What is a VPN?

What is a VPN (And Should You Use One)?

In Knowledge Base Blog by Robert ConibearLeave a Comment

A VPN is a virtual private network.

And “what’s a virtual private network,” you ask…? 

Well, it gives the user privacy and anonymity by creating a secure connection on public WiFi hotspots. 

A VPN works by masking your IP address. So, would-be hackers can’t trace your online activity — yet, that’s not even the biggest benefit. 

VPNs create an encrypted connection to give you the highest level of data privacy (more than any so-called ‘secured WiFi hotspot’), meaning no-one can see your personal data when you’re online. 

Now, who should use a virtual private network?

Let’s take a look.

Who Should Use A VPN?

If you surf the web on public WiFi connections, you should probably use a VPN. 

Because if you browse on an unsecured network, you could be putting yourself at risk with onlookers seeing whatever you look at.

Worse, you may accidentally expose sensitive information (logins, payment details, addresses), anytime you make a purchase — so:

  • If you’re someone who uses public WiFi, and;
  • You’re in any way concerned about your online privacy

Then, a virtual private network could well be for you. 

Maybe you check your bank balance while waiting for your cappuccino. Perhaps, you browse your email as your partner talks to her colleague. 

If you do any of these things on a network that doesn’t ask you to enter a password, then anyone could theoretically see what you’re seeing — as unsecured networks allow strangers to intercept data transmitted during a session. 

In contrast, a VPN encrypts your activity, and adds a layer of anonymity, meaning anything you do remains ‘for your eyes only.

So, whether you’re writing emails, browsing seasonal sales, or settling your electricity bill: use a VPN to keep your data secure.

How Does A VPN Work?

In essence, a virtual private network funnels your data from the local network to another destination (which could be thousands of miles away), giving the allusion you’re in an entirely different place.

What’s more, the VPN uses sophisticated encryption that scrambles data sent over the network, rendering it incomprehensible, and giving you near-perfect data security.

Even if you browse on a private network, your internet service provider still knows what you look at...

Whereas if you use a VPN, your browsing history is effectively hidden. How so? 

Well. 

  1. VPNs act as a virtual server in a separate location
  2. Your browsing history logs against the IP address of the VPN
  3. VPN service providers often have several servers dotted across the globe

Ipso facto: your browsing activity could appear to come from any one of a-thousand separate devices.

The same applies in the context of search engines.

Services like Google associate your search history with your IP address. However, if you use a VPN, it will hide your activity from the search engine, keeping you safe from advertisers’ prying eyes.

This setup gives you have absolute freedom to surf the web while out-and-about — safe in the knowledge that no-one is peeping on your data.

4 Things A VPN Can Hide

We’ve learned that VPNs are experts at hiding ‘stuff.’ But what kind of things can they hide?

And how can you use a virtual private network to keep your online privacy at its absolute best?

Here are four bits of data a VPN can keep under wraps.

1. Your Browsing History

It’s some of the most prized information on the web: what you search for, day-in, day-out. 

Search engines can sell your search history for a pretty penny, as advertisers can use it to bombard you with the ‘latest pair of shoes that you didn’t know you needed.’ 

Your internet service provider (in cahoots with your web browser) can trace pretty much everything you do online.

While ad-servers can tie all the information together, tack it to your IP address, and sell the knowledge to the highest bidder.

A VPN can stop this level of intrusion.

Still, you may be thinking, “But I’ve got nothing to hide. Why should I even bother?” Well, say you’re planning a holiday next month. And you’re about to search prices on airline tickets.

As soon as a flight operator twigs you’re looking for a flight; their website may display a higher fare than before, knowing you have to buy a ticket soon — if you use a VPN, they can’t.

….and you’ll find a cheaper flight.

2. Your IP Address

If I can find your IP address, I can find where you live. 

Spookier, I can probably see what you’re browsing whenever you’re home. 

Your IP address is basically your personal ‘Find My iPhone’: it tells people where your device — and so you — currently reside.

VPNs, on the other hand, use a random IP address of the service provider, which means you can hide your location, your home address, your office address, and keep your search history anonymous.

….thus, stopping surreptitious operators from profiting off your data.

3. Your Country

An extension of the above, but useful to know.

If you can hide your IP address, you can hide your country. And if you can hide your country, you can stream online, no matter where you are.

Let’s revisit that holiday you planned not-so-many-minutes ago.

Perhaps you’ve flown somewhere that your streaming service isn’t available. But there’s a game on, you need to watch the action — connect via your VPN, et voila.

You can stream as if you were at home as, with a VPN, you can select an IP address that mirrors that of your home country.

….and access any online service, anytime, anywhere.

4. Your Connected Devices

The connected device is commonplace in the modern household. Yet, the connected device is an equally-common cybersecurity threat

Devices are easy ways for cybercriminals to target your IT network and steal your personal information. Worse, if you take your devices outside the home and use them on a public WiFi connection, the dangers only grow. 

If you have laptops, tablets, and smartphones that you regularly use on public hotspots, use them with a VPN.

….and rest easy knowing a computer hacker isn’t able to track your every move.

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A VPN is one way to manage your Network Security. Or you can work with an IT consultant for absolute peace of mind — learn how to keep your business secure by giving AngelCom a call on (855) 974-4313.