What is a VPN? Well, in short, it is a Virtual Private Network, a powerful tool that acts as a shield against outside surveillance and is an essential tool for all security-conscious internet users. Please come along on our discovery tour to learn more about VPNs.

So, what is a VPN?

As the name suggests, a Virtual Private Network (VPN) is three things. Firstly, we refer to the process as “virtual” when you connect to a VPN, meaning that it creates a simulated version of the internet.

The “private” part comes next. This means that all transactions on this virtual internet are protected from the outside. The VPN connection essentially creates a box where browsing and downloads take place.

Finally, “network” refers to the fact that VPNs work via networks that are maintained by a VPN provider.

What does a VPN do?

Basically, VPNs are there to shield internet users and their data, and they have several really important functions.

Firstly, they provide the software needed to connect to the VPN. This software includes whatever tunneling protocol a VPN has chosen to use, and acts as a simple gateway to the VPN itself. Importantly, it also encrypts data as it is transmitted via the web – the major privacy tool in a VPN’s armory.

Secondly, remote access Virtual Private Networks will need to maintain a VPN server. This could be anywhere in the world and requires the processing power to handle thousands of simultaneous connections. It also needs to be able to protect encrypted content as it passes into the VPN and onward to the target address.

That’s pretty much all a Virtual Private Network does – it involves a network infrastructure, encryption tools, and tools to scramble IP addresses, along with a user-friendly VPN client.

How does a VPN work?

Using a VPN is extremely simple. The first step is to download and install a VPN client. When you are connected to the internet, the client software will establish a connection with a VPN network, and your browsing will instantly be shielded. This network is hosted on a server which could be next door, but equally could be anywhere in the world.

The process involves creating what is known as a VPN tunnel. This uses specialist security protocols to “wrap” packets of data and move them around whatever obstacles lie in their way.

Any data you send to the VPN server is automatically encrypted using these protocols, and the server then re-routes your data to its destination, protecting your identity and the content of your data.

Why should you use a secure VPN connection?

There are many excellent reasons to use a VPN, whether you are running a business or browsing the web from home. Here are just a few benefits that could result from using a VPN connection:

  • Masking your identity from outsiders. This has obvious benefits for privacy, but it can also be handy for getting around geo-blockers for streaming services like HBO Now, which is available only in a handful of countries. If you happen to find yourself without access to this streaming service, you can spoof your IP address with a VPN and watch your favorite TV shows, i.e., Game of Thrones season 8.
  • Getting around government blocks. VPNs are also useful for users in repressive countries that restrict internet usage. Using tunneling protocols, VPNs can circumvent these restrictions with ease.
  • Encrypting data. VPNs can also encrypt any data that you send via the network, providing a much deeper level of privacy than standard browsing. And they may also take measures to hide this encryption, preventing ISPs from discovering whether users are employing a VPN. With the help of a secure VPN connection, you can avoid countermeasures like “throttling”, where ISPs deliberately restrict connection speeds of heavy users.
  • Saving money. Thanks to the way they work around geoblocking, users of VPNs can purchase things like flights which are usually priced differently depending upon your location.
  • Expanding choice. Services like Netflix don’t offer the same portfolio of TV shows or movies in every country or region, so your favorite movie could be unavailable. Unless you use a VPN, that is, because the VPN can make it seem as if you are anywhere in the world.

Businesses also use VPNs for a variety of purposes. Most importantly, by signing up all employees to a customized VPN, they can facilitate secure, simple remote working, giving their staff the kind of flexibility and agility the modern economy demands.

So, what is a VPN? We hope you’ve got the answer. As you can see, there are many great reasons to use a VPN. If you stream movies, download torrents or have any privacy concerns at all, a VPN client isn’t something that you can afford to be without. 

How to start using VPNs today

VPNs used to be a thing for large corporations with dedicated IT teams that can set it all up for you. But nowadays, VPNs are made for consumers – which is a great thing, since it’s easy to use and requires minimal setup. In fact, all you need to do is sign up for the service, install the app, and start using it.

We always recommend either ExpressVPN or NordVPN, although Express is our #1 choice. But if you’re looking for even greater variety, we’ve put together of the best VPNs we think you’ll enjoy for whatever you need.