Netflix and Spotify, which are only available in select countries in each continent due to licensing issues.
Connecting to a VPN with servers in one of the allowed locations will enable you to bypass these restrictions and stream your favorite shows and music from anywhere. However, note that this is illegal and may come with some penalties, so we do not recommend it.
Avoid Censorship when traveling abroad
We live in times when being a digital nomad is the trend and if you are traveling for longer periods, whether it is for work or pleasure, a VPN can be useful and here’s how.
Some countries, in their bid to control information or promote local content and services, restrict access to specific social media platforms and websites, or censor certain information. For example, you can’t access sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Flickr, and Pinterest in China. Apps like WhatsApp and Skype are banned in some parts of the Middle East. And Russia actively represses information and monitors its citizens’ internet traffic.
With a VPN, you can appear as if you are in a different location and access the website or content you wish to. It would be best if you kept it in mind that there may be consequences for circumventing these restrictions. Regardless, a VPN allows you to exercise your freedom of information and free speech.
Remote Access via VPN
With the remote work culture becoming the new normal, a VPN serves as an excellent safeguard for businesses. Basically, if you read the sections ‘what does a VPN hide’ and ‘what is VPN’ then you might recollect that we discussed the types of VPN — Commercial VPN and Business VPN.
Basically, a Business VPN enables companies to allow their employees to work remotely and access proprietary information, which is sensitive and confidential. This data can otherwise only be accessed from within the company’s building, without risking exposure.
So it lets the business data flow in a very secure manner, which eliminates the possibility of unauthorized interception. Also, a VPN works well for professionals who work while commuting or traveling. So, a VPN can provide them secure access to content on their workstations as well as computers in their home.
Buy Cheaper Airline Tickets
This is a quick hack for those who travel a lot and wish to cut back on their travel expenses. Most airlines and travel agencies have varying prices for different countries, depending on the country’s cost of living. The trick is to find a country that has a lower cost of living compared to yours and connect through a VPN.
As discussed in the VPN Basics section, you can use this simple hack to bypass geolocation and come across as someone from a low-income region. This will allow you to buy tickets at prices lower than the ones offered in your country. You can also apply this hack for rental services such as car hiring or hotel booking.
Avoid Price Discrimination with Virtual Private Networks
Remember what we discussed in VPN basics about overcoming price discrimination? Well, that happens more often than not, as internet service providers always track your internet traffic. Your ISP monitors your purchasing habits and behaviors, noting the products you buy regularly.
The ISP then sells this information to the product manufacturer or supplier. Once this happens, you may notice a spike in the price of the product, because the seller has your data and is confident that you will buy it regardless of the cost.
You can avoid this kind of targeting and price discrimination by using a VPN. The privacy and anonymity offered by a VPN prevents your ISP from monitoring your online behaviors.
Cheaper Leased-line Alternative
This is another way a VPN can help businesses. A corporation with multiple offices within and outside the country will need to create a network that connects these offices for fast information access and sharing. Building this network from scratch or renting network capacity lines can be expensive. Businesses can circumvent these costs by leveraging on an already existing infrastructure provided by VPNs to connect their various branches, while also ensuring non-exposure of their resources.
Access Blocked Websites
If you are browsing the internet through an organization’s network, there are some websites that you might be prevented from accessing. Many institutions such as universities, companies, and libraries restrict people using their network from entering specific web pages, most especially social media platforms, due to security reasons or institutional policy. A VPN can help you bypass these restrictions by encrypting your connection.
Avoid ISP Bandwidth Throttling with a VPN
In the ‘Should I hide my IP Address’, we told you that it is up to you to decide and that we would only guide you through it. Well, one of the reasons many techies use it is to avoid bandwidth throttling and whether to use a VPN for this purpose or not is entirely your decision.
This works because most internet service providers use bandwidth throttling to monitor and limit the amount of content you can access or to slow down your online speed after you have consumed a certain amount of data.
For example, most big internet service providers throttle internet speeds for streaming services such as Netflix and YouTube. ISPs also track the times when you use your data most – either for downloading, uploading, or streaming – and lower your online speeds during these peak periods.
This is done to generate profits in an unfair manner by forcing users to sign up for a more expensive subscription or data package. A VPN can help you avoid this bandwidth throttling by encrypting your internet traffic and hiding your activity from your ISP.
Download Torrent Files Securely
When torrenting and using peer-to-peer file sharing, personal information such as IP address and location, are exposed to all the parties involved in the process. While this may not pose an immediate threat, you may have to deal with dire consequences such as identity theft later on. Now you know why we emphasized on keeping your IP hidden in the ‘What does a VPN hide?’ section.
A VPN can help you hide your real IP address and location behind fake ones generated by the VPN service provider. You can choose to be wherever you want and not risk being traced. However, note that torrenting may be illegal depending on the content you are downloading, and we do not encourage it. But it’s perfectly legal if you are downloading files such as Linux distributions.
Access Regional Sports Coverage Unavailable in Your Location
Certain sports channels are restricted in some geographical locations outside the United States. For example, ESPN and NBC are only available to people within the United States. But what if you are getting cheap tickets to Bali but do not want to miss out on your favorite games?
Well, you can then use a VPN to circumvent these restrictions. It is important to first confirm whether there are any legal ramifications to bypassing these rules before you decide to use a VPN for this purpose.
Secured Communications and Browsing
Some business operations require accessing external sites and communicating with unknown third parties. For instance, the Sales team must send emails to unknown persons and the Research team must look through innumerable resources.
In such cases, Businesses can use VPNs to ensure that their employees are browsing or communicating in a secure manner. This is essential because although HTTPS is being touted as a security and SEO factor, there are many websites that do not have an SSL certificate installed.
An innocent visit to one of these HTTP websites by one of your employees could lead to a security breach. So, a VPN adds an extra layer of security and allows such departments to function in a secure manner by encrypting the internet connection and hiding sensitive business information.
Cheaper Long-distance Telephone Charges
VOIP services such as Skype, Zoom, Viber, and Google Hangouts have eliminated the need to spend hundreds of dollars on international calls. Nevertheless, these services are restricted in some countries like the Middle East, where you can’t use it to make international calls.
So, this is where you need to ask yourself the question ‘Should I hide my Ip Address?’. If you decide to do that, then the VPN can tunnel through these restrictions and at the same time, ensure that your conversation remains secure.
On the other hand, if you wish to make calls to landline or mobile phones, you can still get a cheaper deal with a VPN. You can simply connect to a country where cheaper subscription plans are available and buy it.
Improved Online Gaming Experience with VPN
There are several game streaming services and games exclusively available for those living in a specific geolocation. For example, you can’t play Fortnite in China, the majority of Africa, and the Middle East.
To overcome these restrictions, you can connect to a VPN server in the United States or one of the allowed countries. A VPN can also circumvent IP bans in game rooms, and protect yourself from DDoS attacks.
VPN services are extremely affordable and a must-have in this digital era when businesses and rogues are trying to grab your data one way or the other.
You can overcome these limitations by buying a subscription plan. You can find a long-term plan for as low as $3.49 per month. Although you will find free VPN service providers online, the paid ones offer better security.
How to Choose A VPN
When selecting a VPN, you should keep the following factors in mind:
No Log Policy: As we have discussed above, VPNs are used to ensure better privacy. So, if a VPN keeps a log of your internet activity, it defeats the very purpose of using it. Therefore, you must confirm that the VPN service provider has a no-log policy. So, read their policy document for confirmation before buying their services.
DNS Leak Protection and A Kill Switch: You must check whether the VPN service provider has a protocol in place to ensure secure DNS routing. As discussed in the ‘What is a VPN?’ section, your DNS requests are routed through the service provider’s servers.
So, in case of a connection drop, nothing should suddenly happen through your ISP’s DNS servers. So, the VPN service provider must have a “kill switch” that automatically stops your device or specific programs from accessing the internet in the event of connection issues.
Encryption: Before you buy a VPN service, you must check the level of encryption offered by the VPN provider. This is very important and you must never settle in for anything less than AES-256 encryption. This encryption protocol is the highest level of encryption currently available, and it’s most secure.
Peer-to-peer Support: P2P file-sharing is one of the most popular types of data transfer used in torrenting. The VPN needs to provide support for it by offering P2P servers.
Shared IP Addresses: Sharing an IP address with multiple users offers you an extra layer of security and privacy while surfing the internet. It would be best if you looked out for VPN providers that offer such a feature.
Multiple Servers Locations: Check if the VPN service provider offers servers in the locations of your choice. The more locations, the better because being able to access servers in any country around the world allows you to enjoy the many of the benefits of a VPN.
Works on Both PC and Mobile Devices: Another feature you should look for while choosing a VPN service provider is compatibility, both device-specific and platform-specific compatibility. Check if the service provider supports both PC and mobile devices. Ensure that you can use one account across multiple devices and platforms such as Android, iOS, macOS, and Windows.
Other things to consider while buying a VPN
- Speed of the VPN
- VPN Service provider’s reputation
- Free trials that allow you to test the speed
Now that you know what is VPN, how VPN works, and the many benefits of using a VPN, you should be able to decide whether to use one. So, stop looking for VPN meaning on your mobile phone and find a reliable service provider.
Using one not only ensures your security and privacy, but it also protects you from bandwidth throttling and price discrimination. Now that you know what a VPN hides, stop thinking ‘Should I hide my IP Address’ and start acting. This simple security measure can prevent various third-parties from spying and monitoring your internet activities.