A VPN (virtual private network) is a service that encrypts your internet traffic and protects your online identity. VPN redirects your connection to the internet through a remote server run by a VPN provider. This way, the server becomes your secure launching pad for accessing various websites.
Here we focus on VPN services designed for personal use. However, the VPN definition also includes corporate solutions. Such business VPN allows employees to access their company’s network while working away from the office.
What does a VPN do?
Typically, when you try to access a website on the internet, you start by connecting to your internet service provider (ISP). They redirect you to any websites (or other online resources) that you wish to visit. All your internet traffic passes through your ISP’s servers, which means they can see and log everything you do online. They may even hand your browsing history over to advertisers, government agencies, and other third parties.
Here’s where a VPN comes into play. It redirects your internet traffic through a specially configured remote server. This way, the VPN hides your IP address and encrypts all the data you send or receive. The encrypted data looks like gibberish to anyone who intercepts it — it is impossible to read.
Secure internet connection
Consider a public Wi-Fi network — perhaps at an airport or a coffee shop. Usually, you would connect without a second thought, but do you know who might be keeping tabs on the network traffic? Can you even be sure the hotspot is legitimate? Could it be set up by a criminal who’s hunting for your personal data? Think about the passwords, banking details, credit card numbers, and any other private details you send every time you go online.
With a VPN enabled, all the data you send and receive travels through an encrypted tunnel so that no one can get their hands on your private information. That means even if a cybercriminal does somehow manage to intercept your data, they won’t be able to decipher it.
Complete online privacy
Without a VPN, your connection is fully open. A lot of random people or devices can look at your data, log it, and use it in ways you can’t control. That includes your ISP, employer, the Wi-Fi router in the coffee shop mentioned above, any server along the way, or any person with the right tools. Based on your IP address, which depends on your location, sites and services may charge different prices or show intrusive targeted ads.
Government agencies can track your online activity and share the retained metadata with each other. They also share intelligence across country borders through alliances such as “14 Eyes.”
With a VPN connection, you can have peace of mind knowing that your data is encrypted and IP address hidden. Your ISP can no longer see which websites you visit because all your activity is routed through the VPN server. As a result, they can’t collect your internet metadata nor log your browsing history. Best of all, they can’t share it with anyone else.
Safe content access
Various countries around the world restrict access to one type of online content or another. Social networks, games, chat apps – even Google itself is not beyond the reach of censorship. Many workplaces and academic institutions also use firewalls to limit access to websites. They do it for different reasons: from increasing productivity to restricting inappropriate content.
Websites and services are blocked by denying access based on your IP address. When you connect to the internet, your IP shows the country you are currently in. So any country-specific restrictions are applied to you as well.
Using a VPN allows you to connect to servers in different countries, making your IP address look like you are somewhere else. This IP swap helps you access restricted websites and keeps your private information safe at the same time.
Why do I need a VPN?
Even if you have nothing to hide, you probably don’t like the idea of being watched and tracked. So the main reason why internet users choose VPN services is online privacy and general security.
When you browse the internet using a VPN, your communications are encrypted, so your ISP, government, hackers and other third parties are not able to see which websites you visit and cannot interfere with your online activities.
Another great thing about using a VPN is that you can access the global internet wherever you are. A VPN allows you to connect to hundreds of remote servers in different locations, this way bypassing censorship.
Here are a few most common cases when you should strongly consider using a VPN:
You use public Wi-Fi regularly
When you’re using a public Wi-Fi network, even a password-protected one, a VPN is your best friend. That’s because using public hotspots can be rife with hazards. Hackers have many methods to intercept your internet traffic and steal your passwords, files, and photos.
The good news is that a VPN allows you to stop worrying about data loss or identity theft. With a VPN connection, you can check your email and social media accounts, make banking transactions and shop online in full security. Even on free Wi-Fi.
You travel a lot
Going to a foreign country? A VPN can help you access services that may not be available in that country – say, China, where the government blocks sites like Facebook. Even if you just cross the border into a neighboring country, you will most likely lose access to some streaming content to which you subscribe.
Not being able to enjoy something you’ve paid for is frustrating, and here’s where a VPN can help. It changes your IP address, making it look as if you’re browsing from a different location. In fact, if you connect to a VPN server in your home country, you will be able to access all your favorite content securely.
You want to shield your browsing from third parties
Even when browsing the web in the comfort of your own home, using a VPN is a pretty good idea. For instance, you may want to buy your little nephew a birthday gift online without being bombarded with toy truck ads for the next six months. Or perhaps you need to do a quick research of health clinics without attracting your employer’s attention. If you live in the US, you may simply want to know that your ISP won’t sell your entire browsing history to the highest bidder.
A VPN encrypts your internet traffic and replaces your IP address, making it extremely hard to link it to you. It keeps you from leaving online footprints for your ISP and other third-party snoopers to track.
You want to avoid government surveillance
Then there’s the widespread surveillance by local and foreign governments. The Snowden leaks and years of follow-up reporting have shown us the vast scope and reach of worldwide surveillance. It would be illegal for police officers to search your home without a warrant. Yet government agencies track and collect your browsing activity, messages, social posts, and other private data. They even share this information across country borders.
Using a reliable no-logs VPN service gives you a high degree of privacy. It protects you not only from ISP tracking but also from blanket government surveillance.
You are a journalist or political activist
Some countries don’t have the same protections for freedom of the press, speech, and expression that most democratic countries enjoy. In fact, some regimes resort to harsh measures to monitor and punish those whom they see as threats to the government. People who dare to stand up have to take extra precautions to protect their communications.
Journalists and researchers also send messages with sensitive data in their line of work. Some people may try very hard to intercept their communications.
Using a VPN provides extra security for such sensitive messages. Besides, changing the IP makes it look like they are being received or sent from a different location. That may be a great help in protecting your physical safety or information sources.
You use file-sharing services
P2P (Peer-to-Peer) is one of the fastest and most effective methods to share large sets of data across a network. It is used to distribute open-source software, corporate and scientific data, and public domain videos.
But despite these legitimate uses, many ISPs try to discourage internet users from P2P file sharing. They do it by controlling access to file-sharing websites or setting bandwidth limits. That slows down their customers’ internet speed and restricts their choices.
A VPN makes it much more difficult for your ISP to detect that you are sharing files and shape your internet connection. It covers your file downloads, uploads, and actual IP address so that you become unidentifiable.
How does a VPN work?
The short version: Accessing the internet with a VPN is like putting a package into a box and sending it to someone. Nobody can see what’s inside the box until it’s opened, or in this case, decrypted.
But that doesn’t really define VPN, so keep reading for a more detailed VPN explanation.
When you connect to a VPN service, it creates an encrypted “tunnel” over the Internet. That secures the data traveling between you and your destination — anything from a search engine to an online banking account.
This tunnel is created by first authenticating your client — a computer, smartphone or tablet — with a VPN server. The server then applies an encryption protocol to all data going back and forth between you and your online destination.
Here you should remember that before being sent and received over the internet, any data is first split into packets. To ensure each data packet stays secure, a VPN wraps it in an outer packet, which is then encrypted through a process called encapsulation. This extra packet keeps the data secure during the transfer, and it is the core element of the VPN tunnel. When the data arrives at the server, the outer packet is removed through a decryption process.
Another thing to remember: When you’re using a VPN, your packets reach the internet with another IP address, supplied by your VPN provider. So if you keep connecting to different remote servers, each time the internet will see you as a different person. If you connect to a server in another country, you will appear to be browsing from that country.
VPN encryption protocols
A VPN protocol is a set of encryption standards and transmission protocols used to create a secure connection between two devices. Commercial VPN providers commonly support a number of such protocols. These two are the most notable ones:
OpenVPN – If you wonder which protocol your VPN connection is using, the most likely answer is OpenVPN. It is the most popular encryption standard, currently used by the majority of VPN providers in the world.
One of OpenVPN’s biggest strengths is that it is highly configurable. It also offers a nice balance between speed and security, as you can use it on both TCP and UDP ports. While the TCP port is a more secure option, UDP is faster and many users prefer it for seamless online gaming and live streaming experience.
IKEv2 (internet key exchange version 2) – is a tunneling protocol, which is usually paired with IPSec for encryption. It has many advantages, such as the capacity to restore a VPN connection after the internet drops. It also adapts well to changing networks. That makes it a great choice for phone users who often switch between home Wi-Fi and mobile connections or move between hotspots.
The downside is that IKEv2/IPSec is not very common yet, but its speed, security, and flexibility make it the rising star among VPN protocols.
How to get and use a VPN?
While more and more internet users join the VPN trend, many people still believe that using a VPN service is somewhat close to rocket science. While it’s true that some digital security tools can be confusing, top VPN service providers design their apps to be intuitive and easy-to-use.
For example, with NordVPN, you can connect with just one click. Once you set up your NordVPN account and download an app for your device, all you have to do is:
That’s it – your internet connection is fully encrypted now! To have more control over your VPN experience, you can explore the server map/list and the Settings section.
Features of NordVPN
NordVPN is a VPN provider with a well established VPN service and a global presence. The VPN service provider believes in top quality customer care and has designed its service so that old and new VPN users can use VPN easily. In our NordVPN review on VPNAdvise, we cover pricing, server network, customer support, security and encryption, compatibility, installation guides and more. Choose from over 5600+ NordVPN servers in 60 countries and enjoy the fastest VPN experience.
- Strict no-logs policy – NordVPN is based away from the EU and US jurisdictions and is not required to collect your personal data. That means we don’t keep any logs of what you do online.
- CyberSec – The CyberSec feature blocks suspicious websites so that no malware or other cyber threats can infect your device. It also protects your device from botnet control even if malware has already infected it.
- Double VPN – If you need an extra level of online security and privacy, use Double VPN to send your traffic through two VPN servers.
- DNS leak protection – When you connect to NordVPN, your device only uses DNS servers operated by NordVPN. All your DNS requests stay encrypted within the VPN tunnel.
- Military-grade encryption – NordVPN protects you by securing your internet traffic with cutting-edge technologies. It ensures strong and reliable encryptionbetween your device and a remote server.
- Secure streaming – With NordVPN, you don’t have to choose between entertainment and online security – you can have both at the same time. NordVPN offers more than 5646 ultra fast servers in 60 countries.
- VPN apps for every device – NordVPN offers intuitive and easy-to-use apps for all major operating systems: Windows, macOS, Android, iOS, and Linux. Which is good, because you can protect 6 devices with a single NordVPN account.
- 24/7 customer support – Do you have any questions or issues? Get help from our knowledgeable and friendly tech support agents, who are there for you 24/7. They can assist you with anything from billing questions to detailed instructions for manual setup.