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What exactly is a Virtual Private Network (VPN) service and how can I use one without setting up my own network? Since this is a two-part question we’ll look at each independently and go from there.
(1) VPN’s have been around for a while now and are used extensively in business by allowing workers who are not able to or don’t want to have physical access to the company’s physical network by going in to the office. They allow users to connect to remote resources over the Internet while also protecting the data as it flows back and forth over the Internet by using a few different methods to encrypt the data between the end points.
(2) A VPN service is an ideal way to take advantage of the privacy benefits afforded by VPNs. It provides you the ability to have a personal VPN anywhere you go in the world. The basic principles are exactly the same except in the network you are accessing. When you use a business VPN solution to connect to your company’s network you are going through a VPN server/firewall that encrypts your connection from your computer to the network in both directions. When you use a personal VPN service you are connecting to the Internet through a VPN server managed by the company providing you the personal VPN service. So your connection to the Internet is encrypted from your device (smart phone, laptop, desktop, etc.) to the Internet and back. This keeps hackers and others from being able to know what sites you are visiting, what you are downloading and/or doing and from knowing where you are located because they provide you an IP address that is far removed from your actual location.
One of the beauties of a personal VPN service is the protection it affords you when using a public Wi-Fi access point. You can purchase a VPN service from a growing number of providers for a low monthly rate. When you use a public Wi-Fi access point without using a personal VPN solution then all your activity can be sniffed/captured by anyone wanting to do so. This means anytime you access your banking, login to your online social networks, check your email etc., a hacker can take advantage of your lack of security. When you use a personal VPN solution hackers or snoopers cannot take advantage of you because everything is encrypted. Many personal VPN services also allow the user to connect through servers in a variety of countries, allowing the user to appear like a user who is browsing the Internet from a different location.
It is important to understand the basics when you choose a VPN service since all of your data is routed through their servers/service. Here is a good article from Alan Henry over at LifeHacker.com