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What is a VPN? And Why Might You Need One?

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Browsing online can be a fun but dangerous endeavor.

ISPs can offer enhanced security measures but even those won't stop the savviest from having access to your personal data. Instead, an option more people are turning to is a VPN.

Below is a closer examination of what a VPN is and the functions it serves.

What does VPN Stand for?

A VPN is a virtual private network. These networks offer increased security measures to make it difficult for hackers to access your data. Here is a closer look at how they work.

What is a VPN? And Why Might You Need One?

How Do VPNs Work?

VPNs work by providing added layers of security. Many VPN providers give you access to firewall protection. This protects your information stored on your computer.

Meanwhile, when you browse the internet, a VPN will also protect your data online. How this works is your provider uses encryption tools to capture all data transfers conducted online.

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Moreover, when using a VPN network, your identity remains anonymous. Instead of a hacker employing WiFi spoofing to see what you do online if they try to hack you, the VPN uses one of its assigned IP addresses. The result is the hacker doesn't know who you are and thanks to enhanced security protocols, they won't be able to access your data either.

Related: For more information and tips on keeping a secure Internet connection, check out our guide on how to secure your WiFi.

Using a VPN

Setting up a VPN is easy to do. Simply, you find the provider you want, then sign up for service. You can do this through a variety of web browsers. Furthermore, you can install VPN software on your phone as a measure to keep it protected from hackers. This is beneficial if you have to conduct business remotely and want to keep the sensitive information protected.

Additionally, if you are doing work and your company has a VPN, you can log in remotely. How this works is you connect to the internet through your internet service provider. From there, upon logging in with the company's VPN information, you establish a connection with the VPN server. Once connected, you can do work, send or access files and more without fear of having your company's information compromised.

Related: VPNs are a great tool to maintain online privacy. For more tips and strategies, consult our ultimate guide to internet safety and online privacy.

What Security Protocols Do VPNs Use?

To keep your information safe and you anonymous when browsing online, VPN providers can use a combination of security protocols. Below is a look at the most common:

IPSec

IPSec secures internet communications in two forms. One, it uses transport mode to encrypt the data packet. Conversely, tunnel mode encapsulates the whole data packet. Many VPNs use tunnel mode along with other protocols to help protect your information.

Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol

Most VPNs layer tunneling protocol with IPSec. They do this by using the L2TP to produce the tunnel while the IPSec handles the encryption and ensures the information hasn't been accessed by outside users.

Secure Shell

The secure shell allows for the transfer of unsecured data through an encrypted channel. While the data itself isn't encrypted, the channel is. This is beneficial in that if you live in a country where the government won't allow you to access certain data, the secure shell creates a bypass that allows you to access websites such as news and entertainment options.

Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol

Many VPNs use this to encapsulate the data packet to transmit it securely. While the tunneling doesn't provide encryption, many VPNs pair it with it TCP or GRE to provide the protection necessary to ensure the data transmits securely.

How to Find the Best VPNs

The popularity of virtual private networks continues to grow. And as that demand rises, so does the number of providers available. Here are some tips to help you find the best VPN for you.

  • Budget: Of course, your finances will factor into the equation. If you have a tight budget, you could opt for a free VPN service. Some providers have packages allowing you to test drive some of its features for free. It's important to note you won't receive the full complement of benefits available relative to paid subscribers so only use this if your finances deem it necessary.
  • Speed: When using a VPN you can experience slower connection speeds due to the demands on encrypting data. Because of this, it's important to determine how much speed you are willing to sacrifice relative to privacy. This might not matter much if you are using it for personal reasons, but if you are trying to protect data for a large company, a lag in connection times can result in decreased production. Therefore, be sure to ask the provider how they minimize connection slow downs before signing up for service. However, there are steps you can take to improve a slow Internet speed.
  • Cross-platform flexibility: If the VPN provider doesn't offer mobile apps or set up guides for iOS and Android devices it can be a problem. Instead, search for providers that demonstrate cross-platform functionality.
  • Number of concurrent connections: Providers might limit how many users can access the platform at one time. Therefore, it's important to examine how many users the provider allows at once to ensure you have everyone who accesses your internet protected.
  • Customer support: Does the provider offer support 24 hours a day, seven days a week? Along with having the right support infrastructure in place, how quick are they to respond to your requests?
  • Number of VPN servers: The more servers a company has, the more locations it has across the globe. This makes it easier for you to locate the server you want.

ISPs can offer enhanced security measures but even those won't stop the savviest from having access to your personal data

Recap

VPNs are increasing in popularity thanks to the many benefits they offer such as encrypting your data and hiding your identity online from prying eyes.

To find the best VPN available, you'll want to conduct research to identify the one that aligns most with your priorities. We discuss our top picks for who we believe offers the best VPN services.

You can use the privacy features on your Internet browser as an added layer of protection, too. Not every browser is created equal, though. We discuss Internet browsers that excel in privacy here.

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