What is a VPN? Virtual Private Networks Explained

what is a vpn

With the internet awash with genius-level hackers, sneaky phishing attempts, and just shady dealings altogether, VPNs are becoming more and more important. But why? What is a VPN and what exactly does it do? 

In short, a VPN is one of the best and most secure ways to connect or accessing the internet while protecting your data from site to site at the same time. They create an encrypted “tunnel”  between your data, the VPN servers, and the internet. Any data that exits the “tunnel” is masked as the VPN instead of showing up as your own. For Firefox users, we reviewed the best free VPNs in this article.

You may want to know more about these tools by checking out our side-by-side review of Avast VPN compared to ExpressVPN.

What Is a VPN and What Does it Do?

A VPN (Virtual Private Network) works as a secured connection between your data and the internet. Think of it like a private tunnel that hides your personal information from unwanted viewers or even tricks them into thinking you’re somewhere that you’re not. When your data exits the VPN’s encrypted tunnels and hits the internet, it’s coming out disguised as the VPN itself. In turn, this makes it a lot harder for a hacker to hijack your personal information.

Providing security and anonymity are the main purposes of a VPN. Similar to how a firewall will protect data that’s stored on your PC by providing a layer of defense against intrusion, a VPN protects your data that’s passing through the internet. But, that’s not their only purpose.

You might be thinking, “but Branton, that sounds just like a proxy?!” and you wouldn’t be wrong. However, unlike a proxy connection, a VPN secures more than just your browser. It works to secure your entire internet connection by essentially replacing your ISP routing for absolutely everything. So, yeah, a VPN is definitely like a proxy, but proxies don’t usually offer the same level of protection – or anonymity – as a VPN does.

VPNs also work to mask your location. Meaning, you can use a VPN to subvert various region locks on content and websites.

You can even install a VPN at the router level to secure your entire home network or local area network. If you have a lot of smart devices, or an entire smart home or local network, this is often one of the best options to build an extra layer of security. Once your router is secured by a VPN, every WiFi-enabled device that connects to it will pass data through your encrypted tunnel before it hits the internet.

Should I Use a VPN Client Software?

Short answer: Yes.

VPNs are especially important if you do online banking or anything else along those lines. If you conduct any business online, say you’re a freelancer or a remote contractor, a VPN should be enabled pretty much 100% of the time.

What if you’re connecting to a public network? Maybe at a coffee shop, an airport, or a hotel? It’s an easy answer, always use a VPN when connecting to a public network, regardless of where.

what is a vpn tunnel

The opposite would be like shouting your personal information in the middle of a busy mall. Sure, most people will ignore it, but not everyone will. Some people will gladly take that information and use it against you, whether that’s signing you up for fraudulent credit cards, or something even worse like full-blown identity theft. Scary, right?

Similarly, if a hacker/phisher gain access to something like your online banking information, a lot of really bad damage can be done faster than you could say “I should have been using a VPN”.

Long story short, if you want to keep your important personal information safe while browsing online, you should be using a VPN.

VPN Service Provider

There are many VPN providers you could choose from, some are free but the best options are paid.

Out of all the options, my favorite VPN provider to recommend is NordVPN for the simple reason that it works with everything. Whether you’re running Windows, Linux, or even Mac OS, NordVPN will work, and work well. They even have apps for all iOS and Android devices. It’s super easy to set up and really quick to turn on and off.

Plus, with plans starting at just $2.99/mo, NordVPN is also one of the most affordable VPN providers.

But, they’re not your only good option. TunnelBear, Express VPN, and Norton VPN are all great alternatives.

Conclusion

Whether you’re browsing the site or paying bills, a VPN is practically necessary in today’s always-online world. Now that you know what a VPN is and what they do, you should have no reason not to be using one.

With more people online than ever before, we also have more hackers and phishers than ever before. To make sure they’re not stealing your personal data, you should be taking steps to protect yourself, running a good VPN is undeniably one of the most important (and effective) steps you could take.

FAQs

1. What is VPN and why do I need it?

A VPN is a virtual private network (VPN), a VPN encrypts your online traffic when you are browsing the web and provides you with online privacy and anonymity by establishing a private network over your internet service provider or with a public internet connection. Most importantly, a VPN service establishes a private, encrypted VPN connection that offers a more secure connection and privacy to your device than even a guarded Wi-Fi hotspot.

2. Is VPN good or bad?

Generally, using a virtual private network (VPN) is a smart idea to connect to the internet securely, much more so if you frequently use public Wi-Fi networks. VPN connections safeguard your device communications and internet traffic from prying eyes by encrypting your Wi-Fi activity and so plays a critical role in your entire digital security. However, using a free VPN is a bad idea.

3. How Does a VPN work?

A VPN connection creates secure communication between your computer and other devices on the internet. When you connect to the internet, all of your data traffic is sent through an encrypted virtual tunnel while using a VPN. When you access the internet, this masks your IP address rendering its location invisible to everyone. Additionally, a VPN connection protects against external threats.

4. Are VPNs a waste of money?

VPNs can encrypt the connection between your system and the VPN server. They can also be used to remotely access networks that are normally unavailable. They work flawlessly for me, are an excellent solution to secure your network traffic on untrustworthy networks, and are not a waste of money.

5. Is VPN illegal?

While operating VPN services is legal in the United States, anything that is prohibited without a VPN remains unlawful when using one (for example, torrenting copyrighted material). VPN use may violate terms of service — While using a VPN to access services such as Netflix is not illegal, it does violate their terms of service.

About Dusan Stanar

I'm the founder of VSS Monitoring. I have been both writing and working in technology in a number of roles for dozens of years and wanted to bring my experience online to make it publicly available. Visit https://www.vssmonitoring.com/about-us/ to read more about myself and the rest of the team.

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