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What Is A VPN?
VPN software protects your information by masking your device’s IP address. The software encrypts your data and routes it through secure networks to servers in far away states or other countries. A VPN hides your online identity, allowing you to browse the internet anonymously.
What Do VPNs Do?
VPN stands for virtual private network. In basic terms, a VPN provides an encrypted server and hides your IP address from corporations, government agencies and would-be hackers. A VPN protects your identity even if you are using public or shared Wi-Fi, and your data will be kept private from any prying internet eyes.
A VPN circumvents your personal ISP, instead of sending your internet connection to a hosted server. With servers located all over the world, users then have the ability to “relocate” themselves and access the internet from nearly anywhere. Encryption adds an extra layer of security, particularly for businesses that are frequently utilizing remote access. It can also be a helpful tool for travel, gaming and streaming.
Why Do You Need a VPN?
Now that you know what a VPN is, here’s a closer look at why you might need a VPN:
1. Security on Public Wi-Fi
Public Wi-Fi is convenient but comes at the expense of security. When you’re answering emails at a local coffee shop or absent-mindedly scrolling through social media at the airport, someone may be tracking your online activity.
Using a VPN protects your data while you are on other networks, hiding your browsing history, banking information, account passwords and more from ill-intentioned internet strangers.
2. Data Privacy From Your Internet Service Provider
While connected to your home Wi-Fi, you are less likely to be attacked by strangers than on a public connection. However, your data is still vulnerable.
Your ISP or internet service provider—Comcast, Spectrum, Verizon or other company who you pay for Wi-Fi each month—can access all your internet data. Your ISP can see when, where and how you browse.
This data can be collected and sold to advertisers even if you’re using the “private” browsing function, and it can be dangerous in the wrong hands in the case of a data breach. A VPN can help obscure your IP address from your own ISP.
3. Data Privacy From the Apps and Services You Use
Your ISP isn’t the only potential liability that you’ve brought into your own home. Unfortunately, many of our favorite apps and internet services—most notably Facebook—have been called out for the way they’ve used the data of their users.
A VPN will prevent apps and websites from attributing your behavior to your computer’s IP address. It can also limit the collection of your location and browser history.
4. Data Privacy From Your Government
While many ISPs, apps and internet data hubs suggest they don’t sell your browsing data to governments, the information nonetheless finds its ways into their hands—even in the U.S.
Since 2013, when Edward Snowden first revealed that Verizon had been selling users’ internet and phone data to the NSA, Americans have become more aware of the different ways the government surveils and collects their data. Following the Snowden leaks, and subsequent outrage, several laws were enacted to curb government surveillance.
However, as recently as January of this year, the Defense Intelligence Agency bypassed a law demanding that government agencies produce warrants before compelling phone companies for their user data by paying third-party data brokers for that same data, according to the New York Times.
If you have qualms about governmental overreach, a VPN is a good investment in protecting your data.
5. Access to Any Content in Any Place
While Hulu may frown upon your use of a VPN to stream the latest Criminal Minds episode in a country where the content isn’t offered, this VPN usage is not illegal (in the U.S. and in most countries), and it helps provide a useful workaround to content restrictions.
VPNs spoof your location, making it seem as if you are browsing from another place. That means you can get your Criminal Minds fix even if it’s not available locally.
6. Security When Working Remotely
One benefit of a VPN is its data encryption features. Encryption, or putting data into a coded format so its meaning is obscured, allows you to keep confidential information safe.
If you are an individual thinking about investing in a VPN for your company, one benefit is that workers can connect to your office network and look at sensitive materials on their own devices while away from the office. As remote work seems a possibility even after the pandemic ends, a VPN is a helpful investment to keep confidential material safe off-site.
8. Adaptable to Numerous Smart Devices
While many of us may first try a VPN on a company-loaned laptop, many VPN services also protect other smart devices such as your phones, tablets and desktop computers. Each VPN company may offer slightly different protection plans and have different capacities to protect different devices, but many providers offer plans that help keep you safe on multiple devices.
7. Smart Savings
If you are willing to put in a little research, a VPN can help you save money via its location spoofing capabilities. Many types of businesses, such as subscription services and airlines, offer the same amenities or products for different prices. If you change the appearance of your location to a place where services are offered cheaper, you can end up with big savings.