Two technical results are achieved by using a virtual private network connection, or VPN. First, you can make it look like you’re accessing the internet from a different location, country, or machine than you actually are, thanks to the VPN hiding your real IP address. Secondly, a VPN encrypts your connection, so your online activity cannot be seen by eavesdroppers and nosy criminals. Do you really need a VPN though? Yes, I believe you do, in fact, I believe everyone should have one, and here’s why.
Privacy Is a Basic Right
If you believe that you should have the right to receive and send information over the internet without the authorities, hackers, or anyone besides the intended recipient viewing your communications, cataloging and following what you do, then you need a VPN. Philosophically, that’s probably a good enough reason to get one, but let us look at specific examples of how a VPN can help protect your online privacy:
• Avoid tracking and reprisals for web research – There are a number of reasons you would want to keep your internet research private. Reporters, celebrities, law enforcement officers, and market researchers are some of the most common researchers who would want to remain anonymous. By masking your IP address, a VPN can do this.
• Make VOIP calls private – If you are not familiar with the term, VOIP stands for voice over internet protocol. Basically, it is internet telephoning. Skype and Lync are examples of this, unfortunately is incredibly easy to listen in on. A VPN is able to cloak your calls.
• Avoid internet marketing based on your search history – Every web search you perform is logged by Bing, Google, and other search engines. These searches are associated with your IP address, which the engines then use to direct advertisements at you. It can be annoying, and is the digital equivalent of advertisers yelling your name as you walk down the street, trying to hawk their wares.
Added Benefits of a VPN
For anonymous browsing and confidential emails, the Wi-Fi in a hotel or the hotspot at Starbucks is not a safe option. Anyone savvy enough to eavesdrop can do so fairly easily, since public Wi-Fi typically offers zero encryption to users and monitoring software is freely and cheaply available. If you think you need to be especially talented to steal data over Wi-Fi, think again, there are plugins for browsers that beginner hackers are able to utilize at the click of a button to see everything you are doing online, these plugins can even collect passwords and typed information, and steal enough data to compromise your identity. A VPN is able to keep all of your data encrypted no matter where you are.
Many organizations, such as schools, offices and even a number of countries have draconian rules about what you can access on their computers. They end up censoring popular sites and services like Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, Netflix, and YouTube. With a VPN, you can unblock these sites and access any site you want.
Choosing the Right VPN
VPN’s are a dime a dozen these days, finding the right one might seem tough at a glance, but do a little research and it becomes clear which ones are dedicated to protecting your privacy, and which ones are are simply paying lip service. It’s a competitive field, so subscription prices keep falling. Whatever you do, do NOT sign up for a free VPN service. Right now, I use Ironsocket VPN and DNS Proxy and have been really impressed with their service. It’s cheap, feature-packed and their customer service is just brilliant. If you’re in the market, I heartily recommend them. There are some other relatively decent options, but I’ve yet to find one that’s as open and transparent, and which provides the value they do.