A VPN or Virtual Private Network is traditionally used to allowed remote staff to make a secure connection back to their workplace servers. This allows a device in your home to act as though it is physically located in the workplace. This give you access to local files, servers, and the protections of the workplace network.
When you hear about a VPN these days it is normally focused on privacy. VPN providers allow you to connect back to their servers so instead of your traffic appearing to come from your home connection, it appears to be coming from the VPN provider. This stops websites from knowing your true IP address on the internet and it also stops anyone on your own network from sniffing the traffic to see what you are browsing.
This can be extremely handy if you are often connecting to free WiFi. The VPN allows you to encrypt your browsing data to stop anyone on the network intercepting any browsing traffic.
When you are connected to a VPN you are stopping your ISP from seeing your browsing traffic. Some ISPs have been known to collect browsing data in order to target you with ads – although this isn’t widely implemented in Australia. By using a VPN you remove the capability of the ISP to do this – but now the VPN provider has access to your data instead. This doesn’t really make things more private, you have just changed who your data can be collected by. Most VPNs do sell themselves on privacy, so they may not keep this data long term. But it is worth doing your homework to see what a VPN provider logs and for how long.
A big advantage of a VPN is that you can change your location on the internet. If you are trying to access a website or streaming service that is only available in certain country (geo-blocked) you can change your connections location in your VPN software to appear to be in that country. The website or service you are trying to access will now adjust to the region it appears you are connecting from.
Everyone’s online needs are different and not everyone will need a VPN. Many VPN providers sell you on their product keeping your safe from cyber criminals. This isn’t entirely true in all cases and is just marketing hype to sell more products. There isn’t a software only solution to keep you safe online.
If you are travelling and connecting to potentially hostile networks, wanting to access a bigger Netflix library, or wish to be more private online (depending on the VPN) then a VPN might be a good fit. If you are looking for a solution to protect your from cybercriminals then this may not be the solution you are looking for.
Do you research before making any purchase and be sure to check out our other Tech Tips articles.