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How Does a VPN Work to Protect Privacy?

VPNs are the hottest technology out there for those that are concerned about their online privacy. It seems like every other day there’s a new story about a data leak, and many of them could have been prevented with a little of better encryption, and encryption is what VPNs do.

Knowing they work is great, but knowing how they work can help you determine that they are right for you and that you need one. We’ll look at how they work, what they’re superior to, and how they could impact your Internet speed.

How does a VPN work?

With all of the risks out there, such as hackers, the NSA and your own browser, looking to take your information it is risky to not use a VPN of some sort. Once you have connected to the VPN service, using your sign in information, and have a connection established with a server, the VPN will take the Internet connection that you have with your Internet service provider and route it through their server. To visualize it simply:

Website’s server -> Internet -> VPN server – > Internet -> Your ISP -> Your computer

The connection will be going both ways when you are sending information as well. Having your traffic routed through the VPN server will replace your public IP address with that of the VPN. This protects you online as your IP address identifies you to anyone, like hackers, the NSA, random snoopers, etc. It’s not even hard. Check out our IP Address reader if you don’t believe me!

The even bigger point to be made here is that VPN encrypted every connection that is is made as well. Think of a VPN as creating a virtual tunnel that goes through the Internet, it is not the tunnel which is encrypted, it is the information. Your packets of information travel through this tunnel and are encrypted in a way that makes them impossible to read. Visualize it like we looked at above, except with encryption added:

Your Computer -> Encryption -> Internet/VPN server/Internet/Your ISP -> Info Decrypted -> Your computer

online security how a vpn worksYour information is kept private from the moment it leaves your computer until the moment it returns. This includes:

  • Passwords
  • Log in details
  • Banking information and credit cards
  • Information going to and from websites
  • What websites you are visiting (pron, ahem)
  • Conversations you have online using apps
  • Files you download, which is great for all p2p activity

With your IP address hidden, and your connection encrypted, websites no longer read your information, they read that of the VPN server. Hackers? They read a bunch of indecipherable, encrypted, gibberish. Your information being exchanged is encrypted and who you are is hidden – you’re as close to anonymous as you can get without going full-Mr. Robot!

What is a VPN similar to?

VPNs are similar to web proxies. Both can protect you online and help you stay anonymous wherever you are surfing by changing your IP address.

There are, however, glaring differences. A web proxy must be configured on each application you use, which is a lengthy chore. They don’t offer immediate and complete protection for everything you do online like a VPN, which can work with a simple click of a button, or even automatically.

The encryption that you get with a web proxy is also non-existent. You can’t use one to do p2p downloads as your ISP can see what you’re doing and send you a DMCA notice. For more on how they differ, read our article comparing VPNs to proxies.

Will a VPN lower my connection speed?

This depends entirely upon your individual VPN, and is also impacted by the type of VPN encryption you are using. Some definitely will, others will only impact your speed an imperceptible amount. Important points to consider when it to comes to speed:

  • Finding a VPN with a web server that is close to you will help your ping rates. Servers are physical objects, they’re not some mystical thing that floats in the Internet aether. If you can find a VPN with many servers, in a wide variety of locations, you’ll have the best chance of getting a connection that isn’t slowed down at all.
  • A VPN could, potentially, increase your speed in some instances. You may never be aware of it, but your ISP could be throttling you while you’re doing certain activities. They’ve been caught throttling Netflix, YouTube, and others, but could easily be doing it to anyone accessing content that they see as lower priority. Remember that whole battle for net neutrality the USA lost? Ya. That. You took an L, America.
  • A VPN makes it so that ISPs can’t see what you’re doing and slow you down.

Take a look at the Top 10 VPN providers we’ve reviewed. Each one has been personally tested by a member of our team, and we know it to be working properly – and certainly much better than any proxy!

Feature image via a-image / Shutterstock

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