Virtual Private Networks, better known as VPNs are a type of connection that makes it easy to mask your internet activity. Using a VPN is entirely legal in most countries.
When you connect to the internet, a lot of information about you is shared. Whether it’s the websites you visit, the things you say or even just how long you spend on a website, this is all logged and stored. In some countries, a lot more is logged, too – many people aren’t comfortable with this. Even if you are in a country with strong privacy laws, your Internet Service Provider or ISP will be able to see all of these and a lot more.
Will simply using HTTPS protect me?
Even if you use HTTPS to encrypt your web traffic, your ISP can still see the IP address or domain name of the websites you visit. This information can be used to build a profile of your online activity and habits, which can be sold to advertisers or used for other purposes without your knowledge or consent.
And, any website can use HTTPS and encryption. This includes the good, trusted websites as well as the ones that are up to no good — the scammers, the phishers, the malware makers.
What about public Wi-Fi?
When you connect to public Wi-Fi, your risk of exposure increases massively. Eavesdroppers or hackers can intercept your data without your knowledge, leaving your personal information and activity exposed. This can lead to identity theft, fraud, or other types of cybercrime.
Using a VPN can help protect your online privacy and security, particularly if you use public Wi-Fi a lot. It isn’t a foolproof solution but it helps. By encrypting your internet traffic and routing it through a remote server, a VPN can prevent your ISP from seeing your online activity. It can also protect you from hackers and eavesdroppers when you connect to public Wi-Fi.
Why should I use a VPN?
When you use a VPN, in general, your internet traffic is encrypted. This means that your ISP or mobile network provider cannot watch what you do online.
When you use a VPN to connect to the internet, your device makes a secure, encrypted connection – called a tunnel – to a server in another location. This tunnel is where all of your internet traffic, like web browsing, email, and other things you do online, goes. This means that your ISP or mobile network provider can’t see what you do online.
The VPN server acts as a middleman between your device and the websites or services you’re using
Instead, they only see that you are connected to the VPN server. The VPN server acts as a middleman between your device and the websites or services you’re using. This helps protect your privacy and safety online by stopping other people from stealing your information.
A VPN enables you to browse the internet more safely and anonymously. No one can see what you do online, which can help stop identity theft, fraud, and other forms of cybercrime. But it’s important to choose a VPN provider with a good reputation and to know the limitations of VPN technology, such as the fact that VPN providers may still be able to see your internet traffic.
|Pros of VPNs||Cons ov VPNs|
|Enhanced privacy and security||Potential reduction in internet speed|
|Bypass geo-restrictions and internet censorship||May require a paid subscription for premium features|
|Increased anonymity online||Possible exposure to unreliable VPN providers|
|Protection from hackers and cyber attacks||Some websites and services may block VPN usage|
|Access to region-specific content||May not provide complete protection against online tracking|
So what is a tunnel?
You may have heard the phrase “tunnelling” tossed around without knowing what it means, partiuclarly if you’re new to the world of VPNs.
While using a VPN, your connection to the internet is encrypted and secured through a process known as tunnelling. Several VPNs utilize a variety of tunnelling protocols to achieve this, and learning the distinctions between them can massively help you when selecting the best VPN for your needs.
Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol (SSTP) is a popular tunnelling technology that use the same SSL/TLS encryption as HTTPS connections. This method is well-liked by Windows users due to the fact that it is native to the operating system and does not call for the installation of any third-party applications.
OpenVPN, an open-source protocol compatible with a wide range of platforms, is another common tunnelling method. OpenVPN is a favourite among customers who desire granular control over their VPN due to its extensive configuration options and wide range of supported encryption techniques.
Another popular tunnelling technique frequently used in business settings is Internet Protocol Security (IPsec). IPsec offers robust encryption and authentication but may not be the best option for individual users due to its configuration complexity.
Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol (PPTP), one of the earliest and least secure tunnelling methods, and Layer Two Tunneling Protocol/Internet Protocol Security (L2TP/IPsec) are two more tunnelling methods.
What are the pros and cons of each tunneling method?
|Tunneling Method||Encryption Strength||Compatibility||Ease of Use||Customization|
If you’re confused by tunneling, then don’t be, read this article that explains which tunneling method is best for you.
Is using a VPN legal?
Yes, in most countries, using a VPN is 100% legal.
There are, however, a handful of countries where using a VPN can be a legal grey area, such as in India. But for the majority of countries, VPN usage is fine, and even recommended by some organizations.
Do VPNs keep logs or record my activity?
For the most part, no. Some data can be recorded, depending on the VPN provider and their respective policies.
Here are some common types of data that VPNs may log include:
- Connection timestamps: VPNs may log the time when a user connects and disconnects from the VPN server.
- IP addresses: VPNs may log the IP addresses that users connect from and the IP addresses of the VPN servers they connect to.
- Bandwidth usage: VPNs may log the amount of data that users send and receive through their servers.
- User account information: VPNs may log information about user accounts, such as usernames and email addresses.
It’s important to note that not all VPN providers log the same data, and many will not log any data at all – we call these no-logs policies.
It also depends on the location of the VPN provider – for example, a VPN based in a Five Eyes jurisdiction may be more likely to log some data. Examples of VPNs in such locations are listed here:
|Private Internet Access||United States|
History of VPNs
Protecting and encrypting browser data has been a priority for internet users since since the internet’s beginnings.
The United States Department of Defense began working on programmes to encrypt data transmitted via the internet as early as the 1960s. The result of their labour was the packet-switching network known as ARPANET, which in turn inspired the design of the Transfer Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP).
Wei Xu created the IPSec network (which is useful for authenticating and encrypting data packets sent over the internet), the following year. Then, a Microsoft engineer named Gurdeep Singh-Pall developed a P2P tunnelling protocol in 1996 called PPTP. The internet was growing in popularity around the same time that Singh-Pall was busy squirreling away and with its increased use came a greater demand for consumer-friendly, high-tech security solutions.
Early anti-virus software was efficient in stopping malware and spyware from infecting computers, but demand grew for encryption software that could conceal users’ online activities as well.
Hence, virtual private networks (VPNs) arose in the early 2000s, however they first had limited adoption outside of businesses (read our guide here on the best business VPNs for more history here).
Eventually the consumer market for VPNs began to pick up after a wave of security breaches, especially in the early 2010s. VPNs are increasingly being used by both consumers and organizations to keep their online activities private and secure. Read our guide to the most secure VPNs here.
How to browse the internet with a VPN
Here’s the VPN Hound guide to start using a VPN in seconds:
- Choose which VPN provider you want to use, we have a list of the best VPNs if you’re unsure where to start.
- Initiate your VPN connection, once your internet connection is up and working. The VPN masks your device’s connection to the wider internet. No one, not even your ISP, can see this connection.
- You can now use the VPN’s local network and use the server’s IP address instead of your own. This implies that the VPN’s IP address, rather than your own, will be displayed to websites and services on the internet.
- Because the VPN encrypts your traffic, you can safely reveal your true identity while surfing the web. Your VPN service encrypts all of your online traffic, including your web searches, downloads, and other activities.
- Optionally, run a DNS Leak Test.
Now you’re ready to do things online that you probably weren’t able to do before. For example, watch Netflix in other countries, or get around your own country’s internet filters & blocking. Even if you’re in a “liberal” country like for example most of those in Western Europe, you’ll probably be surprised by how many websites you can now access.
So, should I use a VPN?
Overall then, VPNs are useful for hiding your online activity from prying eyes, but only if you use a trustworthy VPN service and know its restrictions.
While a VPN certainly can shield you from some forms of online attack, such as phishing and malware, it cannot prevent all of them – be aware of the limitations of a VPN and practice good internet safety.