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As specialists emphasise, VPN programmes are one of the key elements in the protection of our privacy and security on the network. Users are often convinced that sufficient protection is already provided by the use of an antivirus and possibly a firewall. Nevertheless, even those interested in additional forms of protection often simply don’t know what exactly a VPN is and how it works.
However, is such knowledge really necessary for something? Or maybe you just need to choose one of the advertised and reputable programmes offering Virtual Private Networks? Contrary to appearances, choosing the right VPN is much more important than it may seem. In order to be able to think about the rational choice of the Virtual Private Network provider, at the outset we should have at least some basic knowledge about what a VPN is, what differences can exist between providers and how exactly a VPN protects our privacy and security.
How a VPN works, i.e. data encryption and IP address change
We are often convinced that, in reality, the operation of a VPN comes down to changing our IP address, which is something like a virtual identifier. As a matter of fact, however, this is a misconception which in addition may result in a potentially dangerous conviction that a VPN is actually the same as an IP changer.
But what are the facts? When we use the Internet in a standard way, our connections can be presented as follows:
1. Users (i.e. us)
2. The Internet service provider
3. The recipient of our activities, i.e. the websites we visit
What’s the problem? Above all, our IP points exactly at us. Secondly, the information on our connection (webpages viewed, passwords, etc.) is not encrypted in any way. Another problem is the fact that the Internet provider has full knowledge about our activities and it can be passed on to e.g. law enforcement authorities. Moreover, hackers can freely track us by observing the websites we visit.
On the other hand, how does it look like when using a Virtual Private Network and how does a VPN work in this area? Here, the scheme is as follows:
2. The VPN server which:
– changes our IP, which makes it impossible to connect it with ourselves
– encrypts the contents we view, which means a kind of distortion: even if a hacker gets such data, it will be completely unreadable to him.
3. The Internet service provider who only knows that we are using a VPN, but can in no way track our activities or collect information about them (the provider has no access to them)
4. The websites we visit
How to choose the best VPN?
When it comes to good and reputable programmes offering VPNs, we don’t have to be concerned about the security related to possible hacking attacks. This is slightly different for the potential data availability to governments or law enforcement agencies. Thus, it’s worth checking which country the VPN program provider is based in and what data-sharing regulations apply in that country.
In this regard, it’s also relevant to pay attention to the logging storage function. If we’re only concerned about protection against hackers, this option doesn’t really matter. The situation is different when it comes to protection against governmental actions. A VPN provider who doesn’t store logs simply won’t be able to give the authorities any information about us without disposal of this data.
It’s also worth optimising the characteristics of the VPN we have chosen for our needs. Currently, for example, many streaming platforms not only use regional blockades, but also try to detect and block users using VPN servers. In this respect, some programmes will be able to bypass the second blockade as well (just by passing a regional blockade isn’t an art), while others will simply turn out to be ineffective. The same applies to the use of torrents, for example. It’s also worth remembering that some countries penalize the very fact of using VPNs. In turn, others stipulate that a VPN is illegal when using a private network to visit contents prohibited in a particular country. These are certainly factors that should be taken into account for some journeys.
Does the best VPN completely protect your privacy?
The answer is: no. Even if we already know how a VPN works, we should also have a basic knowledge about other fundamental methods of maintaining network security. Let’s also remember that a VPN isn’t an antivirus program – it works according to a different scheme and brings different results.
It simply means that when buying a subscription from a good VPN provider, we should under no circumstances resign from antivirus programmes, firewalls, caution in opening e-mails or using strong passwords that are different for every webpage we log in to.