What Is a VPN, and How Does It Work?

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A virtual private network (VPN) is an effective way to enhance your online security and privacy. Creating a private network on a public connection routes your traffic through a discrete server, hiding your browsing history and information from the internet service provider (ISP) and other network users. A VPN is one of the best ways to protect yourself from information leaks, data breaches, or to prevent hacking attempts. In this article, we’ll explain how exactly VPN works and why you need it for everyday activities.

What Is a VPN?

A VPN is a private network that creates an encrypted connection between a remote server and your computer’s location. By connecting your computer to the remote server via a VPN, you can disguise your location, and the information you send and receive will look as if you were in another city, or even another country, than the actual one you’re in. A VPN’s IP address effectively masks your local IP address. When you use a regular network, you send all of your network information to other users and servers whenever you make an internet request, such as sending an email, opening a website, or watching videos. Your government agencies and other people connected to the same network can track the information you send this way. A VPN hides your IP address and location behind their server IP and increases your anonymity and protection online.

How Does a VPN Work?

When you connect to a VPN server, the VPN encrypts (or hides) your IP address information, which includes your location. Even if your connection is public, such as Wi-Fi in a restaurant or an airport, your data will remain private between you and your VPN host. Whenever you send an internet file or packet while using a VPN, it first goes directly through an encrypted tunnel to the remote server. There it gets wrapped in an encrypted protocol that hides your IP and location, and then forwards that packet to the intended destination. To the server you’re communicating with, it will appear as if you have the IP address of an entirely different location, which can be useful in a few specific scenarios.

Drawbacks and Differences

A VPN can sometimes slow down your internet speed. This is usually due to the server being farther away and requiring more network jumps to reach. Changing to a closer VPN server can significantly improve the speed if the distance is the leading cause of the sluggishness. Some VPNs have special restrictions on what kinds of connections they support and how much data can pass through them daily. While limits mostly apply to free VPN plans, it would be best to check for data limitations depending on how you want to use your internet connection. There are several types of VPN services, with the main difference being security and encryption protocols. Since hackers are always trying to breach security measures, these encryption methods continuously improve and gain more safety layers as technology advances.

Why Do You Need a VPN?

While your home network might have some security measures put in place by your ISP, they are still able to track your browsing history and data. Worse yet, public Wi-Fi networks don’t have these safety methods in place, and some imposter public Wi-Fi networks can be set up maliciously to gather information about users. A VPN will provide that additional layer of privacy and anonymity on the internet to which everyone should have a right.

No Logs Policies

Of course, even while the ISP and government might not have access to your data while using a VPN, the VPN service itself might be collecting it internally. No-log VPNs have clauses that mean they promise not to keep a history of your browsing habits and addresses. If authorities request such information from a no-log VPN, there would be nothing to show if the VPN abides by its promises. Since VPNs are mainly private businesses, always check the fine print to ensure your data is not stored (or worse, sold) on their servers.

Content Unblocking

Undoubtedly, one of the most popular reasons to use a VPN service is to gain access to more websites and content online. Streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu, or even YouTube, often have region-locked content that can be accessed only if your IP corresponds to a particular location. If you’ve recently moved, for example, or travel for work needs, region-locked content can mean you miss your weekly dose of favourite shows. A VPN can fool the servers into thinking you’re at a location that has unlocked streams or videos. This can allow you to watch USA-only content from the safety of your Canadian room. VPNs often have a variety of servers spread around the world. Connecting to different ones will change your virtual location accordingly, which can yield vastly different results as to which worldwide streaming and content platforms you can access.

Is VPN Legal?

While some countries (China, UAE, Russia, North Korea among them) have entirely abolished VPNs and made them illegal to own, VPNs often have different legal status from country to country. In the USA and Canada, though, they are legal to use. Do note that some countries and states don’t take kindly to using VPN to circumvent geo-locked content. Additionally, using a VPN to perform illegal activities online is still against the law. To get the best idea of the legality and extent of VPN use allowed, read the terms for your VPN service, the streaming content you want to unlock, or your region’s laws to get a more accurate idea of what you want to do.

Internet for All

With the world rapidly undergoing digitization of services, having a secure internet connection is essential for online safety. A good VPN service will grant you that extra layer of protection needed for daily tasks while allowing you to play around and get the most out of your data plan.
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