What Is A VPN and Do I Need One?

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What’s a VPN and why do you potentially need it? Here’s everything you need to know about what a Virtual Private Network is, including how it work, a comparison of free and paid providers, and reasons for needing it.

RELATED: 9 Best VPN Providers

In this article:

  1. What is VPN?
  2. How Does a VPN Work?
  3. What Does a VPN Do?
  4. Can A VPN Make Me Invisible On The Web?
  5. How Secure is a VPN?
  6. What are VPN Protocols?
  7. Is Using a VPN Legal?
  8. Difference Between Free and Paid VPN
  9. What are the Best VPN Providers?
  10. Do I Need a VPN?


A Beginner’s Guide to What a VPN is and What it Can and Can’t Do


What is VPN?

A VPN (Virtual Private Network) is a service that creates a secure and private network that lets you use the web privately and safely. It hides everything you do online by routing your connection to a server located elsewhere.

How Does a VPN Work?

When you start the VPN software, it quickly encrypts your data before your Internet Service Provider (ISP) catches on. The data you’re accessing then shoots to the VPN, then from the server to your final online destination. From there, it reads your data as originating from the VPN server and not from your own physical location or computer.

Encryption Definition: The process of securing data by converting it into code.

What Does a VPN Do?

cyber security | What Is A VPN and Do I Need One?

A VPN is basically your web armor, and it can be used for a multitude of things such as the following:

  • Access streaming content restricted in specific countries
  • Privately upload and download P2P files
  • Use public wifi without worrying about getting compromised
  • Helps you override network restrictions in places such as school and the office
  • Bypass content surveillance and online censorship
  • Cloak your calls made online
  • Use search engines without being logged

Can A VPN Make Me Invisible On The Web?

Not really. The most that it does is serve as a protective coat for your online movements. Without a VPN, anybody with the right set of skills and tools can take a peek–and do more nefarious things–at your data. Among the foremost qualities among of VPN is its ability to encrypt your data transmissions and cloaking them as the server making the connection.

How Secure is a VPN?

VPN security is the subject of many an online debate among experts in the IT industry. No two VPN services are the same, so there really is no consistent standard where security is concerned. The reason for this is that each VPN provider has varying limitations of the kind of VPN technology that they use. Laws of the server’s home country, service provider, and even their own company policies may affect how the technology is implemented.

RELATED: How to Protect Yourself | 31 Tips to Stay Safe Online

What are VPN Protocols?

VPN protocols are how data transmission is handled by a VPN service provider over a VPN. Here are some of the most common protocols:

  • Point-To-Point Tunneling Protocol (PPTP) — This is one of the oldest protocols in use. Due to its age, it’s easily compatible with older computers and is also very easy to set up. However, it is a little outdated in terms of security and is actually the least secure of all VPN protocols.
  • Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol (L2TP) — This protocol uses keys to make a secure connection on both ends of your data tunnel. However, how that’s done isn’t very safe, as the NSA is reported to have broken this protocol on many occasions to monitor the transmissions.
  • Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol (SSTP) — It has the basic standard for web encryption built on symmetric key cryptography. This means that only the two ends of the transfer will be able to decode the transmitted data.
  • Internet Key Exchange, Version 2 (IKEv2) — This is a protocol that provides some of the best security out of all the protocols out there, as it takes on some of its older Microsoft iterations.
  • Open VPN — This protocol takes all that is best of the aforementioned protocols. It is also an open source project, meaning developers are constantly working on countless improvements. It makes connections secure by using keys that will be known to only whoever is at the end of each transmission tunnel. Its openness to improvements is what makes it among the most secure protocols to use.

Is Using a VPN Legal?

Yes, but not in all instances. The concept of VPN is still quite young where legalities are concerned, so lawmakers have not had enough chance to keep up with it yet. In order to learn more about VPN’s legality in your home country, read up on the laws of your local governing body.
However, here are some of the countries in which VPN is an absolute no-go, including:

  • China
  • United Arab Emirates
  • Iraq
  • Russia
  • North Korea
  • Turkmenistan
  • Oman
  • Belarus
  • Turkey

Difference Between Free and Paid VPN

connecting the internet with a secure access | What Is A VPN and Do I Need One?

There are multiple VPN service providers that offer free services. But consider the drawback that comes with freebies: the onslaught of ads, slow connection, or your data sold to third-parties. This raises the risk for your accounts getting hacked, as well as identity theft.
You may as well just go and pay for a quality VPN service. For as low as $3 a month you can get a reliable service that doesn’t sacrifice your online privacy.

What are the Best VPN Providers?

Every VPN is different, and to find the best one you have to know what qualities you should be looking for. To help narrow that list down, here are some great all-around VPNs:

  • Express VPN — It’s been touted as the most user-friendly VPN app. It comes with a handy kill switch that lets you keep your data from ending up in the wrong hands. They have a log-free policy, and more than 2000 servers in 94 different countries, is torrenting-friendly, works on all browsers and devices, and has a 30-day money back guarantee.
  • CyberGhost — Located in heavily web-fortressed Romania and possessing a very strict no-logging policy, this VPN service provider makes sure that your data is private–and stays that way. However, it’s a primary downside is that it isn’t torrenting-friendly.
  • Windscribe — They have up to 480 servers in 51 countries, and offer unlimited device connections. The only catch is that Windscribe is in Canada, a country known for openly snooping in on people’s online meanderings.
  • NordVPN — This service provider is probably the cheapest out there, but has the highest number of servers (5000+) in 62 countries. They use what they call a “double encryption” protocol that fuses two different servers to a single connection. NordVPN is also reported to be quite streaming and torrent-friendly. Their only notable downside is that it takes 30 days to process refunds.

Do I Need a VPN?

If you highly value your privacy on the web, then it’s a resounding yes.


Tech Made Easy

What is a VPN and how does it work in this video from vpnMentor:

The world wide web offers a wealth of promising information and services. However, its biggest catch is that it can also serve to be a threat to your privacy. Take the necessary steps to keep your web life private by using a VPN service.

What measures do you take to protect yourself online? Share some tips in the comments section below!

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  1. Figaro

    From my own experience, if you try Nordvpn you will be satisfied with what this provider gives to you, so you won’t even think about a refund. It has everything that a good vpn needs. I am talking about double encryption, kill switch, cybersec and helpful customer support that will solve all your problems.

  2. Dorothy Dotson

    I was using the free ProtonVPN but it kept knocking my desktop off my wifi network. It took a lot of fiddling to get back on too. After I stopped using the VPN the dropping off wifi problem stopped completely. I would assume that it is supposed to make things better and safer, but it was worse. If they wanted me to purchase their service it was the wrong way to do it!