“VPN” is a word often thrown around within the tech community, but at first glance, it’s difficult to tell what “VPN” even is or what the purpose of it is. VPN stands for Virtual Private Network — a way to create a secure connection to another network.
Be sure to follow along and we’ll dive into the details of what a VPN is, how it works and why you might or might not want to use one.
What is a VPN?
We’ve already established that a VPN is a way to create a secure connection to another network. However, it’s a little more detailed than just that. Often times when you use a service to access a VPN (e.g. Tunnelbear), VPNs are actually hosted on servers all over the world — Japan, Germany, France, etc (this is helpful for a reason we’ll touch on in a few moments). So, when you connect to a VPN, all of your network traffic (on the computer you’re connected over) is then sent over a secure/encrypted connection to the VPN (i.e. where the VPN server is located). This is how you’re able to access geo-blocked website content when connected to a VPN.
What’s even more interesting is that when your computer is connected to the VPN, your computer still acts as if its on the same network as the VPN. In other words, you’ll be able to securely access all of your local network files and resources, despite technically being on the other side of the globe when connected to a VPN.
How is a VPN useful?
VPNs have a ton of different uses. For a practical example, VPNs allow you to hide your network traffic from not only your local network but to your ISP as well. Other ways a VPN is useful is for accessing those aforementioned geo-blocked websites. So, if a certain website is blocked in the United States, you’ll be able to connect to a VPN in Japan or another country and access that same website in the United States since it appears that your connection is coming from a different location across the world.
Another way is bypassing Internet censorship. A good example is the Great Firewall of China. Since China blocks access to so many websites within its country, many Chinese citizens aren’t able to access the world’s Internet. But, by using a VPN, they’re able to access the entirety of the Internet. Of course, that might not entirely be accurate anymore, as China most recently expanded its Great Firewall to crackdown on these VPNs. However, the same principle applies: you can generally avoid or get past Internet censorship by using a VPN.
When it comes down to it, the biggest freedom using a VPN will give you is your privacy. Nothing is private on the Internet these days, but by using a VPN, you’ll be able to gain that extra level of security back.
Should you use a VPN?
In short, yes, you should — especially when on public Wi-Fi or on a network that you don’t manage or know the person who manages said network. VPNs have a lot of specific benefits to different fields of work, including giving you the ability to access local network resources on a network you’re not physically connected to. However, as a general rule, using a VPN will give you an extra layer of security and encryption, keeping prying eyes away from your sensitive data.
There are a couple disadvantages to using a VPN. For one, when you connect to a VPN, in many cases, your Internet speed sees a massive drop. Some people are also worried about whether or not VPN services are to be trusted or not, however, by doing extensive research and expanding your knowledge on network security, you should be able to avoid any problems there. Not only that, but you could even create your own VPN server relatively cheap, too.
We’ve showed you what a VPN is, why they’re used and whether you should use one or not. There’s definitely an endless amount of positives for using a VPN, but there are also a handful of cons behind it.
By reading this article, hopefully we’ve helped you make a decision on whether or not using a VPN is right for you or not.
Up Next: How to setup a Virtual Private Network