VPN stands for Virtual Private Networking. In a nutshell, a VPN is a tool which will hide one’s online activity for various purposes. Thus, it helps users stay anonymous on the web. Namely, a VPN employs a technology that will provide users with an encrypted, safe surrounding, within a larger one that may be less safe. Another way to define it would be as a private virtual network within the public one, a buffer zone of sorts.
With the encrypted connection, the contents of users’ online transfers will remain private, meaning that data sent and received this way will be secure. That is why the first thing that comes to mind of most internet users with regard to VPNs is torrenting. In all probability, most users first became familiar with this term in this context. However, safe torrenting is just one of many potential uses of VPNs. What are the others?
There are many instances in which a user might need to virtually appear in a location he/she is not currently at. Some of them are purely entertainment-related, such as streaming contents that are restricted in the current location.
On the other hand, there are more than a few reasons to use VPNs for work, as well. For example, a user might access their files via smartphone or laptop over a secure network, being physically completely elsewhere. Others use it to safely log into their workplace's local network while being away, giving a new meaning to the phrase "work from home."
There are countries that maintain very strict online policies, China being the most familiar example. Whether in places in which government censorship is commonplace or those in which a user may suspect being monitored, VPNs can be used as a tool to bypass this. Namely, as an inhabitant of such countries, a user can keep up an appearance of being in a completely different place, and thus safely transfer data.
Speaking of data security breaches, they do not have to be restricted to high-level government monitoring or censorship. You may also want to hide your internet traffic from your internet service provider (ISP). In some cases, ISPs can try to limit your connection due to the content that you are down- or uploading. VPNs will help the ISP remain in the dark when it comes to the nature of your data traffic.
In addition, most of us log onto local networks on a daily basis - Wi-Fi networks at airports, restaurants, public institutions of any kind. Such networks are usually completely insecure, and most of us use them nevertheless. With the help of an encrypted network in the form of a VPN, your internet traffic - including potentially sensitive personal data - can be concealed from your (or any other) service provider.
First of all, one should consider the scope and frequency of their internet use and reasons for getting a VPN. For instance, the fact that you are using public networks regularly is reason enough. However, this fact alone hardly requires the purchase of a high-end VPN service.
One of the main features of a VPN is its protocol. The current standard with regard to this is the OpenVPN. Without going into much technical detail, we'd like to point out other protocols that you might encounter. Firstly, the PPTP, which is considered to be archaic and insecure. Also, the L2TP/IPsec, which is an improved version of the PPTP. However, in terms of speed and security, it is still inferior to the OpenVPN.
If you are looking for a VPN service to run on your smartphone, Android or iOS, then the L2TP/IPsec becomes a viable option as both platforms currently do not support OpenVPN.
When choosing the right VPN service, it is imperative that the provider offers a multitude of globally well-distributed servers. If, for example, your main reason to get a VPN service is to shift locations so as to access content not available in your current location, the selected VPN service would need to have servers in the desired location. Otherwise, watching geographically unrestricted YouTube or Netflix content will not be possible.
Also, in the unfortunate event that you might face persecution by the authorities, you should opt for a VPN company that is not based in that particular country.
As a general rule, VPN providers do not keep logs of data traffic by their users. There are few exceptions, though, as some companies keep logs for a brief amount of time. These, however, should be avoided.
The number of different devices used, as well as household members, will determine the number of concurrent connections provided by your VPN company. Even one user, operating from various devices, might opt for a different VPN connection for each of them. At any rate, a higher number of supported connections is advisable.
We strongly advise you to choose a provider offering this tool. Namely, in case of VPN failure, the kill switch system will make sure that the connection is locked. Hence, the device will not go back to using an insecure connection.
There are VPN providers out there that will restrict your connection, which is definitely a deal breaker. We advise you to choose a company with transparent policies with regard to this. Also, we cannot emphasize enough: it is pointless to pay for a service that comes with restrictions.
Again, depending on the reasons for which you are getting VPN in the first place, this might also be a factor. If you require the payment to be anonymous, we advise you to choose a company which offers cryptocurrency payment.
To sum things up, as we have learned, Virtual Private Networking is much more than a safe haven for torrenting. Of course, if that is what you're after, that is perfectly fine. However, in a world with increasingly prominent issues of personal data breach and unstable online environments, VPNs can be a very worthwhile investment, even for the everyday user.