What is a VPN?
A VPN (Virtual Private Network) is an internet security method rapidly growing in popularity as the public recognizes its necessity. It routes your internet connection through a proxy server and can hide all your online activities and transmitted data. They are becoming an all-but-required tool as the internet becomes more diversified, growing exponentially into areas of the human psyche that most of us would rather avoid. Corporate control of lawmakers eroding personal freedoms in the name of profit also makes the protection of a VPN a must-have these days.
In this article, we’ve attempted to explain what makes virtual private networks the perfect tools for both personal online privacy and freedom of individual expression. While not all VPNs are created equal, we also go over some of the details regarding how a trustworthy VPN works to do this for you.
A VPN allows users to anonymously and securely browse, send, and receive data across the public internet. A decent VPN gives you access to all the content on the web while hiding your activity from your ISP (Internet Service Provider), government agencies, identity thieves, and other hackers.
Essentially, a VPN is a private network created within (tunneled through) a public network in order to securely protect all of your transmitted information including location, identity, and activities. VPNs can seem quite complicated at first, but they’re actually very easy to use.
Table of contents
- What is a VPN?
- What is a VPN in Easily Understood Terms?
- What are the Benefits of Using a VPN?
- How VPN Apps & Servers Work
- What About a Free VPN?
- What if My VPN Crashes or Goes Down?
- Are VPNs Legal?
- What Should I Look For In A VPN?
- Which VPN Service is Best?
What is a VPN in Easily Understood Terms?
Explaining how a VPN works by using technically correct terms usually gets me a lot of blank stares, so I’ve found a way to simplify the explanation. I’ll explain a VPN in terms of you going on a trip to the store without anyone seeing you, what store you’re going to, what you purchase, where you came from, or even if you went to the store at all. First, let me introduce the basic components of any VPN service.
VPN Components Explained
I like to think of the VPN as two components working together to hide you, your location, and your activities from all the many snoops online. These are each very easy to explain and understand with a few artistic liberties taken.
The first component of a VPN is actually made up of two apps. One app is installed on your network device and the other on the VPN server itself. Your locally installed VPN app accepts all of your input data and queries, such as a URL, login and password, credit card number, or any and every other information you input. The local VPN app, whether on your router, phone, computer, or tablet, then encrypts this data with a 256 bit AES algorithm that the NSA, CIA, and all other three letter agencies believe is secure enough for top state secrets.
The VPN app then sends your encrypted data through the VPN tunnel to a VPN server in any part of the world you chose. The VPN server decrypts your instructions and data then gathers the requested resources (web page, movie stream, etc) for you. At this point, the VPN server encrypts your requested data and sends it to you, whether streaming video, a purchase confirmation or even changes made to a game world. Everything you asked of the web is blurred to the point that nobody but you can see or understand it. This data appears as noise to anybody attempting to snoop into your business. Even your internet service provider sees only digital noise. Your local VPN app decrypts this private data and presents it to you as if you were still accessing the web out in the open.
The second component of a good VPN is the server itself. You take on the identity of a VPN server from whatever part of the world you choose to be apparently accessing the web. This apparent change of address is also important if you need to show yourself as a local within or without any particular geographical boundary in order to access something online with geo-restrictions placed upon it.
Some of you may recognize that this sounds an awful lot like a proxy server; you’d be right. The key difference is the software. With a proxy server, you may appear to be from elsewhere, but only if nobody is interested enough in knowing more about you and what you are doing. A proxy server provides a simple redirection but is about as secure as hiding your head in a paper sack.
As a trivial example, would you like to watch your local sports heroes take on their rivals in a home game? Most sports teams blackout their home region to make people attend the game in person. A full stadium looks good on camera and fills the coffers. Some people don’t have the luxury of attending sports events in person, so along comes a VPN for the magic of live streaming sports online. Someone in another region can watch the game, and now you also appear to be from elsewhere when using a VPN. Game on!
Okay; let’s get this VPN service explained with the promised description involving your anonymous trip to the store.
Encryption Hides Your Data
What this means is that before you leave the house for the store, the VPN app blurs your appearance. You become so blurry that nobody, whether they’re your neighbors, your mom upstairs, or even the CIA spooks in the van down the street, can see who is leaving the house. It’s impossible to tell who you are, what you are wearing, or what (or even if!) you are carrying. Heck, the VPN app 256 bit AES encryption is so secure they can’t even tell which vehicle you pulled out of the garage, if you’re walking, or if you’re flying a helicopter out of the backyard. They see a noisy blur going from your location to the VPN server. That is all they see. The important point here is that they see a constant stream of anonymous blurs going into the VPN server.
VPN Server Decrypts Your Data and Hides Your Identity
At this point, you pass through the VPN server. In our shopping scenario, the VPN server looks like a nondescript warehouse in whatever part of the world from which you choose to apparently be accessing the web. Many anonymous people are coming and going through the doors of this VPN server “warehouse” all the time. Once your blurred form enters the VPN server, you vanish entirely. All anyone knows is that you, somebody else, or even your internet capable alarm clock went somewhere, but nobody can see where (or even if) you’ve gone beyond the VPN server.
VPN Server Does Work and Gathers Resources on Your Behalf
When you leave this warehouse on the way to your intended destination, you are wearing a new identity provided by the VPN server along with a giant crowd of other people coming and going in similar disguises. You are now free to visit the store and make your purchases with nobody knowing who you are or where you actually came from. You appear to be an anonymous entity (that you are a person is not even evident) from wherever you chose to tell the world you’re from (VPN server location). It’s nobody’s business whether you’re visiting the pharmacy for fungal itch medication, the farmers’ market for locally grown organic rutabagas, or the adult bookstore for the latest XXX video. The choices you make and judgment of yourself are now yours alone.
VPN Server App Encrypts and Returns Gathered Data to Your Local VPN App
What are the Benefits of Using a VPN?
- All activity on your mobile, computer, tablet or other streaming devices is encrypted and routed through the VPN server, where it is concealed from unwelcome onlookers and snoops.
- A VPN hides the geolocation (geographical location) of your computer or device by masking your IP address through proxy servers.
- Your data is channeled through a separate private network, completely securing and hiding all your data.
VPN technology was developed to allow branch offices and remote employees to securely access corporate resources. Individuals can benefit from protecting their online activities and personal information as much as corporations. Also, internet users may secure their transactions with a VPN, to overcome geo-restrictions and censorship.
How VPN Apps & Servers Work
- All data going out through your Internet connection is encrypted by the VPN app on your device. All your ISP or local coffee shop then sees is random noise.
- The encrypted data is privately transmitted to the VPN server.
- The VPN server then changes your apparent location by assigning your connection a new IP address. Your destination only sees your “new” location.
This makes your access to the internet completely private & secure.
Why do I Need a VPN?
- Encrypts all your activity on the web
- Hides your activity from anyone who might be interested in it
- Fakes your location, enabling you to access geo-blocked content (e.g. on Netflix, HotStar and other sites).
- Makes it possible to be anonymous on the web
- Protects your data when using public WiFi hotspots
Hiding or disguising the IP address of your computer, phone, and tablet is one of the greatest actions that a VPN provides. Simply said, the location of your computer or device is unknown to others when your VPN is on. This is particularly helpful for those wanting to access geo-restricted content. It also helps greatly to mask your identity.
You may be denied access to content by services like Netflix, Hulu and YouTube depending on location. A VPN will allow you to view anything you want without limitations. Many streaming services such as Kodi and Terrarium TV are blocked in the UK and other countries. With a VPN in place disguising your IP address, you’ll be free to stream anywhere and anything you choose.
Other Services VPN Apps & Servers Provide
Some VPN apps and servers provide a few extra benefits. Here are a few more of the benefits to using a VPN.
- Some VPNs have built-in Ad blockers able to block unwanted and targeted ads. You really should be able to browse freely without having every action and search you make online tracked then your information sold to marketers.
- A VPN can also change your IP address to a specific location chosen by you. This allows complete freedom from censorship and other restrictions based upon your location.
- Most ISP (Internet Service Providers) slow your connection speed to save their bandwidth. This causes video buffering on your devices while streaming media. With a VPN, your online activities are hidden from your ISP (Internet Service Provider). This means your bandwidth will not be throttled down while streaming media, which makes for a much more enjoyable experience.
- Most VPN service providers will not keep logs of your identity and activity history. Without this type of data being saved, it is nearly impossible for anyone to recover what you have been doing on the internet. When searching for a VPN provider, be sure to research whether they keep any form of log files and in what countries.
What About a Free VPN?
There are both free and paid VPN service providers available, but beware the actual price paid. Taking advantage of a free VPN provider may have you being taken advantage of and paying in ways you really don’t want. It’s a well-known truth that “if you aren’t paying for it, then you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold.”
When checking available free VPN services, keep in mind these providers have to make money somehow. Research reveals that 38% of the free VPN apps include malware, 84% leak user activities and 75% use tracking libraries. The time and money invested in building a secure VPN are secondary to just paying the bills when users aren’t paying with any money.
How do Free VPN Services Pay Their Expenses?
So-called free VPN services must profit from their users somehow to pay their operating costs. You’ll likely notice pop up ads associated with your past searches due to free VPN providers selling your info to marketing firms. This is just another way free VPNs pay their bills. Even the best free VPN must pay for its bandwidth, electricity, and servers, whether they lease or own. How private could a service be that is selling your data to advertisers? The old adage you get what you pay for really is true.
When you are in the market for a VPN (Virtual Private Network), free seems like a great idea at first. Just make sure you know exactly what you are getting into. With a paid service, you gain much faster connection speeds, premium customer service, and your privacy is secure.
What if My VPN Crashes or Goes Down?
Kill switches are built into the better VPNs. This is a feature that automatically kills your internet access if the safely encrypted connection should ever drop. If your VPN doesn’t include a kill switch and a connectivity issue arises, your device may restore the unprotected connection which leaves you fully exposed. Paying for a good VPN isn’t a huge investment with prices being less than one good cup of coffee per month. It’s well worth it to be anonymous and keep yourself safe online.
Are VPNs Legal?
Yes, for the most part. VPNs are totally legal in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the rest of Western Europe. VPNs as a concept are new to most legal systems, so not all jurisdictions have managed to keep up. Generally, VPN usage is considered illegal in many countries where personal freedoms are considered less important than governmental control. A few of these include China, North Korea, Russia, Belarus, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Turkey, and Iraq.
What Should I Look For In A VPN?
What differentiates one VPN from another? To the casual observer, all VPNs seem quite the same. Only when you look behind the curtain do you realize just how different they all are.
The Most Important VPN Features
You do not want your details being leaked into the open internet. Many VPN services are underdeveloped and have crucial security flaws of this sort.
unlimited download speed
When streaming video, playing online games, or even just browsing web pages, you don’t want the constant buffering and lag times associated with having your ISP throttle your connection or poorly managed VPN services.
If the VPN you choose doesn’t support the device you access the internet with, what’s the point? The VPN you choose should provide connection security to every device you connect to the internet with. The user interface should simply and easily provide this protection to a wide range of different devices such as Windows, iOS, Linux, Android, Apple, Firestick, Fire TV, etc.
Which VPN Service is Best?
After using many VPN services over the years, My True Media now highly recommends using IPVanish VPN. Their VPN apps and servers give the most privacy with zero records kept of online activities. It helps that they have the best anti-leak protection in the industry, too.
IPVanish VPN servers also provide unlimited bandwidth (lightning fast download speeds!) along with a very easy to use and friendly app interface. Their commitment to customer service seems the best among all the VPN providers we’ve ever tried. IPVanish VPN even allows up to 10 different devices to be protected on your account at the same time.
With the IPVanish VPN 7-day money-back guarantee, you have nothing to lose. If not completely satisfied with their service, just ask for your money back.
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Once set up with your VPN app, be sure to learn about making it run as smooth and fast as possible in our Speed Up Your VPN article. Learn all about the different protocols used to mask your location and hide your identity and…