The great World Wide Web has become so much a part of everyday life that it’s now intertwined with almost everything people do. But as most people have started to realize, the internet is also a very dangerous place, and not just because of viruses or malware.
As scary as it can be, there are also ways for people to protect themselves from the worst of it:
Virtual private networks have been used by companies to protect their networks from outsiders for years. Now, they’re being popularized by the masses as a tool to protect their network connections and personal interests.
Digital privacy has taken a front seat in online issues these last few years, and VPN clients have been championing increased online anonymity. This technology has become so popular that the VPN market is expected to reach $106 billion by 2022.
This article discusses what VPNs do, why they’re essential, and how to get one set up.
How Do VPNs Work?
VPNs use client-based software that creates a secure network connection between the device it’s installed on and a secure VPN server. It is possible to set up a VPN server at home, but the process is complicated and expensive, depending on the setup. Most people make use of client applications provided by VPN services instead, as they’re easy to set up.
VPNs can be installed on PCs, smartphones, routers, and devices like Amazon Fire TV Stick. On PCs, for example, the clients may have front-end interfaces like an app, or run in the background through manual settings.
Once connected to a VPN, the device’s network will first send all data to the VPN server using a connection that’s protected by an encryption tunnel. Encryption tunnels make use of different protocols to secure data being sent from one place to another – but more on that in a bit.
What this means for the user is that their traffic is safe from the prying eyes of outsiders. It provides them with the means to access the internet without worrying about being spied on by anyone or attacked by hackers. Users can also use the VPN server’s location to mask their own, bypassing geo-blocked websites or content.
The Different Encryption Protocols
The term “VPN tunnel” stems from the encryption protocols that these services use to protect internet traffic. Encryption protocols employ cryptographic methods to negotiate a secure link between two endpoints – i.e., to secure a connection between a user and a VPN server.
VPN services make use of different encryption protocols to protect users’ data while in transit. Every protocol comes with its benefits and downsides. For example, PPTP is very easy to use, widely available and doesn’t slow a connection down much, but it’s also very insecure. On the other hand, OpenVPN is very secure but may slow a connection down more than PPTP does.
Sometimes, users can pick which protocols they prefer when using a VPN service and switch to a different protocol.
The Benefits of Using a VPN
The most common benefits VPNs offer revolves around privacy and security. Although some VPN services also offer additional features like password managers or malware and ad-blocking.
Better online security: VPN services use strong encryption protocols that keep outsiders from hopping on the connection and stealing information or monitoring what a person does online.
Privacy: With a VPN turned on, outsiders like ISPs, browsers, and websites can’t track someone’s online behavior and link it back to them. This is possible because VPNs replace a user’s IP address with their own server’s IP address. Multiple users then use that same IP address, making it impossible to link that IP address to one person. Plus, thanks to the VPNs encryption, ISPs and governments also can’t spy on a user’s internet traffic.
Anonymity: Many journalists, dissidents, and people living under dictatorship use VPNs to keep using the internet freely without fear of retribution.
No traffic throttling: Again, VPNs prevent ISPs from monitoring a user’s traffic. Since they can’t see what someone’s doing online, they won’t automatically throttle them for things they usually would throttle for.
Access to geo-blocked websites: Sometimes, websites and services are only available in specific locations. Some countries also keep their citizens from accessing certain websites by blocking them. VPNs overcome this issue by letting their users choose their IP address and thus their location.
One of the other benefits of a VPN is that it’s easy to set up and easy to use. Most VPNs are also pretty inexpensive, and some offer special promotions and coupons as well.
How to Pick and Use a VPN
It’s best to do some research beforehand by checking out the features a VPN offers and weighing it against reviews and its subscription costs. Not everyone will want to get the same thing out of their VPN, but there are some standard features that every VPN should have:
- An integrated kill switch
- A no-logs policy
- Full customer support
- Ample server locations
- OpenVPN support
Installing a VPN is relatively simple, although the process can differ somewhat depending on the device and the service. But here’s how it generally goes: After signing up for the service, navigate to the downloads page and download the correct installer for the corresponding device. Follow the installation instructions then turn the VPN on. Done!
The perks that come with being surrounded by digital devices are also some downsides to having them. VPNs have become indispensable in today’s world, where people are constantly being bombarded by intrusive technology. Luckily, VPN clients are pretty easy to use, and there are plenty of great ones out there to help people go about their day with a bit more privacy.