What is a VPN, and Why do You Need One? 

What is a VPN, and Why do You Need One? 

/ James Masterson

As the world becomes increasingly more connected thanks to the internet, the privacy issue gets into the spotlight. We constantly exchange information over the internet, and our data is for the taking. Imagine everyone having access to your private life; how would that make you feel?

what is a vpn

There are forces arrayed against our privacy, both companies and hackers trying to gather our personal information for their use, and our privacy is being invaded. An excellent way to stay secure is to use a Virtual Private Network, also known as a VPN. Apart from keeping you safe while browsing, it has a few other valuable uses, which we will explore in this article.

See Also: The Top 5 VPN Services of 2019

What Does a VPN do?

A VPN, or Virtual Private Network, allows you to connect to another network over the internet securely. It creates a secure connection that keeps your personal information safe. Simply put, it connects your PC/Tablet/Phone to another computer (server) somewhere in the world and allows you to browse the internet using that PC’s connection. Your network traffic is sent over a secure connection using the VPN, which enables you to access its resources.

what a vpn does

In short, a VPN forwards your requests to the internet and then forwards the website’s response through a secure connection. Your information will appear as if you’re browsing from that server instead of your device. VPNs have multiple benefits that we will discuss in depth shortly.

VPNs shield your browsing activity, access region-restricted websites, protect you while torrenting, or allow you to watch streaming media such as Netflix.

Benefits of Using a VPN

Users who decide to use VPN can enjoy various features allowing them to browse freely & more securely. Using a Virtual Private Network gives you a certain level of freedom that can only be achieved using a VPN. Benefits of using a VPN include:

  • Protection against untrustworthy Wi-Fi hotspots
  • Anonymity
  • Hiding your browser activity from your local network & ISP
  • Accessing geo-blocked websites
  • Bypassing internet censorship
  • Download files from the internet
  • Access to business or home networks while traveling

Protection against Untrustworthy Wi-Fi hotspots

When your device connects to a Wi-Fi hotspot, the hotspot admins can get access to some of your personal information. Connecting to public networks is never completely safe, and you never know who might be trying to steal your information. Most public networks, such as the ones you may find at Starbucks, are safe. However, you never know what’s happening behind the scenes. Hackers often use public Wi-Fi hotspots to steal information, and an excellent way to stay protected is to connect using a VPN.

Anonymity

anonymous

It’s getting harder to stay anonymous daily as websites try to gather your personal information, such as your location. Having anonymity should be your choice and only yours. If you prefer not to have your personal information (like your location) known, consider using a VPN to change your location and gain at least anonymity in a world that’s getting increasingly more centered against an individual.

Hiding your browser activity from your ISP

Government spying on its people is such a cliche thing to say, but it’s happening. Two groups are often labeled enemies of free speech and privacy — your ISP & the NSA. Multiple reports showed that national surveillance agencies had direct access to your activities on the internet, so you might want to consider encrypting your data.

hide browser activity

The battle for net neutrality is lost, and now we know that your ISP is using your information to make money. While it’s true that most major companies like Facebook & Google are already using your information, you still have a choice to quit using those services. However, it’s a different story with your internet service provider, and there’s not much you can do here. A VPN can offer some protection to help encrypt your online activity and data.

Accessing geo-restricted websites

If you live in the US, you probably didn’t cross paths with a geo-restricted website unless you traveled. However, some users from countries such as China, Iran, Russia, and others certainly have. In short, geo-restricted websites are sites blocked for certain countries for many reasons, including a lack of service, international laws, etc. Changing your location with a VPN can help you access these geo-restricted websites, whether traveling away from the US or living in one of those geo-blocked countries.

Bypassing internet censorship

Internet censorship is a huge deal for some countries. You might have heard of the infamous Great Firewall of China, which blocks many popular international websites for its users. There’s a lot of internet censorship in countries worldwide, and you can bypass it with a decent VPN provider.

Download files from the internet

It’s no secret that most of us have tried downloading specific files from the internet at least once. Every day, thousands of people download their favorite movies, tv shows, video games, and software without paying for them. Of course, this is not how it’s supposed to work — after all, they want you to spend money on these things.

Some people are torrenting to download legal files quickly, and that’s okay. However, your ISP might be interfering with this, slowing down your download speed, which can be fixed using a VPN. You may also get in trouble for downloading specific files from the internet. While we do not encourage illegal file downloading, VPNs can be used to hide your tracks and also speed up the process if necessary.

Access to business or home networks while traveling

The original VPN use was to access business networks while you were away. So, it’s not surprising that you can still use VPN to access your files while away from your home or business, and all it takes is a quick setup.

Do You Need a VPN?

If you value privacy, using a VPN is a no-brainer choice. You don’t necessarily need a VPN for your daily online operations; however, with all the things we’ve discussed, you can see how VPN could keep you safe and protected. Using a VPN will eliminate your anxieties, and you won’t have to worry about protection.

There are many reasons why you might consider using a VPN:

  • You want to stay anonymous and protect your private information
  • You want to stay safe on public Wi-Fi
  • You want to download files faster & safer
  • When you’re traveling to geo-restricted locations
  • When you want to access internal networks from a remote location
  • When you’re a political dissident

As we can see, there are many reasons to use a VPN, so pick one and get started.

Disadvantages of Using a VPN

We’ve talked about the many benefits VPNs offer, but it’s also worth mentioning some disadvantages. Switching to a decent VPN will cost money, as the free versions usually don’t provide enough protection. As for the costs, most providers offer monthly plans for around $10/month, yearly plans hovering between $3 to $5/month, and some even offer lifetime access for a one-time payment of $150.

Apart from the costs, a significant disadvantage with most VPNs seems to be the reduction in browsing speeds. VPNs are known to cause latency, and some users are reporting significant drops in streaming speeds. However, this can be somewhat mitigated by choosing a server closer to your location, which creates less lag. A decrease in rate is not that big of a deal with premium providers, and it usually works just fine for day-to-day operations.

Some providers also got caught keeping logs and spying on their users; you don’t want that to happen. Ensure you carefully explore the company’s Terms of Service to prevent this from happening. Lastly, choosing a VPN that offers private networks that allow users to browse anonymously is a good idea. VPNs have a few disadvantages, but these can easily be mitigated or avoided.

VPN is a great product, and everyone should consider using one.

James Masterson
Meet the author

James is a software engineer and an information architect with a keen eye for detail. Among his key interests are enhancing the usability of our Windows 10 content, troubleshooting errors, and tech news. He's also enthusiastic about structured data, which he believes will help the world make better sense of information in the digital age.