This article will go over what is a VPN, how they work, and how they protect you.
Over the past year or so, VPNs have become a pretty common and household name in the mainstream. What started as a very niche thing only people involved in the “Dark Web” were thought to have, has found its way into the mainstream and is one of the most advertised content in places like Youtube and other media platforms.
Still, for many, it may not be clear just what exactly a VPN is. The term VPN stands for “Virtual Private Network”. What this means is that, when used, this program essentially offers you privacy and protection from surveillance while browsing the internet.
Originally, like computers, VPNs were only ever used by governments and large corporations. This is because, as they housed incredibly sensitive information, it was vital that as few people could run across it as possible. As the process became simpler to perform over time, and more work was done remotely, VPNs began to be used by individual people. Now, installing a VPN is as easy as paying $3 a month. You may even be using one right now and not even know it.
How exactly does a VPN work?
Before we can get into how VPNs work, we’re going to have to briefly go over how the internet works.
When you go to a site like Twitter or Facebook, you have to type in the domain name. This domain name is, for all intents and purposes, the website’s nickname. Its “real” name is what’s known as the IP address. This address is simply a string of numbers that is unique to your location. These IP addresses are sent out into the internet the moment you boot up your computer or turn on your smartphone or tablet.
So, what does this have to do with VPNs?
Well, simply put, when you check out anything online, no matter through what device or what browser, you are sending your information, through your IP address, out to that intended server before returning back with the information. This is why a page may take a while to load or a video may take some time buffering. It’s because there is a delay somewhere along the line between the information hitting their servers and coming back to you.
The problem starts to arise when other people know about your information traveling this way. Hackers, for example, can intercept your information as it heads out and use it to see what you are doing as well as how to gain access to your information.
Here’s an easy example: Let’s say you’re at the public library or a local coffee shop. While sitting there, you decide to use your phone to check your Facebook account. You don’t want to waste your data so you use the public wifi. As you sign on to and peruse the social media platform, sitting two tables away is a guy who’s intercepted your information. Now, he has complete access to your Facebook account, including your username, password, and recovery email.
Now, imagine that for pretty much anything you are doing while in that public space. If you decided to check your email, bank account, or call list, all of that information is now freely available to the hacker virtually instantly.
It’s pretty scary when you think about it. Luckily, this is where VPNs come to the rescue. By having a VPN active, you’re essentially shielded from your information being intercepted by the hacker (or anyone else that may be spying on you).
How does a VPN protect you?
The way a VPN protects you and your privacy is basically through an interception of its own. As mentioned earlier, your information comes from the server you are on and goes out to speak to the intended person’s server before bringing the information back to you. VPNs alter this through two separate features.
The first method this is altered is through encryption. Let’s take that example from earlier. If you were at that same library or coffee shop and signed on to your VPN before visiting Facebook, everything would happen virtually the same way with one exception. As the hacker tried to get your information, what he’d see, instead of your Facebook password and account, would essentially be an “ERROR” sign. This is due to the encryption protecting your information from being seen by anyone on your current server.
The second method that VPNs alter the process is by adding an additional server to the mix. Again, using the prior example, if you used the library’s wifi to see your Facebook, your information wouldn’t directly hit Facebook’s servers. Instead, they would hit an intermediary server in some part of the world before hitting Facebook’s server. This process actually reports to Facebook that you are in Frankfurt Germany instead of Austin Texas.
These two processes not only protect you from hackers, but it also protects your information while ultimately allowing you to remain anonymous while online.
What are the other benefits of a VPN?
If having complete anonymity and protection against hackers and giant corporations (and potentially governments) isn’t beneficial enough for you, there are several other perks that come with using a VPN as well.
By altering your location to one of the many VPN servers available, you can watch shows on streaming channels that would otherwise be restricted. As an example, if you were interested in watching Netflix but wanted to see what the difference was in Japan or Korea, you could set the server location for either of those locations, resulting in Netflix showing you content from either country rather than what you’d normally find in the US.
When you are looking to keep your information safe and private, VPNs have you covered from both ends. Not only does it encrypt your information, ensuring you are safe, but it uses multiple outside servers to ensure that it is private.
As I mentioned earlier, while originally they were exclusively used by those in the government and large companies, in today’s day and age it has become virtually mainstream. Depending on who you interact with, it’s highly likely that your friends or family