The internet nowadays is a pretty scary place to access without proper precautions. You’re not just surfing anymore; you’re trying to avoid the harsh environment the World Wide Web has become. Whenever you go online, you’re compromising your identity, location, private information, and so much more. That’s why internet users are resorting to alternatives in order to secure these crucial factors. What’s the solution? Well, a Virtual Private Network. VPNs are cybersecurity tools that help protect your data, hide your identity, and bypass geo-restrictions. I know, that’s not enough. You need more. That’s why this help guide has everything you need to know about what a VPN is, what it does, and what benefits you get out of it.
VPN Explained – Protect Your Privacy
A VPN is a connection method (Software) that adds an extra layer of security and privacy to internet users. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a private or a public network; When a VPN connection is present, your data is safe. VPNs have become increasingly popular among corporations who aim to protect their sensitive data. However, personal VPNs are also on the rise since anyone who uses the internet doesn’t want their private data to be harvested by cybercriminals.
You’ve all heard about hacking attacks, data selling, as well as identity theft. These threats are roaming the internet nowadays. That’s where a VPN comes in. It creates a secure connection in which it reroutes all your traffic through specialized servers encrypting it in the process. That makes it next to impossible for any hacker to get a hold of your private information.
Furthermore, If you’re using a public Wi-Fi connection, your browsing activity can be visible to anyone who’s connected to the same network. That goes specifically to when you’re using non-HTTPs websites. However, when you connect to a VPN, your initial IP address will be cloaked and replaced with one from the VPN provider.
Whoever has a VPN subscription can obtain an IP address from any gateway destination the VPN service provides. That will help you anonymize your internet approach and even bypass connection-monitoring by your ISP.
The Need for a VPN
3.2 billion people worldwide have internet access, including China with over 829,000,000. However, not all of these users know what’s at risk. For many of those who do know, VPNs have become an integral part of daily life. The internet has become very hard to deal with. By December 2018, the number of cyberattacks peaked at 80 per day. That’s why using a VPN is very important. Asia-Pacific region continues to be the heaviest users of VPNs. However, other countries around the world have been relying on VPNs for several reasons. Here’s what the tests have come up with:
- Asia Pacific: 30%
- Latin America: 23%
- Middle East & Africa: 19%
- Europe: 17%
- North America: 17%
You see, although VPNs are top security tools, the majority of users around the world – 50% to be exact – use it for entertainment. They operate with VPNs to bypass regional restrictions and download torrents anonymously, while at least 30% use for free social media access. The remaining users are all about securing their safety and anonymity.
How a VPN secures your connection depends on the protocol that you use. Each protocol has a different level of security. The most common, secure protocols are as follows.
- OpenVPN (most secure): It’s an SSL-based Virtual Private Network that’s still commonly used by most. The software used is open source. OpenVPN runs on a single UDP or TCP port, making it very flexible and secure.
- L2TP/IPsec These two work well together. You see, L2TP creates a tunnel and IPsec grants a secure channel. Both of them together give you the best of both worlds in terms of features and security.
- PPTP: This protocol has been around for quite some time. Can you imagine, Windows 95? PPTP tunnels a point-to-point connection over the GRE protocol. It’s not bad actually, and it is fast, but not that secure. You’ll find better security in OpenVPN and the rest.
Out of those four, users commonly use OpenVPN. Its high level of security makes it the most used among corporate firms. Try to stay away from PPTP. Although it’s the oldest among all, VPN providers have been advancing in the security area and coming up with more secure protocols to use. PPTP is kind of outdated.
To add a cherry on top, expect in the future the WireGuard VPN protocol. This the newest one to be added to the list later on as it promises to be much faster and leaner than the rest, even OpenVPN.
Although protocols are the main reason for your security, credible VPNs should also offer privacy features for you to enjoy a free internet experience. Let’s take a look:
- Kill Switch: No matter how secure the VPN is, if it doesn’t include a Kill Switch, it jeopardizes your online activities. You see, a kill switch works by terminating your connection if the VPN network took a sudden drop (Stopped out of nowhere). If it’s not present, everything you’ve been doing while using a VPN will be exposed.
- Strict no-log policy: Credible VPNs don’t keep tags, information, or browsing history of their users. If a VPN does collect data, it’s a bad investment. You wouldn’t want the government to get your data if it decides to snoop around, do you? If the VPN service keeps no-logs, the government will get nothing. What would it be able to collect if there’s nothing there, to begin with?
- AES 256-bit encryption: Advanced Encryption Standard is one of the top encryptions out there as it’s tough to crack due to the massive amount of numbers. 256 refers to the key size – the larger the size, the more possible keys there are. It’s considered among the top ciphers.
VPN Explained – Bypass Geo-blocks
VPNs have evolved to a point where they’re useful in many different areas as well. They’re no longer just tools for better security, you can also bypass regional restrictions and circumvent censorship from anywhere in the world.
You see, streaming services have become very popular across the globe. But the problem is that these channels are only available in select countries courtesy of geo-restrictions. They only allow access to viewers with a specific IP address. If you happen to live outside their area of coverage, you’ll receive a geo-error message that instantly blocks you from viewing their content. Fortunately, a VPN can hide your IP address and alter your current whereabouts to a certain location of your choosing.
You just have to connect to a server where your blocked material is located, and you’ll have full access. How? Let me give you an example. If you wish to access the likes of Hulu, HBO Now, or CW TV, you must reside in the United States.
In other words, you should have an American IP address. The moment you connect to a US VPN server, you’ll receive an American IP address. Now, that’s your ticket. You’re now a current US resident, which gives you the privilege to access all US-based services despite being physically abroad. Let’s take a look at some of the channels you’ll be able to get with a VPN:
- US Netflix
- HBO Now
- BBC iPlayer
- Channel 5
- ITV Hub
- Sky Go
- TV2 Play
VPN’s are famous for accessing torrent websites, also. They allow you to download torrents, without having any of your downloads screened. Moreover, people find VPNs useful while at school or work as well. They allow you to access websites blocked by your school’s administrator. By connecting to a VPN server, you can access these websites while connected to your company, or school’s network server.
The best VPN providers
There are a lot of different things that can make a VPN a good one or a bad one. Here are some characteristics that can make or break a VPN service.
- Trusted VPN providers will not keep track of your browser history.
- Credible VPN services will offer quality speeds. You don’t want to experience buffering while streaming music or videos.
- Another thing to look for is the number of servers they have and the countries they have servers in.
- The VPN provider should offer VPN applications on Mac, PC, Android, and iOS devices. The apps help make connecting easy.
- Lastly, a reputable VPN provider should offer 24/7 customer support. In the event you run into problems, you want excellent customer support to help you get reconnected quickly.
These features are very important when it comes to choosing the right VPN. To help you out more, I’ve tested a couple of providers in terms of security, privacy, and speed. Check them out in the table below.
Free VPNs – What’s at Risk?
There are many choices when it comes to VPN providers. Some Virtual Private Network providers offer free service; These are the ones you should stay away from. A VPN is one of the most effective ways to maintain online privacy. However, free VPNs go against this concept due to their unreliable services. When you operate with these providers, you’ll be risking everything you hold dear. That includes your information, identity, and the well-being of your device.
Technically, VPNs have the capacity to peek at everything you do while connected. Imagine all that falls in the wrong hands just so the VPN can make some profit. Free VPNs may sell your information to sister companies. Well, it’s logical to say so. How else can they pay for the servers they’re operating? In other words, you become their primary source of revenue. I guess nothing is really for free, right?
Let’s not forget that most of these VPNs can contain malware. They might be implemented in your store by some hacker with evil intentions. If that’s the case, the malware will steal your data and do the following:
- Bombard you with ads and spam emails
- Access your accounts.
- Harvest your financial information.
- Manually lock your phone in exchange for a ransom.
VPN Explained – Conclusion
Choosing a reliable VPN Service is imperative to heightening your online security, or even if you just want to have access to geo-blocked content. While there are other VPN services out there, investing in a high-quality service is highly recommended.