Want your internet activities to be anonymous and your browsing history to be private? If you have never used a VPN before, this article is a definitive guide on VPNs. Wondering what does a VPN do? Follow this article to learn why you would need one.
While VPNs once used to be novel tech solutions used only by the ones with the right expertise, they have now transitioned into necessary tools that everyone ought to use for secure and anonymous browsing. More and more people are becoming interested in VPN technology since it comes with advantages that people didn’t know existed before.
Wondering what does a VPN do? For starters, VPNs are the tools that protect your online privacy so you cannot be targeted or discriminated against based on your location. If you are still unclear about what a VPN is, we can help you visualize it for a better understanding. Suppose that the internet is a town where you are roaming around on a bike. You can visit your favorite locations (websites), make purchases in shops, read the news, play games, watch movies and do a lot more.
While doing all this, you are completely visible to everyone. Anyone can follow you along, see who you are, and seek into your private life. Similarly, viewing your online activity, who you are, and what site you visit the most is easy breezy. Anyone can do that with only a few clicks. You are so traceable that you can even be followed home easily. Your internet activity can point out your exact location, which is something not many like to share.
This is where VPN comes in. A VPN is like a private tunnel that you can use to surf the internet freely, without anyone knowing your location or the sites you visit, or the things you like to shop for. It can act as your own personal tunnel that encircles you, masking you in anonymity and blocking anyone from seeing where you are going or what you are doing. And you don’t need to be a technical expert to use VPN either. There are plenty of beginner-friendly VPNs for any device you use the internet on.
Hope this visualization has served as a good starter. Now let’s move towards the proper definition of a VPN to get the ultimate understanding. In this article, we will cover every detail of a VPN, what it is, and how it works. Before diving straight into the internal workings of a VPN, let’s start with the basics to familiarize yourself with what a VPN does.
What is a VPN?
VPN is an acronym that stands for Virtual Private Networks. As the name shows, it provides users with a virtual network that is private and lets them connect to the internet safely and securely.
The Internet is like a spiderweb of computers, data hubs and a variety of devices, all interconnecting to share information you need. So when you are using the internet, there is a constant process of your device exchanging data with other parties on the web. Everything you do over the internet is easily accessible to your internet service provider and anyone with basic technical knowledge can try to look over that information. In order to avoid being tracked and to prevent invasion of your privacy, the usage of VPNs can be very beneficial for such purposes.
VPNs provide an easy and efficient way to increase your online safety, privacy, and freedom by creating a secure connection between you and the internet. A VPN creates an encrypted tunnel to protect your private data and communications, hide your IP address, and let you safely use public Wi-Fi networks.
By using VPN services, you can also bypass censorship, get around content blocks, and unlock website restrictions. VPN services encrypt your internet traffic, hiding away your IP address and physical location so that no one can tell who you are, where you are, and what you are doing online.
The reason it is called a virtual private network is that it is an on-demand, private tunnel through the internet. It is virtual because there isn’t a physical cable that reaches from your device directly to the VPN server. It is private because it encrypts your data and hides your IP address, eventually hiding your location and identity. And it’s a network because it creates a connection between multiple devices including your computer or cellphone and the VPN server.
VPNs provide an extra layer of privacy and anonymity so that you can hide your internet activity and location to avoid being tracked, especially on public WiFi networks. You are also able to freely browse the internet without constraints or restrictions and with no speed throttling. All in all, a VPN is all about rerouting your internet traffic through a private and secure server, all the while hiding your identity and location.
VPN purpose – Reasons why you should use one
Many people wonder, is using a VPN really necessary? The simple answer is YES unless you want your internet usage to be tracked or watched. Although the use of a virtual private network is a completely personal choice, there are some good and valid reasons why you should start using a VPN while surfing the web.
No one likes to be tracked or watched by someone. Even if they’ve got nothing to hide, the feeling of being stalked all the time is an extremely terrible one. That’s the reason VPNs are used – to step up your privacy game. When someone is browsing through a VPN, their traffic is encrypted so no one can see what they are doing over the internet. This provides an ultimate protection against online snoops and hackers, and you should use one if you want to browse privately and securely.
Along with encrypting your internet traffic, and hiding your online activity efficiently, a VPN also prevents anyone from finding your IP address by showing everyone else on the internet the IP address of the VPN server that you are using instead of your own.
Because your IP address links your device to your ISP as well as your geographic location, content restrictions like geo-blocking, censorship, price discrimination, etc. are enabled. But when your IP address is masked with a VPN, it helps to keep your online activities fully private from ISPs, hackers, and government surveillance. This will eventually let you gain access to region-restricted content, whether that be a TV show, or to get around a certain jurisdiction’s internet censorship laws.
VPNs are mostly preferred when using public Wi-Fi networks regularly. Public hotspots provide hackers with many methods to steal your data, but with a VPN, your online traffic is invisible to them. VPNs are used to secure your internet activity when your device is connected to public Wi-Fi, so you are easily able to browse in full privacy.
Apart from that, one of the major reasons to use a VPN is to stay safe online. Government agencies and internet service providers can easily track and collect your browsing history, messages, and other private data. And VPN provides an easy way to hide your IP from them, encrypt your traffic and cover your tracks online.
So eventually, people use VPN services to have greater anonymity online. Nowadays, when public data being used in shady ways is nothing new, keeping private data private is more important than ever.
How does a VPN work?
Now that you are aware of what a VPN is and why you should use one, let’s move toward the internal workings of a VPN. How a VPN works is that it routes your device’s internet connection through the VPN server that you have chosen instead of your Internet Service Provider (ISP) so that when you transmit data to and from the internet, it is done through the VPN rather than your device. VPNs use encryption protocols to transmit all your internet traffic through an encrypted tunnel, which is a virtual private network between your device and the VPN server.
So basically, a VPN acts as a sort of intermediary to connect you to the internet, all the while hiding your IP address, securing your data, and protecting your identity. This way, even if your data somehow gets intercepted, it will be unreadable until it reaches the final place that it’s destined to reach. In order to understand the VPN service better, here are a few pointers on what happens behind the scenes.
- The VPN starts working by first authenticating your client, that’s your device in this case, with a VPN server.
- To protect your data, the server then applies one of the several encryption protocols to encrypt all the data you send and receive over the internet and to make sure that no one is monitoring the information traveling between you and your online destination.
- An encrypted virtual tunnel is then created over the internet by the VPN service. This tunnel keeps the data traveling between you and your destination safe and secure.
- Keeping the data safe and secure during transfer is the core element of the VPN tunnel. For ultimate security, and to ensure the safety of each data packet, a VPN wraps it in an outer packet, which is then encrypted through a process called encapsulation. If you don’t know about data packets, every information sent or received over the internet first needs to be split into packets.
- When the data arrives at its destination, the exterior packet that was wrapped for extra security is removed through a decryption process in order to access the data within.
What does a VPN do?
When VPN is the topic of discussion, most people are curious about what a VPN does and how it performs the tasks that it claims to. When you connect your device to an internet connection and try to access a website through it, your Internet Service Provider (ISP) receives the request and redirects you to your destination, that is the website you are trying to visit. But when you are connected to a VPN, it redirects your internet traffic through a VPN server first, before directing you to the destined website. Here’s the list of things a VPN does.
- VPN changes your IP and evades ISP tracking
- Encrypts your data and internet connection
- Protects your data from potential threats
- Allows restriction-free streaming and gets around location-based content blocks
- Helps access blocked or region-restricted websites
- Helps avoid internet censorship
- Prevents dynamic pricing
VPN not only encrypts your browsing and other web traffic, but it can also give you access to unrestricted internet by letting you configure your settings to alter your virtual online location. Thus, VPNs are an extremely versatile combination of security and flexibility. Now, let’s dive into some more details of what does a VPN do. A VPN can do the following:
VPN changes your IP and evades ISP tracking
Many countries around the world have limited freedom of speech in their territories. So people living in such countries rely on virtual private networks for their work. There might even be critical situations where someone’s life may depend on it. For example, if someone lives under an authoritarian regime, they should use a VPN to hide their IP address and ensure extra security for their sensitive messages.
When you are not using a VPN, your ISP or Internet Service Provider can track all your online activity, including the websites you visit, when you visit them, and how long you stay there. This way, they can use the information to throttle your bandwidth depending on your usage.
Most people have no idea how much their ISP knows about their data. ISPs can store your online history, including everything you read, watch, view, and click. In some countries like the US, ISPs can even sell your browsing history to the highest bidder, like an advertising network, data broker, or any subscription service. All this is done without your consent and knowledge.
The VPN works in a way that protects you from this kind of invasion of privacy by changing your IP address to that of a VPN server, eventually helping you to evade ISP tracking. VPNs can encrypt your device’s internet connection so your ISP is not able to monitor your online activity and they cannot see your browsing history as well.
Encrypts your data and internet connection
This is one of the biggest functions of a VPN – to encrypt your data and internet connection. When you use a VPN, a secure connection to the internet is established by encrypting all your online traffic and routing it through a point-to-point connection between your device and the VPN server. The major function of a VPN connection is to establish an encrypted private network that offers an array of security, privacy, and performance benefits.
An encrypted VPN network shields all your internet data from hackers and also hides your true location and identity from your Internet Service Provider (ISP), the government, marketers, or anyone else who might be snooping on your local network.
A good rule of thumb is to use a VPN even when you are browsing from home. VPN encryption can help you protect your internet traffic and minimize your online footprint so that your Internet Service Provider or ISP is not able to sell your browsing history to the highest bidder or anyone else.
Protects your data from potential threats
If you are using an unsecured connection to log in to your personal email, use social media, and log in to banking apps, you are basically lurking in danger. Hackers might snap up your login credentials easily and use your messages and personal data for blackmailing purposes or identity theft.
What a VPN does is that it encrypts your communication with its server, so that anyone trying to eavesdrop on the network will only see gibberish. This is one of the major functions of a VPN – to keep your data safe from outside intrusion and make sure that no one can access it. VPN technology’s first-ever use was to connect remote workers with corporate networks, so that sensitive information could be shared easily.
Using a VPN is especially important while using public Wi-Fi networks. Even though they are free and convenient, there are many risks associated with public Wi-Fi networks because anyone can hop onto an unsecured and free Wi-Fi network. So, hackers can easily sit on such connections and intercept all the traffic flowing across it. That’s why using a VPN is necessary to keep your data and devices safe at all times.
Allows restriction-free streaming and gets around location-based content blocks
Streaming platforms on the internet use a feature called geo-blocking where different content libraries are used in different countries around the world. This is done due to licensing restrictions. If you want to travel to a foreign land while keeping up with your favorite shows from home, it might be a little difficult to do so if your favorite shows are not available at the place you’re traveling to. But since a VPN hides your true location, you can use a VPN server that shows off the location of your homeland. This way, you’ll be able to enjoy your favorite shows no matter where you are.
VPN servers can help you bypass location-based content blocks when streaming online by letting you connect to the best server location to suit your needs. When traveling, you can pick your home country from the list of virtual servers and access all the content you would normally stream at home. Apart from that, VPN servers can also be connected to your cell phone, so streaming from anywhere is more possible than ever.
Helps access blocked or region-restricted websites
There are also situations when certain websites get blocked for certain reasons or because you are in a specific location, like at school or at work. A VPN can easily get you around region-restricted and blocked websites so that you can access them even if you’re at a place that restricts their access.
When you are using an encrypted VPN connection, you can bypass any restrictions to visit the websites and services you want, regardless of the content blocks on your network.
Helps avoid internet censorship
Many countries limit internet access, especially on the websites belonging to rival countries. For example, China blocks Google and Facebook and all their associated services such as Gmail, Google Maps, Whatsapp, Instagram, Drive, etc.
When using a VPN connection, you can get around such censorship blocks in the same way as you can bypass content geo-blocking and website restrictions by configuring your virtual IP address.
Prevents dynamic pricing
Dynamic pricing refers to the price discrimination that happens when e-commerce sites offer different prices for the same product to different people based on their location, or presumably, their ability to pay the bill. Online retailers tend to put products at a high price for customers living in developed and economical counties. They use different criteria to calculate the prices of their products for the people who visit their online stores.
Airlines are most likely to use the dynamic pricing approach. They are normally accused of changing the flight prices depending on when and where you buy the tickets while considering some other factors as well. If you wish to avoid such situations, a VPN can be your ultimate choice.
Apart from allowing a safe online shopping experience, virtual private networks can help you counteract location-based price discrimination.
Hopefully, now you have a better idea of what does a VPN do. A VPN comes with many advantages with the most prominent one being establishing a secure connection between you and the internet. Through a VPN, all your internet traffic is routed through an encrypted virtual tunnel which results in disguising your IP address and making its location invisible to everyone while you use the internet. When you are not using a VPN, it makes you vulnerable to external attacks. When using a VPN, no one but you can access the data in the encrypted tunnel.
Also, note that VPN is not some technical stuff only used by the tech people. There are many VPN service providers available on the internet and most of them, like Avast, Nordvpn, and Avg, etc. provide user-friendly and easy-to-use VPN services. Moreover, laptops and computers are not the only devices you can use a VPN on. There are many VPN service providers for smartphones that keep mobile data traffic anonymous.
Another important thing to keep in mind is that a VPN only keeps your data traffic on the internet anonymous and protected. It limits the chances for hacker attacks, viruses, or other malware but doesn’t stop them since it isn’t an anti-virus.
Hope this article has got you covered on the most essential details of virtual private networks, how VPNs work and why they are necessary. If you weren’t using a VPN before, it’s time to get started and get the ultimate security and privacy online.