Online privacy is one of the hottest issues today, especially with Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) being implemented last year, US’ California Consumer Privacy Act that puts greater restrictions on how companies can collect and use consumer data, and Australia’s Assistance and Access Act, which can compel tech companies and individuals to modify software and hardware so that it can be used to spy on other people. And when you factor in third-party attackers, the equation gets totally mixed up.
Protecting our online privacy is more important now than ever. Implementing internet safety measures is no longer enough. Hence, the need for VPNs or virtual private networks. You’ve probably heard the term from a friend who loves to download movies, a gamer who likes to play online games, or your tech guy in the office who manages your company’s network. Yes, VPN is the technology used to torrent movies, play games with unlimited bandwidth, and bypass company network restrictions.
But VPN is more than that. This article will discuss what a VPN is, what it does, why you need it, and the top features that make it an indispensable online privacy protection tool. Before we look at the features of a VPN, it is important to understand first how this technology works.
What Is a VPN and What Does it Do?
A VPN allows users to create a secure and private connection to another network over the internet. It creates an encrypted tunnel through which your internet traffic passes to get to your online destination. So, instead of sending your request to your ISP (which is what happens during normal internet connection sessions), your request is sent using an encrypted tunnel to one of the secure VPN servers, before being forwarded to your destination. Your destination website will not see your traffic coming in from your computer, but from the VPN server instead.
A VPN provides two layers of protection for your data when you connect to the internet. The first layer is the encryption feature that is applied to your data before it even leaves your computer. Then this encrypted data is sent through the encrypted digital tunnel as a second layer of protection. Hackers, government agencies, ISPs, and other snoopers would find it impossible to track your activities with a VPN’s multiple layers of protection.
Because of this, users can safely browse the internet without having to worry about their data being compromised. Users can browse, stream, download, and play anonymously without being tracked.
Common Uses of VPN
A virtual private network allows users to do a lot of things that are otherwise risky or impossible. Here are some of the cool uses of a VPN:
- Use public hotspots or guest Wi-Fi networks securely
- Secure communication and file-sharing between sites
- Bypass internet censorship and content surveillance
- Access restricted content
- Download content from torrenting sites anonymously
- Unblock websites such as YouTube and Facebook
- Unblock streaming Channels such as Hulu, Netflix & BBC iPlayer
- Complete online financial transactions securely
- Access AppStore or Google Play of other countries
- Shop online safely with your credit card
- Hide your identity
Free vs Paid VPN
There are a lot of VPN providers on the market right now and it can be confusing to choose which VPN to use. It might be tempting to try free VPNs just because they don’t cost a dime, but you have to think really hard if they are actually free. Managing a VPN service means purchasing equipment for the servers, maintaining them, and paying employees. And since VPN is a business, we need to consider profit in the equation as well. If free VPN providers don’t charge their customers, where would they get the money to do all these?
Since free VPNs don’t make money by charging their subscribers, they have to be creative in thinking of ways to earn money. Some free VPN providers deliver ads to their users to generate income. Ads can be annoying, but users can’t do anything about it because the service is free. Other free VPNs impose a monthly data limit or connection sessions to force you to upgrade to their unlimited data service.
But there are other VPNs who make money by collecting their users’ personal and browsing data and selling them to advertisers and marketers. So, when you think of choosing a VPN provider and you are tempted to go with the free ones, think about what you are actually giving in return for the free service.
Paid VPNs, on the other hand, are more straightforward and secure. They earn money by simply charging their customers a monthly subscription fee. You’ll enjoy a fast and stable connection with unlimited data. Some paid VPNs even support simultaneous multi-platform usage to provide you and your family a comprehensive protection against online threats.
Also Read: Stream Music from Anywhere by Using a VPN
7 Features to Consider When Choosing a VPN
Given the large number of VPN providers available, deciding which one to sign up for can be a huge challenge. Checking out the websites of these VPN providers might be useful in highlighting important features, but sometimes the more crucial information is buried somewhere else in the site.
To avoid being sidetracked by a VPN’s fancy website, read this list of VPN features you should bear in mind when picking the best VPN provider.
1. Fast Internet Connection
When you connect to the internet without the protection of a VPN and you consume a large amount of data, your Internet Service Provider or ISP will automatically throttle your bandwidth. This leads to the slowing down of your internet connection, sometimes even at crawling pace. But when you route your internet traffic through a VPN server, your ISP won’t be able to monitor your internet usage and throttle your connection.
A good VPN service also provides multiple servers located in various locations. You can choose from any of these servers and connect to the one that offers the fastest internet connection. Choose a server that is located closest to you and make sure not to choose one that is not congested so you have lesser competition.
The type of encryption your VPN provider is using will also affect the speed of your internet connection. An extremely robust encryption might throttle your bandwidth, while a pretty relaxed encryption technology might open you up to vulnerabilities. Finding the sweet spot between security and speed is a huge challenge. Your best option is to find a VPN provider with flexible encryption settings so you can adjust your security level and speed according to your needs.
2. Kill Switch Option
A kill switch is a critical VPN feature because it is designed to prevent your connection from being exposed accidentally. Not all VPNs carry this feature, so you need to confirm it with the service provider. How does the kill switch technology work and why is it important when using a VPN? Browsing the internet, while being protected by your VPN, can bring you peace of mind. But what happens when the connection to the server drops for some reason?
If you get disconnected from the VPN server, your computer falls back to the public IP address generated by the ISP. This means that your activities are exposed all of a sudden, ready for snoopers and attackers to see. It’s like being caught red-handed. What’s more dangerous is that sometimes the user is not even aware of when and how it happened.
To protect users from being exposed due to sudden disconnection, VPN providers offer the kill switch feature. This option immediately cuts your internet connection when your VPN connection fails. Sometimes, VPN kill switches are not turned on by default, so you need to go into the app settings to activate it. There are others, though, whose kill switches are automatically enabled when you use the VPN to connect to the internet.
3. Encryption Levels
Different VPNs have different levels of encryption. The type of encryption should be your top consideration when choosing a VPN. Encryption is the technique of wrapping the data with a randomized code, making it impossible to read or identify without the decryption key.
Some of the commonly used ciphers by commercial VPNs include AES, Blowfish, and Camellia (which is very rare). Blowfish-128, the only version used by VPNs, is considered enough for casual internet use but not for transactions that involve sensitive data. Camellia is considered a secure, modern encryption technique, but you’ll probably run into compatibility issues later on because of the limited support and availability.
Out of all the encryption techniques widely used in the VPN world, AES, which stands for Advanced Encryption Standard, is the most modern, most secure, and most difficult to crack. It is considered the “gold standard” when it comes to encryption technology. The military-grade AES-256 encryption is considered the best among top ciphers because the combination keys are massive. Cracking an AES-256 key would require fifty supercomputers 3×1051 years to run all the combinations.
4. Access to Restricted Content
One of the common uses of a VPN is to access geo-restricted content. For example, US-based Netflix or Hulu content can only be accessed using an IP address located in the US. Using a VPN allows you to mask your real location and use an IP address that gives you access to otherwise restricted content. For example, if you connect using a US server, you’ll get a US IP address and streaming services will use that IP Address to deliver content based on your detected location. This works for Netflix, YouTube, Amazon, Kodi, Hulu, and other popular streaming services. When you’re choosing a VPN provider, make sure that you have a lot of servers to choose from so that you will be able to access more content.
5. Torrenting and P2P Support
If you want to download large files, such as a piece of software, your favorite TV shows, or the latest blockbuster movie, the best way to do is via torrenting. Instead of downloading a large file directly to your computer, the torrent software will break up the file into small pieces, called packets. These packets are then shared throughout the peer-to-peer or P2P network. When you download a file via torrent, you are actually downloading bits and pieces of the file from other computers.
Torrenting in itself is not bad. It is the type of content that you download that brings the risk. We all know that downloading pirated content is illegal and we’ve seen the massive crackdown against torrenting sites by copyright agencies. If you get caught, you could face various punishments depending on the gravity of your offense. The copyright agencies might send you a warning, order your ISP to throttle your connection, or you might face a legal case, which is rare.
Using a VPN hides all your online activities, including torrenting, from the prying eyes of your ISP and these monitoring bodies. You don’t have to worry about being tracked downloading torrent files because your connection is encrypted. And because your ISP can’t see what you’re doing, it will not be able to throttle your connection and you can torrent all the movies, games, videos, and software you want to download.
6. Wi-Fi Security
Connecting to a public Wi-Fi or hotspot is full of risks. Even connecting to your company’s guest Wi-Fi network can be dangerous. This is because whatever you do while connected to that network is available for every snooper to see. Someone with a bit of technical know-how can easily access your personal data when you’re connected to a public Wi-Fi network because they don’t have any layer of protection.
A VPN gives users a sense of security by encrypting the internet connection. You can safely post on social media or send out work emails on the go, even when using a public Wi-Fi connection. So, when choosing a VPN, make sure to find one that has a robust encryption protocol that can protect you, regardless of whether you’re using a private or a public Wi-Fi network.
7. IP Masking
Your IP address works like an online address for your computer. By knowing a computer’s IP address, other users are able to track your actual location. This can be a problem when you’re covertly researching your competitor or you want to access some location-restricted content. If you want to hide your IP and location, you can do so using a VPN.
When you connect to a VPN’s server, it automatically assigns your computer a new IP address that matches that of the server’s location. If you connect to an Italian server, you’ll get an Italian IP address and when you connect to a UK server, you’ll get a UK address. When you use a VPN to access a website, that website will see the traffic coming from the server instead of your location, and it will be impossible to trace it back to you.
By hiding your actual location, marketers won’t be able to use it for targeted advertising. Using a VPN also exempts you from getting ISP limits (you can’t punish what you can’t see, right?) and other promotions from advertisers. You can browse the internet anonymously and safely, knowing that your digital footprints is completely secured.
In a world where information is becoming an expensive commodity, protecting your data with a VPN becomes a necessity. A VPN allows you to enjoy the benefits of using the internet, minus the online privacy and security threats. You can complete your online transactions, download movies, spy on your competitor, and share files safely with a VPN. However, not all VPNs are created equal. You need to bear in mind the features discussed above when choosing which VPN to sign up for. Just like choosing the right ISP for you, you have to choose the best one based on your internet and browsing needs. Check this link in order for you to read one of the most credible ISP reviews we found online.