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What Is a VPN?

What is a VPN?

Privacy and security are important considerations when you're online. Whether you're working remotely or just surfing the web, there are a variety of legitimate and malicious entities that could attempt to snoop on your internet activities. They may also try to steal sensitive private data.

Fortunately, there are multiple ways to protect yourself. One way is by using a VPN, a technology that plays a big role in cybersecurity by securing personal data and keeping internet activities private.

In this article, we'll look at what a VPN can do for you, how a VPN works, and why using one is necessary. We'll even show you how to set up a VPN for various systems. Let's get started by explaining what a VPN does.

How does a VPN work?

VPN stands for Virtual Private Network, and its definition hides in those words. It's virtual because it's created using software. It's private because your data is encrypted, and your device's IP address is hidden. It's a network because it's used to create a connection between computers and devices.

VPNs act like a tunnel for data between your device and the internet. When you use a VPN connection, every bit of data you transfer first goes to a VPN server — which could be local or located thousands of miles away. This helps users appear as if they're connected from another country.

The VPN server encrypts the data you send and forwards it to the website or internet service you're connected to. When the service responds and sends data back, it's sent to the VPN server, encrypted, and forwarded to your device.

Any service or website you connect to will see the VPN as the device that's connected. They can't detect your original IP address and can only access the IP address of the VPN. This also prevents your ISP from tracking your online activity because all traffic is encrypted.

Why should I use a VPN?

Now that you know what VPNs do, let's explore some of the most common reasons why people use them.

Remote work

People often use a VPN for remote work because it ensures the security and privacy of their connection to work resources. Working remotely has traditionally been risky because employees have to access sensitive data over whatever internet connection is available, including those that are unsecured.

Software development

Software takes time and creativity to build. If you're a programmer, you want to ensure that your code — or the code you write for a client — is protected from prying eyes. If you use a VPN, you can prevent data leaks and improve your overall online privacy.

A VPN will encrypt all the data that comes from your machine, making it useless to hackers or anyone trying to steal source code.

As a developer, there may be times that you have to test how your application works in another country or time zone. You may have to check that the correct time and default language for the location is being used.

Most VPN providers have servers in multiple countries worldwide. This allows you to test your app as if it were in those countries.

Public Wi-Fi

VPNs are also something you should consider for your personal internet use. This is especially the case if you're accessing the internet with a public Wi-Fi connection. Public Wi-Fi spots are common hangouts for hackers who use the free Wi-Fi connection to set up a man-in-the-middle attack.

By using a device that masquerades as the real Wi-Fi connection, a hacker can harvest the unsecured data of anyone who connects to it. Using a VPN secures your connection so that even with a man-in-the-middle attack, your connection and data remain private.

Data privacy

Even if you stay away from public Wi-Fi and only use your home internet connection, your data and browsing activities may not remain private.

Since 2017, when ISPs lobbied the government to pass a law that removed the right to internet privacy, ISPs have been harvesting, collecting, and selling their users' data to the highest bidder. A VPN will keep this data private and prevent your ISP from tracking those activities.

What are the drawbacks of using a VPN?

While a VPN will keep your connection secure and your data safe, there are some potential drawbacks to using one.

  • Blocked services: Some services may require that you have a valid IP address to use them. Some VPNs can mask your IP and cause issues with these services. An example is if you use a location-based service and the VPN is in another state or country.
  • Downtime: Just like every other type of software, VPNs need maintenance. Downtimes can cause interrupted VPN service.
  • Dropped VPN connections: A connection to a VPN tunnel can drop just like any other connection, and if you don't notice when this happens, you could browse the internet without the security or privacy it provides. To prevent this, you can set up an automatic connection termination if the VPN tunnel drops.
  • Connection speed: With a VPN, you depend on software on a server somewhere to forward your connection. If this server is far away from you or is having issues, it can slow down your connection speed.

Where to get a VPN

Many companies provide VPNs either for personal or business use. If you work remotely and connect to work resources, your company might provide you with VPN software to secure this connection.

If you don't have that option, you can find plenty of commercial VPN providers online. Each VPN provider will have different features and pricing. Here are some popular ones:

How to set up a VPN

Luckily, most VPN providers will have software available that you only have to download and install to protect all of your internet traffic. If you purchased a VPN subscription, you can find it on the vendor's website. If you're using a work computer, the IT staff may have already installed it on your device or will provide you with the software to install yourself.

There may be times when you have to set up a VPN manually, and you can do this through your operating system. All you'll need to connect to a VPN is the URL of the VPN server you're connecting to, your username, and your password. After you have those, follow the steps below that match your operating system:

Set up a VPN on Windows

Follow these steps to set up a VPN connection on your Windows computer:

  1. Search for VPN using Cortana.
  2. Select 'VPN Settings' from the results and click on the + sign next to 'Add a New VPN Connection.'
  3. Choose 'Windows built-in' from the drop-down menu in the first field. This will make your VPN connection type automatic, but if you already know the type of VPN you're using, you can choose that as well.
  4. Fill out the rest of the details on the form with the information from your VPN provider.
  5. Save the information.
  6. Click on your Wi-Fi connection and select the VPN connection you just created.

Set up a VPN on Mac

Here are the steps you need to follow to set up a VPN connection on your Mac computer:

  1. Open 'System Preferences' and click on 'Network.'
  2. In the 'Network' screen, click on the + sign on the left side and choose 'VPN.'
  3. In the screen that pops up, enter the details from your VPN provider, including VPN type, server address, and authentication settings.
  4. Click 'Apply' then 'Ok,' and your VPN is ready to use.

Set up a VPN on Android

Follow these steps to set up a VPN connection on your Android phone:

  1. Open 'Settings' on your Android phone.
  2. Search for 'Wireless and Network' and click 'More.'
  3. Enter the details from your VPN provider, including VPN type, server address, and authentication settings.
  4. Click 'Save,' and your connection is ready.

Set up a VPN on iOS

Follow these steps to set up a VPN connection on your iPhone:

  1. Open 'Settings', navigate to 'General', and choose 'Type'.
  2. Click 'Add VPN Configuration' and choose 'Type.'
  3. Choose the preferred VPN type.
  4. Click 'Back.'
  5. Enter the details you got from the VPN provider, including the server, credentials, and a description.
  6. Click 'Done' and switch the status to 'On.'

Conclusion

Not only businesses or people trying to torrent movies use VPNs. VPNs are important to anyone concerned about the privacy of their internet activity and the security of their sensitive data. Even developers use VPNs to protect the intellectual property rights of their work.

If you're just getting into coding, your first stop should be to our coding course catalog, where you can find a course that'll start you off on your coding journey. You may want to use a VPN to protect your work if you don't already use one.


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Stephan Miller

Stephan Miller

Stephan Miller has been a full-stack, mobile, and machine learning developer for two decades and has written code for companies both big and small, both startups and established businesses.

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What Is a VPN?
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