You’ve probably used a VPN at some point or another, whether it was for school or for work. You might not have even realized you were using a VPN. So, let’s start with a simple VPN definition. A VPN is:
A private, virtual network that serves as an intermediary between a user and the internet, providing both privacy and anonymity.
Think of a VPN as a control layer between you and the rest of the internet. VPNs are frequently used to improve security and privacy for corporate networks. But there are also a lot of cool things you can do with a VPN.
Let’s start with something annoying but benign. Today, internet ads follow you everywhere. If you’ve ever looked up a “neck pillow,” you know that ads for neck pillows will soon follow. With a VPN, you’re anonymous. So targeted ads can’t follow you. Rather than constantly being advertised to you can enjoy the internet in peace. A VPN can also make it possible to block advertising altogether, making for a far more positive internet experience.
As mentioned, targeted ads are generally benign. They aren’t likely to destroy your computer. However, that doesn’t mean that they are entirely safe. Targeted ads can be seen as a major violation of privacy, and because they can collect quite a lot of information about you and your habits, they can be considered a problem to those who want to maintain their autonomy. The more information that is collected about you, the more your actions and purchasing can be predicted — and the more money you may see yourself spending.
ISPs often provide “unlimited plans.” But they do so through throttling. If you’re doing things like downloading games or streaming video, the ISP will notice that you’re doing something considered resource intensive. It will then make your internet much slower than it usually should be. This throttling is meant to allocate resources to other clients, but it can be frustrating if you’re paying for high-speed internet. A VPN will hide what you’re doing, which also means your ISP can’t throttle you based on your activity.
Even if you have unlimited access, you should ask your ISP about throttling. If you’ve noticed that your speeds are fast except for when you play games or stream videos, throttling is probably to blame.
Everyone today shops online. A decade ago, it was considered very irresponsible to put your credit card information on the internet. But these days, it’s just a matter of time. With a VPN, you can encrypt your payment information as it’s sent, making your online shopping experience far more secure.
Identify theft is becoming more common. There are countries in the world where identity theft is a common pastime. Because these countries are so distant, it’s impossible for those who commit identity crime to get caught. And because they can’t get caught, they are likely to try again and again. But you can protect yourself from identity theft by being careful with the accounts that you use and by using a VPN.
There’s a type of “price-fixing” that runs rampant on the internet. A site may notice that you’ve looked at it several times and actually increase prices because it knows that you’re interested. This price-fixing commonly happens with airlines, which will bump prices up if you look at a flight too many times. You can avoid this by using a VPN because the VPN will ensure that you remain private when you’re browsing.
If you’re wondering whether a website might be tacking on an additional cost to what you’re looking at, delete your cookies. While this isn’t a foolproof method, it will often take away the data that the site is using to track you.
Everyone knows that you shouldn’t use public WiFi. But when you’re traveling abroad there are times when it might be the only option. The best way to use WiFi securely is through a VPN. Though the WiFi connection itself may not provide any security, the VPN will. You can connect through a VPN and then connect directly to virtually any WiFi service, including a casual guest connection at a cafe, and still rest assured that your VPN will be encrypting and protecting your data. This is a good general best practice even when using semi-private WiFi, such as the WiFi at digital offices.
There are many TV shows that aren’t accessible in other countries. Sometimes there isn’t even a rationale; it’s just only licensed in one country rather than multiple countries. If you’re struggling with a show that’s currently only available in Canada, you can set your VPN to be from Canada. You’ll be able to view any show in this way, which can be especially rewarding when you’re paying a lot for different streaming services. Often, shows can get pulled off of streaming services unexpectedly and moved to be exclusive to other countries; a VPN is one of the only ways to defeat this, rather than just waiting for the show to come back.
Many citizens of corrupt governments are currently using VPNs to get on sites and social media platforms that their government doesn’t want them to use. The internet is meant to be international and neutral, but some governments don’t believe in allowing their citizens to view anything they want. When citizens of other countries are traveling abroad, they can get hit by these restrictions. That can be especially frustrating for a traveler who wants to be able to keep in touch with their family but can’t.
A VPN makes it easier to avoid government censorship and government blacklisting because it operates as a secret tunnel through which online communications will move. The government and ISP won’t be able to tell what the citizen is accessing and the site won’t be able to tell where the citizen is connecting from. Both sides will be forced to allow the citizen to view the content that they want to.
VPNs are a more secure way of browsing the internet. With a VPN, it’s much harder to accidentally fall for malicious programs or phishing attempts, because everything goes through the VPN first. This is one of the key reasons why many organizations implement VPNs; because it makes employees far less vulnerable to malicious attackers.
If you deal with confidential, personal, or just critical information, you may want to ensure that it’s constantly protected and encrypted. And while a VPN shouldn’t be the only solution that’s implemented, it can absolutely be the first line of defense for an organization’s most important data.
A lot of people today spend most of their time chatting with people online. But chats can be vulnerable, too. If you want to make sure that you can maintain your own privacy, a VPN can help.
Not every system has end-to-end encryption. If you’re sending data to email accounts or to social media accounts, it’s possible that your entire message is being sent without encryption. That means that anyone that can spy on the data being transmitted would be able to tell what you’re saying.
Many people trade confidential information in chats. An individual might even send their bank account information through a chat if they’re trying to complete a transaction. While this is commonplace, it also means that individuals can be vulnerable to threats. A VPN will secure everything.
If your internet connection isn’t properly secure, everyone can see what you’re uploading and downloading, providing that they’re looking for it. Malicious attackers often scan WiFi connections to gather information this way. If you’re uploading and downloading recipes, it may not be a concern. If you’re uploading and downloading medical documents or financial records, it’s a greater issue. A VPN secures all the data sent, not just data when connecting to websites and browsing. With a VPN, you’ll be able to upload and download files without potentially revealing them to those who are watching.
Doxxing has become very popular. If someone disagrees with someone online, they may search for their information and then post their address, their workplace, their social media accounts, and more. While many people are doxxed because they provide too much information about themselves online, others are doxxed because they haven’t secured their connection. With a VPN, you’ll be able to comment and publish things anonymously, but you should still make sure that your identity is otherwise protected as well. Remember that information on the internet is easily accessible.
That’s just some of the things that a VPN can do. Today, most organizations are starting to use VPNs for their work networks, for additional encryption and privacy. With a VPN, you’ll be able to do anything you want online without the fear that your data could be lost or stolen.