What Is a VPN?

It’s no secret that cybercrime plagues the internet, and there’s no shortage of bad guys out there trying to do us harm. This used to be a subject we’d only tangentially hear about, but nowadays you’d be hard-pressed not to read in major news publications the latest epic hacks that caused companies millions of dollars in damages.

Yahoo!, Delta, and Best Buy, to name a few, have all recently experienced computer intrusions revealing the personally identifiable information of thousands of innocent employees, as well as the theft of proprietary information. Their unfortunate employees will spend years worried about identity theft and the misuse of their personal data by strangers living on the other side of the planet.

According to the latest cybersecurity facts, figures, and statistics from CSO, companies are losing millions of dollars due to the intrusive effect of hacking. Computers are being infected at an alarming rate.

With so much at risk, you’d think we’d all take the time to implement appropriate measures to safeguard our information. The use of password managers, updated anti-virus software, and some basic cyber education to mitigate exposure to social engineering attacks could go a long way to ensuring that you’re not a victim. Additionally, the use of a virtual private network (VPN) can safeguard your information from the prying eyes of snoopers on the network you’re using.

Do Hackers Have the Advantage?

Imagine a businessman in a coffee shop having breakfast. He connects to the open, free internet there and connects back to his home office to access sensitive files. Because he’s making use of the coffee shop’s open WiFi, the network he’s connected to is insecure. Anyone using this same WiFi could execute a Man-in-the-Middle (MITM) attack to observe all the internet traffic between his computer and his company’s network while he’s perusing private company files and responding to emails.

Although the businessman assumes he is safe, a nearby hacker could gain sensitive information from his communications. Not only that, because the businessman is connecting to insecure websites, the hacker could intercept cookies that were sent insecurely. The hacker could then assume the businessman’s identity (called a session hijack) on websites he just browsed that maintain sensitive information, like shopping purchases and/or prescription drug details, or maybe even his email.

Sadly, this type of information could expose the businessman to problems at his work, with his family, or cause massive disruptions and inconveniences in his life generally. What a hacker could learn is enough to put the businessman’s job in peril, exposing the company to legal risk because what the hijacker uncovers sheds light on the company’s financial problems in a rather unflattering way.

All of this could have been prevented.

The businessman could have saved his job by having a Virtual Private Network, or VPN. When one has their own VPN they are able to protect their personal and business information while also gaining access to web content and services that a geographical location or government will not allow.

Not only does having a personal VPN keep your information secure, but it could also give you access to things on the internet that are blocked by governments and/or your geography. The truth is, our personal and business information is much more vulnerable than any one of us can imagine.

We’re going to set the record straight in this article, highlighting what a VPN is, why people use it, and why it might just be the answer for you. When we’re done you’ll have a much better understanding of how to get your own VPN and the benefits that you’re set to enjoy.

What is a VPN?

When you connect to the internet, no matter where you are, you’re creating a bridge between your personal device and that network. The problem is that in most cases this connection is not secure and that puts your personal and business information at risk.

This is where the VPN comes into play. It forwards all of your connected device’s data traffic through a personal network instead of an insecure one and this gives you access to a local network’s resources, no matter what your location is.

Not only does the VPN give you access, but it also hides your computer’s true IP address in the process. So, you’re accessing content that might not usually be accessible at that actual location while also encrypting all the data transmitted on that connection. Do you see how the VPN is protecting you no matter where you are?

The VPN is basically your own personal tunnel, creating a safe point-to-point connection. You’re aligning to your target connection as though it were a local connection. Feeling intrigued? Let’s explore VPNs even further.

How Can You Use VPNs?

You can probably see the benefit in having a VPN, but for the average Joe, is having a VPN even necessary? In truth, a VPN is necessary for all, no matter what reason you’re on the internet. If you’re doing business on the web, it’s all the more important. Say you’re checking bank accounts or using Facebook, someone could be monitoring this activity.

Originally the internet was intended for everyone, providing content and services in a public manner. There should be no restrictions by your government or ISP. Sadly, this is not reality.

Do you realize that your ISP is possibly selling your personal usage stats? Stop and think about that for a minute.

What’s the Difference Between a VPN and a Proxy?

The proxy server is an intermediary between the internet and your personal device. When internet gets trafficked through the proxy server, it looks like it’s coming from the proxy IP address, allowing you more anonymity. Not only does this mask your own IP address, but it also gives you access to censored content, similar to a VPN.

The difference here is that proxy servers do not encrypt traffic for all apps making your information prone to interception by others. Proxy servers may encrypt your web traffic (if they use HTTPS), but not for other apps that rely on different protocols. This means that a proxy server leaves you open to hackers and identity theft. A VPN secures and encrypts the data between the internet and your device.

What’s the Relationship between a VPN and DNS?

A VPN is a virtual private network, a conduit between your computer and the internet — it’s what maintains your privacy and anonymity.

DNS stands for Domain Name System and is, for all practical matters, the phonebook of the internet. In a nutshell, DNS allows you to use human-friendly names in place of IP addresses.

So unless you’ve memorized the IP addresses of all the places on the Internet you want to visit — something nobody does as they frequently change — your computer will make use of a DNS server to convert a human-friendly name (e.g., a domain name) to its corresponding IP address.

We discuss DNS here because if you don’t take precautions to secure communications to it, snoopers can monitor where you’re going on the internet and in more nefarious scenarios interfere with what is returned.

Imagine you’re interested in teaching your Boss about VPNs. So you type into her browser thevpnguys.com only to have it redirect you to one of those not safe for work websites. Not good for you nor us!

With a VPN you can change your DNS settings so that requests are encrypted, which means it’s a lot harder to tamper with the results. Then the rest of the traffic goes securely through your regular internet service provider.

What’s the Difference Between a VPN and a Firewall?

A firewall acts as a kind of barrier which analyzes data packets and only allows certain things to go out and come through. A firewall is a great tool for protecting your computer from various internet attacks – always a good thing – but it cannot protect your online privacy and anonymity. That being said, a firewall and VPN work really well together and they enhance overall security when combined.

A More In-Depth Look at VPN Security

There are a number of secure tunneling protocols that can give you data connection protection using a Virtual Private Network. What happens is that these protocols encrypt the network traffic, and that means that if anyone tries to look at your data, all they’re going to see is encryption. Here are the types of security that a VPN provides:

  • OpenVPN: OpenVPN is not the fastest of the protocols, but it does offer improved security that you can count on. This is the default protocol for many current VPNs available on the market. If this is the protocol that is available to you for your setup, then it’s definitely a good place to start. What OpenVPN does is use open-source technologies, and that includes the OpenSSL encryption library and SSL v3/TLS v1 protocols.
  • Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol: PPTP not only offers encryption but also encapsulation over an IP public network. Although this protocol is available, it’s not necessarily advised. It doesn’t provide the strong encryption that you can find today, as it was invented back in the Windows 95 days. In terms of more modern protocols, PPTP simply doesn’t stand up to the competition.
  • Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol: SSTP uses the HTTPS protocol over TCP port 443. Yes we know that sounds like a mouthful, but basically SSTP is great for those who use a Windows operating system. So essentially it’s similar to OpenVPN but is customized for use in Windows. If you’re a Windows user, this is definitely the protocol for you.
  • Layer Two Tunneling Protocol: This is otherwise known as IPSec, and it does not offer encryption on its own. That means that you’re going to need to pair this with IPSec encryption.

So in summary, when OpenVPN is available that’s going to be your best bet. When using Windows and you can’t get access to OpenVPN, you should go ahead with SSTP. If there is one protocol to be avoided, it’s PPTP.

Which VPN Provider Should You Choose?

There are so many VPN providers these days. In fact, it feels like each and every day a new one springs up. There are a lot of great VPN providers out there, but there are also some dodgy ones that you need to avoid.

When on the market for your VPN provider, there are two things to keep in mind: security and ease of use. If you have to choose between these two, then it’s advised that you go with security. That’s why you got the VPN, after all! Let’s take a look at the factors that go into a great VPN provider:

  • Server Availability and Locations: There should be a wide range of connection options that your VPN provider can give you. You’re looking for multiple server connections and in various different countries. The more connection locations that you have, the better your VPN service is going to be. It ensures protection no matter where you go and a more satisfactory experience in general.
  • No Monitoring: Did you know that some VPN providers keep logs of your activity? You certainly don’t want that. The VPN that you choose should keep absolutely no logs of what you do online and your internet usage in general. That means that if the government comes to hunt down your VPN provider, there’s no way that they can pull up any information on you. Essentially, using a VPN provider that keeps logs defeats the purpose of having a VPN.
  • OpenVPN: Here we come back to OpenVPN again. You want to find a provider that offers OpenVPN as at least an option. This protocol offers the right balance of protection and speed, giving you an optimal experience on your VPN network. Keep in mind that this is usually only available in desktop versions. You’ll have to use another protocol for mobile devices.
  • Simultaneous Connections: How many simultaneous connections does your VPN provider allow you to make? It’s important to know. Even if you’re someone who is just using the VPN on your mobile device or laptop, consider the fact that with more connections you can allow family members or business partners to connect, as well.
  • Elimination of Bandwidth Throttling: You don’t want your VPN provider to throttle your bandwidth. Bandwidth is more important than ever, what with streaming video and audio, business teleconferencing, and so much more. You want unlimited bandwidth and also a provider that allows torrenting and P2P.
  • Kill Switch: This is particularly important for those who are using a VPN for anonymity. What a kill switch does is automatically shut down a connection when your VPN connection fails. In this manner, your computer won’t default to an unprotected internet connection when the VPN has crashed.

Advantages of a VPN

  • Connect to your Private Business Network While Traveling: Originally VPNs were for people who traveled, mostly on business. It can often be difficult to connect to one’s company network while doing so, and that’s why VPNs were born. You can access your company’s resources while not in the office without exposing this information.
  • Private Internet Browsing: The other great advantage to VPNs is that they allow you to browse the internet without anyone else knowing what you’re doing. Remember when the FFC regulated ISPs from monitoring your information and internet history? Sadly, President Trump revoked that by passing a bill through congress. Having a VPN is more vital than ever.
  • Hackers Beware: VPNs are particularly beneficial for hiding your information from hackers and other internet miners. Essentially, your internet activity will be cloaked because it looks like a single connection to one address. So you can say bye bye to your ISP knowing everything you’ve ever looked up on the internet.
  • The Benefits of Encryption: As we mentioned earlier, the VPN encrypts your information so that even if someone tapped into your VPN connection, they’d still have to face added encryption. This makes it nearly impossible for hackers to steal your data on any internet connection.
  • Safe Public WiFi: Did you realize that when you make payments on a public internet connection that almost anyone else on that connection can steal your information? The woman in the coffee shop making purchases, she might as well walk table to table and hand out her information.
  • Bypass Censorship: When in a foreign country, you’re going to face censorship when it comes to the internet. This is known as geo-restricted content. What a VPN does is enable users to access content that is geographically restricted or censored by a certain government. Consider the streaming services that aren’t allowed in foreign countries such as Netflix, Hulu, and Pandora. Now with your handy VPN, you can be entering the Great Firewall of China and still watch you favorite YouTube videos and check Facebook.
  • Download Files from Torrent and P2P Sites: Did you know that torrenting is one of the most popular reasons for having a VPN? That’s because when you have a VPN connection, you’re keeping your file sharing absolutely private. Your ISP can’t see it, and it can never be reported.

The Low-Down on Anonymous Payments

You might not need a special form of payment if you’re using the VPN merely for security. It’s enough to make a purchase on an unsecured network when you are doing so through your VPN, but for some people there are exceptions. Also, many want to pay for their VPN subscription anonymously.

For some, making credit card and PayPal subscription payments is not the order of the day. If you want to keep your internet usage as anonymous as possible, traditional forms of payment are still going to create a payment trail that leads directly to you.

For this reason many VPN providers now allow you to make subscription payments using cryptocurrency, such as Bitcoin. When you are using a disposable email address along with your Bitcoin payment, there’s literally no way that that payment can be traced to you over your VPN network.

Looking to pay for your VPN subscription in another anonymous way? Many providers will allow you to use the balance on a gift card in order to do so. Say you have a Target or Walmart card, this can be used to pay for VPN subscription when you want the ultimate in privacy, and you don’t have a cryptocurrency account.

3 VPN Providers to Consider

If you’re still having trouble deciding on a VPN provider, we’re going to highlight the 3 best to help to narrow down your search. We’re listing these in order of excellence, so if you’re really scratching your head and want our opinion, choose ExpressVPN.

ExpressVPN is one of the most secure and reliable VPN providers on the market. They have platforms for both your desktop and your mobile device, and the connections that they offer are not only reliable but also quite fast and efficient.

Based in the British Virgin Islands, ExpressVPN is considered to be a British company, but that doesn’t prevent you from using their services. Because they’re not governed by the UK, it means that you’re not subject to the lax privacy laws of the United Kingdom itself.

If you’re interested in total anonymity, then this provider is for you. ExpressVPN does not keep any logs of their users’ activities. So if the government comes knocking on their door asking for your activity, ExpressVPN will not be able to provide it.

Keep in mind that this is not the cheapest of VPN providers. But essentially, you’re getting what you pay for with this company. They have server locations all around the world, excellent customer service, and secure connections that you can depend upon when you travel.

There are a number of payment options to choose from with ExpressVPN. You can go down the Bitcoin route if you choose, or you can use more traditional forms of payment if that level of anonymity is not important to you.

Similar to the above, NordVPN offers secure and fast connections that users rave about. With NordVPN it’s all about speed, and they support most desktop and mobile platforms. You’ll enjoy a selection of 1,109 different servers in 61 different countries, and that number has maybe already grown.

Based in Panama, NordVPN is subject to the fierce privacy laws that that country dictates. Also, since Panama does not require VPNs to keep logs of their users’ activity, you can benefit even more. So like ExpressVPN, when the government comes a knocking, NordVPN will have no information to share. You can also use a P2P or Bittorrent to connect with their VPN.

This is on the pricier end of VPN providers but again, you get what you pay for. NordVPN offers strong connections that you can truly rely upon, and they have some of the best customer service in the industry. Enjoy a variety of payment options such as Bitcoin or the use of anonymous gift cards. These options will definitely allow you to keep your identity safe at all costs.

This great service comes at a cheap price, unlike the first two mentioned. And one of the enticing benefits of going with VyprVPN is their risk-free 3-day trial. Enjoy a selection of over 200,000 global IPs and over 700 VPN servers from infrastructure in 6 continents that operate from over 70 datacenters.

With this service also comes a free messaging app for end-to-end encryption of text messages. It’s nice when such a handy service is provided along with your VyprVPN subscription. The company comes out of Switzerland, which is famous for being a privacy-friendly country. Many European countries are subject to data-retention laws, but in Switzerland that is not the case. There are no activity logs of any sort when it comes to VyprVPN services.

Use this service on either your desktop or mobile device and enjoy OpenVPN protocol, which we have already stated is hands-down the best. You’re free to use P2P and BitTorrent with this provider, and none of this traffic is monitored. Just keep in mind that copyright infringement can get you booted from their services.

The reason VyprVPN is different from the rest is that it doesn’t accept Bitcoin and gift card payments. So if you want the anonymity that comes with having a VPN subscription using forms of payment like cryptocurrency, then this service might not be for you.

The Take Away

Now that you’ve learned a thing or two about Virtual Private Networks, let’s have a rundown so that you know what you’re taking away from all this.

  • VPNs Are a Good Thing: When you get your own personal VPN, you’re not being paranoid, you’re being smart. There are people out there that are watching you, and this is particularly important to know when you’re in a business where there is money on the line. Your Internet Service Provider can monitor what you do and without regulation. That means the time is ripe to take steps to ensure that that never happens again. Don’t let your ISP make a profit off of you.
  • Unprotected WiFi is a Bad Thing: Unprotected WiFi connections are just as bad as they seem. If you’re getting a connection at your local coffee shop, hotel, or library, you’re putting your information at risk. The information that you use on these unencrypted networks can literally throw your personal information out the window.
  • You Can’t Watch Netflix in China: Some of your favorite websites are simply not available in foreign countries. If you are an international traveler and want to gain access to websites while abroad, it’s essential that you have a VPN in order to do so. That means that you’re not subject to the restrictions that the rest of the country has to put up with.
  • It’s Worth Doing Your Homework: Before selecting a VPN provider, it’s best to do your homework about the ins and outs of VPNs and what features you would like. The ideal candidate will provide speedy connection at a reasonable price, and absolutely no personal logs. There are a number of providers out there, so be sure to read online reviews before you buy.
  • Test Your VPN: Just because you have a VPN doesn’t mean it’s working like they say it is. Run some tests on it – there are plenty of online forums that teach you how – and make sure that the VPN is properly set up. Your VPN provider should be doing everything as advertised.

When you have a VPN you’re free to use it like a weapon. So many of us are being monitored and don’t even realize it, but a VPN will put a stop to all that. It also allows you access to content that you might not otherwise be able to access. Finally, you can have the peace of mind that comes from knowing that your personal information is safe and out of harm’s way. Advertisers would like to know your personal activity in order to earn money, but finally you have the upper hand.

Fun VPN Facts

Now that we’ve gone into VPNs in general, let’s take a look at some fun facts about VPNs. They’re definitely on the rise for trusted online privacy, but there are some things that you still might not know. Today more than ever, individuals and businesses count on VPNs to secure their data when using a public network.

  • VPN Providers Won’t Share Your Data: One of the biggest misconceptions about VPN providers is that they keep a data log of all their customers. This is simply not the case. This data is only retained so that they can improve their own network and services. There are some counties where governments will ask to see the logs, and that’s why it’s best to choose a provider that doesn’t keep any logs at all.
  • A VPN is an Untraceable Firewall: You may be familiar with Firewalls because they sift data coming in and out of your computer. They also happen to protect you against viruses. VPNs are kind of like this but a little different. They use tunnel encryption to secure your information and protect you from viruses. In truth, it’s a smart idea to have both Firewall and a VPN working on your side. In this modern era, you want to have as much protection as you can get your hands on.
  • The Oldest VPN Protocol is PPTP: PPTP, or peer-to-peer tunneling protocol, was created by Gurdeep Singh-Pall, who also is a software engineer at Microsoft. It was created in the 1990s and today, it’s the oldest VPN protocol that you can use. Although it still works well, it’s not the most recommended protocol for your VPN. That being said, we still should honor its legacy.
  • You’re Not Completely Anonymous: Did you know that using a VPN does not make you completely anonymous? The IP address can still identify you, but the thing is if the provider has no log of your activity then it doesn’t matter anyhow. In terms of creating as much anonymity as possible, going with a VPN is still a smart bet and something that is going to be increasingly important as the years go on.
  • You Can Still Get Hacked: We hate to say it, but even the highest quality VPN doesn’t 100% prevent you from being hacked. It’s kind of like a birth control pill (please excuse the analogy) in that, you’re 99.9% protected from being hacked when you’re using a VPN, but there’s still that .1% to contend with. But we’ll say it again, using a VPN puts you ahead of the game in this regard. Still, nothing is perfect.
  • Save Money on Subscriptions: Did you know that having a VPN can save you money on some of your favorite subscriptions? When you use a VPN to change your IP address you can actually save every month. For instance, if you like Eurosport, you’re going to find that it’s cheaper than ever to watch a good Wimbledon tournament.
  • You Can Access Blocked Content: Just because you can’t log onto Facebook in North Korea doesn’t mean you can’t log on when you visit the country. Okay so maybe you shouldn’t visit that country, but the fact of the matter is that using a VPN will help you to access all kinds of blocked content. We’re not talking about illegal content that you should not be looking at at all – you know who you are – but legal content that is blocked by a certain government or ISP.
  • You Can Save Money on Hotels and Flights: Most people don’t realize it, but VPNs can actually help you to save money on hotels and flights. By altering the virtual location of your VPN, you can buy tickets that are cheaper than if you had purchased them from your actual location. Keep in mind that you need to clear your browser of cookies before you attempt to change your locations.
  • Enjoy Faster Internet Speed: Do you want an ISP to throttle your content streaming? Of course not! Using a VPN actually prevents the ISP from doing so, and that’s because a VPN does not allow the ISP to separate traffic into high and low speed categories. What this means for you is that you can stream content faster because the ISP doesn’t realize that you’re using a lot of bandwidth. It’s very sneaky indeed.
  • There Are 30 Banned VPNs: Out of 196 countries, there are actually 30 banned VPNs in the world. Why do VPNs get banned? Because authorities want to have more control over the people. It helps dictatorships to censor certain websites that promote contrary views or cultural expressions that aren’t accepted. In that respect, using a VPN is a kind of underground movement. It gives people the freedom to view the content that they want, no matter where they are in the world. Certain VPNs are banned in North Korea, China, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Syria, Myanmar, Vietnam, and Russia. Boo to those countries. Get your sh*t together.

Disadvantages of Using a VPN

Like with anything, there’s an upside and then there’s a downside and VPNs are no different. We would not be honest with you if we said that all VPNs are perfect, and that’s why we’re going to explore the downsides to VPNs for a bit.

Although it’s the solution of the day in terms of privacy and more access to the internet, it’s not the perfect solution.

  • Premium Ain’t Free: The first thing to note is that a premium VPN is rarely free, and it ain’t cheap either. You’ll need to enter into a paid subscription for your VPN, and prices will vary. What we recommend is that you begin with a 30-day free trial with your VPN. This will give you the chance to really give it a go and see if it’s the right fit for you. Most premium VPNs will allow you to do this. Also, be sure to read reviews before you buy any VPN subscription.
  • VPNs Aren’t Always Easy: Another thing to keep in mind is that not all VPNs are easy to use. In fact, some of them can be quite tricky and they take some getting used to. Make sure that you go with a VPN provider that offers excellent customer service so that you can go to them with any questions that you might have when setting up your VPN.
  • Regulations Change: There are some countries, such as China and Iran, which are really beginning to crack down on VPNs. Be sure that you keep abreast of the latest VPN laws and regulations, and also make sure that you’re using the software as it’s meant to be used.
  • Your VPN Provider Has Eyes: Although you’re using the VPN for anonymity, the VPN provider can still see what you’re doing. But the reason why you should not worry about this is because your VPN provider is devoted to your privacy, and they’re incapable of sharing that information with others.
  • Data Loss: This is a problem only if you sign up with a low quality VPN provider. If their service is no good, there is a chance that you might suffer from data loss and poor performance. Note that you get what you pay for when it comes to choosing a VPN provider.
  • Slower Internet: Some people will actually experience slower internet when using a VPN, and that’s because it takes power to encrypt and decrypt your information. For some, the slowing is minimal and not noticeable. For others, they can really tell the difference.

Conclusion

By now you know what a VPN is, what it does, and how it might benefit you. Censorship is on the rise, as is identity theft, security breaches, and privacy issues. For these reasons and so many more, a VPN might just be the solution for you.

We’re at the stage where a VPN should be considered a necessity for most, especially for those that travel. But whether you are considering a VPN for your personal or business life, know that you’re protecting yourself, your business, and your family when you use a quality VPN from a sound provider.