Updated · Sep 29, 2022
What Is a VPN and Why Do You Need One?
Updated · Aug 24, 2022
Did you know that there’s at least one website that you can’t access?
Yes, dear reader, the Web is censored. Except if you live in Seychelles, that is.
In fact, there are thousands of websites and online services that block visitors based on geolocation alone.
Not only that, but 87% of consumers have left their personal information exposed while accessing email, bank accounts, or other financial information.
Thankfully, there’s a simple solution for these and other problems you may experience online – a VPN.
That’s why today you’ll not only understand what a VPN is but also how it works and why you need one. All of that to help you stay out of the statistics above.
So, without further ado, let’s jump right in.
What Is a VPN?
If you aren’t familiar with the technology, the first question you probably have is “What does VPN stand for?”
The acronym stands for a virtual private network.
The meaning of a VPN doesn’t tell you enough about what it is, though, so we can move on to the exciting part – what is a VPN, in details.
So, What Does a VPN Do?
A VPN lets you use another server to access the internet. This means that while you are sitting in your home in Berlin, for example, you can browse the Web from a server in New York. And the internet will see you as a US resident, giving you access to US-only content. (Yes, Netflix, I’m looking at you too.)
Still, the relocation of your virtual self isn’t the sole benefit of using a VPN. It also protects your data, allows you to surf the Web anonymously, and encrypts your information. Most VPNs come with an extra jugful of built-in features – like ad-blockers, integrated firewalls, etc. – all of which come in handy.
If you are looking for a VPN already - check out our research on the top-rated VPN services out there.
As you can see, a VPN provides many benefits for the average internet user. Now let’s see what makes it tick.
How Does a VPN Work?
Usually, a typical internet connection goes like this:
This is how a connection works – you connect to your ISP, which connects you to the Web – simple as that. The problem is that your IP reveals the location of your device. With that said, if a cybercriminal wants to acquire sensitive data, it would be relatively easy, especially in public networks.
Still, using a VPN connection can make it harder for cybercriminals to obtain your data.
See, what VPNs do is take your data and encrypt it, so no one knows what you’re doing online. Then your data reaches a specific server somewhere on the globe (you get to choose the location.) From there, that server acts as a gateway for your device to gain access to the perks of the internet – be it browsing, torrenting, or streaming.
This is also known as a VPN tunnel, where data travels through an encrypted channel. Even if a cybercriminal manages to obtain any of your information, it would be encrypted, thus useless.
A typical VPN connection looks like this:
Obviously, your VPN service allows you to connect to the Web through a different location.
But that’s not all.
It also secures your online anonymity and data.
That covered the basics. Now let’s delve deeper.
There is one main reason why everyone should use a VPN online – security. Since nearly half of the US citizens were affected by a cyberattack, there’s no reason not to take all precautions while surfing the Web.
So how does a VPN ensure your connection?
You already know the definition of a VPN and how it works, thanks to the image above.
See the locks on the arrows?
Those are the encrypted streams of your data and they are protected from outside access.
Encryption Is a method of protecting your data by transforming plain text into an unreadable sequence of numbers and letters.
Fair warning – encrypted data isn’t impossible to hack, but it will take a cybercriminal more time and effort to decrypt it. If you are an average citizen of no particular interest to cybercriminals, chances are they won't bother that much to get to your data. Most have bigger fishes to fry.
Usually, cybercriminals take advantage of the users’ naivety and lack of online security knowledge to obtain data. So even without a deep understanding of online security, a VPN can get the job done.
When using a VPN service, you can think of your data as a treasure, traveling in an armored train with a military escort (encryption). At a certain point in the journey (the location of the VPN server) the train stops and the soldiers transfer the treasure to another train. It brings the valuables to their final destination (the online content). No one knows it’s the second train that carries the treasure.
Unlike proxy servers, which only mask your IP, a VPN gives you a new one for every location you use. Some of the VPN providers can even provide you with a static IP that stays the same, no matter the whereabouts of the actual VPN server. That’s a great option since some services and websites try to block VPN IPs.
There are two essential terms concerning online VPN security – IP leak and kill switch.
What Is IP Leak?
The IP leak is a security flaw, which may occur if some of the outgoing data packets don’t go through the VPN tunnel. Usually, the VPN service envelops all data in encryption, but that’s not always the case. That’s why most VPN providers offer a free VPN app you can test before buying.
Once you install the software you can perform an IPLeak test to see if the VPN service you are using is safe enough.
And if something goes wrong with your connection, you can always count on the kill switch (if available.)
What Is a Kill Switch?
Usually, when you use a renowned VPN service, your connection will stay stable during the entire session. However, there is the possibility of losing your connection to the VPN server. If that happens, your real IP is revealed. In that case, the kill switch kicks in. It has only one purpose – if your connection to the VPN drops, the kill switch automatically disconnects your device from the network, thus protecting your IP.
So this is how a private VPN can offer security to its users. Now we’ll delve deeper and discover the protocols, responsible for your online safety.
Types of Virtual Private Network Protocols
The protocol represents a set of rules and procedures used for data exchange in a network. It structures the data flows and the way devices send or receive information. A VPN service may offer many security protocols, and you can choose which ones to use, depending on what you want to do online.
Almost every VPN software uses OpenVPN as a standard protocol. It’s open source, thus allowing developers to implement their ideas and tailor it to suit their company’s and clients’ needs.
Once OpenVPN opens a tunnel for the information it uses a 256-bit OpenSSL encryption protocol and UDP User Datagram Protocol – faster, but less secure protocol to transfer data back and forth. Or TCP Transmission Control Protocol – more secure, but slower, compared to UDP.
The Internet Protocol Security encrypts the data packets that go through the tunnel. Additionally, it verifies the session across the IP network. It can be combined with other security protocols to increase overall data protection.
L2TP – Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol
L2TP is a protocol which supports the virtual private network by generating a tunnel. It doesn’t provide any encryption, so it often comes hand in hand with IPSec.
Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol
More familiar by its acronym – PPTP, this is one of the oldest protocols for creating a Point-to-Point network. Enterprises use it to create LAN networks, but it’s also used in VPN connections. This protocol also creates a tunnel between two specific points (like your PC and a server in a company.)
However, PPTP is arguably a secure protocol. It has many flaws and according to some experts, it’s on its way to obscurity.
SSH – Secure Shell
System administrators often use this protocol to gain secure access to remote computers. SSH offers a reliable verification of the data and encrypts the communication between the two devices.
Secure Sockets Layer (SSL)
The SSL protocol is a standard protocol for keeping sensitive data safe. Most of the websites use it – if you see a website’s domain starting with "https://" – it uses SSL. The majority of browsers come with integrated SSL and TLS (Transport Layer Security). TLS is like an upgraded version of the SSL. Nearly every VPN service comes with built-in SSL and TLS.
These protocols are the underlying technology that keeps you safe. In addition, most VPNs come equipped with a wide range of extra features.
Virtual Private Network Features
If you want a safe connection with a secure VPN service, there are a couple of things you should know.
First of all, not all VPN providers offer the same quality. They all provide the same service - sure. However, some of them do it better than others – like equipping their apps with top-notch encryption protocols, port-forwarding, DNS leak protection, and so on.
Secondly, the number and speed of the VPN servers could play a significant role in a VPN service’s quality.
The only downside of using a VPN is you have to “sacrifice” a portion of your download/upload speed. That’s because the data travels longer until it reaches its final destination. The speed you exchange for security is different, depending on the VPN server you use.
For example, if you live in the UK and access a server in France, your speed will drop insignificantly – about 5-10%, depending on the server’s workload and the VPN you are using. However, if you access a more distant location, like Australia or Korea, you may experience up to a 90% speed drop. That’s why choosing the right server is of utmost importance for a reliable connection.
The second factor which could influence your decision when choosing a VPN provider is the number of servers it’s using. Look for a VPN with an excellent geographical distribution of its servers. A VPN service which provides plenty of well-distributed servers will give you access to the largest amount of (otherwise inaccessible) content.
Typically most VPN providers offer a great variety of locations. For your convenience, we have reviewed the best VPNs so that you can save research time.
Choosing the best VPN for your PC, laptop, or mobile could be a challenging endeavor since there are hundreds of apps which provide this service.
Think of it as buying a car – any vehicle can get you from point A to point B. But it’s the design, the speed, and all the little extras, that influence your purchase decision.
These add-ons usually include an ad-blocker, built-in firewall, browser extensions, cascading, and many many more, which provide a better and more secure online experience. The ability to ”jump” from server to server, creating a web of connections, which are extremely hard to track.
Now that you have a fairly decent knowledge of what a VPN is, what it offers, and how secure it is, let’s see if it provides the whole package.
Does a VPN Provide Full Anonymity?
Now, this is a bit tricky. In theory – it does.
In reality, however, there are many factors in play.
To be blunt – nothing can give you a 100% guarantee that you’ll be completely anonymous online. If you want to minimize the number of crumbs you leave online, you’ll have to use a mix of software and browser – like TOR, for example. Using a VPN adds another layer of security to your system. Thankfully, most VPNs work with TOR.
So why doesn’t a VPN alone guarantee your anonymity?
As mentioned before, there are several factors that may restrict a virtual private network from keeping you incognito.
There’s an alliance of countries adequately named the “14-Eyes.” At first, they were “Five Eyes” then they became nine, and today the coalition includes 14 countries. These countries represent a surveillance alliance. They work together to gather and share data on users’ online behavior. They are like Big Brother, and the internet in the house.
What this means is that these countries… well... spy on their citizens and exchange information with each other.
The list includes the following countries:
- New Zealand
- United Kingdom
- United States
The “14 eyes” have the power to demand information from companies. And the latter is obliged to hand over that data. Not the biggest proponents of privacy, those guys.
That means if any of these countries houses a VPN provider’s headquarters, chances are the company has to keep logs of users’ activity, in case of an agency requests this data.
There are also countries where you can’t use a virtual private network freely.
In several countries all legal VPN providers are under the control of the government. Needless to say, the use of a non-approved VPN service is illegal and has its consequences.
The list of countries is reasonably easy to guess:
- United Arab Emirates
And some countries ban VPN use altogether – like Belarus, Iraq, North Korea, Turkmenistan and Uganda.
Still, governments aren’t the sole barrier to online anonymity.
VPN Logging Policy
Before purchasing a private VPN make sure you read its Private Policy page. Many VPN providers have a strict no-logging policy, which means they don’t keep records of anything you do online or any other information that could lead to you in the real world.
Still, some keep logs regarding your online behavior. Be it because of the country they are located in, or the company’s policy. So, depending on why you need a VPN, you should be careful with your selection. Fortunately, there are plenty of solid VPNs to choose from.
There are hundreds of VPN providers out there. The good news is that you don’t have to pay a dime to see how a VPN works. There are plenty of free VPN apps for pc and mobile, and even a VPN for your router. Some of the premium apps offer a free trial or a money-back guarantee. You can try a free VPN first, to get to know the program first-handed.
If you decide to purchase a VPN service, keep in mind the average VPN price is in the range of $40-$50 per year. If you aren’t a fan of long-term commitments you can purchase a monthly plan to see if a particular VPN service works for you.
How to Use a VPN?
Thankfully, most VPN services come with a user-friendly interface, so it’s relatively easy to use one. If you use a free version of the software, select a free VPN server, connect to it, and voilà – you are one step closer to online safety.
Of course, you can tweak the app to suit your needs better – like selecting which protocols to use, enabling the kill switch or the firewall, etc.
Once you launch the program, make sure it works. There are a couple of IP and DNS leak tests online, but the simplest way to figure out if your VPN service is doing its job is to check if you have a new IP. You can do that by visiting whatismyip.
With everything said so far, we’ve reached the main question.
Why Do I Need a VPN?
If you are still unsure if VPN is the right solution for you, here are five reasons why it is.
Reason #1 – Gain Access to Better Entertainment
Using a VPN offers many benefits. You can think of it as a key that unlocks the internet’s sealed doors. As a matter of fact, more than 50% of VPN users use such a service primarily to access restricted entertainment content.
Streaming services like Netflix and Hulu have exclusive content based on your location. With the use of a VPN service you can “fool” them and gain access to your favorite shows.
Reason #2 – Access to News
If you live in Europe you may find it hard to reach US news sites. In fact, more than 1,000 US news sites are blocked to European citizens, due to the GDPR General Data Protection Regulation.
So instead of complying with the new regulation, many US sites decided to outright block European visitors.
If you want to bypass this restriction and be up to date with the news, using a virtual private network can help. More than a third of VPN users use such a service precisely for this reason.
Reason #3 – Security
Cybercrime poses a significant threat to all internet users. There’s a lot you can learn about cybercrime on TechJury and why is it not a bad idea to consider using a VPN. Most VPN software usually comes with the highest level of encryption – AES-256.
Consider using a VPN every time you use public Wi-FI since your data is vulnerable to a cyber attack. Many Black Hat hackers love the public Wi-Fi because it’s effortless for them to perform a Man-in-the-Middle attack on such a network. Black Hat hackers is a term to describe cybercriminals.
On the other hand, there are White Hat hackers, which usually work as cybersecurity advisors. A MITM attack is when cybercriminals “stand” between your device and the source of the internet signal. This allows them to gather all the data your device sends – like your banking credentials if you use public WiFi for online banking.
This is just one of the scenarios where VPN software could prove priceless.
And let’s not forget it keeps your IP and identity away from prying eyes.
Reason #4 – Using a VPN for Torrenting
Not all VPN providers allow torrenting with their apps.
So, what is a good VPN for torrenting?
It’s one that has a no-logging policy, offers excellent speed and no bandwidth limit, and is based outside of countries with VPN restrictions and surveillance.
Reason #5 – a VPN Can Save You Money
Did you know that airlines and hotels offer different prices, based on the consumer’s location?
Sounds plain wrong, but it’s true. In fact, a VPN service could save you up to $300 per night for a hotel room.
The same applies to airline tickets. Choosing a VPN server in a lower-income country reduces the ticket price.
And the best part is it’s completely legal.
Alright, so we’re going to assume these five reasons drove the point across and you’ve finally realized you need a VPN service. If you decide to try one, the next question pops out.
Which one should you buy?
TechJury’s VPN Recommendations
We’ve paid for several VPN services and excessively tested them to find out the best ones.
If you are curious about how we do our VPN reviews, feel free to check it out.
Here’s a quick overview of the top three VPN services to consider. In case you’re wondering how to get a VPN once you’ve picked your favorite - use the download links below.
With over 5600 servers in 60 countries, NordVPN has the most significant private VPN structure out there. It has everything you could ever need – up to six simultaneous connections on different devices, double encryption, and a kill switch. The company also has a no-logging policy, and NordVPN is suitable for both video streaming and torrenting. And all of this comes at a reasonable price.
The one element that needs a little improvement is its speed. It’s still good though, but it could be better.
ExpressVPN is an excellent VPN software with much to offer. No-logging policy, excellent speed, top-notch security – these are just several of its strong suits. To find out more details, check out our ExpressVPN review.
One potential deal-breaker is this VPN service only allows for three simultaneous connections. Not a good fit for large households. It’s also a bit pricey, compared to other services.
Perfect Privacy VPN
Perfect Privacy VPN is one of the most secure VPN services for personal use. It offers multiple encryption protocols, a strict no-logging policy, and unlimited simultaneous connections. It also has its very own Stealth VPN technology, ability to cascade through numerous servers, and many other useful features. This technology masks VPN data as standard web data. This feature allows Perfect Privacy VPN users to bypass nationwide VPN bans.
You can find out everything about this VPN service in our Perfect Privacy VPN review.
The only downside to mention is the cost, which is higher than average. For the price, it’s still great value for money and a safe choice.
Today we broke down the VPN technology to its core components. Now you know what a VPN connection is, how a virtual private network works, and all the elements that make a VPN service a must-have.
Not only does it help you reach restricted content, but it also keeps you safe, and has the potential to save you money.
In case you want to be safer online, check out our VPN reviews.
In conclusion, I’d leave you with a quote from Kevin Mitnick regarding online security. Once a renowned hacker, today Kevin Mitnick works as a cybersecurity consultant for many companies and agencies, including the FBI.
“The first thing I’d recommend to the average person on the street is to use a VPN. Whenever you are in public or in a hotel, use a VPN service. It takes your data and puts it in an encrypted envelope and people can’t really intercept and spy on that. So as a consumer I would consider using a VPN service. And they’re pretty cheap.”
Now that you know what a VPN is, I sincerely hope you'll browse the Web more securely from now on.
What Is VPN and Why Do I Need It?
What Is the Purpose of a VPN?
Do I Need a VPN at Home?
Deyan has been fascinated by technology his whole life. From the first Tetris game all the way to Falcon Heavy. Working for TechJury is like a dream come true, combining both his passions – writing and technology. In his free time (which is pretty scarce, thanks to his three kids), Deyan enjoys traveling and exploring new places. Always with a few chargers and a couple of gadgets in the backpack. He makes mean dizzying Island Paradise cocktails too.
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