What are VPNs?

In this high-level article for non-technical individuals I will explain VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) and their importance in today’s digital world.

Where VPNs are Used:

VPNs are used very commonly in a business environment where security of digital information is needed and business resources such as documents need to be accessed even when a person is not at their work location and instead may be hundreds of miles away; however more and more individuals are opting to use VPNs for their personal use at home because of its security benefits.

What do VPNs Do?

Say you want to watch a YouTube video on your home computer; there are a few steps your computer takes to pull up that video:

  1. Your computer is connected to a service provider such as Verizon or Comcast who see you want to go to YouTube so they find the path to get to YouTube for you. In this process your service provider knows that it is you requesting this because of a number assigned to you by them called an “Internet Protocol Address”.
  2. Your service provider connects you to YouTube who also knows your Internet Protocol Address.
  3. You are playing the video using a direct connection to YouTube

Issues with this:

  1. You have no privacy from your service provider who can see what websites you are accessing.
  2. Websites you access know your Internet Protocol address which can ultimately be used to identify you for marketing or malicious purposes.
  3. If you are accessing websites from your laptop in a public place like an airport, a hacker on the same network can use tools to see the websites you are visiting and sensitive information you send over the internet such as passwords and banking info.

VPNs act as a device that forwards your requests to websites so your identity is not revealed to websites and the content is not revealed to your service provider. It also encrypts (scrambles) your internet activity so hackers on your same network cannot intercept any information.

Here is a visual representation:


Some popular VPNs:

Hotspot Shield by AnchorFree- https://www.anchorfree.com/

Free VPNs are generally not a good idea because you have to trust that your VPN provider is not intercepting your internet data, however Hotspot shield is used by millions of people and has a great reputation. The downsides of this free service are that it is slower than many paid VPNs and advertisements are added to the websites you visit by the company.

Private Internet Access- https://www.privateinternetaccess.com/

This is the VPN I personally use and recommend. It costs around $50 a year but has high speeds and no advertisements added. This company has a large amount of VPN servers all over the world so you will always have very fast speeds.

VyprVPN by Golden Frog- https://www.goldenfrog.com/vyprvpn

This is a very popular VPN with a great support team and a VPN feature they have named “Chameleon” that prevents websites that block VPNs.

2 thoughts on “What are VPNs?

  1. Howard Reply

    My company has started making me connect to a VPN on my work computer and this article simplified this a lot for me. I’m just curious why I’m not forced to use a VPN on my work phone as well?

    • Connor Maher Post authorReply

      VPNs on mobile phones can have some negative impacts on the speed of browsing and downloading things on your phone. Since cell tower speeds are not up to to par with WiFi speeds you’re going to see a drastic speed decrease. I believe within the next few years this will not be the case though, since cell tower speeds are rapidly improving with the invention of 4G and 4GLTE. And according to an article I read, 5G should be rolling out in 2020.

      As far as connecting your phone to WiFi with a VPN, there should be no major difference in speed with a good VPN provider, and since your VPN connection is provided by your company I’m sure it is sufficient. I would never connect my phone to a public WiFi network without VPN protection and I urge everyone to do the same, you’re better off just use cell data since the networks are better protected. Thanks for your comment- Connor

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