Understanding VPNs

You may have heard the term “VPN,” and it’s even possible that you’ve used one before when connecting to the Internet. “VPN” stands for “virtual private network,” and the premise of a VPN is to provide privacy when navigating the Internet. When they were first created, VPNs were exclusively used in business settings to keep data secure. Remote workers needed secure connections to enable them to work online without the risk of losing data or having information intercepted by hackers. Currently, anyone desiring a secure and private connection to the Internet can use a VPN.

General VPN Header

How Internet Browsing Typically Works

Visiting a website involves entering the domain name into the browser to arrive at the website’s IP address, which consists of a string of numbers. Servers translate these numbers into a domain name, which is easier for people to use and remember. Every device that accesses the Internet also has an IP address, which identifies it. This IP address is transmitted to the Internet to reach a server. The server then translates the data and returns the requested website to the device. For those who wish to prevent transmission of their IP address and any other information that is sent along with it, a VPN can make this possible. This can be especially useful for those who use public Wi-Fi connections.

How Do VPNs Work?

How VPNs Work

When using a VPN, a special security tunnel encrypts the identifying information that moves between your device and the Internet server. Even if a hacker were to access the data, it would be impossible to read and use it. The tunnel also makes hacking into a connection more difficult, although it’s not impossible. Encryption is very effective for keeping personal data safe. By scrambling the data contained in a message, only the intended recipients will be able to read it.

VPNs also add an additional server to the sequence, so data travels to the VPN server first, then to the target website. Adding the extra server can also change your location as it appears to the target website, which in some cases can give you access to content on a website that’s not usually available in your location.

Public Wi-Fi Security Risks

Although using public Wi-Fi can be an excellent way to save data on a mobile data plan, there are some security risks with this type of public connectivity. Hackers may be able to access your connection on a public Wi-Fi network, which can lead to costly compromises of your sensitive information. For example, a hacker might be able to intercept your login credentials to access an online banking account. Connecting to a public Wi-Fi hot spot with a VPN will encrypt your transmissions, making it difficult for hackers to intercept your information and impossible to decode it. Other ways to protect yourself include limiting your mobile browsing to secure websites. When a Web address begins with “https,” this indicates that encryption is occurring between your browser and the website you’re visiting. You can also use an extra app that will encrypt your communications and use your cellphone data plan only when transmitting sensitive information on the go.

VPN Privacy

VPN PrivacyVPN privacy is appealing for several reasons. Websites cannot track your location or your identity when you browse with a VPN. Any pinging attempts will simply arrive at the VPN’s server, not yours. Many VPNs also maintain a no-logs policy, which means that the websites you visit are not recorded and can’t be tracked: Even if the government requests information about your online activity, logs won’t exist to give them that data. Before using a VPN, check the terms of service to find out whether the service keeps logs of user activity. A VPN service that’s committed to privacy will usually be transparent about its no-log policy.

VPN Information and Resources

Gabe Turner

Gabe Turner

Gabe Turner is an attorney and journalist with a passion for home tech and secure, efficient living. Since graduating from NYU Law, he has maintained a paradoxical existence of trying to live life adventurously while remaining staunchly risk-averse. He is torn by the dual desires of wanting to only be in Brooklyn writing about housing policy and smart home tech and aspiring to visit his friends scattered across the globe. Gabe believes that stable, safe communities are the cornerstone to a vibrant and healthy society, and it is this passion that brought him to contribute to Security Baron.

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