For the uninitiated, a VPN (Virtual Private Network) is a great way to ensure that your internet connection is secure, private, and encrypted. There’s a lot to them, and I’m not going to delve too deep into them, but this is definitely something that everyone should look into.
The basic idea is that you pay a VPN provider for their service. In return, you send all of your internet traffic to them through a tunnel that nobody can get through but you. This tunnel is virtual, it is private, and it acts just like a network. This is where the name comes from. Nobody but the provider can see the traffic. For a better idea, here are three pros and three cons of using a VPN to protect yourself online.
Privacy – A VPN hides your internet traffic from those outside the virtual network it creates. This means that nobody who you don’t trust can go poking around in your data. Your ISP won’t know what you’re looking at, the government won’t know what you’re looking at (unless they’re doing shifty things like deep packet inspection, but that’s another story), but the VPN provider can because you decided to trust them with your data.
Encryption – The VPN provider completely encrypts all of the data that you send them before it goes out to the web. This means that the tunnel is safe and impervious from corruption.
Tunneling – Because all of your data goes over a virtual network, it doesn’t make it to the web via your ISP; it accesses the web via the provider. This essentially acts as a proxy, giving you a new global IP address (when in reality, this IP address belongs to the VPN provider and you’re just renting it), and has the added benefit of potentially reporting a completely different physical location in the world. This is how people in China bypass the Great Firewall: they use a VPN that makes it look like they’re from another country.
Many more – a quick Google search will show you the sheer depth to which the benefits of using a VPN extends.
Cost – While not too expensive, this is still a significant investment that some people may not be able to afford. There are other ways to protect yourself online such as using a proxy or Tor, but this is the best way to ensure you and your data are safe.
Complications – VPNs are actually illegal in certain parts of the world. Do your research before you do something that has the potential to get you in trouble with the law. Additionally, the VPN provider landscape is quite tumultuous. There are numerous accounts of providers stopping service and completely disappearing from the internet under suspicious circumstances. Find a solid provider with a good reputation within the industry so that you aren’t left naked.
Trust – There is always the possibility that the provider you select is a liar. For all you know, you could be paying some Russian criminal to collect terabytes of data and forward it onto a crime syndicate. This has the potential to result in passwords and personal information being released, which nobody wants. Do you really want to pay $75 so that Vladimir can drain your bank account? Of course not. Pick somebody you can trust.
So those are some of the basics behind a VPN. Some of the cons may seem intimidating, but the pros significantly outweigh them. There are a plethora of reliable providers out there that will offer you a secure connection at a great price, which is essential for your privacy on the modern internet. Friends, please do your research, and always use protection.