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March 18, 2021

VPNs and the Internet: How Virtual Private Networks Keep You Safe Online

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We protect our homes with security systems. We lock our cars when we get out of them. And, we protect our money with banks and PIN numbers. But many people don’t protect their internet activity. This often boils down to the fact that many people don’t realize they should. But the things we do online reveal a lot of private information about us, and can even result in that info being used against us. In addition, there are those who don’t think their online activity can be protected, or who believe protecting it is too difficult. Fortunately, neither belief is true. With a tool called a virtual private network, or VPN, you can easily keep your activity safe. Here’s HotBot’s guide to VPNs and the internet:

  • What is a VPN?
  • How do VPNs work?
  • Why do you need a VPN?

What is a VPN?

VPNs are a tool used to protect your internet activity and traffic. They come in both hardware and software formats. However, software VPNs are more popular with individual users and those with little tech know-how. Hardware VPNs are better at protecting groups of people (such as employees of a business). Generally speaking, most software virtual private networks are downloaded to the device you want to use them on, and can be used on both computers and mobile devices (such as smartphones and tablets).

How Do VPNs Work?

Every time you connect to the internet, your device establishes a connection to it through your internet service provider, or ISP. Your ISP then assigns you an IP address, which makes internet browsing possible (this is how websites know to send the results you want to your device). While this method is a fast, reliable way of browsing online, it doesn’t protect your activity. Your ISP (and the websites you visit, and possible snoops) can see what you do online, the websites you visit, how long you spend on each, and more, and they may even sell the data they gather. This can reveal a lot about you (your likes, dislikes, medical information, sexual preferences, and more that you may consider sensitive or embarrassing). Even more alarming is the fact that your IP address can also reveal private information about you to others online. 

However, if you use a VPN, you can protect yourself from these threats. VPNs protect you in a couple of ways. First, they create an encrypted tunnel between your device and the websites you visit. Anyone outside of this tunnel can’t see what you’re doing online. To add a second layer of protection, VPNs also assign your device a temporary IP address and route your traffic through your own servers, to avoid involvement with your internet service provider. Not only does this make you anonymous online, but you can also use this feature to change your apparent location, which gives you greater access to all the web has to offer.

Why Do You Need a VPN?

We’ve established that your online data can be gathered and used against you if you’re using the internet unprotected. Things like your passwords can be intercepted on unsecured networks, which opens you up to hacks. The products you search for can result in advertisers tracking you across websites and sending you targeted ads. The web searches you conduct may embarrass you (or be used to harass you) if leaked.

VPNs are also great tools for reasons other than privacy. If you’ve ever wanted to stream a TV show not available in your country, you can use a VPN to make it appear as if you’re somewhere where that show is available. Likewise, if content is censored in your location, you can use a VPN to get around said censorship. In some cases, websites for things like air travel or hotel bookings may also artificially increase prices for people located in certain areas. You can get around the price inflation by changing your location with a VPN. If you want to know more about what a VPN can do, check out our article here.

Conclusion

The internet is a wonderful thing, but also a dangerous thing. There are dozens of ways for your information to fall into the wrong hands or be used against you, and not many ways to protect yourself. Fortunately, VPNs and the internet are the perfect pair, designed to protect you against the greatest risks to your privacy. Download one today!

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