Virtual private networks (commonly known as VPNs were first made for businesses, particularly for employees to be able to access company networks from outside the office. Over time, VPNs have become come to be popular for individuals, particularly those that travel often.
VPNs help users secure their data against intruders that want to spy on it. Those that travel often use them to access websites that are blocked in some countries. And many users also use them to access geo-restricted content. But note that this goes against the terms and conditions of many streaming services, like Netflix, so you would be taking a risk in trying to use a VPN for this purpose.
How VPNs work
The technical aspects of how VPNs work can be complicated, but the principle behind them is simple. When you use the internet, data is sent from your computer through your internet service provider under a public IP address, which also lets the websites you visit know where you are located. VPNs route the date through their network instead of your ISP. This can hide your public IP address from websites and make it seem like you are located where the VPN’s server is located. This also encrypts your data making it difficult to trace.
There are multiple benefits of VPNs and why you would want to use one, including:
- To connect to your company’s network from abroad;
- To access geographically-blocked content;
- To access censored content in countries with firewalls;
- To hide your activities from your internet service provider;
- To help protect your device from unwanted visitors.
Nothing in this world is perfect, including VPNs. Here are some things to be aware of:
- They don’t always encrypt data when connecting and disconnecting;
- Complete anonymity is not guaranteed;
- They can’t hide every single trace of yours on the internet, which means you can be traceable in some cases.
Another thing to look at is whether the VPN service you sign up for keeps logs or not — these can be used later to follow your internet traffic (though most often VPNs will only release them if required by law). Whether logs are kept or not often depends on the jurisdiction in which the VPN service is located. Most based in the EU keep logs, while many based elsewhere don’t.
As the popularity of VPNs has grown, so has the number of companies providing them, which also means their prices have fallen significantly. VPN services operate on a subscription basis, almost always with discounts when paying for longer-periods upfront. Some, but not all, offer monthly subscriptions. But one or multiple year subscriptions are more popular. Many companies also offer great deals for companies needing access for multiple users.