VPN stands for “Virtual Private Network” and describes the opportunity to establish a protected network connection when using public networks. VPNs encrypt your internet traffic and disguise your online identity. This makes it more difficult for third parties to track your activities online and steal data. The encryption takes place in real time.
What is a VPN used for?
A virtual private network is mainly used because you want access to a network that you are not directly connected to. VPNs are primarily used for business purposes so that employees can work securely at different locations or from the home office. But you can also use a VPN for different purposes in the private sector:
Increased privacy and security: with a VPN you can surf anonymously, hide your location, and encrypt the data that is sent and received. For example, you can avoid target group-oriented advertising.
Bypassing local locks: certain applications only work in certain areas. With a VPN connection, you can access Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, or Sky in Germany or any other country of your choice anywhere in the world. So you can pretend to be in a certain location.
In some countries, search engines like Google or social networks like Facebook or Instagram are blocked or monitored. With a VPN connection, you can also remove national blockades or filters in a country.
What Makes a VPN?
A good VPN can carry data in a secure, private tunnel across the chaos of the public internet.
A VPN’s purpose is providing a secure and reliable private connection between computer networks over an existing public network, typically the internet.
Before looking at the technology that makes a VPN possible, let’s consider all the benefits and features someone should expect in a VPN.
A well-designed VPN provides the following benefits:
Extended connections across multiple geographic locations without using a leased line
Improved security for exchanging data
Flexibility for remote offices and employees to use the business intranet over an existing internet connection as if they’re directly connected to the network
Savings in time and expense for employees to commute if they work from virtual workplaces
Improved productivity for remote employees
A company might not require all these benefits from its business VPN, but it should demand the following essential VPN features:
Security — The VPN should protect data while it’s traveling on the public network. If intruders attempt to capture the data, they should be unable to read or use it.
Reliability — Employees and remote offices should be able to connect to the VPN with no trouble at any time (unless hours are restricted), and the VPN should provide the same quality of connection for each user even when it is handling its maximum number of simultaneous connections.
Scalability — As a business grows, it should be able to extend its VPN services to handle that growth without replacing the VPN technology altogether.
How Do You Get a VPN, and Which One Should You Choose?
Depending on your needs, you can either use a VPN from your workplace, create a VPN server yourself, or sometimes host one out of your house — but realistically the vast majority of people are just looking for something to protect them while torrenting or help them watch some media online that they can’t seem to access from their country.
The easiest thing to do is simply head to one of these sites, sign up, and download the VPN client for your Windows PC, Mac, Android, iPhone, or iPad. It’s as easy as that.
The Best VPN: ExpressVPN This VPN server has the best combination of ease-of-use, really fast servers, and supports streaming media and torrenting, all for a cheap price.
A Free Option: TunnelBear This VPN is really easy to use, is great for using at the coffee shop, and has a (limited) free tier. It’s not good for torrenting or streaming media though.
A Solid Contender: StrongVPN Not quite as easy to use as the others, but you can definitely use them for torrenting and streaming media.
All of them have free trials, so you can easily get your money back if you change your mind.
VPNs are a fairly simple tool, but they can be used to do a wide variety of things:
Using a Corporate VPN in Windows
Connecting to a VPN is fairly simple. In Windows, press the Windows key, type VPN, and click the Set up a virtual private network (VPN) connection option. (If you use Windows, you’ll have to click the Settings category after searching.) Use the wizard to enter the address and login credentials of the VPN service you want to use. You can then connect to and disconnect from VPNs using the network icon in the system tray — the same one where you manage the Wi-Fi networks you’re connected to.
Access a Business Network While Traveling: VPNs are frequently used by business travelers to access their business’ network, including all its local network resources, while on the road. The local resources don’t have to be exposed directly to the Internet, which increases security.
Access Your Home Network While Traveling: You can also set up your own VPN to access your own network while traveling. This will allow you to access a Windows Remote Desktop over the Internet, use local file shares, and play games over the Internet as if you were on the same LAN (local area network).
Hide Your Browsing Activity From Your Local Network and ISP: If you’re using a public Wi-Fi connection, your browsing activity on non-HTTPS websites is visible to everyone nearby, if they know how to look. If you want to hide your browsing activity for a bit more privacy, you can connect to a VPN. The local network will only see a single, secure VPN connection. All the other traffic will travel over the VPN connection. While this can be used to bypass connection-monitoring by your Internet service provider, bear in mind that VPN providers may opt to log the traffic on their ends.
Access Geo-Blocked Websites: Whether you’re an American trying to access your Netflix account while traveling out of the country or you wish you could use American media sites like Netflix, Pandora, and Hulu, you’ll be able to access these region-restricted services if you connect to a VPN located in the USA.
Bypass Internet Censorship: Many Chinese people use VPNs to get around the Great Firewall of China and gain access to the entire Internet. (However, the Great Firewall has apparently started interfering with VPNs recently.)
Downloading Files: Yes, let’s be honest — many people use VPN connections to download files via BitTorrent. This can actually be useful even if you’re downloading completely legal torrents — if your ISP is throttling BitTorrent and making it extremely slow, you can use BitTorrent on a VPN to get faster speeds. The same is true for other types of traffic your ISP might interfere with (unless they interfere with VPN traffic itself.)