What is a VPN?

Ivanovsk, Russia - June 26, 2019: X-VPN - Free Unlimited VPN Proxy app on the display of smartphone or tablet.

My roommate recently started using a VPN with his laptop in the dorm room. He told me he started using it because he wanted to protect his privacy and identity. He’s encouraged me to start using one on my own laptop, but I still don’t understand why I should use it or how it even works. What is a VPN?

VPN stands for virtual private network, and it’s a connection method that helps improve security and privacy on both public and private networks. The Wi-Fi you receive in your dorm room probably isn’t as secure as a network you’d have in your own home, which is why it’s important to take extra steps to protect your information.

Your friend’s suggestion to get a VPN isn’t a bad one. They offer many advantages.

VPNs hide your real IP address. In fact, they actually change your IP address so that hackers and spies can’t find your true location. More importantly, a VPN will encrypt data transfers when on public Wi-Fi. Encryption is important for protecting your data and keeping it away from prying eyes.

When transferring data on the web, a VPN will use advanced encryption and tunneling techniques to encapsulate your data.

Simply put, a VPN will give you more anonymity online by masking your location and protecting your information by encrypting your data transfers.

Let’s talk a little bit more about how a VPN works. It all starts with the client software that comes with your VPN service. That allows you to remotely use another server and all your traffic is routed through that server.

Even if hackers manage to find their way to your data, they won’t be able to see it because it’s encrypted. They will only see encrypted information and not raw data.

Certain protocols are used to define how data transmissions are handled on VPNs. The most commonly used protocols include PPTP, SSTP, L2TP, OpenVPN and IKEV2. Typically, the VPN service that you use will allow you to choose which protocol you want to use. Choosing a more secure protocol, such as IKEv2 or OpenVPN, will ensure that your entire session is more secure.

While VPNs can mask your location and encrypt your data, they may not necessarily make you entirely anonymous online. Anonymity is compromised if the service provider keeps logs or payment records could lead to personal identifiable information. In some jurisdictions, VPNs are required to keep records.

Providers may keep logs that include your: IP address, activity, payments, devices used, or connection/disconnection timestamps.

If anonymity is your goal, you should consider a VPN provider that doesn’t keep logs or providers that have been audited and certified for keeping no logs.

If you choose to use a VPN, you’ll find that there are both paid and free options available. Paid VPNs are generally the better option because you don’t have to worry about ads or having your information sold to a third party. The cost of a paid subscription is usually only a few dollars a month, but I would compare different services to see which one offers the best value.

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