To demystify the topic we have laid out the top ten things everyone should know about VPN’s:
1: What Does VPN Stand For?
VPN is an acronym for Virtual Private Network.
If you have ever connected to your office from your house or a hotel, you most likely have used a VPN. However, as VPN technology has simplified and prices have fallen, they are increasingly popular with home users.
A VPN provides a PRIVATE tunnel through a PUBLIC network (aka. the internet) that blocks anyone from seeing the traffic inside that tunnel until it gets to the end.
It is just like a drainage culvert going under a busy highway. At each end of the tunnel, you see what is in it but from any other angle, you can only tell that a tunnel exists. You can not see what is in it and you can not see into other people’s tunnels. For example, the picture on the right shows your private tunnel on the left going from (say) your home in New York City, US to (say) London, England.
It is as if you have moved to the destination and started surfing from there.
A VPN is a relatively simple and small piece of software that encrypts all of your internet traffic so that companies, hackers, and governments cannot see what you are doing in the city you’re connecting FROM.
If you want a Canada VPN, you most likely mean you live in Canada and are trying to get access to something that is only available outside of Canada. For instance, the BBC makes most of its TV shows available on its website www.BBC.co.uk. However, those shows are only accessible to those inside the UK; a VPN can magically transport your digital self to the UK.
Recently, I wanted to watch a BBC TV show but when I click the link popped up a message saying “BBC iPlayer TV programs are available to play in the UK only” so I used a VPN to ‘be in the UK” and within seconds was watching that show.
A VPN is available in EVERY city so this is never a concern. Many people look at a list of cities that VPN locations like the one on the right from SurfShark and think they can’t use it because their city is not listed.
All VPN companies provide a small program that encrypts (scrambles) all of your internet traffic starting right at your computer. The list of locations shows the DESTINATION cities. In other words, that is where your internet traffic will be decrypted (descrambled) at and that is where the company, government or hacker that is monitoring you with think you are.
A single VPN company will let you connect to ANY of the destinations on their list without additional charges.
5: Why Use a VPN?
- Accessing Information That is Locked To a Particular City, Country or Region: If you want to watch a Netflix show that is only available in England but you live in China, Germany or Canada, a VPN is for you.
- Reducing Your Attack Surface: If you are very concerned about internet security, a VPN is for you.
- Avoiding Government Censorship or Surveillance: If you live in Moscow you know the Russian Government is monitoring all internet traffic inside the country so when you want to tell your friends you support Ukraine, a VPN is for you.
- Hiding your current location: If you want to appear to be in a different location than you are, a VPN is for you.
6: Are There Different Types of VPNs?
There are some very important different features and options offered by different VPN companies but the term VPN is just a category of encryption software.
When considering a VPN there are many, mostly obvious, things to consider:
- Price – Some VPN companies charge a high monthly fee compared to their annual fee. However, if you want to use a VPN it is unlikely you want to use it for only a few days so an annual subscription makes a lot of sense for almost everyone.
- Destinations – Unless you are just trying to get out of your country to avoid domestic censorship/monitoring, you will want to ensure the VPN company you choose has a destination city in the country or region you care about. For instance, Canadians may want to appear to be in the US so they can access HuluPlus or DisneyPlus and if your VPN company only offers destinations in Europe or Asia, it isn’t going to help you very much.
- Performance – If you are using an popular VPN company that connects to a popular destination city, they may not have the bandwidth performance to provide quality connections. This could mean you can get connected to Netflix in France, but the video is choppy.
- Number of Devices – Most VPN companies limit your household access to a specific number of devices which may be a deal-breaker for some. If you want your families cells, PC’s, tablets, and game consoles to use the VPN, you could easily find that you have 10 or more devices to consider.
- Customer Service – What will you do if you have problems configuring your VPN after you have purchased a two or three-year plan. That could be annoying so call and/or email the VPN company before you buy to see what their service is like.
- Refund Policy – Most, but not all, VPN companies offer a money-back guarantee for a set period of time. However, some of companies only offer the refund on their month to month package and not on their annual plans.
8: Why Are VPN’s Illegal In Some Countries?
Many governments are unhappy with any form of encrypted services and for good reason. If security services in Australia, the UK or Canada can monitor what their citizens are saying on the internet (chats, email, messenger…) they can find terrorists and other criminals.
The other side of that argument is that history has shown governments are made up of people and people eventually use personal data for the wrong reasons. They track ex-wives/husbands, steal corporate secrets, ‘out’ gay people, and on and on:
There are also countries like China and Russia that openly monitor their citizens conversations to update their ‘big brother’ files and control what is being said. You don’t want to be emailing anything from your home in Moscow about how you will be supporting someone other than Vladimir Putin. You equally don’t want to be inside China chatting or sending videos about the uprising in Hong Kong.
9: What is the Best VPN?
VPN’s are a fast-changing business so answering the question ‘what is the best VPN’ is a moving target. It often boils down to which company is the newest. These new entrants learn from their competitors and introduce new features for a cheaper price. To prove this point, below is a review of one of the newest global VPN companies, SurfShark, which you may find interesting:
10: The Bottom Line
A VPN is one tool to help keep you safe in a digital world and let you explore global services.