A VPN (a Virtual Private Network) sounds daunting, but truthfully, it’s no harder to use than your basic virus software. Let’s go over the basics, and have you surfing safely in no time!
VPN stands for “Virtual Private Network”, and has become essential if you want your online activities kept safe and private.
VPN’s have been around for years, but only recently have they moved out of “computer expert” territory and into the mainstream. But make no mistake – VPN’s have not only become mainstream, but are simple to use as well. This is good, because they’ve also become a necessity in today’s world.
(note: on that thought, the rest of this will not be too techy, and instead explain the basics of a VPN in Plain English)
In the simplest terms, a VPN makes it appear like you are web surfing from somewhere else. You see, your ISP or cable company assigns a unique address to your computer or device every time you are online. This IP Address can be traced back to you. Whenever you hear about someone getting caught downloading copyrighted material or similar, it was their IP address that led to their getting caught (really, your IP address is like wearing your driver’s license on your sleeve when you go out in public.)
So a VPN “masks” your IP address, making it impossible to trace you. It could even make it seem like you are in another city, country, or even continent.
A lot of people say “that’s great, but I don’t do anything illegal online. So why would I need a VPN?”
There are a few good reasons.
In today’s world, hackers would love to obtain your IP address and see what data is being transmitted (they especially like credit card numbers, home addresses, social security numbers, passwords, and similar).
A VPN will encrypt your data (typically 256-bit encryption, which is really good). It makes it virtually impossible for anyone to tell what you are doing online, whether it’s entering a credit card number or visiting an *ahem* educational website…
Seriously, I know exactly nobody who wants their online activities known by everyone. Even if all you are doing is shopping for collectible Hummel’s from estate sales, that’s nobody else’s business. Nor is what videos you watch on YouTube, what your home address is when you enter shipping information, or anything similar.
Bottom line – your online business is your own. Period. A VPN keeps it that way.
No harder than your virus software.
Today, VPN’s are downloaded just like any other program, and once run, will have a simple to use interface. Usually they will ask you where you’d like to connect to, and that’s it. Or many will have a “choose the best server for me,” and that’s that.
Now, there can be advanced features, and you can often choose exactly which server you want, but rest assured, those advanced features are there for people who want them. If all you want to do is surf safely, a VPN can make that happen very quickly and easily.
A big one is accessing content not available in your country or locale. Let me give you an example:
There’s a TV series I once wanted to watch, and it originated in India. For some reason, users in the United States were blocked from seeing the program. A VPN allows you to sidestep this, because it will appear your computer or device is actually from a country or region that is able to access that content.
The same goes with online gaming and similar. If you want to play real online poker, but your country will not allow it, simply use a VPN and bam, you’re all in!
I’m not going to argue the legality of this. The bottom line is, the VPN makes accessing content easier.
And hey, this works in reverse too! For example, if you are traveling, and want to access content back home, but cannot, use a VPN and make it seem like you’re in your home city, when in reality, you’re in a hotel room thousands of miles away (this means you won’t miss your favorite Netflix shows that might not be available when you visit Europe!)
Not really. Sometimes the server you choose is slower than you might like, but it’s easy enough to choose another. And some websites who recognize you through your IP address might not recognize you with a VPN on (for example, your Gmail account might ask you to confirm it’s really you).
The other thing to remember is a VPN will make you anonymous, but not invisible. This is why we’re not going to advocate outright breaking laws here. If you’re going to be Mr. or Ms. Super Pirate, downloading copyrighted movies, with enough time and effort, you can be caught. It won’t be easy (especially since VPN’s all claim not to keep logs), but it probably can be done with enough subpoena power.
Nope. A VPN offers an extra layer of encryption and anonymity that you cannot get from any other program. But it will not check for viruses and/or malware. It’s best to have both.
We’ve done the hard work for you and reviewed the best VPN’s out there. Check out the reviews above, or simply click here to see our top choice.