The internet can be a scary place. Whether you’re at a risk or not, it is a good idea to look after your privacy, anonymity and safety. This could include wanting to protect your location, your banking details, or just not wanting to be harassed advertisers. All this can be achieved by using a VPN. However, like everything else on the internet, there are good and bad qualities to this service.
What is a VPN?
VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. The concept is rather simple. Instead of using your own ISP, you dial into a ‘private network’. This allows you to use their network to access everything. The service you use promises to encrypt your data, hide your identity, and let you use the internet without worrying about anybody prying into your business. Moreover, because these networks may be located in different parts of the world, you can also use the VPN to ‘relocate’ yourself. This means that if you ever need to access something that is geo-limited, a VPN is an easy way to access it. An easy example would be a particular media stream which is only available in the US, or even somewhere like Pakistan.
History of VPNs
Historically, VPNs were used by various companies to beef up privacy and provide a secure access to staff working around the world to the company’s servers. This could include email, file servers as well as databases. This allowed you to communicate with your company over a secure server. It also meant that no matter where you were in the world, you could work as if you were connected to your work’s own network.
As time moved on and internet grew, so did the need to offer the same service to the common man. Suddenly a lot of VPN providers stepped in.
When to use a VPN
The choice is totally up to you. For some, it is a necessity and they should always connect to one. For others, it is a choice and they only connect when they need to. Our advice is to always use a VPN if you are using a public WiFi or internet connection.
Pros and Cons
A good VPN provider will offer you a secure connection. Your connection will be encrypted. Nothing you access or use internet for will be available to anybody. Even your VPN provider.
A bad VPN can do the exact opposite. A bad VPN can be insecure. This means that it can sell your data for its own profit.
Even worse, a bad VPN could be a service designed to do the exact opposite, ie spy on you. In fact, by using a VPN, you might be gifting away all of your privacy by supplying all the data directly to them.
In fact, there are more and more cases of VPNs that are selling user data to different services. They are also allowing governments to spy on their citizens.
The service you use is often low cost. Even the most expensive service providers offer reasonably cheap packages. For anything around £10 a month, or lower, you can have all the privacy you need.
Using such a service has been allowing various companies around the world to allow their staff to connect to the company’s network. In fact this practice has been used way longer than people realise. VPN as a public service has only been in the public light for a few years. For office workers, it has been a fact of life for over a decade.
It isn’t always as simple. Some hotels actively stop VPN services. Some ISPs (such as Virgin Media in the UK) do the same. In some cases, you just go and change your router settings. In other cases, you may be stuck in an office or be forced to use a WiFi that doesn’t let you do that. Your reliance to use VPN to access work will be the main reason you won’t be able to!
Ease of use
Most service providers will offer an app which simply needs a click to enable it.
This isn’t always the case. Some service providers need you to go and tweak your network settings. While it is often very well explained, it may be beyond the comfort level for many people.
How to use a VPN
Now that you know when to use one, and what is good and bad, let’s focus on how to use a VPN.
Sadly, the answer is not so simple. It purely depends on your service provider. The newer services often allow you to install an app on your phone, tablet or computer, a bit of a click and login, and you are good to go. In older cases, you had to go and tweak your network settings to enable this.
In case of Chromebooks or Linux based systems, that can still be the case.
Either way, it depends purely on your expertise, so it is important to choose a service provider that allows you to connect in a way you are comfortable with.
Is it as fast as my usual internet?
Technically, it can only be as fast as your regular internet connection, and no faster. After all, that is the connection you are using via your VPN. However, even in the best case scenario, a VPN will come with a very slight overhead which will add a bit of time to your connection. In most cases though, this should be so small that you wouldn’t notice.
If you do find that your internet slows down, you can always try a different setting or location through your VPN provider. Often, the VPN servers nearer to you provide you with the fastest service, but there can always be exceptions.
We have tried to give you a complete overview of the what, why and how of using VPN services. Have we missed anything? Do you use one? Let us know by using the comments section below, or through one of our social media channels.