A VPN works like a middleman between you and the Internet. Instead of directly communicating with a website, you would go through a VPN server, mainly to keep your online activities private.
Let’s say, for example, that you want to transfer money from your bank account to a family member. To do that, you would need to go to the bank’s website (www[.]yourbank[.]com) and type in your username and password.
Without a VPN, your login credentials and bank account information are exposed to whoever is watching your network. Note that we are not only talking about hackers. Your Internet service provider (ISP), the government, and network administrators in your office can see your online activities.
With the right tools, they could extract your data since it is exposed and unprotected. The image below illustrates how people with enough tools and technical expertise can see your data (within the data packets).
In contrast, a VPN creates a tunnel where your data packets pass through, keeping them out of sight from other entities. By using a VPN, your data becomes encrypted or converted into a code that no one but the destination (your bank’s website in our example) can interpret.
What Is a VPN?
A VPN is a piece of software that encrypts the data your device sends to the Internet. It turns your data into jumbled code so even when other people are watching, all they can see is the code. They won’t be able to make sense of it since the data is encrypted.
Most VPN providers use the latest encryption technology and standards, making it impossible for hackers to decrypt your data.
What Are the Pros and Cons of Using a VPN?
There are always two sides to a coin. The same thing is true when using a VPN, it has pros and cons.
Pros of VPN Usage
- Bypass geo-locked content, useful for accessing your streaming services when you’re traveling
- Remain anonymous while surfing the Web, helpful if you don’t want advertisers to track your every move
- Ensure the privacy and security of sensitive work files even if you’re working remotely
- Protect against distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks by masking your network identifiers
Cons of VPN Usage
- VPN services consume huge bandwidth, which may slow down your Internet connection
- Some service providers and online sellers block VPN users from their networks
- Setting up a VPN can be complicated
- Some VPN services can be prone to connection dropping
What Data Can a VPN Hide?
Now that you know how a VPN works, you understand why it is one of the primary tools people use for privacy protection. A recent study shows that 49% of VPN users employ the service for security reasons, 40% for privacy, and 31% for using public Wi-Fi networks.
But what, specifically, can a VPN hide? Below are three crucial things that a VPN protects.
Visited Websites and Applications
When you visit a website, your device sends data packets to its server. These data packets are encrypted by the VPN so they are hidden from other people. Therefore, your browsing history is safe from prying eyes. You can access your bank account or medical records online without worrying about your ISP, browser, or hackers tracking your every move.
A VPN can hide the IP address of any device you’re using. The IP address serves as its ID on the Internet, revealing many things about you. Using a VPN practically makes you anonymous online.
Device Type and Location
Since a VPN hides your IP address, it also conceals your location and the type of device you’re using. This functionality helps you access websites that are otherwise unavailable in your current location.
What Are the Types of VPNs?
There are several types of VPN services:
- Personal VPNs
- Remote Access VPNs
- Mobile VPNs
- Site-to-Site VPNs
Most of what we talked about pertains to personal or commercial VPN services that Internet users utilize to encrypt their traffic, hide their identities, and bypass geographical restrictions. This VPN type acts as a middleman between you and the websites or applications you access.
Remote Access VPNs
This type of VPN allows you to access a private network. Remote access VPNs are typically used by out-of-office employees who need access to their company networks. Although remote access VPNs have been existing for decades, their usage became more common during the COVID-19 pandemic, when almost everyone had to work from home.
As the name suggests, this type of VPN allows users to change locations and Internet connections without closing their VPN connection. Even when users switch between wireless and cellular networks or turn off their devices, the VPN connection continues. Law enforcement agencies commonly use mobile VPNs, as they provide a stable connection compared to remote access VPNs.
Site-to-site VPNs enable two or more corporate networks to connect and combine to become one network. This VPN type is typically used by companies with multiple offices.
Your browsing history, IP address, and location are private data that should stay protected. When such information falls into the wrong hands, you could suffer from a significant problem. Your identity could be stolen and used maliciously. Cybercriminals could also hack into your bank accounts and steal your hard-earned money.
But encryption lies at the heart of how a VPN works. It is the primary benefit users gain. By encrypting your data on the Internet, a VPN camouflages your identity, activities, and information.
- A VPN goes between a user’s device and the websites or applications they visit.
- Commercial or personal VPNs are commonly used to mask an Internet user’s identity, encrypt transactions, or bypass geographical limitations.
- VPNs can hide your IP address, browsing history, device type, and location.
- While VPN usage has undeniable benefits, it can be unreliable and may slow down Internet connection.
- Some web services and applications block traffic from VPNs.
- Other types of VPNs include remote access VPNs, mobile VPNs, and site-to-site VPNs.
- Remote access VPNs allow off-site employees to access company networks.
- Mobile VPNs are similar to remote access VPNs but allow more intermittent Internet connection.