How Does a VPN Work and How to Choose one

  • By David Lukic
  • Published: Aug 05, 2020
  • Last Updated: Mar 18, 2022

VPN stands for virtual private network. It allows you to hide your public IP address and browse privately on the internet without being tracked or watched. Basically, a VPN offers you a thick layer of privacy when using your home Wi-Fi or public.

These networks were originally designed for big businesses and governments that wanted to keep their activities secret and secure. However, with data breaches on the rise, whistleblowers alerting us to the spying eyes of the government, and big retail outlets tracking our shopping habits, it just makes sense to want better security and more privacy these days. 

How Does a VPN Work?

When you visit a website, you send that site’s server heaps of information, like the contents of your emails or banking credentials. This also includes your IP address which is rooted in your device’s physical location.

VPNs work by routing your connection through the provider’s serverYour activity and IP address get filtered and encrypted so hackers can’t intercept and steal your information. Instead, any hackers illegally snooping on public networks will get the VPN’s IP address and strings of coded data.

Why Use a VPN?

Some of the things you can do using a VPN are:

  • Watch streaming content on Netflix and Hulu.

  • Protect yourself while connected to unsecured Wi-Fi hotspots.

  • Bypass geographic restrictions on websites or for streaming audio and video.

  • Hide your actual IP and geographical location.

  • Eliminate tracking while you engage in torrenting. 

If you travel to another country and attempt to access a familiar website, you may be blocked. However, using a VPN and logging into a local server close to home, you will be granted access without delay. These are just a few of the advantages of having a VPN to protect your privacy, encrypt your data, and mask your online activities. However, countries are learning more about this, and Russia and China are blocking VPN use for travelers

Also, VPN is great for resolving the infamous err blocked issues. If you are trying to fix err blocked by the response error but are getting other error messages, then you can use VPN to unblock it.

When you log into your bank to check your balance at the local Starbucks, you definitely should be routing that traffic through a VPN. You never know who is watching on public Wi-Fi networks

VPNs are also used for private corporate networks so you can securely connect to your workplace and grab files, collaborate with co-workers, and get work done online without the risk of hackers stealing your stuff. 

vpn connection

What Are Some Personal Benefits to Deploying a VPN?

Your Internet Service Provider (ISP) has access to everything you do online. Some vendors actually keep a log of customer traffic, habits, and activities. That information is ripe for breaching but also may be sold to corporate clients for tracking and marketing purposes. Those records also come into play with government investigations. 

VPNs help to protect your identity against theft. If you have a VPN installed on your computer, you become invisible to hackers. With your IP address exposed, you are a much easier target for identity theft. Once they get into your network and onto your computer, they can have a field day taking whatever they want.

One of the less talked about facets of the internet is the issue of location discrimination. Many things change in our user experience depending on what country we're in. Things like item prices and entertainment can shift wildly.

Here are some of the most significant ways a VPN helps keep your experience stable no matter where you are at the time.

Browsing Your Sites from Anywhere

Frequent travelers may be blocked from their favorite social platforms, stores, or entertainment services. Some financial sites will prevent logins from unfamiliar locations. This is a nice safety feature, but it can be pretty annoying when you want to buy that special hotdog on the street.

VPN services allow you to browse the internet as if you're sitting in your chair at home. Just set your location to your home country and get going.

There is one caveat. Some websites have earned the title "VPN Blacklister" for their limitations on VPN use. Netflix US was the first to crack down in 2016, with Amazon and Hulu following close behind. Some VPN providers offer Smart DNS services to circumvent their detection.

Avoid Inflated Prices

Some eCommerce stores change their prices based on the region and local currency. The same pair of shoes could be 50 percent more on the same website. Common price discrepancies happen with digital movie downloads, video games, and plane tickets. 

However, this will likely limit your shipping options. So, if it's a product you need immediately, then you'll probably need to pay the added costs.

Stops Bandwidth Throttling

Bandwidth throttling, also known as data throttling, is when an ISP (internet service provider) puts a cap on internet speeds. The limit kicks in when the ISP detects you're engaging in data-heavy activity like downloading movies or playing online games.

This limit decreases your internet speeds and dramatically affects your online experience. A bonus effect is that the practice discourages the same activity in the future. VPNs prevent internet service providers from checking what you're doing, so they won't know when to limit your bandwidth.

VPN Benefits for Businesses

VPNs aren't just for personal use. They're an integral part of business safety and should be implemented as soon as possible. Some benefits of professional VPN use include the following:

Tightens Endpoint Security

Endpoints include every device used to access a business' servers. Each phone, laptop, and tablet your employees use are entry points for hackers to attack from. With remote work on the rise, these devices are a significant pain point in most organizations' cybersecurity plans.

VPNs are the perfect way to secure your company's plans without limiting their freedom. If they need to access files in an airport or coffee shop, they'll stay safe behind the VPNs encrypted servers.

Scalable Options

When your company expands, the supporting infrastructure must grow alongside it. Things like data organization, shipping needs, and cybersecurity need to adapt to the added pressures of a more extensive operation.

VPNs scale to businesses of any size. Other aspects of your business may require finding new business partners, but a centralized VPN client can cover every employee.

What are The Disadvantages of Using a VPN?

If you have cookies already on your computer, your information will still be tracked by those. You need to clean them off completely before using your VPN. You should also plan on installing it on all your devices.

If you plan on trolling the dark web, a better solution is “Tor,” which bounces your location off multiple servers rather than just one. It is also privately owned by a non-profit organization. VPNs usually cost money and depending on the vendor you choose; some are better than others.

Be very careful to choose a VPN provider that does not log or store your online activity.

Are VPNs Legal?

VPNs are legal, with a few exceptions. You can use them carefree in most Western countries like the US, UK, and Canada. However, some countries limit or outright ban VPNs due to a mixture of political, religious, and economic reasons. The consequences of using a VPN in these countries range from light fines to immediate imprisonment.

Countries with harsh censorship laws, like North Korea, Russia, and China, typically restrict VPNs because users circumvent firewalls by going through a server in another country. However, the most public reason countries give is that VPNs are designed for illegal or non-ethical purposes.

Other countries, like India, demand VPN services to monitor users. While it’s not illegal to use VPNs in these cases, it does diminish their value as a security measure. NordVPN, one of the most popular VPNs, has disabled operations in India for this reason. 

Getting Past “The Great Firewall” of China

The Great Firewall of China is officially called the Golden Shield Project. Whatever name you use, it refers to the collection of censorship tools used to limit online access in China.

China is particularly adept at censoring internet use because the government owns all the ISPs used there. This allows it to control traffic and monitor all data passing through its servers. VPN use is widespread, especially among foreign travelers, as many of the world’s most popular services are blocked there. Most are communication and social platforms that people rely on to stay connected while away from home.

Here’s a list of major websites that China blocks.

  • Various News Sites (BBC, CNN, NY Times)
  • Facebook (Messenger included)
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest
  • Instagram
  • YouTube
  • Google Applications

Does a VPN Slow Down Your Internet Speed?

It’s a fact that your data is taking a detour by crossing through another server first. This means it takes longer for data packets to reach the website’s server and return to you. However, this slowdown accounts for a fraction of a second.

Most large-scale VPN providers have thousands of servers spread across the globe. These numerous locations heavily reduce the travel time of your data by sending it to the nearest server.

 

VPN connection

How to Choose the Best Option for a VPN

Cybersecurity experts agree that the best VPN providers are the following:

  • NordVPN.

  • IPVanish.

  • Private Internet Access.

  • TunnelBear.

  • TorGuard.

The VPN vendors above offer top-notch security, privacy, they do not store or collect your online traffic, and they are reasonably priced. Some other points to consider when choosing are: 

  • Make sure whoever you choose is using the latest security protocols (OpenVPN is the best). 

  • Research data limits before signing up. 

  • Choose local servers in your country. Overseas servers could slow down your browsing and cause frustration. 

  • Read the fine print to make sure they aren’t tracking or storing your data. 

  • Are they cost-competitive?

  • Can you install the VPN on more than one device?

Privacy is becoming more of a concern for Americans each day. A VPN provides peace of mind and security that can help you sleep better at night.

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