A VPN or Virtual Private Network is a software tool that can be used to make your online browsing more private and secure. It can help to protect your identity online and also helps to protect the data you send and receive. In today’s world of pervasive cybercrime, it can prove almost indispensable.
In essence, a VPN establishes a private network, within your internet connection, by linking with servers in different locations. Your internet traffic is routed through a dedicated host VPN server and is encrypted, or scrambled, thus even if your data is intercepted, the result would be unreadable.
For those readers who are beginning to shy away from this topic already, with its discussion of re-routing your internet traffic through host servers, let me assure you it is not as scary as it sounds. You don’t have to be a computer whizz to use a VPN as it is as simple as a few clicks on an app to get started. You also don’t need deep pockets as you can get free trials, free software, and more feature-rich but still reasonably priced versions.
A VPN comes in the form of an app for your phone, tablet or computer. The software scrambles your data whilst in transit, hiding it from view from cybercriminals, hackers and identity thieves. This then can be added to your suite of security software that should also include an antivirus and firewall suite.
Consumer Internet Use
In addition to the data protection uses outlined above a VPN can serve other useful purposes. As it routes your internet connection through host servers in other regions or countries it is possible to access international news, web content and in some cases entertainment content that is not available in your region or is region or geo-locked. This is due to these services assuming the VPN host server you are currently using is your actual location.
Today, post-COVID, with more and more people working from home, businesses employ the use of VPNs to protect their valuable data from theft whilst it’s being sent over an internet connection. Where customers details, names, addresses and bank details are accessed over the internet by homeworkers, VPNs help to protect the customer’s data from interception and theft by cybercriminals.
VPNs are widely used to hide a computer users geographic location or to make an observer think that they are in a different geographic location. This has been used successfully by people living in countries where harsh government censorship is imposed or in authoritarian regimes where it might not be safe for an individual to make contact with the outside world, by protecting a persons identity and location. This would be more in the realm of the expert VPN user and I wouldn’t, for obvious reasons, recommend the uninitiated user to depend on this, but still, it is an example of how powerful a VPN can be.
Disadvantages of VPN Use
Because your internet connection is sent through a different city, country or time zone rather than direct from your broadband provider, your broadband speeds will be slower by some degree. This can depend on how far away from your current location the server you are connected to is located. The traffic through any particular server can also be a factor to consider.
There is a learning curve to the correct and effective VPN use. Whilst you can get up and running fairly quickly it can pay to do a little research on the company’s website to tweak your use of their product. Some trial and error may be required and additional research before use as most services I have used, offer little in the way of in-depth tutorials.
A lot of the more popular streaming services such as Netflix have put obstacles in the way of successfully using a VPN whilst on their service. They cannot access your identity or location any more than anyone else can but their algorithms can detect when a VPN is in use. You may have to switch off your VPN to stream their content and then switch it back on again when you are done.
A VPN is a very powerful software tool that is used widely today where security and privacy are key. It can help protect business data but it is also of use to the more humble needs of the home computer user.
The use of a VPN is not, in itself, the answer to all of your data security needs. It protects your privacy and the security of your activities on the internet but does not protect against viruses. The use of a good antivirus software package with firewall protection is also essential.
VPNs can be downloaded on mobile phones, tablets and PC and Mac computers and can add an extra layer of privacy and security to your home or business computing needs. Download a VPN app from your App Store and see how it works for you.