The chances are that you're reading this article because you know a thing or two about VPNs. However, did you know that a VPN boosts your security and privacy online? This kind of application is capable of eliminating any Web roadblocks and making the Web a secure place. In fact, this is the most secure way to keep your private data out of reach of third parties.
The last couple of months were quite turbulent in terms of revelations about our online privacy. Facebook has exposed the data of millions of its users, and aggressive malware has infected routers in the US. Big name companies like Swisscom, Octoly, and MyHeritage were all targets of massive hacking attempts. As a result, there's been a spike in VPN usage. So, we are going to tell you not only how a VPN boosts your security and privacy online but more much than that.
Achieving Full Freedom on The Web
In general, we want to achieve two things while on the Internet. Firstly, we want to access Internet services and resources without broadcasting to the world who we are. This can include information such as our exact location, what computer we're using, and who our Internet service provider is.
Secondly, we want to stop people from purposefully breaking into our personal data transmissions and looking at what's inside them. This can include personal documents that you upload, files that you download, messages that you send through apps, and everything else you do on the Web. Stop for a moment and think what someone could do if they could see everything you do and say on the Internet. How does that expose you? How much trouble could they make for you?
The good news is that VPN technology can go a long way to lessening or even eliminating these shady aspects of the Web. So let me show you exactly how a good VPN can achieve this.
How a VPN Boosts Your Security And Privacy Online?
When you send someone something on the Web, like a photograph, for example, the ones and zeroes that make up that image are split into thousands of little pieces called 'packets' and each sent off as a separate message on the network. Each packet is going to stop at a lot of different places before it gets sent to its designated address. They won't all follow the same path or even arrive in the right order, but each packet is marked with information telling each stop on the way what sort of info it is, where it's coming from, and where it's going.
This is all perfectly fine in terms of making the network perform properly and getting your information where it's going, but it's a nightmare in terms of privacy and security. Those data packets speak volumes about who you are and what you're up to, with a million eyes along the way taking note of both those things.
A VPN or virtual private network creates a digital tunnel, a sort of data cloaking technology that makes it virtually impossible for those prying eyes to see anything in your data that can come back to haunt you later. Let's look at how VPN works exactly.
How Does a VPN Keep Me Anonymous?
Every device on the Internet has an address. It serves the same purpose as the address of your home. If you want to receive a letter or a package, you give someone your address. Then someone works out a route to that address and delivers it to your mailbox or your door.
In the case of the Internet, that address is referred to as an IP Address. The IP address of your router is what everyone sees when you access the Web. It's a number consisting of four shorter numbers separated by a period. For example, 192.168.1.1 is a common internal IP address for a router when you're trying to access it through your own Wi-Fi.
This number not only gives the virtual location away to whoever receives any of your data packets, but it also gives away your physical location on the network. If an IP address is all that the other party has, then they usually can't get your exact point of origin, but they will be pretty close. More worryingly, if someone has your IP address, they also know who your service provider is. Armed with those two bits of information, someone with the right legal powers can find out who you are without having to guess based on circumstantial evidence.
A VPN hides your IP address from the outside world, meaning that all the associated information that can be extracted from it won't point to you anymore. That's because you are not actually directly accessing the website or service. Your computer is sending information to the VPN server first, which in turn is passing on the request to the actual service or website. VPN services also tend to have many servers spread all over the country, so external viewers only see the IP address of that server. For all the receiving computer knows, the request came from the VPN itself.
How Does a VPN Make Your Information More Secure?
While hiding the origin of the information behind a VPN's server, that still doesn't mean that the information is hidden from view on the way from your computer to the VPN's server. If anyone were to listen in on the data packets on route to the VPN, they'd still have ample information to figure out who you are and what sort of information you're sending and receiving.
This is why the VPN' client' (which is the part of the VPN that lives on your computer, phone, or router) does several very clever things to your data before it sends it to the VPN server. It's these special security techniques to make sure that your information can't be spied on before it gets safely to the VPN or back to you from the VPN.
Putting Your Stuff in a Capsule
The first thing it does is encapsulate your data packets. Remember how we said earlier that when you send something over the Internet, it gets broken up into little packages. If you think of each of those packets as an envelope, then on the outside of the envelope, you'll see both a destination and return address. You can even tell what sort of mail it is by size, shape, and weight. Plenty of clues are there without having to open it. But if you took all your mail and put it in yet another envelope with the same forwarding mail address, no one could tell the different packets apart.
That's exactly what happens when a VPN encapsulates your data packets. It wraps them in its own special VPN packet, which then gets stripped off when it arrives at the VPN server. So any intermediate stop on the way there that gets to have a loop.
Encrypting Your Info
Sticking all your info packets into the digital equivalent of a double-layer of envelopes is a good start, but what's to stop someone from simply ripping open the envelopes and having a look at the actual letters inside?
In this case, the 'letters' represent the actual data that you're sending and receiving. Just encapsulating them doesn't do anything to hide the contents of anyone who wants to take the trouble to really go through them. A VPN's answer to this is a process known as encryption. To explain it very shortly, encryption means taking the normal, understandable data inside your data packet and then running it through a set of instructions that scramble it all up.
If you don't know exactly what recipe was used to scramble the information, you have almost no chance at all to get the original information back. To make it even more complex, a part of the recipe includes a random series of computer bits. This is the 'key' and only you and your VPN have a copy of it.
VPN encryption is an amazing technology, and it's totally worth reading up about it in more detail to really understand how encryption works and whether it's truly safe.
Don't Forget About VPNs for Mobile Devices
When talking about protecting your privacy on the Web, we are not only talking about your computer. You need to think of all devices that you use to connect to the Web. For many of you, this also includes smartphones, tablets, smart TVs, and even gaming consoles.
When choosing a VPN, you need to pay attention to its cross-platform compatibility. You'll be happy to hear that numerous VPN providers offer native apps for various platforms. Furthermore, they allow you to use from three up to six connections (devices) at the same time. So, a good place to start is our overview of the best VPNs for Android and for iOS as well.
Wait, There’s More You Can Do!
Most of the discussions around VPNs center on their nature as a privacy tool or as a way to protect your data from spying efforts. While both of these features are very important reasons to care about VPNs, there's much more to them than simply making your internet experience more private and secure.
Many VPNs come with various perks and features that range from connection speed improvements to the benefits of appearing to be a part of the world you really aren't. They've been used for neat tricks such as connecting to machines on your local network remotely or even to secure devices like smartphones and tablets when you're abroad or at a public Wi-Fi hotspot. There are many reasons why you need a VPN.
Interested in Using a VPN? Here Are Your Best Options!
There are hundreds of different VPN providers on the Web. If you take a look at their lists of features, you'll see that they all seem alike. However, only a few of those are worth your money and your time.
To help you pick the correct VPN for your needs, we have put together an overview of the very best VPN providers that you can find right now. As you're about to see, we highly recommend signing up for ExpressVPN. This has been the VPN of choice for our editorial teams, and we have become huge fans of this VPN solution. ExpressVPN is incredibly user-friendly and backed up by seriously advanced technologies. So, go ahead and check it out.
Going Beyond Virtual Private Network Apps
Remember that in this article, we said that a VPN boosts your security and privacy online, but that does not mean it can provide you with total solutions to either of those Internet security factors.
Sure, it's a BIG boost to your privacy and security, but you need to make a VPN an integrated part of an overall strategy. This includes having a security mindset and developing habits that make it even harder for the bad guys to get to you. For one thing, learning how to make truly strong passwords will give you another layer of protection and form the basis of good data security.
When it comes to keeping your identity safe, there are plenty of ways you can stay anonymous online. VPNs are key to strong identity protection, but you also have to think about network security and whether your chosen VPN keeps logs of your activity. You need to pay attention to the specifics of the privacy policies you agree to.
It may sound like a lot of work just to stop a few people from finding out things about you. Many people use the so-called 'nothing to hide' argument. They say that nothing that they're doing is wrong or illegal, so why should they care that others can see it. Apart from the obvious cases where criminals try to get you information to rob you, there are many legitimate reasons to prevent less malevolent entities from spying on you. Just because a company or government acts in a benign way today doesn't mean they'll always do it. What if the next person in charge takes all that information and uses it against you in some way? Therefore, it's always better to be safe than sorry.
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