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VPN stands for virtual private network, and it is a very effective way to secure your connection and anonymize your web traffic. But what is VPN? How does it work? Why should you use a VPN on public Wi-Fi?

VPN establishes a secure connection between your device and a remote location. It creates a tunnel from your device to your VPN service provider’s network. All your internet traffic goes through this tunnel to the VPN server, and then to the website or internet service you are connecting to. This hides the origin of your traffic and makes it look like it comes from your VPN service provider’s network. All your traffic is encrypted and you real IP address is hidden, so only your VPN service provider can know what you are doing.

With most service providers you can choose the location of the server you want your VPN tunnel to be connected to. This will make it look like your traffic comes from the country of the server you connected your VPN to.

Safe connection in public networks

When connecting to a Wi-Fi network, you can never know if it’s safe. Because VPN encrypts your data, it makes it significantly harder for your web traffic to be intercepted by hackers. This way you can join even unsafe networks without having to worry too much.

The encryption provided by VPN is also very useful for business and leisure travelers. Traveling can be very risky because you are often connecting to unsafe networks. Many countries have strict censorship of internet and internet surveillance. Might be that the website you are trying to access is blocked in your destination, or it might be illegal to access the kind of content you are used to at home.

VPN hides your IP address

Web tracking is a sum of many factors and your IP address is only one way to trace you or your device. However, hiding your IP address makes it harder to connect your web traffic to you. It doesn’t necessarily make you completely untraceable in the internet, but it makes it harder to track you.

Hiding your IP address also prevents your internet service provider from seeing what you do in the internet. This way they can’t store your data or sell it to advertisers or give it to authorities. This might not sound like a big deal to everyone, but many governments don’t have a very positive stance on internet privacy.

Change your virtual location

With VPN you can change your virtual location. This is why VPNs are used by people in countries where access to internet and some internet services are much more restricted to bypass these limitations. This is due to the option to change your VPN server location so that your web traffic goes through another country. The same feature also enables accessing geoblocked material, such as videos. However, websites can detect VPNs and block such traffic if they want to do so.

Gamers around the world can also benefit from changing their location by connecting to the same server through VPN. This can increase connection speed compared to each player first connecting to different servers. Better speed will decrease lag and enhance multiplayer experience.

What are the bad sides?

While not always, VPN can slow your internet connection to some degree. There are numerous possible reasons why this can happen. It is possible that you don’t even notice any change, or then the speed can drop dramatically. The use of VPN can also decrease battery life on laptops and mobile devices.

Another con is related to the VPN service provider. As said before, when you are using a VPN, all your web traffic is going through the VPN service provider. This means that instead of your internet service provider, the party in control of all the data about your web traffic is your VPN service provider. The big question is: do you trust the VPN service provider with all that data more than you trust your internet service provider?

A good way to approach the issue is to consider what you use the VPN for. If privacy is not the main issue and you just want to access geoblocked material or less lag for gaming, then a free VPN service could be enough for you. However, if you are not paying for the product, the company is making money some other way, such as selling your data for marketing purposes. In fact, many free VPN providers are scams intended to spy on your data. Free VPNs can also be a lot slower compared to paid options. If privacy is an important factor to you, it is safer to not go with a free VPN.

Some VPN service providers also can keep logs on user activity. It is important to be aware if a VPN provider does this, and for what purpose. Once again ask yourself, if you trust your VPN provider in what you are using the service for.

Location matters

Another important factor with the safety of VPNs is where the service provider is located. The companies must follow the laws of their home country. These laws can require them to give out data to authorities when asked to do so. This can potentially eliminate any privacy gained with the use of VPN. Some VPN service providers use a warrant canary to inform their users of any request to give out data to the authorities.

F-Secure is based in Finland, where the government won’t and can’t force companies to spy on their citizens. F-Secure’s FREEDOME is an easy to use VPN, which encrypts your data, blocks online tracking and hides your real IP address.

Luciano Hernández

05.11.19 5 min. read

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