what is a vpn and why it is useful to protect your privacy

What is a VPN and why it is important for internet safety

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10 min read

Over the last decade, the word VPN has been thrown around quite a bit. There’s a high chance that you’ve heard of a VPN through a web forum, another website or an advertisement while watching a video of your beloved content creator on YouTube.

But what exactly is a VPN, what does that abbreviation mean and why is everyone suddenly so obsessed with it?

What exactly is a VPN?

A VPN, short for a virtual private network, is essentially a special software that allows you to change your geographic browsing location, while also protecting your search history and keeping your privacy out of reach from phishing attacks and any potential snoopers or eavesdroppers that might be occupying the same network as you. These are just a handful of the reasons why you need to start using a VPN.

Still confused? Let’s have a look at the technology in more detail.

How does a virtual private network work?

As we already mentioned, the technology was designed to help you bypass geographical and security restrictions. It was initially developed to allow company and business employees to gain access to their workspace while working from a remote location.

Given that some businesses and corporations work with large volumes of important information, having an additional layer of security while also being able to work remotely was becoming quite the necessity.

This led to the creation of the virtual private network technology, allowing employees to connect to their company’s database, CMS or ERP without being exposed to their connection being compromised in the process.

This is because VPNs use special encryption tunnels that convert the data and traffic into special machine-readable patterns that when observed look like a random sequence of random characters, numbers and symbols. The information, requests and data is then decrypted at the side of the connection receiver with the help of special decryption keys, preventing any sort of snooping or hacking from occurring during the data transfer, keeping the connection safe.

This extra layer of security and anonymity is what has enticed many individuals worldwide to begin to use the technology to protect their data and privacy while browsing online.

Advantages of using a commercial VPN when browsing online

As we already mentioned, being able to protect your privacy while being online is the primary reason because of which the VPN technology was adopted by many individual users globally. This has consequently led to the creation of many individual VPN service providers, all of which support different features and offer divergent extras.

But how can a VPN protect your information security and data privacy? The answer is simple - through the encryption technology that allows you to change your geographical location and also protect your connection information.

Changing your geographical browsing location

Firstly, with a VPN, you can connect to any VPN server worldwide. This allows you to effectively change your geographical browsing location. But why is this useful?

Let’s say you want to watch a given show or series on an app like Netflix, but said show is only available at a given location for example Australia or the US but you are located in Europe. 

Simply load up your commercial VPN and select the server which you want to connect to. It’s as simple as that!

Bypassing censorship

Another major benefit of changing your location is the ability to bypass censorship, allowing you to gain access to content and files that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to obtain. 

This is particularly useful for countries with restricted social media access as well as for those who are conducting research on a global scale, allowing them to access geo-restricted resources, which can help them with their studies and experiments.

As a bonus benefit, your IP address also changes, meaning that it is much more difficult to be traced or hacked. However, it is not impossible! You should never use a VPN for any illegal activities! Only use it to protect your privacy!

Keeping you safe on a public WiFi network

As we already discussed, all VPN software utilize encryption to protect your data when being online.

This is something that is especially useful when you are connected to a public WiFi network or any other network that you don’t particularly trust.

Having this encrypted tunnel for your data and traffic to be routed through allows you to have a safe and seamless online browsing experience. You don’t have to worry about someone hacking in through your connection or monitoring your activity, which is also known as a man-in-the-middle attack.

You can safely make payments and purchases online without being scared that someone might be watching your actions waiting to steal your precious data and money.

Hide your traffic and search history from your ISP

Your ISP generally keeps track of all of your data including searching and browsing history. Although storage periods are different for each ISP, some keep them for years!

While beneficial when carrying out an investigation, having such a long storage time puts your data at risk of being leaked or disclosed to third-parties without you knowing about it, ultimately breaching your privacy.

In order to avoid your data from being collected, you can simply use a VPN and change your location. Your data will also be encrypted, meaning that your ISP will not be able to decipher your traffic.

Just remember that using a VPN protects your identity and privacy, but does not make you anonymous. For a much better online identity protection, you can check out our article on VPNs vs Tor.

How to choose a VPN service provider

Before you go on and immediately start searching for a VPN service provider, let us help you by giving you some extra features that you need to be on the lookout for.

Check out their privacy policy

In addition to the usual VPN provider features that you need to check such as their customer support and online reviews, it is absolutely crucial to go through their privacy policy. Make sure to carefully read through their policies, especially if their services are being advertised as completely free (excluding any trial periods).

There have been instances in the past where such ‘free’ VPN providers had actively been collecting user data and then selling it to third parties such as advertisers. This doesn’t mean that all free VPNs are dangerous, but meticulously reading through their policies will help you defend your data and protect your information.

Check whether your activity will be logged

The next thing that you need to be watchful of is whether the VPN provider collects logs or has a history of doing so. Even if you are going to use a premium, paid VPN service, make sure to check if any logs will be retained and stored as that can damage your privacy.

It wasn’t that long ago when the customer data of more than 20 million users was leaked, with all of the VPN providers labeling themselves as a ‘no-log VPN service’.

Even if a provider is advertising a high-speed network with super reliable connection, you can never be sure how your data will be handled.

Because of this, there is a much more secure, reliable and trustworthy alternative - creating your own private VPN server, which can be hosted on a traditional VPS server. While it might be more difficult to set up and manage, your data will be substantially more secure and your privacy - protected.

Use a VPS-hosted VPN server for maximum protection

Running your own VPN server on a VPS has many benefits. For starters, you can make sure that no information about your activity or traffic is being stored, which is one of the greatest advantages when it comes to using a self-hosted VPN server to protect your privacy.

Next, you can also connect an unlimited number of devices, as long as your chosen VPN protocol supports it.

Some providers like us at VPSBG even allow you to get VPS servers with unlimited bandwidth, so that you never have to worry about how much traffic you will be expending while browsing online.

Overall, there are plenty of free, open-source, secure and reliable VPN protocols that you can choose from and install on your VPS server. We even have an article on how to choose the right VPN protocol for you depending on your expectations and experience.

Additionally we have even covered the 7 most utilized open-source VPN protocols worldwide, which you can also check out before making a choice.

As a matter of fact, we even have a full step-by-step tutorial on how to install a SoftEther VPN on a CentOS 7 server!

Can a VPN really protect your privacy?

The short answer is yes, but only when utilized correctly. Over the last decade, issues related to online security and privacy have constantly been increasing.

The constant evolution in technology has yielded smart devices and applications that we utilize on a daily basis, thus putting ourselves and our privacy at constant danger of being exposed.

While using a VPN will greatly help reduce any potential problems that might arise in relation to your privacy, it is not possible to say that it will solve all of your problems.

In order to completely protect your privacy you need to combine using a VPN with other ways to keep your data safe online such as using technological minimalism and other encryption software. You can find some extra tips by checking out our article on 15 ways that you can protect your privacy.

Ultimately, you should also consider using a VPN service, regardless of whether it is commercial or self-hosted - it’s important to protect your privacy.

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