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Cybersecurity

What Is a VPN and How Can It Protect Me?

A virtual private network (VPN) is a type of service that creates an encrypted, private connection to the internet that can help keep you safe online. VPNs provide numerous security benefits and can allow you to use a public internet connection, such as the one at your local coffee shop or the airport, without exposing your personal information to others on the network.

Whether you're checking your bank account, making purchases or simply browsing, using a VPN while you're on a public network can help protect your information and prevent identity fraud. Depending on what you're trying to do online, it could also offer some other benefits.

How Does a VPN Work?

A VPN creates a secure tunnel for your device, routing your internet traffic through the VPN's server instead of the servers a network's internet service provider would typically use. A user's connection to a VPN is software-based, and the service doesn't require any additional equipment or even much technical knowledge to use.

A VPN encrypts the data you send and receive between your device and the internet, so if someone manages to intercept it, it'll be unreadable. It also makes it appear that the data is being transmitted from the VPN instead of from your device, adding privacy on top of security. If you're on a public or shared network this extra security is especially important, as you can never be sure who may be monitoring your internet traffic.

VPNs are commonly used by corporations and other organizations, specifically for employees who work outside the office. Not only does it protect sensitive information, but it can also allow the employee to access the organization's private intranet to access a file server or computer at the office.

There are also VPN services designed for consumer use that you can use to protect your personal connection to the internet on a single device. Some services even offer VPN services through browser extensions, though these VPNs only protect you when you're using that browser.

Finally, you can connect your home Wi-Fi router to the VPN, allowing you to get the same protection for multiple devices at a time, as long as they're connected to the internet via the router.

Why It's a Good Idea to Use a VPN

A VPN can offer a few different benefits to consumers who are looking for additional security and privacy when they're online:

  • Protects your information: When you're connected to the internet on a public network, others on the network may be able to eavesdrop on your connection, potentially allowing them to gain access to sensitive information, such as personal information, login credentials, bank account details, credit card numbers and more. A VPN will encrypt all traffic to and from your device, making it unreadable for anyone who might manage to see it.
  • Protects your privacy: Because a VPN transmits data as if it's coming from its server rather than your device, any browsing you do while you're using one will be completely private and anonymous.
  • Gives you location flexibility: VPNs often have multiple servers throughout the world. This means that if you're trying to view something that's not available where you are, such as a sporting event in a different country or streaming content that's restricted for certain regions, you can pick a server in the area to gain access to the content.

Things to Consider Before Getting a VPN

While VPNs can provide some valuable features for consumers, there are some drawbacks to keep in mind:

  • Slower internet connection: The process of encrypting every bit of data you transmit from your device can slow your connection speed. This can be frustrating if the network you're on is already slow.
  • They don't always work: Some websites employ VPN-blocking software in an attempt to stop users from accessing content in a region where they're not located.
  • You could lose your connection: With the most reliable VPN services, you won't have to worry too much about having your connection to the network dropped. But if you're in the middle of browsing and it happens, your internet traffic could be exposed.

How to Get a VPN

There are many VPN providers out there, so a quick internet search will give you a long list from which you can choose. While some of these services are free, many charge a monthly or annual fee.

At first, a free VPN may be the most appealing because it won't cost you any money. But sometimes you get what you pay for, so it's important to shop around and compare features.

For example, some VPNs are better than others at maintaining a fast connection speed without sacrificing security and privacy. Others may have a better track record of getting around anti-VPN software. And if your connection suddenly drops, some VPNs will automatically disconnect you from the internet, so you won't transmit or receive any data on an unsecure connection.

Take your time to read reviews from cybersecurity experts and consumers to get an idea of what you can expect. Also, think about the specific features you need and focus on services that excel in those areas.

Finally, consider your budget. While a free VPN may not offer all the features you need, that doesn't mean you have to go with the most expensive one on the market.

Make Online Privacy and Security a Top Priority

If you spend any amount of time on public Wi-Fi networks, having a VPN can provide you with the peace of mind that your internet connection and personal information are safe from cybercriminals.

If privacy is important to you, a VPN will also help keep your browsing anonymous. And if you're traveling abroad and can't access certain websites and online content that are available at home, you can connect to a server in the desired region, so it looks like you're there.

If your privacy and security needs are relatively basic, a free VPN may be all you need. But take some time to compare several options, including features and pricing, to find the best fit for you.