A Guide to Understanding a Virtual Private Network

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It’s been said that history doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes. And if you were online in the early days of the internet, all of the new conversations about privacy must sound very familiar to you. Without question, the tools we use to maintain our privacy have gotten better. One tool that is growing more and more in popularity is something called a VPN.

What Is a VPN?

VPN stands for virtual private network. A virtual private network allows users to exchange data over a public (unsecured) network as if they were connected directly to a private (secured) network. VPNs also allow users to reach sites that have been blocked in their region.

How Does a VPN Work?

Once you activate the VPN software, it encrypts your data. Not even your ISP (internet service provider) can read your data. The encrypted data goes to the VPN’s servers, and from there it goes to the site you’re trying to reach. As far as the site you’re connecting to is concerned, the data is coming from the location of the VPNs servers—not your location.

Do VPNs Make Me Completely Anonymous?

No, VPNs don’t make you completely anonymous. However, they do go a long way in terms of protecting your data online.

Anyone searching without a VPN is leaving their connection wide open. So what does that mean? Someone with the right tools, your ISP, the Wi-Fi router at your favorite cafe, or a server you just happen to come across could see your data. Using a VPN safeguards you from these problems.

Not so Fast

As helpful as VPNs are, they have one substantial downside—speed. You can expect a drop-off in speed because your internet traffic is passing through the tool’s connection. The differing speeds will depend on the infrastructure of the VPN provider. Using one provider might drop your speed by 50 percent, while another might drop your speed by 70 percent. If you plan on downloading large files through a VPN, it could take a significant amount of time to complete the process.

Logs, Location, and Laws

Not every VPN protects you in the same way. Therefore, it’s essential that you thoroughly research which service will best serve your needs. One of the things to keep an eye out for is whether or not a VPN keeps logs—and what type of logs. Do they keep usage, connection, or payment logs? Do they claim to not to keep any logs? Are they telling the truth?

Another factor to mull over is what part of the world was the service set up in. What laws do they have about record keeping? Some countries might compel the service you’re using to retain all of their records. What would happen if their government decided to have a look at those records? Just something to keep in mind.

Today, more than ever, people are preoccupied with maintaining their privacy online. They simply want to keep themselves and their families safe on the web. Thankfully, VPNs are there to help protect them and they’re just a few clicks away.