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What’s a VPN and Why Should You Use One?

At FriendlyPC, we take the security of your computer very seriously. We’ve written before about ways to secure your digital life (see: antivirus software, password management, phishing attacks, and tech support scams). Of course, these tips are key tools in the security fight, but there’s another critical weapon we haven’t discussed: the VPN.


So…What Is a VPN?

A VPN, or Virtual Private Network, is a special connection that can improve both your privacy and security online. Technically, it is a direct, encrypted connection to a remote server, which routes your traffic by proxy. Those two components are each important, but we know they might sound like Greek, so we’ll explain what that means in English!

First, when your computer connects to the internet, it establishes an encrypted connection with a remote server. This means all data transmitted between the server and your computer is unintelligible to anyone else, greatly increasing your security.

Then, the remote server handles all the requests sent from your computer, so that your activity is all done remotely. This activity-by-proxy makes your web traffic anonymous, which helps protect your privacy.


When should you use a VPN?

Now that we know what a VPN has to offer, the next thing to consider is when (and where) to use one. Often, companies will require their employees to use a VPN for remote access to the corporate network. But, that doesn’t always benefit your personal data and accounts. Of course, for maximum security and privacy, you would always connect to the internet via VPN.

Even if you choose not to use a proxy connection 100% of the time, however, we highly recommend that you use one every time you connect to a public network. Public networks (like WiFi hotspots in airports and coffee shops) are a security nightmare, as everyone connected can see everything you do if they know how to look. This is where a VPN’s encryption really shines, protecting you from prying eyes.


VPNs aren’t perfect

Even so, Virtual Private Networks do have some drawbacks.

First, the best services aren’t free. While some VPN providers offer service at no cost, they pay bills by collecting and selling your traffic data. This is called ‘logging,’ and you can usually determine whether a provider engages in it with a simple web search. Thankfully, most services only cost a few dollars a month, which is a small price to pay for security.

Another drawback of a VPN is its impact on the speed of your connection, however slight. Since the remote server acts as a middleman, it adds a step to every connection you make. The encryption process can also add a small delay, but we believe this tradeoff is a no-brainer. Sometimes, a VPN might even affect your bandwidth, but this is not very common.

How do I get started with a VPN?

Now, it’s time to get shopping! Virtual Private Network services are available for all platforms, and some plans cover multiple devices. And with a little work, you can even set up a single VPN for your entire home network via your router.

There are many VPN services available, but they aren’t all made equal, and some are downright nefarious! But, with careful research, we’re sure you’ll be able to find one that meets your needs.


If you’re concerned about your online security and privacy, get in touch to find out how we can help!