Updated: May 7, 2020
In 2018, Facebook was found to have collected users' personal data and sold it to Cambridge Analytica. Although the focus, in this case, was on Facebook, it drew attention toward the general security of personal data in the hands of tech companies. Every day we use free services provided by Google, Apple, Facebook and the rest, but we can't really be sure our information is safe.
Worse still is the tracking of our browsing habits using cookies, our location from our phones' GPS... is there any way to really know you aren't being watched? And then there are also hackers who can't wait to get their hands on your personal information... can we really be safe? Well, actually it turns out that there may be one simple and effective way to ensure that your information is completely secure by using a virtual private network (VPN).
How a VPN works
Every time you browse the internet, data is being transferred over a network to and from your computer or mobile device. The data could involve sensitive information like your personal details, credit card numbers, etc. Data is usually encrypted during the transfer, but hackers are still able to “eavesdrop” with the right software.
A VPN enhances the encryption further by routing your data through several servers made available by a VPN provider. These servers further encrypt your data and make it harder to be decrypted by the same software. It is this connection of servers that create a virtual network private only to you, hence the name VPN.
Why we think you may need a VPN
The main reason why a VPN would be good for you is for your own security. We have already discussed the dangers of being the victim of hacking, especially if you run a website that handles customer information. Plus, hackers can use your information to steal your identity and commit fraud in your name, which is sadly very common nowadays. A VPN protects you from such dangers so that you can be sure your information is always secure.
This is especially useful if you use public wi-fi networks, you know, those handy and tempting signs that say "free wi-fi"? Those are playgrounds for criminals. If you're connecting at an airport or at a public coffee house or restaurant, you are visible to everyone connecting to the same network, meaning a hacker could connect to you, get your sensitive information and leave without you even realising it.
VPNs are also incredibly useful when you're trying to bypass geographical restrictions. By encrypting your data, your true location is also hidden. This feature is often used by residents in China to get around the so-called ‘Great Firewall of China' and bypass restrictions on social media and news websites. Other services may also be restricted to a particular location such as Pandora and Hulu in the US. You will be able to access these as well.
Many VPNs allow you to choose between plenty of locations and other options, which you can find more about in some of our other posts.
Restrictions also go beyond location since ISPs (Internet Service Providers) may also have restrictions on certain websites and services. One particularly common issue is in the throttling of downloads by torrent services to prevent illegal downloads. If you ever experience such problems, then this would be how you could get around it.
(Beware we are in no way shape or form, approving or recommending you to embark in any illegal activity such as downloads, we are only stating VPN capabilities)
And finally, there's the basic need for privacy. It's disturbing to realize that all your activities are being monitored and your activities being tracked. Most people give up their privacy because they feel they have nothing to hide, but sometimes you may desire some privacy. Whether it's for good or bad reasons, you have a right to privacy.
Ok, now you know that a VPN is pretty much fundamental for your own security and welfare, but how to choose between all the options? What should you look for? Check out this post where we explain more about it.
For advice, one of our editors has been using Windscribe for over a year now, check it out, it's amazing ;)