What is a VPN and what is it used for?
A VPN (Virtual Private Network) allows you to send data across the Internet through a server, as if your connection and the server’s connection are one and the same. The server is basically another computer that serves as a middleman between you and the vast array of the World Wide Web, where we all know by now that a lot of security risks lurk.
That brings us to one of the many reasons why people use VPNs – security. Because you are connecting to the Internet through a virtual computer other than your own, the data you send and receive are anonymous and encrypted, allowing only the sender and the receiver to decipher that data and make it difficult for third parties to intercept. This is especally useful if you are using a public WiFi network like Telstra Air, where your data is more vulnerable than a private WiFi connection.
But these days, that’s not the only reason why VPNs are popular. They also allow you access geographically restricted content – for instance, Netflix movies that have been restricted to the United States (US) alone can be viewed from anywhere in the world with the use of a VPN that connects to a US server.
Another popular use is to skirt restrictions of certain websites, or even the Internet itself. Take China, for instance, where certain websites have either been blocked or forced to create a China version. Residents there use VPNs to bypass that wall and access the restricted websites.
VPNs also allow you access remote networks. These remote networks could be your office or your home, where you set up a VPN to be able to access your office or home server from anywhere.
And because of its anonymity, VPNs are popular amongst users who want conceal their identity. For instance, many people download torrents of pirated media and software. This is clearly illegal, and so VPNs are used to do so anonymously.
How do VPNs work?
As stated, VPNs are like middlemen – a server that takes your data and sends it for you, and receives data and passes it on to you. A VPN is a kind of shield – a wall between you and prying eyes.
Assuming you have a broadband plan here in Australia, and you want to stream a movie that has been restricted to the US alone. After you’ve connected to the VPN, your connection is encrypted and localised to wherever the VPN server is. You send your data (or request to stream) securely to the VPN which is in the US, and it sends that secure data to its destination (the streaming app), masking your actual location and placing you in the same region as the VPN – the US, in this example.
How much does a VPN cost each month?
VPNs started out as a way to encrypt workplace data as well as access that data remotely. But because of how popular VPNs have become, companies have seen it as a lucrative business.
For those looking to take advantage of the many uses of a VPN, several companies now offer VPN services for a fee. You’ll find a range of subscription models and prices, from as low as $2 per month – maybe even less, thanks to how competitive the market has become.
In fact, several companies provide free VPN services. In many cases, a free VPN relies on ad revenue, or offer a limited-time free trial, or both.
Should I use a VPN on my phone?
VPN services are great, but they have some drawbacks that you have to be aware of before deciding whether to use one on your phone. For one, with so many VPN services out there today, you would have to research to separate the best from the fakes. Some VPNs slow down your connection significantly, ruining your online experience.
Also, some companies sell shared VPNs where others use or have used the same server you use. What if that person was doing something illegal and the police was on the look-out?
That being said, the benefits of a VPN are great, and so you should consider using one on your phone. But whatever you do, get a VPN from a trustworthy, reputable service provider.
If you are technology savvy, a VPN would be easy. But if you’re not, then a VPN might be a bad idea because they can get quite complicated.
Also, if you’re into streaming content that’s restricted in your area, then you can use a VPN on your phone to stream.
You should want your phone to be protected from malicious actors on the Internet, and a VPN can do that for you. Because of the anonymity and encryption that VPNs bring, it would be very useful if installed on your phone.
It makes most sense to use a VPN when you’re on a public WiFi network. There are all sorts of hidden dangers in that situation. People can often see what you’re browsing and may even be able to hack into your phone for malicious reasons.
On the other hand, VPNs can be a pain to use, especially for less technically savvy users. If you’re unsure, one simple way to avoid problems is to simply get a bigger data SIM plan and use the telco’s mobile network instead of public WiFi. It’s much safer than public WiFi, and much easier than a VPN.