A virtual private network, or VPN for short, is used to encrypt and protect your data connection over the internet. Without a secure connection, any data that you transmit over the internet is available for anyone with prying eyes. A VPN allows you to protect your data and secures it from would-be cyber thieves. Read our reviews of VPNs to find the right one for you..
What is a VPN and How Does it Work?
To put it simply, a virtual private network is a group of computers networked together over a public network – in most cases, the internet. Businesses utilize VPNs in order to connect remote data centers together, and individuals can use VPNs to gain access to network resources when they are not physically on the same local area network (LAN), or as a way to secure and encrypt their communications when using an untrusted public network (think your coffee shop).
Connecting to a VPN usually involves launching a VPN client on your computer, logging in with your personal credentials, and then your computer exchanges trusted keys with a server. After both computers have verified one another as authentic, all of your internet communication is then encrypted and secured from anyone trying to steal data broadcast from and to your computer. Learn more about how virtual private networks work.
Why You Should Use a VPN
On its own, a VPN is simply a way to give you more secure access to data and/or resources on a network in which you are not physically connected. What most people choose to do with a virtual private network, is a different story. Most VPN users can fit into one of a few different categories.
Student/Worker: This user has work that needs to get done and utilizes a VPN provided by their educational institution or company to access resources on their network when they are at home or on the go. Usually these users are provided with a free VPN service from either the school or company.
The Collector: Whether they are downloading legally or illegally, they just do not want to find themselves answering questions in court just because they have a torrenting app on their computer.
Safe and Secure: To this user, any unsecured connection just means that somebody is probably reading what you are saying. Whether they are in a strictly monitored environment or one that is more open, they feel safer securing their communications.
On the Go: This person is traveling from country to country, usually on business, and wants to be able to watch their favorite shows or live sporting events as they happen, not waiting for some local translation or re-broadcast. Sometimes they also want to be able to access content or websites that are restricted by local laws.
A Combination: Other users do not fit strictly into one of these categories, but instead are a combination of them. In any case, a VPN service can be helpful for protecting your personal data when using public internet access or covering your own behind when handling sensitive data for your company.
Maybe you think you do not really fit into one of those categories, but you can still benefit from using a virtual private network. You should use one whenever you are using an untrusted network. An untrusted network would be any network that you do not own or manage. Stopping by the local coffee shop to grab a latte and check Facebook on your laptop real quick? Using your phone to read emails while it is utilizing the airport Wi-Fi? Both of these situations put your data at risk.