Virtual Privacy Networks – How and Why They Work

VPN stands for virtual privacy network and is a method of connection that increases both information security and privacy for a user accessing public networks.

Frequently used by organisations to help protect sensitive data, VPN services have quickly become commonplace and can be extremely helpful to those wishing to protect their identity or information.

Why might you need a VPN?

Some may use a VPN to hide their location or access services and websites not available in their own country. Other users may wish to disguise the device that they are using. Most commonly, VPNs are used to add another level of cyber-security protection to any data transferred via public Wi-Fi.

If you are on the move a lot and frequently make use of coffee shop, airport or even hotel Wi-Fi, then you should probably know that the data you’re transmitting and receiving may be vulnerable to ‘eavesdropping’.

Without the additional encryption and internet protocol masking a VPN provides, strangers using the same network, can intercept your private information with relative ease.

This may be a useful tool for those living in countries that block certain content or websites, for those wishing to hide their identity, such as journalists, and even for ordinary people wishing to find video streaming content not available from their own IP location.

How does it work?

Essentially creating a protective tunnel for the transit of your data, a VPN allows you to use the internet, without restrictions. This is achieved by encrypting your data and transporting it through one or many servers located across the world, hiding your data from governments, malicious parties and even your internet service provider.

By redirecting your data via one of these worldwide servers, and with many of the top VPN service providers owning thousands of servers in dozens of different countries (sometimes over 1000), a VPN allows you to choose the location from which you wish to securely access the internet.

How to use a VPN?

If you’re required to conduct work whilst out of the office, it is likely that your organisation or employer already has some sort of VPN protocol in place, in which case you should talk to your IT team or ISO (information security officer). Otherwise, if you are an individual looking to improve your level of internet privacy, then getting a VPN isn’t a great challenge.

Over the last few years, many VPN services have entered the marketplace and there is little shortage of choice. In terms of their usability, VPNs are no more difficult to set up or use than any other consumer application or program and you can get started with protecting your information right away.

How do VPNs differ?

Most of the top VPN services available are now based on a monthly subscription fee, most of which are typically around £5 per month, depending on your subscription length. As with all services, there is not exactly a ‘best’ option and choosing a VPN depends on what security requirements you have, as well as person preference.

Besides the amount and location of servers (both of which will play a part in determining the speed of your connection), three of the many factors you may which to examine are: connection limits, bandwidth and privacy policies.

Connection Limits

Firstly, if your planning on using a VPN via multiple devices, the amount of simultaneous connections allowed should be a consideration.

Most of the top VPN providers max out at around 5-6 connections, so if you are planning on the whole family using the virtual privacy network you may need to do some shopping around.

Bandwidth

There are some VPNs that will limit your bandwidth, and though these limits a usually enforced as to discourage the most extreme of users, again depending on what you’re planning on using the service for (e.g. streaming), it’s worth checking the specifics.

Privacy

Lastly, we also recommend that you take a good look at any policy agreements and history, especially regarding data collection. Though the purpose of a VPN service is to maximise digital privacy, there have been instances where VPN providers have been found to be collecting (and likely selling) user data.

If you’re going with one of the top providers, it’s unlikely that this will be a concern, but it’s still always worth taking those few extra moments to ensure you’re genuinely getting the privacy and security you pay for.