Ever heard of a VPN? Some of you have, while others might be thinking what is a VPN? Regardless of your background, this guide will help you understand exactly what a Virtual Private Network and why you might want to consider setting one up for yourself.
If you have heard of a VPN, you might have in mind some kind of setup that lets employees hook up to central work servers so that they can work while remote. What many don’t realize is that you can do so much more with a VPN. In fact, setting up a VPN in your home can have drastic privacy benefits, as well as bring you a handful of other convenience that you’ve been missing out on.
If you’re a seasoned tech veteran, you’re probably not going to find anything in this article that you don’t already know. However, if you are vaguely aware that VPNs are a thing and had about a fifty-fifty shot of working out what the letters stood for, then look no further: these words are for you. Here we’ll be taking a surface look at what VPNs are, what they do, and why you probably want one.
What is a VPN?
Virtual Private Networks, as the name indicates, are simply a virtual version of a local, physical network. On a traditional network, computers are physically interlinked so that they can quickly and easily share files and resources. What makes VPNs different is that remote computers all over the world could feasibly connect with one through the internet.
Generally, VPNs are used to increase security on private and public networks. They can also be used by companies to keep sensitive corporate data secure. The modern workforce is becoming increasingly decentralized as more and more positions are able to tune in remotely or work from home, so VPNs are becoming increasingly popular for this purpose. In a world where face-to-face interaction is not always necessary to get the job done, these networks are serving as a catalyst to bring your office wherever you are.
VPNs also offer increased privacy because a user’s given IP address is replaced by one from the VPN provider. This allows users to safely browse in anonymity, as they may appear to be accessing the internet from New York when you’re actually in the middle of Ohio. In this way, Virtual Private Networks can be used to circumvent regional restriction as well. If a streaming service isn’t available in your country, you can simply configure your VPN to make you appear to be living in a country where it is available.
(Update: now in effect) Netflix to clamp down on proxy and VPN access
What does a VPN do?
Security remains the cornerstone of the VPN benefits case. This is why companies have been using them for years. Businesses can easily intercept data traveling on a network they control, which allows them to monitor user activity. However, this data is much more difficult to ‘hack’ into from users outside of the VPN. One useful comparison that is often evoked when explaining VPNs is that a firewall protects data when it’s on your computer, but a VPN protects your data while it’s online.
All data transfers on VPNs are encapsulated using encryption protocols and tunneling methods. In today’s world of increased privacy concern and rising cybercrime, many consider VPNs to be a crucial part of a well-secured system. Their integrity is ensured through a variety of checks that make sure no connections have been illicitly compromised and that no data is being intercepted by an outside source.
Why you want one
There are several reasons to get a VPN. As we’ve mentioned, many businesses use them to let employees gain access secure files or applications remotely without compromising security. They can even use office resources like printers and fax machines from the comfort of their home or hotel room. This is essential for companies that handle sensitive data and have a wide employee base.
It’s also a handy way to securely interlink multiple networks. Many companies use a VPN to connect workplace networks all over the world, but unless you’re in charge of managing a slew of multinational offices, then this probably isn’t much use to you. However, you can use the same functionality to interlink home networks.
Getting down to the more personal uses, a VPN is perfect for someone concerned about security while using a public wifi hotspot. The VPN encrypts everything you do on the internet, making it far, far more difficult for anybody else on the unsecured network to monitor your browsing or attempt to get ahold of your passwords.
Geoblocking is another great use of a VPN. This is the method touched on above wherein a user can gain access to websites or services that normally wouldn’t be available in a given region. Although journalists and political figures have obvious reasons to lean heavily on these tools so they can maintain their connectedness while in the field, other uses include accessing more… salacious content, if your country frowns on NSFW material. The way this works is that your VPN provider essential makes it look, for all intents and purposes, that you’re connecting from a region that is different from where you are actually located.
Breaking down your needs
So what do you need to pay attention to when you’re picking the VPN that’s right for you? Well, the first thing you need to take into consideration is choosing the right networking protocol. Now, there are a couple of ways we can do this, and the choice is yours.
First of all, we’ve got PPTP. This is Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol, and it’s the least secure method of VPN configuration that you can select. However, it’s usually the best starting point for beginners because it’s so widely supported. Works on almost any operating system.
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Alternatively, you might choose L2TP or IPsec, which are Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol and Internet Protocol Security respectively. These are far more secure than PPTP, but they are a bit more complex to set up. They’re almost as widely supported as PPTP, but they can also be vulnerable to some connection issues.
If you’re ready to get really secure, then you might want to check out SSL VPN systems. These are Secure Sockets Layer protocols, and if you use these, you’re getting the same level of protection that your banking site offers you on their website. Since the connection occurs via web browser, you tend to get much more stable connections than with the services listed above.
OpenVPN is a slightly different approach. It’s an open-source VPN system that uses much of SSL’s code, but you’ll have to install a client. Most operating systems will not support it natively, but there’s basically no connection issues to worry about.
When it comes to actually sitting down and creating your VPN, you’ll need to also consider what you’ll be using it for. For instance, if you just want to ensure that you can maintain remote access to a single computer, then you might just want to work with Window’s built-in VPN software. However, if you’re doing something more complex, like stringing together a large number of computers, then you should probably stick with stand-alone server software.
For even larger setups that would require secure site-to-site connection, then you might want to look into getting a dedicated VPN router. But if you just want to make your internet connection more secure when you’re roving about on public networks, then just subscribe to a third-party VPN provider like ExpressVPN.
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If you represent a large business, and your company is not yet using a VPN, then you should probably seriously reassess the qualifications of your IT department. If you’re a small business looking to make your data more secure and accessible for those with the proper credentials, then we hope we’ve given you a good overview of what VPNs can do for you. Even if you’re just an individual user looking for better security or wanting to access goods that the government has slapped the “not cool” label on, then maybe you’ve gotten a better idea of what is really possible through the use of VPNs.
Anything you think we left out when it comes to the very basics of understanding what Virtual Private Networks are and how they can help you out? If so, let us know what we missed in the comments! Otherwise, let us know which VPN protocol you prefer and why.
Our VPN Recommendation
Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) are among the best security tools a web surfer can have. You can use them to surf otherwise seedy public WiFi with more security and privacy. They can even be used to get around firewalls if your work has, say, Facebook blocked. Many people use them to overcome regional restrictions with various types of content as well. Whatever the reason, VPNs are powerful and popular tools. Here are the best Android VPN apps and free VPN apps (Spoiler alert: ExpressVPN is the clear winner)!
ExpressVPN is one of the most trusted, secure brands in the virtual private network industry, and that’s for good reason. It’s super fast and extremely safe, boasting an SSL-secured network with 256-bit encryption and, get this, unlimited bandwidth and speed. ExpressVPN has servers in 78 countries (including Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan and others) in over 100 locations around the world, so there will always be a location near you to give you the best experience possible. What’s more, the service even has stealth servers located in Hong Kong which are specially designed to evade the GFW, making it look like you’re not using a VPN at all.
Many users around the web say they can achieve an average speed of around 6-7 mbpson the desktop. There are also a few extra bonuses thrown in that you don’t see too often in the VPN space. For starters, ExpressVPN doesn’t keep any browsing logs. All of your activities are mixed with the activities of other users as well, so it’s pretty near impossible to single out a user’s activity.
ExpressVPN has Android, iOS, Mac, and Windows applications, which are all really well done. At least for the mobile apps, you can easily connect on demand so it’s not constantly running in the background, taking up precious battery life. This is especially helpful in China as cellular data networks don’t always provide the strongest connection.
As for pricing, you’ll get the best savings (35%) with the 12 month plan at $8.32 per month. But no matter which pricing tier you choose, you’ll have access to all ExpressVPN apps, 24/7 customer support and high-speed unlimited bandwidth.
ExpressVPN is the best all-around VPN for a reason, so if you’re not convinced, we recommend you take advantage of their 30-day money-back guarantee.
30-day money-back guarantee