What is a VPN?
A VPN, or Virtual Private Network, is an essential tool for those looking for extra security when browsing online, especially when using public Wi-Fi networks. A VPN provides your device with a private connection to the internet, meaning that any sensitive data being transmitted is protected from prying eyes. VPNs encrypt your internet traffic in real-time and essentially disguise your online identity. We’ll be discussing how a client-to-server VPN works, as this is the most common type of VPN used.
How Does it Work?
When you try to access a website, your ISP, or internet service provider, receives a request from your device and sends it to the site you’re trying to access. It then waits for a response from the website and redirects you to your desired destination. When you connect to a VPN, it redirects your internet traffic though a server run by the VPN host before sending it over to your desired destination. This hides your IP address and makes it impossible for your ISP or other third parties to see your browsing activity or virtual location.
Think of it as an impenetrable tunnel that connects your device to the private VPN server. This tunnel is created by authenticating the client, or device, with a VPN server. Once the “tunnel” has been established, your device sends out encrypted information, like the website you want to visit to the VPN server. The server then decrypts the information and forwards it to the web server. Before forwarding the data to the web server, the VPN server hides your IP address. Instead, you will appear to have the IP address of the VPN server you’re connected to. When the web server responds, the VPN server encrypts the data and sends it back to you, which will be decrypted again once it reaches your device.
Why Do I Need a VPN?
When you connect to the internet, your ISP usually sets up your connection for you. It tracks you via an IP address, which is a unique address that identifies a device on the internet. This essentially allows your ISP to log and track everything you do online. Although your ISP may seem trustworthy, but there’s nothing stopping them from sharing your browsing habits with advertisers, the government, police, or third parties.
This becomes especially important when you regularly connect to unknown Wi-Fi networks, such as public Wi-Fi in restaurants, libraries, shopping malls, or coffee shops. You never know who else could be connected to those networks and what information they might steal from you, like your passwords, financial information, or email login.
VPNs don’t only need to be used when connected to public networks. They can be useful even when connected to a trusted network. VPN hosts usually have multiple servers located globally, so using a VPN would allow you to connect to one of the international servers. This could come in handy when you notice that Netflix doesn’t currently have the latest season of your favourite show available in your region.
The positives massively outweigh the negatives when it comes to deciding whether to use a VPN, but one thing you should keep in mind is that it could potentially slow down your internet speed. Since your web traffic is going through additional steps like encryption and connecting to another server, you may experience a drop in your browsing speed.
Another possible disadvantage is that while a VPN protects your web traffic from outsiders, some VPN providers could have access to your browsing activity. Therefore, you should always choose a VPN that doesn’t keep logs on your web activity. NordVPN provides a no-log VPN service at a reasonable price, so it may be something to consider if you appreciate your digital privacy.