We like to think that when we log on to the internet, we can access all the content we want with no concerns. We want to believe that when we load our favorite website, there is no harm done to our device. Or, when we click checkout on our next online shopping spree, we are confident that our personal information is secure.
But sadly, that is not always the case. We don’t have the freedom to access whatever content we want on the internet. Our favorite website could, in fact, be doing major harm to our device. That latest online shopping spree may have been tracked, leaving personal information compromised. Many websites may be blocked in your region as well due to some legal concerns.
The reality of our online world is that we cannot guarantee its safety. Each year, millions of Americans fall victim to hacking, a virus, or other types of cyber-attacks. In 2017, a study found that one-third of consumers in the United States experienced some form of a cyber-attack. With such a high number, Americans are becoming increasingly concerned about the safety of their online activity.
However, there are ways to keep yourself, and your device, safe and secured while connected to a public network and perusing the internet. The most effective way is through a VPN.
If you spend much time connected to a public network, travel around a lot, or are simply looking for a boost in your device’s security, a VPN (Virtual Private Network) will help you immensely. VPN acts as a tunnel between you and the internet. It keeps your actual IP hidden by faking a different IP, and also, the traffic is encrypted that offers you more security. When you try opening a website when you are connected to a VPN, the request to that particular website will go from the VPN server. So, that if someone wants to spy your browsing activity, he can only find out that you are connected to a VPN but cannot locate which websites you have been browsing. That is the awesomeness of VPN that makes you anonymous on the web, and your personal information is highly secured.
To access anything on the internet, your device must send data to the connected network. All of this data flows back and forth through the connection, and that is what gives you access to the majority of the content you are searching.
This data, however, is vulnerable and exposed as it travels, which means anyone who wants to access it can do so. Information regarding your location, device identity and online activity can be seen and stolen by cybercriminals.
When you activate a VPN, the software creates a tunnel for your data to flow through. As it travels through this tunnel, it is masked and shielded from anyone peering in, making your data virtually invisible.
Imagine you are walking down the main road carrying valuable merchandise. You and everything you are holding are exposed and vulnerable to someone following you. Instead, you take an underground walkway to reach your destination. Once you step into the tunnel, anyone outside of the tunnel cannot locate you and see what you are holding. You will feel safer knowing no one can follow you. That is how a VPN works to mask your data.
A VPN benefits anyone using the internet. Quite often, people who use a VPN fall into three categories – those who rely on the internet for work and school, those who tend to download quite often, or individuals who are worried about their privacy.
If you work remotely or need to finish up a project for class, more than likely you’re already using a VPN through your company or school. It protects all the data stored on the home network of your school or business, including confidential information on employees, students, and customers that could be quite harmful if it ended up in the wrong hands.
Those who download often benefit from a VPN to protect their identity and computer from viruses. It is very easy to accidentally download a virus without even realising. A VPN protects your computer from all of that, as it masks your identity from outsiders.
Lastly, those who are concerned about their privacy and security should install a VPN to mask their data as it also encrypts it, adding another level of protection. A VPN can also change your IP (Internet Protocol) address. Your IP address is used to determine the location of your device, so the network knows where to send the content to. Without a VPN, your IP address is exposed to anyone, meaning your location can easily be found.
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Although we tend to think of a VPN as being strictly used for privacy and security, there is another reason to use one. As you surf the web, you may encounter a geo-restriction. When you try to access a website or service provider but are locked out due to your location that is a geo-restriction.
When your device requests access to an online service, your IP address travels to the network along with the rest of your data. If there is a geo-restriction, there will be a pool of IP addresses that are granted access. Anyone outside of this pool will get denied. So, that is how service providers like Netflix and BBC iPlayer can block out users who are not in their specified region.
A VPN can either mask your IP address or change it altogether. If it is simply masked, the network cannot guarantee your location, which then bypasses the geo-restriction. You can also change your IP address to the area the service provider requires to gain access. So, even if you are in the United States trying to use the BBC iPlayer, you can make your IP address look like you are in the United Kingdom and access the content.
Moreover, some VPN services are not that great, and they can leak your DNS which is known as DNS Leak in which you think you are protected, but you are not because your VPN is not keeping you anonymous due to DNS leak issue. You must be careful while purchasing a VPN service. Get only the one that has no DNS Leak issue.
Using a VPN in the United States is legal. What would make someone question the legality of a VPN is what you are doing with the software. If you are simply using a VPN to heighten your security, there is nothing wrong with that. In fact, many large companies use a VPN to protect their network when remote employees access it. Also, if you are using a VPN to bypass geo-restrictions, even though service providers are not a fan of this (could violate their terms of service), it is still legal.
However, if you are using a VPN for reasons that are frowned upon, like uploading stolen videos or downloading music or movies that are not from a paid service provider (this is copyright infringement), that is illegal activity. So, in short, the VPN itself is not illegal, but it is what you do behind the tunnel that could get you in legal hot water.