What is a VPN?
Security and privacy are two important pillars to a successful online venture today. While these are implemented through a number of solutions, an important step in making sure that a system does not get breached is to set up a virtual private network. A virtual private network creates a segregated online environment for your organization’s infrastructure, thus decreasing the chances of someone unauthorized breaking in.
In this article, we will take a look at what a Virtual Private Network (VPN) is, what are the various benefits that it offers, and how to make the best use of it.
What is a VPN?
VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. A VPN is a service that protects your internet connection and conceals private information. VPNs work by creating a secure, encrypted tunnel for your connection, thereby preventing people in the middle from figuring out your data. A VPN is also used to protect your identity online by hiding away your real IP address and replacing it with the VPN provider’s address.
Other prominent areas where VPN finds its use is in removing location-based restrictions by changing your location details. This is of great help to people who are traveling and need to access their local online services.
Apart from these, VPNs find their way in a lot of day-to-day activities. The ability of a VPN to conceal identity and encrypt connections comes in handy when using public networks such as those in a coffee shop or an airport.
Advantages of Using a VPN
Using a VPN has a lot of advantages. Let us quickly take a look at some of the key benefits you receive if you use a VPN to connect to the internet:
Secure Your Data
One of the top benefits of using a VPN service is the enhanced security of your connection. VPNs encrypt the data that passes through the tunnel that they create for your connections. Even if somebody gains access to the data that you are sending over the network, encryption prevents intruders from understanding your data. Encrypted data can only be decrypted with a secure key stored in the VPN provider’s server.
In today’s world of remote work setup, VPNs provide the extra layer of security that is needed while connecting to your work servers and machines from your home network. Home networks are not inherently as secure as work networks, so a VPN acts as the perfect reinforcement for security.
On top of that, VPNs mask your IP address, which makes it difficult for browsing activity-based services to track you around the internet, which includes advertising agencies. This is crucial as your browsing and social media activity can be used to figure out what you like or dislike, and thus provide you with targeted content to influence your preferences, and even trick you into buying things you don’t need.
Bypass Location-Based Restrictions
A VPN provider’s servers are usually located across the globe. This means that if a particular service is available only in certain regions, the presence of a VPN can help you access the service from anywhere. This is possible as your requests are channeled through the VPN provider’s server, which makes it look as if the requests were originating from the desired country or region.
This feature is utilized by people across the globe to remove geo-blocking and internet censorship. This can get necessary in situations where local laws restrict you to access free media and the internet. You can use VPNs to access content that is created in a certain region but is blocked in yours due to local laws.
Another great feature offered by VPNs is anonymous usage. VPNs mask your identity by changing it using their own servers, which helps hide your true identity from unauthorized people. This can help you mask your true location for security reasons, or randomize your identity for tracking-free browsing.
Anonymity is a crucial requirement when browsing through sensitive regions such as the dark web or the deep web. One piece of identifiable information can cost you a fortune if you are not careful enough.
What is VPN Used for?
Despite some issues, VPNs find use in a great range of scenarios:
Accessing Restricted Content
One of the top purposes of a VPN is to directly access restricted content. Many platforms restrict their content to a certain user-group, on the basis of location or age. When traveling outside of your country, you may want to carry your local entertainment with you.
Hiding Browser Activity From Prying Eyes
You might have to do sensitive tasks on the web, like making an online bank transaction. You need a secure connection while doing these activities, as an exposed network can leak your security credentials to unauthorized attackers. This exposure can be reduced by using a VPN that erases your trail on the web. VPNs can help anonymize your internet activity, allowing you to carry on without exposing your identity to anybody on the network.
Bypassing Internet Censorship
While some content may be legally blocked in your area, which is known as geo-blocking, many times countries censor the media and the internet in their region without much meaning. VPNs allow you to access this online content that is normally accessible in other countries.
Free vs Paid VPNs
A battle that has long been fought is the one between free VPNs and paid VPNs. Free VPNs are a great alternative when it comes to trying out the service, but they come at a hidden cost. Let’s understand the two services independently:
As the name suggests, these services are free. They either come at a nominal cost or are completely free. This makes them an excellent choice for people who are trying out VPNs for the first time. You are not required to sign up for most free VPNs, and thus you skip out on the hassle of providing your personal details for something that you just want to try out at first.
However, there is a hidden cost to free VPNs. This is the fact that some free VPNs sell your usage data and statistics or bomb your device with advertisements to make money off you. This means that even though you do not pay these providers with money directly, you are paying a bigger cost — your data or your time. Also, most free VPNs limit usage to a certain threshold. This means your allotted usage limit may deplete when you are looking to do more on a secure network.
More often than not, free VPNs are insecure, or at least less secure than paid counterparts. This is because maintaining robust, secure infrastructure is hard to do without paying customers. The added problem of being tracked by the provider poses a serious security threat to your activity, and it is not advisable to carry out any sensitive tasks via a free VPN.
Once again, as the name suggests, paid VPNs cost you real money, and they level it by providing you with real value. All paid VPNs are premium services, and they offer unrestricted secure internet access. Usage limits are based on how much you are paying, so the higher you go, the better services you receive.
All paid VPN services provide you with the most secure experience, allowing you to safely carry out sensitive tasks such as banking transactions with added security. Most of the paid VPNs do not track your usage data, and hence they do not hand it over to unauthorized entities to make money. This ensures that you are not leaking any sensitive data from your internet usage.
Paid VPNs are highly secure, and almost everything that goes around a paid VPN network is encrypted, and can only be deciphered at the target end. However, the cost of these VPNs can get really high at times, so you might want to look for the best plans before investing your money here.
Issues With VPN
While VPNs seem the safest haven for private systems, they do pose some issues:
An added layer of a VPN reduces the productivity of the workforce. Connection speeds may decrease, and application performance may also degrade due to several factors like the time needed to provision and set up a network and VPN downtimes.
A VPN adds to the workload of an IT or system administration team. Every update in an application requires the VPN to be tested along with the updated application. This slows things down for those who are trying to work on the actual product.
The addition of a VPN over the actual network of an organization adds a substantial cost. Apart from setting up a VPN system from scratch, a dedicated team needs to be provisioned to look after the system. Each downtime requires immediate attention, and sometimes the actual product can face an unnecessary downtime due to a faulty VPN.
Frequently Asked Questions About VPN
VPNs are a hot topic across the internet. However, there is not much clear information on this topic. Here are some of the most commonly asked questions about VPNs:
Can You Still be Tracked if You Use a VPN?
The answer to this is no and yes. VPNs do give you a completely new IP address, which means that your device’s actual address on the internet is protected. But this does not stop a malicious program from stealing data from your device. If you use similar usernames on and off a VPN, your activity can even be identified using a simple Google search.
The key to your own security lies in your own hands. If you are careful enough, you can anonymize your activity easily. A VPN only adds an additional level of security to your activities.
Is a VPN Safe to Use?
Once again, the answer to this question lies in your usage. If you are cautious enough to not give away obvious signs of your identity, and you are not going against your country’s laws, using a VPN is very safe. You just need to make sure that your intentions are not wrong, and that you are not over-trusting free VPN services with your sensitive data like bank account details.
Are There Alternatives to VPNs?
There are a great number of alternatives to traditional VPN services. The perfect alternative for you depends on your use case.
If you are only looking to anonymize your location, and you are not bothered to encrypt your network activity, you might want to consider switching to a Smart DNS service. GetFlix is a popular Smart DNS service that helps people access restricted content on media streaming applications by changing their location.
There’s the age-old Tor, which has been the number one choice for hiding identity while browsing the internet. Tor bounces your requests across multiple nodes located in its network, thereby getting rid of your original IP address completely. However, this process is slow as it involves passing the request through multiple nodes to get to the target server and then back to the user.
Will a VPN Interfere with My Current Network?
The answer to this is no. A VPN will not cause issues to or with your current network, as the VPN will only act as an additional layer of security over your usual network connection. VPNs only create a tunnel over your usual network, which means your devices will still connect to the usual WiFi or Ethernet connection, and the VPN client will make sure that all requests are encrypted and forwarded to the VPN servers.
This is one of the greatest things about a VPN, as it does not alter the way your devices interact with your network.
A VPN helps establish a secure connection between you and your requested resources on the web. A VPN encrypts all data that is transmitted and also disguises your identity to help provide anonymity. It is highly secure against external attacks because of this encryption.
Even though VPNs are a guard for your communication on public and insecure networks, they can be tricky to set up. Along with that, there are some great alternatives to VPNs that offer security along with other benefits, with the reduced hassle. And no matter what solution you use to secure your connection, the last line of defense is you, and if you are not careful enough, there is no solution that can help you secure your activities and data on the internet!