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Every smart internet user knows that when it comes to privacy and protection from the many prying eyes on the internet, a Virtual Private Network, or VPN, is your best bet, especially when working or learning from home.
From identity thieves looking to access your sensitive information to advertisers that study your online behaviors, a VPN can often be your first line of defense against the online threats that lurk on your home desktop and your local Starbucks guest network.
What is a VPN and how does it work?
Simply put, a VPN is a connection method with built-in protection and security measures. VPNs are typically used by corporations in order to shield sensitive data from third parties. Personal VPNs have also become popular as more and more users work from home and shop online.
Before you set up your VPN, it’s important to understand the benefits of this tool to maximize your experience. Depending on the VPN you choose, once you activate it, your VPN will:
Cloak your IP address
Your web traffic will be routed through the VPN’s “encrypted tunnel” and appear to come from the VPN’s server. This will hide your real IP address and essentially, your location — IP addresses are distributed geographically.
“Throttling” is the process of your internet service provider slowing speed or limiting bandwidth during certain high-speed activities, like HD streaming or gaming. Luckily, your VPN will mask your IP address from online threats and your ISP, which can help keep your speeds consistent no matter what you’re doing with your internet connection.
Encrypt data transfers
A good VPN will “encrypt” or padlock your data so that only permissible computers on either end of the tunnel will be able to “decrypt” or unlock your data.
Bypass web restrictions
Because you’ll be browsing anonymously, you can access websites and applications with geographical restrictions or blocks. These benefits make VPNs especially popular choices in countries where internet censorship is prevalent.
How to choose a VPN
There are a lot of subscription VPN services out there, varying in price, terms of service and even location. Compare and contrast a few important details before you select the right service for you.
- Paid pays off: A free service has to make their money some way and if they aren’t requiring payment from you, they just might be selling your data to the highest bidder instead. The average VPN can cost $3 per month, so looking at services in that price range isn’t a bad place to start your search.
- Reviews matter: Look to a credible source for a review on a potential VPN to avoid native advertising. In some cases, the sparkling review you look to as a guiding light could be written by the service themselves.
- Read the permissions: That “permission agreement” that pops up during setup is more than just a step in the process. Take a good look at the kinds of information the service is asking to access. Also, look at terms of service to see which information the VPN collects and what it’s planning to do with it. Good terms of service statements will plainly state what you can expect from the services, whereas a suspicious VPN will leave an air of mystery around its intent.
- Encryption is provided: Encryption works to scramble your data so that it’s only legible to permissible parties. Use services that are known to provide maximum security like OpenVPN.
- Get a “kill switch”: Select a VPN that has a built-in “kill switch” or auto-shutoff if the encrypted connection fails. This feature will stop all network traffic in and out of your computer if your VPN leaves you vulnerable to threats.
Making sure your VPN meets these basic requirements can ensure your data is in the hands of a trustworthy source and not someone looking to sell it.
The best VPNs of 2020
You’ve done the research and you’ve decided on the VPN that best meets your needs. Now, install the VPN of your choice via an app on any of your devices that require protection, including mobile devices, laptops and desktop computers. You’ll generally pay one monthly fee for security on a limited number of devices, so select yours and make them count.
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Originally published on 5/15/19. Last updated on 04/29/20.