VPNs are a widely misunderstood technology. Most people recognise them as a tool for watching American Netflix or hiding your browsing history from your Internet service provider or your boss.
But what about speed, security and the legality of using a VPN? How does it really affect your internet connection?
What is a VPN?
There are two main parts to a VPN. The VPN client, which is software that runs on your computer. And the VPN server, which is another computer configured to receive all the traffic thatâ€™s leaving your computer.
The VPN client knows how to collect all your traffic, encrypt it and send it over the public internet to the VPN server. The VPN server then acts like a mail forwarder. It knows how to receive your internet packages and pass them onto the site that you entered into the URL bar.
Thatâ€™s how a VPN anonymises you. It breaks the chain between you, the site you are navigating to and your ISP.
Your internet service provider – the company you buy internet from – canâ€™t see the site that you are visiting. They can just see that they are carrying traffic to an IP address, which belongs to a VPN.
The site you are visiting can only see that the communication originated at the VPNâ€™s IP address.
Can A VPN Slow Down Your Internet?
It might. Thatâ€™s why itâ€™s important to pay for a service.
Free VPNs tend to have more people connecting to fewer servers and are running slower servers on older Linux Kernels.
A paid VPN service wonâ€™t have as much effect on your internet as a free one. It can still slow down your internet a little and there will be the slightest increase in latency for online games. This is inevitable because the traffic is taking an additional stop on the way to its destination.
How A VPN Allows You To Watch Overseas Films and Movies
When a movie isnâ€™t available in a country itâ€™s called geo-blocking.
With A VPN you can trick Netflix, Hulu or HBO, into thinking youâ€™re browsing from the US, UK, Japan or any other country. Doing this youâ€™ll effortlessly add hundreds if not thousands of titles to the library of these streaming sites. Thatâ€™s if they arenâ€™t banned completely in your region.
Unfortunately, broadcasting laws are lagging behind technology, and although uploading something to the internet means itâ€™s available everywhere on earth, we still pretend we watch content on living room televisions.
A VPN server in the US has a US IP address and as far a Netflix knows a person in the US is requesting access to its platform.
In case youâ€™re wondering, Netflix has taken no official stance on the usage of VPN. Itâ€™s against their terms of service but only because they worry it could reduce the quality of its service. With a quality, paid VPN thatâ€™s not a problem.
Another problem with free VPNs is that more people share the same IP address. This increases the chance that the site you are visiting will know that youâ€™re accessing it from a VPN.
Some sites keep a blacklist of VPN IP addresses that donâ€™t allow access to their site. To avoid this try to find a service thatâ€™s reputable and has fewer people per server than other major providers.
Can A VPN Protect You On Public WiFI
A VPN encrypts all traffic before it leaves your computer.
That makes it impossible for any malicious actors to eavesdrop on your connection while youâ€™re sharing a public network.
Granted a lot of internet traffic is already encrypted. Practically anytime you see a padlock icon in the URL bar it means youâ€™re accessing a site via HTTPS and youâ€™re safe.
When you donâ€™t see a padlock it means that youâ€™re sending traffic as clear text and anyone who intercepts it can read everything including your password and username.
A VPN will encrypt your traffic while it journeys to the server. This military-grade encryption is used pretty much everywhere online, but for the few places itâ€™s not, itâ€™s worthwhile investing in some extra security.
If the credentials the hacker snooped from the unencrypted site are the same as your bank account login, thatâ€™s a problem. Donâ€™t recycle your passwords. If you donâ€™t want to use a password manager, try making a password for high, medium and low-security websites.
Letâ€™s Wrap This Up
VPNs are a great tool for watching content overseas and hiding your browsing history from your ISP or your boss. They have an additional layer of encryption and security, which is useful anytime youâ€™re on sites that donâ€™t use HTTPS. You really should pay for a VPN because youâ€™re trusting the company not to sell your data, keep logs on your activity, and have properly secured their server.