What is a VPN?
A virtual private network (VPN) extends a private network across a public network and enables users to send and receive data across shared or public networks as if their computing devices were directly connected to the private network. Applications running across a VPN may therefore benefit from the functionality, security, and management of the private network.
A VPN works by routing your device's internet connection through your chosen VPN's private server rather than your internet service provider (ISP) so that when your data is transmitted to the internet, it comes from the VPN rather than your computer.
Why should you use a VPN?
A popular main reason to use a VPN is to protect your online information and to visit websites that can be hard to enjoy locally.
When left unprotected, your private data, such as bank account information and credit card numbers, can fall into the wrong hands. A good VPN encrypts your data, so even if you connect to a public wi-fi network, your private data is guaranteed to be protected.
Security. Your data will be encrypted which means hackers won’t be able to access it. If you’re using a closed network for work, you can keep it completely private. That means security for yourself, your business and any sensitive materials will stay in your possession. The encryption keeps you and your data safe. This is important for anyone who uses the internet, but if you’re using it to conduct business, it’s exponentially more important.
Anonymity Online. If you want to browse websites in complete privacy, you need to be using a VPN. The VPN acts like a mask to allow you to anonymously conduct your business online. Unlike web proxies or IP masking software, a VPN will allow you to access websites and web applications undetected.
Access your network remotely. After you’ve set up your VPN, you can connect to it remotely from anywhere with an internet connection. You can securely log into your network and access the information, documents, etc you need. For business, this will increase productivity. For users who use a VPN for privacy, this means you won’t have to send an email or attachment that can be intercepted. You can keep all of your data in a closed network that only you have access to. And that access can be achieved anywhere.
Share files in your network. This is similar to the last point, but after you’ve set up your VPN you can access share files with others. That means members of your network will easily be able to access and transfer files among themselves. This feature is increasingly attractive to businesses that want to allow team members to securely access work product. This is especially true for sensitive materials that you would not want to end up in the wrong hands. A secure connection is the only way to share files without detection or interception.
Bypass internet filters. In countries with more restrictive internet access like China, VPN’s are extremely popular. In part, this is due to internet filters that keep native users from visiting social media accounts and “spreading dissent” or opinions critical of the Chinese government. This may seem like just a Chinese problem, but for people trying to do business with Chinese companies and individuals, it is a huge challenge. A VPN allows users in China to “escape” the country’s internet policies and access a free network. If you travel out of the country, you can use your VPN service to bypass that country’s internet filters and conduct yourself on your own terms. For Americans, a VPN can allow you to access content like regional social media platforms or videos you might not have access to in the U.S. You might have encountered “restricted content” or geo-restrictions that don’t allow you access. That won’t happen ever again with a VPN. As our society becomes more global, this feature is indispensable.
Change your IP address and the server location. This is part and parcel of the previous points, but it’s how anonymity and bypassing internet filters works. You can change the location of your IP address or “hide” your IP address/location. If you’re connecting from Chicago, but want to connect from a country in Europe instead. You can use a VPN to easily change your IP address to an address originating in Germany. It’s simple. And, it allows you more anonymity and security. In addition, you’ll also be able to access regional content, websites, and web applications that are usually reserved for internet users in Germany. Many businesses in foreign countries do not have websites for each localized market. That means you can access a German website at a .de address without being redirected to a .com address (if one even exists).
Better performance. Sometimes the servers available to us are not optimal. You might find that connecting via VPN can improve speed and performance as you search the internet. It certainly will be better than a proxy network. VPN services are taking performance very seriously. In the past, VPNs could be slow, lag and you’d lose connections constantly. New developments have made those inconveniences a thing of the past. And, in many cases, using a VPN can result in better performance.
Differences between free VPN and paid VPN?
Many free VPN’s use protocols that aren’t 100% secure. They used what is called a PPTP VPN which has proven to not be the most ironclad as far as security goes. Paid VPN’s allow you to use other protocols that help tunnel your connection more securely. A free VPN will give you more security than not using a VPN. That doesn’t mean you’re getting the best security features that have been developed. A paid VPN is the way to go for optimal security.
As you might have guessed, a free VPN is less reliable. Because you’re using a free service that often means that the servers are not up to date and their resources are being stretched to the limit. If you plan on using a VPN to stay secure, you’re definitely going to want that service to be reliable and ready whenever you are. Whenever there are lapses in connection (as can happen on an unreliable VPN), you open yourself up to security risks. You need a stable connection that won’t get dropped from one server or volleyed to the next. This results in not merely a slowdown in productivity, but also a potential breach of security. If you want to have faith in your VPN’s security, you’ll need to be reliable.
A paid VPN is going to allow you fast speeds. You’ll quickly connect to a remote server, be encrypted, and be anonymous in a matter of seconds. Connecting through a good VPN shouldn’t be a headache and take forever. You don’t want to be waiting on it to connect you to the server. You want to be ready to run! Most paid VPN services are going to present you with the fastest and most seamless path to get up and running. A free VPN can be unstable and after you’ve finally connected to a server, the connection can be slow and cumbersome. If you’re looking for uninterrupted, rocket fast speed, a paid VPN will be able to meet your demands.
Good customer support is key to any business. No matter if that business is consumer-focused or business-to-business, you need to be able to resolve issues quickly. Most free VPN services do not even have a customer support team. The prospect of not having a dedicated team to help you oversee your online security might seem scary. It is. This is even more true for users who want a VPN for their teams. A paid VPN will allow you to connect with professionals who can help you day or night. You’ll not only feel secure and have the peace of mind that you’re being looked after, but a customer support team can also help you navigate the more esoteric aspects of using a VPN.
One of the biggest draws of using a VPN is being able to surf the web and conduct business anonymously. You don’t want corporations or the government to know everything you do online. It’s a privacy issue as well as a security issue. The one downside of using a paid VPN is the payment aspect. You read that correctly. By providing payment, you’re also providing a billing address and other personal information. Now, most paid VPN services are going to ensure your security and that the information will not be shared. For the most part, you should trust them. However, if the whole point is to gain anonymity why then would you disclose credit card and other personal information. Things are changing and many paid VPN services are allowing subscriptions to be paid by cryptocurrencies and other forms of payment. Paying anonymously is an added step. But for many people, it’s not that big of a deal. Of course, a free VPN is going to give you a bit more freedom.
The number of servers a VPN has in operation. Servers allow you to access the internet. They are what hosts you online. If a VPN doesn’t have many servers you’re not going to be able to remotely connect in as many places (this is impacts anonymity and security both). You’ll want to make sure you choose a VPN with a robust portfolio of servers in locations all over the world. Free VPN services will have a limited amount of servers because they’re expensive. You’ll find most paid VPN services have way more servers all over the globe. That should be a positive sign for you to look for as you’re trying to decide which VPN is right for you.