You’ve probably heard your security-conscious friends talking about their favorite VPNs from time to time, and why using one is so important — or maybe you are the security-conscious friend having these conversations — but what exactly is a VPN, and why should you be using it?
VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. It’s basically a way for you to connect to the internet without your ISP or anyone else seeing what you’re doing. By using a VPN, you’re connecting to a separate network that works as a middleman between you and the sites you’re visiting, typically encrypting your sensitive information like passwords and banking info.
It’s pretty much a no-brainer that encrypting your information is a good idea. Whether you’re on a public WiFi network at your local coffee shop or hotel lobby, or your job is extra concerned with security, using a VPN can be the only thing standing in the way of an unwanted third party gaining access to your data.
VPNs aren’t perfect, and using one doesn’t guarantee that your information is perfectly safe, but it’s far better than not having any kind of protection at all. Most good VPNs feature end-to-end encryption so that even if someone were to intercept your data, they’ll have a hard time deciphering it. The important thing is finding a VPN you trust, since they’re the ones handling your info back and forth.
Just keep in mind that this back and forth handling can be slow, since you’re adding an additional step in the browsing process. VPNs let you choose your simulated location, so play around with your options until you find a decently fast connection.
Choosing your location isn’t just useful for finding faster VPN connections, it’s also the best way to experience the internet from other users’ perspectives. Maybe you’re visiting China and need to access Google services. Maybe you’re trying to watch a TV show on that streaming service that isn’t available in your country. There are plenty of reasons you might want to browse the web from different regions of the world.
You might be surprised to learn how many services are region-locked — especially if you live somewhere like the U.S. that rarely misses out on features and services. Whether it’s something you think about every day or hardly even a passing thought, there are plenty of ways to experience the internet differently than you might be used to.
There are plenty of torrenting apps are on phones these days, and if you’ve ever taken advantage of them, you might have received an email notice from your carrier or ISP who, along with the company that rightfully owns your pirated media, wasn’t too happy with your recent activity. There are plenty of legitimate reasons to download torrents — you might already own a legal copy of the file or it might not be copyrighted in the first place — but without getting into the legality of it, torrents happen.
So do plenty of other forms of downloading content, and to avoid getting on your ISP’s bad side for it, you can use a VPN, which replaces your IP address with a completely different one based on the location you chose to use.
Do you use a VPN?
Not everybody needs to use a VPN, especially if you only browse from a desktop at home. But when you’re using an unsecured network on your phone, it can be a huge help in making your online experience a bit safer and more private. There are plenty of great VPN services out there, from NordVPN to Private Internet Access, IPVanish, and TunnelBear. Most (but not all) will run you a small monthly or annual fee, but it’s well worth it for the peace of mind they’ll provide you with.
Do you use a VPN service on your phone? And if so, which one is your favorite? Let us know in the comments below!