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.