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What do you need to know about using a VPN?
The internet has evolved over the years. We now have access to a vast quantity of information and the ability to make infinite connections. Connecting to the internet is easier than ever, however, users need to learn to keep up with developments to make sure they are staying safe. At work, we’re using the tools of the internet to send and receive sensitive information, purchase goods and services, and so much more. Personally, we’re shopping and participating in robust social networks. Each one of these actions can leave us vulnerable to hackers. Identity theft, credit card fraud, and many other crimes are committed by hackers every minute of every day. Or, you might be wondering what steps you can take to better protect yourself online. You might be feeling left behind by the changing nature of the internet and the seemingly endless number of threats using it entails. A VPN can provide you with the security you need and the privacy you deserve.
What is a VPN?
VPN stands for Virtual Private Networking. What does that mean? When you connect to the internet, you’re connecting using an IP address. This IP address allows companies (and governments for that matter), to see where you’re connecting from and what sites you’re visiting. For instance, your internet provider tracks your IP address and knows if you’re connecting from your home. It also knows what websites you connect to, the time you’ve spent on each, what you’re downloading, and so much more. This allows them to build a profile of you, and your privacy isn’t considered at all. A VPN changes everything. You can connect to a remote server that masks your location, identity, and what sites you visit. That seems like a great way to take control of your privacy, but it also helps with keeping you secure. I’ll circle back to this in a moment. There are tons of VPN services out there and many are free. VPN providers have both private and enterprise solutions to make sure you’re staying safe online. If you’re traveling abroad, you can also connect to a VPN on a server in your home country. This allows you to use the internet as if you were home. In short, a VPN is a way to increase your privacy and security by connecting to the internet on a server of your choosing.
What are the benefits/advantages of using a VPN?
- Security, security, security. Enhanced security is the name of the game when it comes to using a VPN. Your data will be encrypted which means hackers won’t be able to access it. If you’re using a closed network for work, you can keep it completely private. That means security for yourself and your business, and any sensitive materials will stay in your possession. The encryption keeps you and your data safe. This is important for anyone who uses the internet, but if you’re using it to conduct business.
- Online anonymity. If you want to browse websites in complete privacy, you need to be using a VPN. The VPN acts like a mask to allow you to anonymously conduct your business online. Unlike web proxies or IP masking software, a VPN will allow you to access websites and web applications undetected.
- Remote access to your network. After you’ve set up your VPN, you can connect to it remotely from anywhere with an internet connection. You can securely log into your network and access the information, documents, and everything else you need. For business, this will increase productivity. For users who use a VPN for privacy, this means you won’t have to send an email or attachment that can be intercepted. You can keep all your data in a closed network that only you have access to. And that access can be achieved anywhere.
- Share files in your network. This is similar to the last point, but after you’ve set up your VPN, you can access and share files with others. That means members of your network will easily be able to access and transfer files among themselves. This feature is increasingly attractive to businesses that want to allow team members to securely access work products. This is especially true for sensitive materials that you would not want to end up in the wrong hands. A secure connection is the only way to share files without detection or interception.
- Bypass internet filters. In countries with more restrictive internet access, like China, VPNs are extremely popular. In part, this is due to internet filters that keep native users from visiting social media accounts and “spreading dissent” or opinions critical of the Chinese government. This may seem like just a problem for Chinese citizens, but it is a huge challenge for people trying to do business with Chinese companies and individuals. A VPN allows users in China to “escape” the country’s internet policies and access a free network. If you travel out of the country, you can use your VPN service to bypass that country’s internet filters and conduct yourself on your own terms. For Americans, a VPN can allow you to access content like regional social media platforms or videos you might not have access to in the US. You might have encountered “restricted content” or geo-restrictions that don’t allow you access. That won’t happen ever again with a VPN. As our society becomes more global, this feature is indispensable.
- Change your IP address and the server location. This is part and parcel of the previous points, but it’s how anonymity and bypassing internet filters works. You can change the location of your IP address or “hide” your IP address/location. For example, maybe you’re connecting from Chicago, but want to connect from a country in Europe instead. You can use a VPN to easily change your IP address to an address originating in Germany. It’s simple and it allows you more anonymity and security. In addition, you’ll also be able to access regional content, websites, and web applications that are usually reserved for internet users in Germany. Many businesses in foreign countries do not have websites for each localized market. That means you can access a German website at a .de address without being redirected to a .com address (if one even exists).
- Better performance. Sometimes the servers available to us are not optimal. You might find that connecting via VPN can improve speed and performance as you search the internet. It certainly will be better than a proxy network. VPN services are taking performance very seriously. In the past, VPNs could be slow, lag and you’d lose connections constantly. New developments have made those inconveniences a thing of the past. And, in many cases, using a VPN can result in better performance.
What are the differences between a free VPN versus a paid VPN?
Weighing the pros and cons of registering for a free VPN service versus a paid VPN is rather simple. In the previous sections, you’ve seen the advantages of using a paid VPN. Both paid and free VPN services are aiming to give you security, reliability, speed, customer support, and anonymity. However, you might find that a free VPN doesn’t deliver on all those promises.
- Security: Many free VPNs use protocols that aren’t 100% secure. They used what is called a PPTP VPN, which has proven to not be the most ironclad as far as security goes. Paid VPNs allow you to use other protocols that help tunnel your connection more securely. A free VPN will give you more security than not using a VPN. However, that doesn’t mean you’re getting the best security features that have been developed. A paid VPN is the way to go for optimal security.
- Reliability: As you might have guessed, a free VPN is less reliable. Because you’re using a free service, it often means that the servers are not up to date and their resources are being stretched to the limit. If you plan on using a VPN to stay secure, you’re definitely going to want that service to be reliable and ready whenever you are. Whenever there are lapses in connection (as can happen on an unreliable VPN), you open yourself up to security risks. You need a stable connection that won’t get dropped from one server or volleyed to the next. This results in not only a slowdown in productivity but also a potential breach of security. If you want to have faith in your VPN’s security, you’ll need to be reliable.
- Speed: We’re all in a hurry. A paid VPN is going to allow you wicked-fast speeds. You’ll quickly connect to a remote server and be encrypted and anonymous in a matter of seconds. Connecting through a good VPN shouldn’t be a headache and take forever. You don’t want to be waiting on it to connect you to the server. You want to be ready to run! Most paid VPN services will present you with the fastest and most seamless path to get up and running. A free VPN can be unstable, and after you’ve finally connected to a server, the connection can be slow and cumbersome. If you’re looking for uninterrupted, rocket-fast speed, a paid VPN will be able to meet your demands.
- Customer Support: Good customer support is key for any business. It doesn’t matter if that business is consumer-focused or business-to-business, you need to be able to resolve issues quickly. Most free VPN services do not even have a customer support team. The prospect of not having a dedicated team to help you oversee your online security might seem scary. It is. This is even more true for users who want a VPN for their teams. A paid VPN will allow you to connect with professionals who can help you whether it’s day or night. You’ll not only feel secure and have the peace of mind that you’re being looked after, but a customer support team can also help you navigate the more esoteric aspects of using a VPN.
- Anonymity: One of the biggest draws of using a VPN is being able to surf the web and conduct business anonymously. You don’t want corporations or the government knowing everything you do online; It’s a privacy issue as well as a security issue. The one downside of using a paid VPN is the payment aspect. You read that correctly. By providing payment, you’re also providing a billing address and other personal information. Now, most paid VPN services are going to ensure your security and that the information will not be shared. For the most part, you should trust them. However, if the whole point is to gain anonymity. Why, then, would you disclose credit cards and other personal information? Things are changing, and many paid VPN services are allowing subscriptions to be paid by cryptocurrencies and other forms of payment. Paying anonymously is an added step. But for many people, it’s not that big of a deal. Of course, a free VPN is going to give you a bit more freedom. Of course, that freedom comes at a price as you’ve seen in the previous points.
- Number of Servers: Finally, you’ll want to consider the number of servers a VPN has in operation. Servers allow you to access the Internet; they are what host you online. If a VPN doesn’t have many servers, you’re not going to be able to remotely connect in as many places (this impacts anonymity and security). You’ll want to make sure you choose a VPN with a robust portfolio of servers in locations all over the world. Free VPN services will have a limited number of servers because servers are expensive. You’ll find most paid VPN services have way more servers all over the globe. This is what you should look for as you’re trying to decide which VPN is right for you.
We’ve covered what a VPN is, how it can help you be more secure online, and some features you should be looking for. There are so many VPN services out there, and you can try a free VPN to get the hang of it. Then, when you’re serious, consider paying for a VPN subscription. From casual internet users to business executives, a VPN can make a huge difference in your online safety and security. A VPN can keep you safe across all your devices.
Many VPN services, such as Express VPN, have desktop and mobile apps that integrate across platforms. We all need to be more conscious of our online footprints. A VPN allows you to decide where you want to leave your tracks.