What is a VPN?

You’ve probably heard of a VPN before and if you’re here then you’re wondering “What is a VPN?” A VPN is a Virtual Private Network.

A VPN creates a link between your computer and a server giving you a new IP address.The link between your computer and the server is encrypted so that no person, company or government can see what data is coming in and out of your computer.

Simply put, what you browse, download, watch and stream is private from everyone including your internet service provider. Without a VPN your activity from whatever website you visit, content you stream and your personal identity lay bare to governments, websites visited and internet service providers.

Many VPN providers have a no log policy meaning your activity is not logged in their databases so even they can’t monitor your internet activity.

Who uses a VPN?

VPNs first came about in the mid 90s and were used by businesses to keep their systems, dealings and transactions secure. But with the growth of the internet and ecommerce, the need for cybersecurity spread to the rest of society.

VPNs are now utilized by many different people, organizations, businesses and governments. A VPN is integral for journalists abroad in countries where freedom of speech laws are nonexistent, without a VPN their privacy and work could be compromised and suppressed.

Residents of socially oppressed nations also need a VPN to access the rest of the internet and to anonymously voice opinions of dissent against their government, a right many westerners take for granted.

Why use a VPN?

Security

The use of the internet is more important than ever and with that your cybersecurity is even more important. Getting your information stolen can be a nuisance from getting your social media hacked to a total nightmare of having your bank account information stolen.

Using a VPN will greatly reduced the risks of having any of your information stolen. Using a public WiFi at school, coffee shop and even a hotel is extremely risky since you’re opening your device to an insecure network with potentially malicious users waiting to steal your information.

With a VPN your connections will be secured over a public WiFi so you won’t have to worry about having your information stolen.

Privacy

Websites, internet service providers, and governments log your activity. Governments, especially those that don’t guarantee rights to freedom of speech and press, monitor and control the internet within their borders.

Regardless of whether you live in the USA or Iran your privacy is important and what you view on the web is your business and nobody else’s.

Location Sensitive Content

Much of the internet you get to see is based on the location of your IP address. Which videos you get to stream, hotel rates and flight prices you see are based on your virtual location. Flights and hotels may cost more if you are booking them online from one region to the next, a VPN allows you to change your location to make sure you get the best price available.

If your favorite television show isn’t available on a streaming service in your country, America for example, but is available in another country e.g. Canada; a VPN allows you to change your IP address location to the country where a show is available, effectively tricking your streaming service into thinking you’re accessing their service from another country.

Data Throttling

By the ruling of the FCC to kill Net Neutrality in the USA, it is now possible for internet service providers to throttle data from specific sites and services. For example if you are using a streaming service to watch your favorite television show in HD then your internet service provider could throttle your data speeds making your video streaming quality dive.

Internet service providers could potentially outright block any website they choose and could charge more monthly to use video streaming services, music streaming services and social media. Having a VPN will prevent internet service providers from throttling, blocking and charging more for access to content.

Restricted Content

Not all governments are created equally as stated previously and in some countries many websites and internet services we use daily are blocked. China is notorious for having the most comprehensive internet blocking system appropriately dubbed the Great Firewall.

Services like Facebook, YouTube, Google, Gmail, WhatsApp and more are all blocked within the country. You will need a VPN with obfuscated servers to get around this since the Chinese government actively blocks many VPN servers.

Which VPN to use?

Free VPN

There are many free VPN services to use but there are always caveats to free stuff. Most free VPN services offer a limited amount of data that can be streamed on a monthly basis, usually capping out around 1 gigabyte a month which is about an hour worth of HD video streaming.

Other free VPN services that don’t have data caps tend to have extremely slow data speeds due to the companies running these VPNs have little revenue to buy more servers across the globe.

Paid VPN

Paid VPN services are the best option to choose due to the volume of servers to choose from across the globe, no data caps and faster speeds.

It is best to choose a VPN that has a no logging policy, meaning that they do not log any of the data coming through their network, ensuring your privacy even from the company providing the VPN and allowing anonymous torrenting.

Since most VPN subscribers use their VPN on a monthly basis, it is recommended to buy a VPN service for a year at a time.

Subscribing for a year at a time will cut the cost of your VPN bill in half or more. Many VPNs can cost up to $12 if billed monthly. Most if not all paid VPN services have apps for PC, MAC, Android, iPhone and keep them updated regularly ensuring security across all your devices.

NordVPN

Currently one of the highest rated VPNs is NordVPN. NordVPN has been recommended by CNETPCMag and by myself, a current user. NordVPN has a no log policy and is based out of Panama which has no data retention laws, allowing NordVPN to avoid pressure from government coalitions and agencies.

NordVPN has obfuscated servers around the globe to ensure access and the highest data speeds in the most internet restricted countries.

They offer an automatic internet kill switch which will cut off your connection to internet if your VPN loses its connection to the secured server, ensuring none of the data passing in and out of your computer or device gets compromised.

Bottom Line

Whether you are a journalist, traveler, resident of an oppressive country or a typical internet user a VPN is paramount to your internet security.

Don’t be like my friends and loved ones who got a VPN after they got their accounts hacked and information stolen.