A couple of months ago Trump signed a bill that allows your internet provider to collect your data and sell it to third parties. This raised privacy concerns among US citizens, leading to an increased demand for “VPN’s”—which stands for “Virtual Private Network”.
Chances are you´ve heard something about VPN’s in association with privacy on the internet or your geolocation. Maybe you’ve talked to a friend or relative who suggested you get a VPN because it allows you to use the internet anonymously.
But what exactly is a VPN, how does it work, and what can it do for you? It’s not as complicated as you might think.
A VPN is a popular technology that’s used to make the internet more anonymous and safe. You can access a private network with the use of a public network—like the internet. By connecting a device—like your computer or phone—to the VPN you can make it act as if it’s on the same network.
So why would you want to do that?
To access the internet you have to connect to your Internet Service Provider (ISP). As you might already know, your IP address is tied to your location. Everything you’re doing online is stored by your ISP and can be traced back to your IP address.
It’s worth mentioning that not only your ISP gathers your information. A lot of websites you visit gather data and target ads to you by matching it with your IP. In some cases, these websites even sell your information to other companies.
When you use a VPN it’s no longer possible to tie your activity back to your IP. Because everything you do on a VPN is encrypted, it’s near impossible for third parties—like hackers— to intercept your data.
An added benefit is you can connect to a VPN no matter where you are—which means you can use a VPN on a public Wi-Fi spot or when you’re in a different country. It’s well known that public Wi-Fi spots are very unsafe which is why using a VPN is recommended.
A VPN is created by establishing a virtual tunnel between two endpoints. It works via a virtual tunneling protocol or by data encryption. The video below visualizes a VPN. Within the tunnel, third parties (in theory) can’t intercept what you’re doing.
Many people don’t consider getting a VPN because they think they’re not tech-savvy enough to set it up. However, setting up a VPN is actually quite easy and straightforward. You can configure your computer through a PPTP VPN connections—which is not as hard as it sounds. You can configure your smartphone via PPTP and L2TP/IPsec protocols.
Connecting to a VPN is easy. Operating systems like window come with built-in VPN support. Pretty much every VPN comes with its own desktop application. You can use the application to connect to the VPN and the VPN’s server location. You authenticate by entering a password or a two-factor authentication. In the case of network-to-network funnels, you need a digital certificate.
While the use of VPN’s has become more widespread in recent years, it’s by no means a new technology. It first started being used by companies to allow their workers to safely connect to their corporate network (the Intranet). By using the VPN workers could access sensitive information in a safe way.
You might be wondering if using a VPN is legal. The answer to that is yes, absolutely. In fact, VPN’s are legal in most countries. There are only a handful of nations, like North Korea and Iran that forbid the use of VPN’s.
It’s true that VPN’s sometimes get a bad name because in rare cases it’s used for illegal activity. However, good VPN service providers strictly forbid activities like this.
So, is a VPN the same thing as a proxy? The answer to that is no, a VPN is not the same thing. While both serve the goal of protecting your identity, a proxy is a different technology.
Long story short, when you’re using a proxy your internet activities are not hidden because there is no encryption. A proxy does mask your real IP address and provide you the IP address of the proxy. But because there is no encryption it’s a slightly different technology.
There are a few small disadvantages to using a VPN:
It’s up to you decide if your privacy and safety is worth the tradeoff.
The main reasons why you should a VPN’s is because it increases your privacy and security on the internet. VPN service providers offers a private network that you can access wherever you have internet. Because all your data is encrypted it is harder for third parties —like hackers— to intercept your data. With the government accepting laws that diminish online privacy the popularity of VPN’s are on the rise.
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