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What Is A VPN And Why You Should Consider Using One?

Internet Security

A Virtual Private Network or VPN gives you online privacy and anonymity through the creation of a private network from a public internet connection. If you’re not using a VPN then your internet service provider has free access to all of your web history, and by law in the EU companies are required to store this data for up to two years. Having a VPN is like surfing the web undetected, your IP address and online actions become virtually untraceable. 

Why do you need a VPN service?

Browsing the internet or carrying out transactions on an unsecured connection could expose your private information and browsing habits.  This is why a VPN is a must for anyone looking to prioritise their security online.  Anytime you connect to a public WIFI connection, be it in a coffee shop or a restaurant you expose yourself to the possibility of having your information stolen and sold on, resulting in identity fraud or other scams.  The encryption and anonymity that a VPN provides will help protect your information, from simple tasks such as sending emails to something more sensitive like bill payments. 

How a VPN protects your IP address and privacy

A VPN creates a data pathway between your local network and another location, which could be thousands of miles away, this makes it appear as though you are in another place. This allows you to bypass geolocation restrictions, such as access to international websites or content not curated for your local area. 

Without a virtual private network, your internet service provider has access to your entire internet browsing history. However, with a VPN, this is all hidden away.  This comes down to your IP address being associated with the VPN service provider, they are unable to trace it further to you, thus giving you your privacy and security in your actions.  Other instances where your information is tracked is via search engines such as google, but again they will only have the VPN providers’ IP address to link this to and not your personal one. 

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VPN privacy: What does a VPN hide?

Here are some aspects of information that are hidden via a virtual private network. 

  • Your browsing history

Browsing the web is no longer something private, even if you are using a private browsing or incognito mode options, everything is tracked, stored and sold off by your internet service provider and the websites you visit.  People are concerned for their online safety and they want this invasion of privacy to end.  Imagine you have a medical condition that is very sensitive and one that you wish to be kept private, and you’re searching for medical solutions online.  Well, without a VPN this information is up for grabs, they’ll have access to your information and be able to link it to you. Or maybe you’re finally ready for that well-deserved vacation, and you’re searching for flights.  The travel sites can keep a record or your search history or your search engine can sell this data off to the travel provider in order to show you the most expensive flights available.  An easy way around this used to be private browsing in order to get cheaper rates on flights but even this is not working anymore. 

  • Your IP address and location

Think of your IP address as the return to sender address on the back of a letter - anything you search can be captured and traced back to you and your device.  Since the IP address used through a VPN is not yours and cannot be traced back to you, you can feel safe and secure in browsing the web, searching for flights or researching a sensitive medical condition in peace, knowing that this information will not be leaked to the public and used against you. 

  • Your location for streaming

If you pay for streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu or an on-demand sporting channel you may be limited with what is on offer based on your geographical location.  

The reason behind this is generally the media rights bought by these companies, for example Amazon may have the rights to TV show X in Europe, whereas Netflix may own those rights in the continental US.  Through your VPN you can change your perceived location around the world in order to benefit fully from these streaming services and the option which they provide. This is particularly useful if you’re abroad and want to catch up on your favourite show.

  • Your devices

A VPN can also help protect all of your devices. This includes your desktop computer, a work laptop, any tablets you may have, as well as your smart phone.  With cybercrime growing, your devices can remain secure especially when they’re at greater risk of exposure in public Wi-Fi hotspots. 

How can a VPN help protect against identity theft?

While imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, identity theft is no joke. 

This happens when hackers steal your personal information online and use it to commit crimes and take out loans and credit cards in your name. As a result your credit rating can plummet and in some cases, you may even be forced to pay back the funds that were stolen. 

This can happen when filing your tax returns, any online banking or online shopping transactions take place, especially when setting up a new direct debit.   Having a VPN can remedy this and prevent such fraud from ever happening in the first place. The VPN puts this sensitive data out of reach.  

Something to remember, if your mobile device WIFI is on at all times you could be opening yourself up to criminal acts like this. You may not be able to fully prevent identity theft, some security measures are just beyond our control, such as a mass data breach with an organisation which whom you have an account, but at least a virtual private network can safeguard the information on your devices. 

Finally if you want to learn more about the ins and outs VPN's, Wikipedia has got your covered.

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