Most of us have seen, read, and heard those ads about VPN services on multiple platforms, but are they worth the subscription fees? More importantly, what is a VPN? Can VPNs protect our privacy and identity online? If so, how does it work? Stay with us as we answer those questions, along with several more.

What is a VPN?

VPN stands for virtual private network and just like the name suggests, a VPN connection keeps the user’s IP address private online by bouncing it off a virtual proxy network. The proxy network assigns a virtual IP address to the user’s online presence and activities, hiding the user’s actual identity, ISP, and location.

What is VPN and Do I Need It?

A virtual private network helps in keeping your online identity and activities hidden from prying eyes. Do you want everyone from your internet service provider and social media platforms, to online businesses and cybercriminals to record and track everything you do online? If the answer is no, then you need a VPN to keep your identity and activities hidden from them.

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What is VPN and Why Do I Need It?

As mentioned previously, a virtual private network is a proxy network that keeps your original location, browsing data, and personal information from getting traced back to you. For those not familiar with the importance of online privacy, it’s only natural to wonder about the relevance of such privacy measures. After all, if you are not doing anything illegal, why should you need to hide what you do online? As it happens, the answers may surprise you.

What is VPN and Why Do I Need It: To Keep Your Data from Being Sold

According to a report published by the Federal Trade Commission in 2021, your internet service provider can see, record, and sell all your online activities as customer data to interested companies. The worst part is that the same report confirms that every ISP does indeed sell their consumer’s online activity and identity data to interested parties because it is completely legal for them to do so.

In all fairness, the law in the US demands that the datasets are first made anonymous by the ISP, before selling them to any number of businesses for profit. However, there are a few core issues with this claimed anonymity. First and foremost is the fact that ISPs already know exactly who their customers are, and which data set belongs to whom.

You cannot keep anything hidden from your ISP without using a proxy network. As a result, there is nothing to stop your ISP from tracking and profiling you with personal details. Secondly, it is assumed that an ISP will pay full adherence to the applicable laws and won’t sell anything to big online businesses without ensuring anonymity for their users first.

Unless a probe is launched into their activities, or a customer decides to challenge them legally, there is no way for the average consumer to verify that assumption. Most users will never know for sure whether their data is indeed being sold by the ISP without traceable personal details.

Finally, you need to reconsider the fact that your ISP can legally sell your internet usage data to multiple businesses for profit. Are you okay with the idea of your internet service provider using your online information as an additional revenue source? You are paying subscription fees to access a service and while using that service, you are generating valuable data for your ISP to sell and create an additional revenue stream off you.

Whether you are searching online for baby food, video games, or movies, rest assured that your ISP knows what your shopping plans are and what can be insinuated from those plans. Once they sell the data, even more corporations will know all that they need to know as well.

If none of that sounds very appealing to you, then you are not the only one. Millions of people across the world use VPN connections to prevent their ISPs from spying on their online activities and profiling them to create profitable data sets.

What is VPN and Why Do I Need It: To Access Inaccessible Content

It’s true that VPN services can protect your privacy and data from internet service providers, social media platforms, and businesses in general, but that’s not all that they are useful for. If you have ever been geoblocked by a website, a VPN can help you overcome those restrictions in most cases.

In case you are not familiar with the term, geoblocking is a practice by retail websites, general websites, and streaming services to:

  1. Keep people from certain geographical regions from accessing their website.
  2. Keep users from different geographical regions from accessing content available in a separate geographical location.

As most of you might have guessed already, websites and streaming services can detect the original location and geoblock it because a user’s IP address is a glowing beacon of their present location. All decent VPN services allow their users to choose from a list of geographical locations.

Some even go as far as letting them choose different locations within the same nation. When you choose a particular location, your VPN service provider assigns you an anonymous but local IP address. Consequently, the geoblocking becomes ineffective as you are now recognised as a local by the website or the streaming service.

For example, if you are in China on a tour or for work, you will not be able to access even the most common websites such as Facebook or Netflix. They are banned in China and the sites themselves do not allow traffic coming in from China either.

Provided that you have a reliable VPN connection to bounce your IP off a British server anonymously, you can bypass such restrictions with relative ease. The same is applicable for not just China, but most locations around the world as well. This is a big reason why frequent travellers rely on VPN connections to keep them connected while on the move.

What is VPN and Why Do I Need It: To Keep Your Sensitive Data Safe from Cybercriminals

Businesses are known for profiting off their customer data all the time, but there are certain (technical) limits to what they can do legally. However, legal companies at least do not steal sensitive personal and financial data packets on the fly. That would be a criminal offence as it can reveal all sensitive information about the user such as:

  • Credit and debit card numbers.
  • CVV numbers.
  • Bank account numbers.
  • Transaction details.
  • National Insurance numbers.
  • Usernames (banking, social networks, etc.)
  • Permanent passwords and one-time passwords (OTP).
  • Email IDs and emails.
  • Phone numbers, contact lists, and texts.

The above examples are just that and the potential for a hacker to steal unencrypted data packets on the fly is nearly limitless. The scary part is what they can do after they have stolen a few passwords and usernames. Criminals can use them to do anything from stealing money and the user’s online identity, to using that same identity for infiltrating their employer’s cyberspace.

This can technically happen anywhere, but it happens most often when you are using a Wi-Fi connection that isn’t properly secured and encrypted. Public Wi-Fi is infamous for this very reason, but even a private, poorly protected Wi-Fi network can be susceptible to hacking attempts.

What Are VPNs and How Do They Protect?

To understand exactly what happens, consider a sensitive work email that you just used on a local café’s Wi-Fi connection to send to your boss. If the data isn’t adequately encrypted, even a decent hacker can intercept that email with a Man-in-the-Middle (MITM) net and then download it as a packet of data. They can then use it in any way that they wish to from that point on.

When you use a reputed VPN service that uses state-of-the-art encryption, all the hacker sees are indecipherable encryptions that expire after a fixed timeframe. Therefore, they cannot read or use the data in any conceivable way. The fact that the data cannot be traced back to your original IP is another roadblock that makes the whole process completely moot.

There are ways to surpass the basic protection provided by the average VPN provider, but it’s never easy. Besides, even the most basic VPN encryption and anonymous IP allocations provide better protection against data theft than a completely unprotected connection. For best security and results, turn off split tunnelling while dealing with sensitive info.

For an even safer and more anonymous experience, some VPN service providers allow their users to opt for a double proxy. A double proxy is an advanced VPN service where the user’s IP is bounced off two different servers in two different locations. In most cases, that makes it almost impossible for anyone to trace or track the user. On top of that, the best VPNs also come with active spam protection and a permanent kill switch (not net without VPN protection), which prevents accidental DNS leaks as well.