What is a VPN and How Does it Work?
You probably heard of a VPN before, it’s even possible you’ve used one, but do you know what it does? A VPN stands for virtual private network, which means it gives you privacy online. Originally, VPN’s were only used in business settings where big businesses, organizations or governments wanted to secure their data. Since people worked remotely and needed to connect online, businesses needed to create a secure connection. Otherwise, they were at risk for hacking or other loss of data. Nowadays, VPN’s are used by everyone, specifically, because it ensures your location stays private, your data is encrypted, and that you can surf the web anonymously. But how does it work?
Let’s back up for a second to understand how the Internet works. When you visit a site like Facebook or Twitter, you type in the domain name. That domain is basically a nickname for the Web site’s IP address, and that IP address is just like your home address, only It consists of numbers and not street names. So this is much easier to remember names than a string of numbers. We give sites, domain names and a server translates them. Your computer has an IP address too, and so does every device browsing the Internet. When you type in the website’s domain name on your browser, whether you’re using Chrome, Firefox or even Internet Explorer, you send your data into the Internet until it reaches a server. That server then translates to data and sends you back the website you requested.
The problem is when you send that data to the server, you’re sending them your IP address and a lot of other information to. This is where hackers can intercept your information. Imagine you’re sitting in a coffee shop using their public Wi-Fi on your phone and you want to check your bank account. Someone else with the laptop can easily log into the network and get a hold of your passwords, emails and other information you might have. But if you use a VPN, they won’t be able to access that. The websites you visit can also gather your information, but they tend to do it in order to study their demographic. Usually, it’s not a problem, but sometimes you want to protect your identity and privacy.
So how does a VPN protect my privacy? When you send information online, a VPN creates a tunnel that encrypts your information. This way, if someone gets ahold of your data, they won’t be able to read it. The tunnel also makes it harder to hack in. But don’t be fooled. It is still possible, just much harder to do. A VPN also adds in an extra server. We spoke about how you send data from your computer to a server and then that server brings you back with the website. But with VPN, your data goes to their server first and then it’s sent out to the website. This extra step helps in a lot of ways. First, it can change your location. A lot of video streaming Web sites like Netflix and Hulu have strict content depending on your geolocation. Let’s say you want to watch your favourite show on Netflix, but it’s not available in your country.
You send your information to one of the VPN servers in America and then that server sends it to the Netflix website. Netflix now thinks you’re in America and you can stream your show without any problems. A VPN tricks them into thinking you’re in a different location because the signal is coming from a different server. Clever, right?
Changing your location can also help book a hotel or flight. Research has shown that hotels and flight prices change depending on your location, and a VPN could potentially save you lots of money. Well, let’s get back to your privacy. Remember how we mentioned websites sometimes collect your data? Well, many times governments can request this information and use the listed IP addresses to track your location. But with a VPN, their information only reaches the VPN server. They can’t track you back to your original IP address. See how cool that is. Many also have no logs policy, which means they don’t record what sites you visit. So if the government requests the VPN provider for tracking logs, your information won’t be there. VPN’s are really handy when it comes to keeping your privacy safe on the web by changing your location, encrypting your data and ensuring your privacy. It’s no wonder so many people use them these days. Now that you know what a VPN is, it’s time to go get one.
Jason is the head technician and founder of SECURE A COM. He has worked in the industry since 1998. Working on Telstra infrastructure projects, install and maintenance contracts, and now runs SECURE A COM servicing B2B and B2C NBN customers.
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