A VPN or Virtual Private Network is technology designed to ensure privacy for businesses and users over an otherwise public network, such as unsecured WiFi. It allows remote sites, users or employees to connect over the internet securely and safely. For example, a remote employee working from home may need to access the company intranet (internal networks accessible only within the company) without exposing proprietary company information. Increasingly, consumers also turn to VPN to ensure their emails, browsing history, social media interactions, banking transactions and other online activities remain inaccessible to others.
How VPN Works
A VPN hides the IP address (a unique number assigned to every online machine) so the physical source of data sent cannot be identified. In addition, data sent over a virtual private network is scrambled or “encrypted” making the data unreadable other than by the intended recipient. It is often described as a “tunnel” that allows private and secure data transmission in an unsecured environment.
Uses of VPN
Virtual private networks are used routinely by businesses to ensure client communications and confidential company information are kept private. Here are some of the other uses:
1. Hide User Location
If the IP address is visible, so is the device and physical location. The IP address leads to that device and only that device. A VPN uses an alternative IP address that could be located anywhere in the world. This is useful it it is important to you that devices and locations are hidden. The device is visible to the VPN provider but no-one else.
2. Protect Devices
Portable devices such as laptops, tablets, and smart phones used on public WiFi may be vulnerable to hackers and cybercriminals. Using a VPN helps keep devices and any information stored on them private. This could help protect against identity theft.
3. Internet Activity
Users may want to keep their online searches and activity private. Web browsers and often the websites visited keep a history of which sites were visited and what pages were viewed. This knowledge can be used for multiple purposes. For example, targeted ads may be served that alert others to what users researched. A virtual private network prevents this from happening and ensures the websites visited remain secret.
4. Streaming Out of Area
A VPN may allow users to use streaming services outside designated areas. This can be useful when travelling abroad. If a streaming service does not offer streaming in the destination country, users on a virtual private network can choose an IP address in their home country.
5. Personal Privacy
Internet service providers asked to supply records of online activity for legal or commercial reasons are unable to do so if users have used a VPN. This means that business or personal data remains private. Some providers log activity, so this does not mean that users can break the law with impunity. Users suspected of criminal activity cannot invoke privacy laws in the same way as law-abiding citizens.
A VPN keeps devices, information and browsing history private by hiding the source device IP address and encrypting transmitted data.