In just a few years’ time, people have begun to use VPNs outside of work en masse. Whether it’s to protect user privacy, ensure user anonymity, or access geo-blocked content, VPNs are all the rage, and it’s no wonder!
With the rise of scams and dangers on the internet as well as the arrival of a plethora of attractive platforms that offer series and movie streaming, everyone’s itching to use a VPN. Do you know exactly what they are and what they are used for?
Forget about the long and complicated technical articles, because today we’re going to take a quick and easy look at what a VPN is and how you can use it.
What is a VPN?
This is the million-dollar question that everyone asks but that very few know how to answer without taking the reader on a merry-go-round. A VPN is, as its name suggests, a Virtual Private Network. Its purpose is to protect all the data coming into and going out of your computer. Don’t worry, we’ll explain this process to you in the easiest and most straightforward way possible.
When you connect to browse the internet or, for example, right this instant, while you’re reading this article on Softonic, your computer sends and receives data to show you the requested information. The usual way is simply that your PC sends the data to your internet provider, and they return the requested information back to your computer. When you connect directly to your provider and then to the internet, the data you send is not encrypted, so you share things like your geographical location and your searches over the network. That’s why your searches always appear customized to the language of your region, or you magically see ads on topics you’ve been browsing online for over the past few days.
What happens when you use a VPN? Easy. After accessing your internet provider, the VPN will redirect you to a server located in the part of the world you have chosen, and you will use its IP to run searches and receive information. On top of that, the VPN will encrypt all your searches, so your provider won’t have a record of what you search for online.
If it’s still a little unclear, take this simple example. Imagine that you are going to connect to the internet from your apartment in Barcelona to run a search on picnic tables. To do so, you connect to the internet through your provider and Google will appear by default as Google Spain (because thanks to your IP, it will know where you are). Once you’ve done that, you look for information about a good picnic table and when you don’t like any of them, you do something else. The next day, you go online again and since your connection wasn’t encrypted, Google automatically shows you ads for picnic tables.
What would happen if you used a VPN? The first step would be exactly the same. Your PC would connect to the internet server, but from there it would go to the VPN server in the geographical location of your choice, the US, for instance. This time Google would appear as Google USA because it would see the VPN server’s IP. And all the data that you shared with your browser and the internet from that moment on would be encrypted. That way, when you reconnected to the internet, none of your searches would be recorded by your internet provider.
What’s a VPN good for?
In the beginning, VPNs were mostly used by big firms and always in a work environment. That’s because a VPN creates a secure local network that allows all workers to connect, whether they are at the same location or working from home without the danger of data spills or a hacker taking control of a company computer remotely.
Today, VPNs are still used by companies but also from the homes of internet users like you and me. There is much to be said in their favor, like the fact that:
You can browse safely and completely anonymously
One of the main reasons people use VPNs is that they allow you to surf the internet with an extra layer of security. This is because the server chosen encrypts the data, making it harder for third parties to intercept or store it. This is especially useful if you recall that we live in an era where online scams abound. A VPN offers you anonymity in your searches: they can’t be traced. Your privacy and that of your data is respected.
You can access geo-blocked content
Have you ever huffed and puffed because Netflix USA has that series you really wanted to see and it’s not in the Spanish catalog? VPN to the rescue. In just a few seconds, problem solved. Simply connect to an American server through the VPN, open Netflix, and you’ll be offered your pick of the US catalog. Since the VPN takes the IP of the server you choose, you can access any service that has been blocked due to your geographic location.
You can use an open Wi-Fi network securely
If you are one of those people who connects to the internet using Wi-Fi in places like cafés, libraries, or airports, you know that there’s always a measure of security risk. Any data you share over that Wi-Fi network can be intercepted by a hacker who is also on that network, and believe us when say that it’s not rocket science and more common than you might imagine. If you use a VPN the situation changes dramatically, because it can encrypt all the data you release onto that open network, making it safe from any malicious user.
Are free VPNs safe?
If you’ve started doing some research on VPNs, you’ve probably already noticed that there are free VPNs as well as subscription-based ones. Are both options equally safe? Unfortunately, the answer is no. While free VPNs have the attraction of costing nothing of course, they manage to pay for themselves by putting your data and security at risk.
A recent study found that up to 38% of free VPNs on the market install malware on devices to show you ads that they can monetize. Not only are they annoying, but most of the time they will redirect you to dicey pages where you could put your computer as well as your data in danger.
Another disadvantage of free VPNs is that they sell the data they collect during your sessions online to third parties. That’s how they make the VPN available for free, and even if it works, you may run into the downsides of sharing your data.
Finally, one of the big problems with free VPNs is that they can even take away your bandwidth and sell it to third parties. You don’t have to go very far back to remember the case of the free VPN Hola. It sold the bandwidth of its users, who ended up unknowingly taking part in a botnet attack on 8chan. That’s why using a free VPN will not only eat into your connection speed and privacy, but your computer may end up being an accomplice to illegal activities.
For that reason and many more, it’s always advisable that if you want to use a VPN, you opt for a paid subscription. They only cost a few bucks a month and offer a fast, secure service with an array of advantages.
What are the best VPNs on the market?
After reading this article, you may want to use a VPN either to surf the internet more safely or to be able to access content blocked in your region. There are a number of VPNs on the market, but not all of them are equally fast or able to protect your computer with the same level of reliability. To make your search easier, we’re going to recommend some of our favorites.
ExpressVPN is a truly all-purpose VPN. It is not only extremely fast but also capable of protecting your data thanks to its 256-bit encryption system. With over 3,000 servers in more than 160 regions, ExpressVPN is the perfect choice for accessing geo-blocked content, playing games online, or downloading without slowing down your connection speed. On top of that, it works perfectly on both desktops and laptops as well as on mobile phones and tablets.
NordVPN is the best choice for any user who wants to use a VPN but is concerned about their data security. It has a 2,048-bit encryption system and some of its servers even have DDoS protection. This ensures that your computer and data never fall into the wrong hands. In figures, NordVPN has over 5,500 servers in more than 55 locations around the globe. This is also another highly versatile VPN, because you can use it on your desktop or laptop as well as on your handheld devices.
3. Hotspot Shield
Last but not least, we would like to recommend Hotspot Shield. Do you remember when we talked about how open networks can put your computer at risk? With this VPN you can use them in complete safety. Hotspot Shield uses a military-grade AES encryption system that keeps your data secure at all times. On top of that, Hotspot Shield has a really simple and incredibly intuitive interface. Just press a button and you’re connected to the Internet from the server of your choice – it’s that easy!
If you’re interested in more options, feel free to take a look at our complete list of the best VPNs the market has to offer. This one is really comprehensive, and you can use it to access exclusive discounts of up to 80% off your subscriptions.
We hope that this article helped you learn a bit more about what VPNs are and how they work. Have you ever used one? Let us know how it went!