Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) have gained a lot of popularity both from regular internet users and security aware people alike. With governments imposing restrictions in internet usage, ISPs and agencies snooping on people’s communication data etc, the use of a secure VPN is gaining importance over time.
Many people are asking the question “what is a VPN and how is it used for?“.
A quick explanation of a VPN is as following:
You subscribe to a VPN provider (either a commercial one with monthly cost or free) and you get a username/password. Then you can use this username and password to login to the VPN software application. This software application can be installed on your smartphone, your computer, your smart TV (if supported) etc.
From this application you can select one VPN server in another country to connect to. The communication from your end (e.g from your computer) towards the remote secure VPN server is fully encrypted. Therefore your ISP, government etc don’t know what you are doing online. The remote VPN server just receives your encrypted traffic and forwards it to the final destination that you want to visit.
Here are the 5 most popular and most important use cases (in our opinion) of a Virtual Private Network:
Table of Contents
- 1) Bypass restrictions from ISPs and governments
- 2) Watch streaming media that impose geographic restrictions
- 3) Protect yourself from snooping at untrustworthy Wi-Fi hotspots
- 4) Gain anonymity online by hiding your true location and encrypting your traffic
- 5) Protect yourself from being logged while torrenting
1) Bypass restrictions from ISPs and governments
As we said above, a virtual private network (VPN) allows users to bypass restrictions set by their Internet service providers (ISPs) or government. For example, the Chinese government maintains strict control over the content that citizens can view. ISPs, schools, and workplaces can also block websites and create filters to limit access to content.
With a VPN, users can connect to a secure VPN server in another country. Beyond this connection, all traffic remains encrypted. For example, users in China could connect to a U.S.-based VPN server and visit websites that are blocked in China without their government or ISP detecting their Internet use.
2) Watch streaming media that impose geographic restrictions
Some streaming media sites, such as Netflix, have geographic restrictions. These services are not available in every country. They also tailor their content for different regions. Some television programs or movies may only be available in certain countries.
Using a VPN to connect to a VPN server in a different country provides a workaround for this problem. Users can choose a destination country to mask their true location. Netflix, streaming platforms, and other websites believe that the user is visiting from the IP address of the VPN server, allowing the user to view content that may be restricted in his or her region.
3) Protect yourself from snooping at untrustworthy Wi-Fi hotspots
A VPN is useful when browsing the web from a public Wi-Fi hotspot. These connections are not the safest way to browse the web as it is easy for others to snoop on your Internet activity. With a VPN connection, the user creates a secure, encrypted connection with the VPN server that he or she selects.
VPNs use encryption technologies such as Secure Sockets Layer (SSL), IP Security (IPSec), and Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol/IPSec. The secure connection creates a virtual tunnel between the user and the VPN. All Internet traffic, downloads, and other activity that travels through this tunnel remains hidden from sight.
4) Gain anonymity online by hiding your true location and encrypting your traffic
Without a VPN, everything that you do online can be tracked by your ISP and the websites that you visit. You may also be vulnerable to hacks, viruses, and other malicious attacks. Some of the information that websites regularly track include your location, Internet history, downloads, and information related to your web browser and the device that you are using.
When connected to a secure VPN tunnel, these details remain hidden. Instead of seeing your true location, they see the IP address of the VPN server that you are connected to. The encrypted connection also hides your history and web traffic, providing complete anonymity.
5) Protect yourself from being logged while torrenting
Torrenting without a VPN allows your ISP to view your downloads and the type of torrenting software that you use. With a VPN, this information remains hidden through the encrypted connection. However, VPN providers also regularly log data related to torrenting (except some reputable commercial ones as we explain below).
VPN connection logs and usage logs are often used by VPN providers to troubleshoot their services. These are also required due to data retention laws in certain regions. However, free VPN services often sell this data to third parties to cover their operating costs. For protection from being logged while torrenting, users need to use a VPN service that offers a no-logging policy such as ExpressVPN and NordVPN.