What is a VPN?

A VPN (Virtual Private Network) is a service that lets you access the web safely and privately, unblocks restricted content and allows you to appear to be in another country.

It does this by encrypting your internet connection and routing your connection through a remote VPN server in order to replace your IP address.But how does it exactly work?

How Does a VPN Work?

Here's how a VPN works for you, the user. You start the VPN client from your VPN service. The VPN client encrypts your data, even before your Internet Service Provider or the coffee shop WiFi provider sees it. The data then goes to the VPN server, and from the VPN server to your online destination - anything from your bank website to a video sharing website to a search engine. The online destination sees your data as coming from the VPN server and its location, and not from your computer and your location.

When you connect to the web without a VPN, here's how your connection looks:

Though it's the standard, this sort of connection has some flaws. All of your data is out there in the open, and any interested party can peek at what you're sending, hackers, ISPs, and government surveillance agencies will easily keep tabs on you and exploit your private data.

Nowadays, we need Internet access on the go. It doesn't matter where you are or what you're doing - sometimes, you just have to connect to a public WiFi network. Unfortunately, most public WiFi hotspots aren't secured at all.

That means they don't feature any encryption, which in turn leaves your private data at the mercy of hackers.

Don't forget - many hackers like to engage in WiFi eavesdropping. They generally use public networks as they barely offer any protection. Thus, they manage to exploit your connections and collect sensitive data.

Now, here's how the same connection looks with a VPN enabled:

When you use a VPN service, your data is encrypted (because you're using the VPN client software), goes in encrypted form to your ISP then to the VPN server. The VPN server is the third party that connects to the web on your behalf. This solves the privacy and security problem for us in a couple of ways:

The destination site sees the VPN server as the traffic origin, not you.

No one can (easily) identify you or your computer as the source of the data, nor what you're doing (what websites you're visiting, what data you're transferring, etc.).

Your data is encrypted, so even if someone does look at what you're sending, they only see encrypted information and not raw data.

1. Unblock any content

Let's say you live in France but want to watch a show on Hulu. Or, let's say you're vacationing in Greece but want to watch a show that's only available on Netflix's US library. Without a VPN, you won't be able to access the website.

However, with a VPN you can change your geolocation so that it appears as if you are in America.

A VPN can also help you unblock other types of sites that your government or ISP might block. For instance, in China, you can't access Facebook, Gmail, or Youtube without a VPN due to China's Great Firewall.

Some countries block torrenting sites to prevent criminal activity, but a VPN can help you access the torrent sites. A VPN is also useful in school or colleges, where specific sites might be blocked.

Unblocking content is probably the most popular way people use VPNs nowadays.

2. Hide your IP address

The same way a VPN can unblock content, it can also hide your IP address. Maybe you don't want your internet activity traced back to you for whatever reason.

Your IP changes depending on which VPN server you connect to.

When you use a VPN, your real IP address is replaced with the IP address from the VPN server, which can be located anywhere in the world. This means that as far as the websites and apps you are using are concerned, you are just another visitor from that country.

Better yet, you can be from any country you choose with a click of a button.

3. Encrypt data transfers

Most people are unaware of this, but that Starbucks hotspot and that 10-dollar-a-day hotel wi-fi are not safe for confidential email and browsing. Public wi-fi offers no encryption security to its users, and your signals are broadcast for anyone savvy enough to eavesdrop.

It's very easy for even a junior hacker to intercept your unencrypted wi-fi signal using an Evil Twin phony hotspot.

Public Wi-fi is terribly unsecure and is perhaps the biggest reason why mobile users should consider using a VPN for their safety.

If you log into a public wi-fi network and then connect to a personal VPN, all of your hotspot web use will then be encrypted and hidden from prying eyes.

VPN plays a very important role in protecting your privacy whether you are a traveler or a user who regularly uses the public WiFi.

4. Save money

Did you know that websites change prices depending on your country?

It's true. If you want to buy a plane or hotel ticket, you can save a lot of money by changing your IP address.

5. Help you torrent

There are two ways a VPN can help you torrent. The first is that it can unblock torrent sites. Torrenting isn't illegal, but downloading copyright material is. Since not everyone downloads legally, many countries block torrenting sites. Other countries will fine you or send warnings if they see you torrent.

A VPN can hide your activity and change your geolocation to a country where torrenting sites are not blocked or tracked. The second way a VPN can help you torrent is by preventing throttling. ISPs track your activity and they can slow down your connection. They tend to do this when they see you're using a P2P connection.

Since a VPN hides your activity, your ISP won't see you torrent and won't be able to throttle your connection.