A virtual private network (VPN) provides an extra layer of privacy, allows you to access foreign websites, and can provide secure connections for transferring confidential business information.
While typically used by individuals, the best VPNs also give businesses the ability to manage multiple user accounts, block certain types of content, and keep their data safe from prying eyes.
Index of this article
What is a VPN?
A virtual private network (VPN) is a service that gives you more security when you connect to the internet, whether you are at home, at work, or on public Wi-Fi.
A VPN masks your IP address when you use the internet, which keeps your online activity private and your identity safe.
Think of a VPN as a bridge or covered tunnel for your data. It blocks your IP address, your identity, and all the data you send or receive online from prying eyes.
Using any of the best VPNs makes you virtually untraceable because your IP is masked so no one can find you.
We’ve looked at the top features you should consider when choosing the best VPN service for whatever your needs may be. Here are our top picks.
What does a VPN do?
A VPN app encrypts your data when you go online. It sends this protected data to your ISP to make the connection and bring you online.
The VPN then decrypts your data so it can be used wherever you send it.
Think of the VPN as a decoder ring. You write a message in code (VPN encryption) and send the message to someone (a website) with the decryption ring (VPN decryption).
If someone were to intercept this message (say, your login information for your checking account), it would only seem meaningless to them because they cannot decipher the code.
The same goes for data sent back to you – the VPN encrypts it before sending it.
Without a VPN, when you connect to the internet, your device sends a request to your ISP or a Wi-Fi network. Data transferred between you and your destination is not encrypted.
This leaves you vulnerable to anyone who wants to see your online activity. And your IP can be traced, which can expose your identity.
How to use a VPN?
Most of the current best VPNs are exceptionally easy to use. After creating an account with the provider, all you need to do is download the VPN app on your computer or smartphone.
After logging in with your account, you typically choose from a list of remote servers located around the world.
Click the one you want and the system should automatically connect you. Once you get confirmation that you are connected, you can use your device normally, as you would without the VPN.
You can disconnect or change your server from the app’s home screen.
How do VPNs protect your privacy?
You can safely use a VPN on your personal and business devices, and it’s a great way to keep your personal data and browsing habits private.
The scrambled data is nearly impossible to decipher, so it is useless to hackers and websites that want to track this data.
However, VPNs cannot protect against everything you do on your computer, laptop, or mobile.
A VPN can protect your online identity and the data you receive or send online, but it cannot protect you from malware, phishing scams, and data on your devices.
A VPN protects active transmissions of data online, so it can’t do much for the data that resides on your phone or computer.
For physical data protection, you would need antivirus and antimalware software. It’s also important to be careful which links you click in email and online.
Phishing attacks can be cleverly disguised as emails from someone you know.
Reasons why you need a VPN
Using one of the best VPNs at home can keep your data safe from those who want to use it for targeted advertising.
On your mobile device, a VPN can protect your login details and other data you send when you connect to a public Wi-Fi network.
And it can be especially useful for companies that have proprietary information to protect. We list some of the most common VPN uses below.
Keeping Your Data Hidden from Your ISP
Due to the relationship between you and your ISP, it may track what you do online (such as what websites you visit, how much time you spend browsing, etc.).
Depending on the Terms of Service and what you’ve agreed to, your ISP may even sell your personal data to advertisers.
That said, your stored data is kept confidential, according to most internet providers.
If the government asks for your internet history, your ISP must comply. In fact, in national security cases, the government doesn’t even need a warrant to access your internet data.
Theoretically, with a warrant, local police can use your data to help convict you of a crime. Even if you are a law-abiding citizen, you may not want your ISP to document every URL you visit.
If you use a VPN, you can cover your tracks. At the very least, it might give you some peace of mind.
Use Public Wi-Fi Safely
Whether you’re at an airport waiting for a flight and checking your email, or at a local restaurant reading the news on your phone, you might be tempted to use public Wi-Fi.
Seems safe enough, right? The free internet connection is provided by the airport or company and they have good intentions.
The good news is that browsing online has become safer in recent years, thanks to the majority of people adopting HTTPS instead of HTTP.
This “S” is a security protocol that comes from a Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificate and helps protect internet data that is shared to and from a website.
This is what makes it safer for you to pay for products and services online, for example.
However, most public Wi-Fi connections are open and not password protected, so you could risk your connection being intercepted by a hacker who is controlling the Wi-Fi network.
If you have a VPN service and log into it first, you can anonymously connect to public Wi-Fi and essentially remain hidden on the network.
A VPN will hide your identity over an open internet connection and encrypt active data, so even if a cybercriminal is on the same network, you are safe.
Protect Your Personal Data Against Companies
Many retailers offer apps and free Wi-Fi to shoppers and make it very difficult not to use them. For one, if you download a retailer’s app, you can gain access to exclusive coupons and offers, which is tempting.
Also, many physical locations block cell phone service simply because of the metal in the structures.
Companies that offer these perks for free or incentives to use their apps and Wi-Fi are doing so to collect your data, which is extremely valuable to them.
This is another good reason to use one of the best VPNs if you want to protect your personal data. In addition, you will still be able to securely access your apps and use free Wi-Fi while shopping in malls or stores.
Protect Proprietary Information
Many companies have recently adopted a remote or hybrid working policy, which is convenient for many employees.
However, there is a security concern with having remote workers log into the company’s servers from home because you don’t know how secure an employee’s connection is.
They may be working from home or at a coffee shop. And if a connection is intercepted, there is a concern that active data could go from an employee to a hacker instead of the Wi-Fi the employee is trying to use.
Providing all employees with remote access and a VPN will help keep your company’s files and projects safe.
Access Blocked Content
A VPN does more than protect your data, it can unblock your access to media you can’t access right now. There are benefits here for a few different reasons.
A VPN can make it seem like you’re in a different location, so you can access blocked websites or media.
And your VPN connection can keep your real location and IP hidden so you cannot be identified.
Another benefit of using a VPN is that you can use it to find media you wouldn’t otherwise be able to. For example, Netflix and Hulu offer different types of programming by location.
If you are in the United States, you may not be able to watch what is available on Netflix in Brazil. A VPN can make it feel like you are in another country by unlocking this exclusive content.
These are just a few examples of how a VPN can help protect you or access blocked information. There are many other reasons why everyone should use a VPN.
Best VPNs for Multiple Platforms
We’ve completed our latest round of extensive VPN testing and we’re ready to let you know what’s best when it comes to security, privacy, and online content streaming.
If you want to get up and running with as little hassle as possible, here are our picks for the top three VPN services right now.
Having recently increased its speeds, Surfshark never tires of giving us reasons to recommend it. It is still full of features and allows you to unlock restricted services in 99 countries.
For a modest price per month, it’s an incredibly affordable option that’s super simple to use. Check the prices and services on the Surfshark page.
ExpressVPN has everything there is to offer. From fast speeds to security intelligence, supreme ease of use to 24/7 customer support – and even free cloud backup.
It’s a little more expensive than some of the competitors, but you can try it for 30 days risk-free to see how the service works.
A constant fan favorite, NordVPN offers fast server speeds, extra privacy perks like ‘Double VPN’ encryption, and an independently audited no-logs policy.
NordVPN is packed with features, and despite the quality on offer, the price is more reasonable if you sign up for a multi-year plan.
A VPN offers privacy, security, and freedom, all at a reasonable monthly cost for most of the best VPNs.
By using a VPN, you can be confident that your IP address is masked, your internet data is secure, and you can access content that may not be available to you in your current country.
We hope this guide has helped you find the best VPN for your specific needs.
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