You might have heard the term VPN thrown around online.
But what is it, and what does it do?
Here is our comprehensive guide to VPN technology.
What a VPN is
The term VPN stands for Virtual Private Network.
As the name suggests, a VPN allows you to create a secure connection to another network over the internet. This is done by connecting to a VPN server.
VPNs establish a virtual point-to-point connection between your device and the internet, sending your data through an encrypted tunnel.
Because VPNs hide your location and encrypt your internet connection, they’re a safe way of accessing the internet.
VPNs turn you anonymous online, keeping you and your data away from prying eyes. And they’re more important than ever for your digital privacy.
Your digital anonymity is targeted at every step
When you browse the internet, your Internet Service Provider (ISP) gives your devices an IP address.
This IP address uniquely identifies your device and allows it to send and receive information. You can think of it as your digital address.
But your internet connections are not encrypted. Your ISP, your government, and everyone else snooping knows what you do online.
And it doesn’t end here.
Depending on the legislation of the country you’re in, your ISP can track, monitor, store, and even sell your data and browsing history.
Your likes, dislikes, interests, hobbies, and other components of your digital identity are valuable information targeted by governments, authorities, hackers, marketers, and data miners.
The benefits of a VPN
When you connected to the internet through a VPN server, your digital experience transforms.
Here’s are some of the benefits of using a VPN.
1. Surf anonymously online
A VPN provider hides your IP address and replaces it with another one from their system.
This protects your real IP address and prevents it from being exposed online. It matters because your IP address reveals details about you like:
- Your country
- Your region
- Your city
- Your ZIP code
- Your longitude
- Your latitude
As you can tell, anyone with a bit of determination could identify your location based on your IP.
Your ISP can also use your IP address to check your online activity. This includes your browsing habits and search history. In some instances, they can even control your online experience.
But when you’re connected to a VPN server, you’re sharing the same IP address with plenty of other users. Your activity can no longer be monitored, and you become untraceable online.
2. Protect your digital identity
In the digital age, your data is a gold mine.
You wouldn’t flaunt your physical address or credit card number in a crowded public. Yet, online you’re exposed.
When you go online, your digital identity is shaped by a variety of factors, such as:
- Login credentials
- Personally identifiable information (like your date of birth, registered email, and profile photos)
- Online transactions
- Online search history and DNS requests
- Browsing history
- IP address
- Browser fingerprint
- Your device’s MAC address
- The apps you use
Also, many services you use, like social media platforms, search engines, and even apps, are programmed to collect as much data as possible on you, and then profit off it.
But a VPN is an easy and efficient way to stop these privacy invasions.
3. Break all geo-restrictions
Streaming platforms use your location to determine what content you can access. They geo-tag you based on your IP address.
This is why Netflix catalogs differ from country to country.
Other streaming services take it one step further and can only be accessed from specific locations.
4. Download safely
In some countries, online downloads aren’t regulated. In others, they’re frowned upon, but the BitTorrent protocol or P2P downloads are not illegal in themselves.
When you’re torrenting, your IP address is visible, making you susceptible to tracking. And since there’s no encryption involved, anyone can snoop on your traffic.
You need to hide your digital footprint and secure your P2P downloads with a torrent-friendly VPN.
5. Unblock websites
Online censorship is more prevalent than you’d think. And it often shows through blocked websites.
When government authorities ask ISPs to block websites, they do this by either blocking the site’s IP address or stopping DNS requests that would enable the connection.
But good VPNs can help you access blocked content since they have their DNS servers.
From websites to social media, you’ll be able to access everything, putting an end to online restrictions. And while you do it, your private info will stay safe.
6. Get better deals online
The world of online shopping can be deceitful, and prices vary country by country.
And this is because of your location, given away by your IP address.
Plenty of online shops use geo-based pricing to increase their profits. So, the country you’re browsing from determines the price you see.
Different regions will have different prices, and they aren’t solely based on conversation rates.
By connecting to VPN servers in other countries, you can find the best deals on plane tickets, hotel rooms, and much more!
7. Stay safe on public Wi-Fis
Nowadays, wireless connections are a necessity. Wi-Fi hotspots are getting increasingly common, especially in stores, libraries, coffee shops, restaurants, and fast-food chains. Most establishments even offer it for free to their customers.
But they can be a trap. These networks usually lack a secure setup or even a password.
This makes it very easy for hackers and infiltrators to snoop on network traffic. So, your online activity can be exposed to strangers looking to get your data.
Open and unsecured Wi-Fis are now a hacker playground since it’s easy to prey on unsuspecting victims. From Man-in-the-Middle attacks to MAC spoofing to Evil Twin attacks, malicious parties can easily steal your private data on unsecured Wi-Fi.
But a VPN encrypts your connection and keeps you safe.
Protect your right to digital privacy
In the real world, we’re taught all kinds of preventive measures to keep strangers and thieves at bay. We lock our doors, keep our wallets out of sight, and don’t disclose personal information.
Yet, cyber hygiene is rarely talked about. And misconceptions like “If you don’t have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear” surely don’t help.
But the truth is that privacy is necessary for freedom. It is a limit on government powers and a sign of respect for personal integrity. It’s a fundamental human right.
However, through abusive trackers, invasive data mining techniques, and data retention practices, your online anonymity is constantly stripped away.
Data breaches are on the rise
The mishandling of private data is not without consequence.
Hackers, scammers, and other fraudsters are financially motivated to exploit databases to get their hands on user data.
They need it for:
- Identity theft
- Stealing infrastructure
- Selling company secrets to the highest bidder
And their efforts can be seen through increased attack numbers over the years.
In the US alone, data breach incidents have skyrocketed.
Find more statistics at Statista
The largest data breach to date was also uncovered at a US company in 2016. That’s when Yahoo announced hackers stole user information associated with at least 1 billion accounts. Worryingly enough, Yahoo made the news before, when 500 million data records were compromised.
In Europe, things don’t look rosy either.
Despite General Data Protection Regulation coming into effect in May 2018, not much has changed in data security.
According to the European Data Protection Board, supervisory authorities in the 31 countries that make up the European Economic Area reported 206,326 cases of GDPR infringement. The issued fines totaled up to 55,955,871 euros.
Because of the growing number of data breaches, personal data is now easier to buy on the dark web than ever. Your data can put for sale for as little as 3$.
And most companies are still a long way from taking data protection seriously.
It’s time you got a VPN
But you can take matters into your own hands.
Using a simple and convenient piece of software like a VPN can drastically improve your online anonymity and privacy.
And it can keep you safe from snoopers and data-miners.
Don’t let your digital footprint lead back to you.
Are you using a VPN? How was your experience with it so far? Let me know in the comments below.
Until next time stay safe and secure!