VPN Basics: What is a VPN and How Do I Use it
A Guide To VPN Basics | What is a VPN and How Do I Use It?
WHAT IS A VPN?
Traditionally, VPNs or Virtual Private Networks have been used by large corporate organizations to enable remote workers to securely access resources on the company network from outside their offices. These are referred to as Corporate VPNs.
But now, with so many companies using cloud and internet-based tools, the boundaries of the corporate network are fading.
You may have heard of the term Software-as-a-Service, or SaaS. SaaS applications like Microsoft 365, Salesforce, Hubspot, and others are hosted in the cloud, and accessible from the internet.
However, that doesn't mean that VPNs are becoming obsolete.
With so much work done on the go these days, a Personal VPN can be really handy to ensure the security of your computer's internet communication, no matter where you're connecting from.
WHY DO I NEED A VPN?
Let's say you're working from Starbucks or your favorite coffee shop for the afternoon and you've brought your laptop. To save on your mobile data plan, you've decided to connect to the free coffee shop WiFi.
Because this is a public WiFi hotspot, you don't know how secure the network is, or who might be controlling it. If the network is not properly secured, hackers can eavesdrop on conversations, or even gain access to intercept unencrypted communications between your computer and the websites you visit.
WHAT DOES A VPN DO FOR YOU?
When you use a VPN, the software creates a secure 'tunnel' between your machine and the VPN provider's servers. That tunnel shields your communications from prying eyes and ensures that all of the data sent to and from your computer is encrypted, secured, and unable to be seen or tampered with by other people or machines on the network.
VPNs also add a layer of privacy to your communications. Don't want anyone including your internet service provider to know that you secretly love watching videos of cats dressed like celebrities? A VPN is going to help you maintain your anonymity as you browse the web, watch foreign TV shows, or post anonymously in online forums.
WHAT A VPN CAN'T DO
A VPN is great for many things, but it doesn't do everything. One thing it can't do is prevent websites from tracking you and displaying targeted ads. It can't block tracking cookies, pixels, and other web traffic analysis tools. If you don't want to be tracked by those websites, you're still going to need some ad-blocking software.
KEY CONSIDERATIONS WHEN USING A VPN
A VPN can slow things down.
VPNs are known for security and privacy, but they're not known for speed. That's because a VPN encrypts all the traffic between your computer and the sites you visit, which can slow things down.
If you have a good VPN service, the difference shouldn't be too noticeable. Where you will likely notice it, however, is in streaming video and audio playback. For example, your Zoom video might freeze up, or the audio may have an extra delay.
HOW TO CHOOSE THE RIGHT VPN SERVER
Another source of potential VPN slowness is congestion. Remember that all VPN traffic is funneled through a series of VPN servers managed by your provider. During peak times, those servers can get overloaded. Just like in a real-world traffic jam, when the server or network is congested, traffic flow slows down.
There are a few ways to mitigate this. First, use a well-known and reputable VPN provider. They're going to have more access points and infrastructure to handle a high volume of connections. Second, unless you have a good reason, it's best to allow the VPN software to automatically select which VPN server you'll be connecting through.
If you're based in Miami, you don't want to be connecting to a VPN server in London or Australia or California. It's just not going to be the most efficient.
WHEN SHOULD YOU USE A VPN?
The simple answer is whenever possible. Because you can toggle your VPN tunnel on and off, it's easy to turn it off for that Zoom meeting, and forget about it. Unlike antivirus that defaults to being on all the time, and you can only disable it for a few minutes or hours before it turns itself back on.
If you get in the habit of checking your VPN status every time you do a sensitive transaction, like sending a payment, logging into email, or accessing your accounting software, you'll be in good shape.
WHY YOU NEED A VPN
To recap, using a VPN service has many benefits, including:
- Securing your internet traffic with encryption
- Preventing hackers from intercepting your communications
- Masking your IP address from the websites you visit
- Enabling you to get around location-based censorship
- Accessing foreign TV shows not available in your home market
If you have questions about VPN services and what other measures you can take to safeguard your information, I'd love to hear from you.
You can always message me on LinkedIn, or you can book a meeting on my calendar at www.MeetCathy.com.