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July 30, 2021
By the year 2025, worldwide data creation will reach 163 zettabytes. To put that in perspective, it’s 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 bytes! Data can be created through Netflix, e-mail, Skype, YouTube, Tinder, and any other online service you can imagine.
As we become increasingly aware of how our data is created, collected, and used, it’s no surprise that in the US, 68% of internet users have a VPN.
But what is a VPN? How does it work?
Can a VPN speed up your internet? Can it protect your privacy? To discover the answers to these questions and more, keep on reading!
What is a VPN?
A VPN (Virtual Private Network) is a way to securely establish a network connection across the internet. Here’s what the term means:
Virtual – The network is entirely digital. There is no need for physical connections (such as cables) between your device and the VPN servers.
Private – The data is encrypted, meaning that information such as your identity, location, etc., is hidden from prying eyes.
Network – This is the connection between your device and the VPN servers (sometimes across multiple devices and networks).
How does a VPN work? The VPN creates an encrypted tunnel between your device and the VPN network. Even though this tunnel passes through your internet service provider (ISP), it remains encrypted.
Imagine that you’re sending a letter to a friend, and you’ve decided to encrypt the contents. Only you and your friend have the keyword needed to decrypt the message, and so even though it might be passed through the United States Postal Service, they wouldn’t be able to understand the letter if they read it.
A VPN is essentially the digital version of this. The key difference being that instead of encrypting a single message, all your data is encrypted.
How to Use a VPN
The concept of a VPN may seem confusing, but using one couldn’t be easier. It’s as simple as:
- Download and install a safe and secure VPN
- Open the program
- Choose the server you wish to connect to
After that, you can run various tests to see if your VPN is functioning. A common method is to check your IP address. If it matches your real-world location, then your VPN hasn’t been set up properly.
Benefits of a VPN
Your IP (Internet Protocol) address is a string of numbers that identifies your device on a network. Every website you visit knows your IP address, and it can be used to:
- Block access to specific websites
- Target you for a Denial of Service (DoS) attack
- Discover your location
One of the VPN uses is to hide your IP address, reducing or eliminating the risk of these types of cyber-attacks taking place. But the benefits of a VPN extend even further than that.
Bypass Internet Restrictions
It’s becoming increasingly common for internet service providers to block access to certain websites at the request of a country’s government. An extreme example of this would be China, where internet censorship is increasingly limiting the freedom of the Chinese people.
Many citizens and tourists in China will use VPNs to bypass restrictions.
Geo-blocking is when a website or specific content is restricted to certain locations. A prime example of this is Netflix, where you can only view shows and movies that are available within your country. This can be problematic if you’re traveling and need to access content that is blocked at your current location.
A VPN can allow you to set your location as being somewhere else. This means you could be in London but appear online as if you’re in New York.
When you’re accessing the internet via public Wi-Fi connections, much of your browsing history can be visible to others on the same connection. Granted, it requires a little technical know-how, but it’s certainly not private.
A VPN uses its servers to create a single VPN network which, while still visible within the public Wi-Fi network, won’t be accessible in the same way. This allows you to keep your internet searches private.
Access Other Networks
Although VPNs are commonly used to hide IP addresses or speed up internet connections, they were created to allow secure networks to form between your home computer and your work computer. This would allow you to access files and information stored on your office computer while traveling on holiday or taking a sick day.
You can set up your own VPN network between different devices to allow you the freedom to interact with one device from another, including accessing files, functions, games, etc.
Faster Internet Speeds
“Internet throttling” or “bandwidth throttling” is when your internet service provider intentionally slows your internet speed. This recently happened during the Coronavirus pandemic when the use of Netflix (and data needed to operate it) suddenly spiked.
Some internet service providers have been prioritizing certain users, locations, or actions by providing them with bandwidth “fast lanes”, thereby slowing down the internet speeds of other users.
Since a VPN encrypts the data between your device and the network you’re interacting with, your internet service provider won’t be able to throttle your internet speeds based on your actions.
It’s also possible that the routing of your internet service provider is inefficient, meaning that more connections are required, ultimately taking longer. In this case, a VPN could bypass these inefficient routes by hiding the source of your connection. This would lead to an increase in internet speed.
Carrying out an internet speed test will allow you to check that your speeds match what you’re paying for.
Ready to Get a VPN?
Hopefully, you now understand what a VPN is and the various benefits it can offer, including speeding up your internet connection. You can access menus leading to our other internet and tech articles at the top of the page.