What is a VPN?
Anyone who connects to the internet on a regular basis should have some basic knowledge about what a VPN is and how a VPN service works. Essentially, a VPN is a tool that keeps you secure and private online while letting you change the geographic location from which you access the web. There are many reasons why a VPN is a useful tool for even the most basic of internet users. Read on to find out what exactly a VPN is and how it is relevant to you.
VPN for beginners
Virtual Private Networks: Explained
To understand what a VPN is, you need to know about IP addresses. An IP address is a unique set of numbers that is used to identify your computer online, like a postal address for your computer or smartphone. While an IP address is necessary in order to send information over the internet, annoyingly an IP address also reveals your location to any website you are trying to access.
This is where a VPN comes in: VPN providers have servers located in different global locations and are able re-route your traffic in order to hide your original IP address and exchange it with one from their servers. At the same time, a VPN service will encrypt all of your traffic, ensuring your security and anonymity online.
What can I do with a VPN?
There are two main things that you can do with a VPN. Firstly, a VPN hides your online identity meaning you can’t be tracked by cyber criminals or the government. Secondly, since all good VPN providers will let you choose the country you would like to receive your new IP from, you can also use a VPN to access streaming content and unblock websites that are not available in your current location.
Why everyone should be using a VPN
A VPN service isn’t only for the super techy but instead is a piece of technology that all internet users should be familiar with. Here’s 5 everyday examples of when you should really be using a VPN:
- When using public wifi: Public wifi networks are a super easy place for hackers to gain access to your personal information such as passwords and banking details. Using a VPN to encrypt your traffic will stop you from having your money and identity stolen.
- When living abroad: A VPN allows expats to online shop, research and stream like they are in their home country, meaning you can watch the latest episode of your favourite shows no matter where in the world you live.
- When travelling to censored countries: Many countries in the world censor parts of the internet, including social media, messaging platforms and news sites. With a VPN you can bypass censorship and unblock any site.
- When torrenting: Torrenting is a great way to share files online but the problem with torrenting is that all the people you connect with are able to view your IP address. If you don’t want anyone to track you while torrenting then you better use a VPN.
- When you just want to be private: You don’t need to give a reason for not wanting advertisers or your government to be able to spy on what you are doing online. Privacy is your right and using a VPN service will let you protect it!
VPN and Online Security
VPN Protocols: How VPNs protect your data
In order to keep your data secure, VPNs can use a number of different ‘VPN protocols’, which offer different encryption standards and levels of security. Different VPN protocols offer different levels of encryption and security, we’ve put together this comparison so that you know what to look out for:
IP security (IPSEC): This protocol is usually used alongside L2TP (Layer 2 Tunnel Protocol) in order to encrypt your traffic. Overall it is believed to be a secure method, however it can slow your traffic in comparison to other VPN protocols.
OpenVPN: OpenVPN is the newest and most secure VPN protocol. It is much faster than other methods and there is also no reason to believe that anyone (including the NSA) has compromised OpenVPN connections. OpenVPN is not integrated into popular operating systems, meaning you will need a third-party app - such as ZenMate - to use it.
PPTP: There are many known security issues with point-to-point tunneling protocol. For a while now it has been assumed that the NSA is decrypting PPTP connections meaning the security offered by this method is dubious. It is not recommended to use PPTP if you are looking for ultimate security.
SSTP: Secure Socket Tunnelling Protocol is also a very secure form of protocol and uses AES encryption, which is basically the gold standard in encryption methods. Overall SSTP offers high levels of security, the main downside of SSTP is that it is mostly just for Windows users.
Free vs. Paid VPNs
Why free VPNs and proxies are unsafe
When choosing a VPN service, there are many providers and proxy websites that offer to unblock websites for free. However, a VPN infrastructure costs money, meaning if a VPN provider or proxy site isn’t charging their users, you must ask yourself where they are getting their money from. Many free VPN providers make money by storing and selling their users’ data or by selling their bandwidth, like the popular free proxy server Hola was caught doing in 2015.
"...if a VPN provider isn't charging their users, you must ask where they are getting their money from.'
There have been a huge number of scandals surrounding the dodgy activity of free VPN and proxy providers, proving that free VPNs tend to undermine your online privacy and security, rather than protect it. If you still need to use a VPN for free, your best bet is to go with a paid VPN provider who offers a free version of their product. Overall, however, if you are looking for privacy, security and reliability, it is best to go with a paid VPN service.
How to download and setup your VPN
If you’ve read everything you need to know and are ready to check out a VPN, then why not try out ZenMate. To download and setup ZenMate’s VPN is super easy:
- Download ZenMate’s browser extension, desktop client or mobile app by clicking on ‘DOWNLOADS.’
- Follow the instructions within your app or client in order to create your ZenMate account.
- Choose which server location you would like to connect to and then click the big round button - you are now surfing the web securely and without restriction.