You’ve likely heard about your tech-savvy friends using VPNs to watch Netflix from other countries, or switching them on to privately download movies to avoid receiving cease and desist notices in the mail. If you were sitting quietly and wondering what a VPN is for that conversation, this post is for you.
How Does a VPN Work?
Ask anyone in IT, “what is a VPN connection” and they’ll rattle off how a VPN encrypts your internet traffic with security protocols and routes it through a server in a location of your choosing.
A more human way to think about a VPN is that it acts a lot like a mail forwarder. You know, those services that you send mail to and it’s redirected to somewhere else.
A VPN has a client, which is software on your computer, that takes your internet packets and wraps them in encrypted envelopes and writes the address of the VPN server on the front.
The company that sells you internet is like the post office in this analogy. They pick up the envelope and route it over their infrastructure to the recipient. Instead of trucks and ships, the envelope travels to the VPN through wires.
The encrypted part just means that the company which sells you internet can’t open these envelopes and have a look at the address your VPN will forward the mail to. They can’t see what sites you are really accessing and what data you’re sending and receiving from them.
Once the envelope arrives at the VPN server, it’s unwrapped and rerouted to the real destination. See? It’s just like a mail forwarder.
This gives you two main benefits:
- Online privacy and security: By encrypting your web traffic, VPNs protect your online activity from hackers, ISPs, and government surveillance.
- Bypassing geo-restrictions: By routing your traffic through a server in a different country, you can bypass geo-restrictions and access content that is otherwise unavailable in your location.
How to Use a VPN
Using a VPN is simple. Just sign up for a VPN, download and install the app, and connect to a server in your desired country. Your traffic will then be encrypted and routed through the server, giving you a secure and private internet connection.
If you want to unblock geo-locked content like Netflix, BBC iPlayer, and Hulu, simply connect to a server in the country where the content is available. For example, to watch Netflix US, connect to a US server.
Can a VPN Protect You Over Public WiFi
When you connect to a VPN, all your traffic is routed through a secure tunnel. This encrypts your data preventing anyone on the same network as you from snooping on your internet activity. The internet is more secure than it once was and the majority of sites used HTTPS encryption, but public WiFi is an opportunity for hackers to either force your web browser to connect with HTTP, the older protocol, or wait for you to connect to one of the few remaining websites that haven’t upgraded yet.
Additionally, some public WiFi networks are set up by businesses in a way that requires you to connect with their server before you can access the internet. This is called a captive portal. This kind of access point can be used to execute Man-in-the-Middle (MitM) and Man-in-the-Browser (MitB) attacks. Numerous high-profile attacks have exploited this vulnerability. DarkHotel, was an attack uncovered by Kaspersky Labs, which targeted guests at high-end hotels. The attack delivered malware directly to their devices as soon as they logged in in an attempt to steal their credentials and important company data. There was even a recent report that state-sponsored Russian hackers used a similar attack to access data on a wide range of targets relating to the 2016 and 2018 Olympics. Hackers camped out the front of hotels trying to steal sensitive information.
While a VPN can protect you from these kinds of attacks, it’s important to remember that not all VPNs were created equal. They aren’t a silver bullet. It’s still possible for hackers to intercept your traffic if the VPN is using outdated encryption like PPTP or if it’s poorly configured. That’s why we recommend using a reputable VPN service with strong security protocols like OpenVPN.
A quality VPN will also have a strict no-logging policy, which means that they don’t keep records of your internet activity. This is important for two reasons: first, it ensures that your privacy is protected, and second, it means that the VPN can’t hand over your data to the government if they receive a request for it.
Not all VPN providers have a strict no-logging policy, however. Some of them log your data in order to improve their service or for marketing purposes. Before you sign up for a VPN, check to see if their logging policy is clear and transparent. The best VPN providers will have nothing to hide.
Do I Need a VPN at Home?
You might think that you don’t need a VPN at home because you’re not doing anything illegal and you’re not worried about anyone snooping on your internet activity. But there are still many benefits to using a VPN at home.
A VPN can protect your privacy from your ISP. Even if you trust your ISP not to snoop on your internet activity, they could still sell your data to third parties. By encrypting your traffic with a VPN, you can prevent your ISP from selling your data. Additionally, a VPN can help to improve your security and protect you from malware.
Let’s Wrap This Up
A VPN is a great way to improve your online security and privacy. It can protect you from hackers when you’re using public WiFi and it can also help to protect your data from your ISP. Not all VPNs are created equal, so be sure to do your research before signing up for one.