A VPN, or virtual private network, creates a secure, encrypted connection between a device, like a PC or tablet, and a remote private server. That server obscures the origin of any data request so the user can remain anonymous.
Reliable, modern VPNs install easily on computers and mobile devices. With permission, the automatic setup process routes internet traffic through a secure server located somewhere else in the world.
By obscuring browsing, watching, and communication habits, the VPN effectively hides the user from the prying eyes of an internet service provider (ISP). It can also hide data from other groups that may have legally or illegally accessed a data stream.
Most VPN services offer month-to-month agreements instead of annual contracts that lock in the user for a year or more. Users can test various services to see which features and price points match their needs.
There are several reasons to use a VPN, including:
- Avoiding private or government surveillance or censorship
- Connecting to a remote corporate intranet
- Added security when using public WiFi
- Streaming media only available inside the borders of another country
That last reason may be the most common for consumers. Providers like Netflix and Hulu offer content based on the user’s location. So, certain movies or TV shows may only be available when viewing from, say, Canada or the UK. To get around these licensing restrictions, users can employ a VPN that gives them the option to trick the server into thinking they’re located in a different country.
There’s always a catch
Most internet users agree that VPNs offer more pros than cons. But it’s worth considering those cons, just the same. Ultimately, one of them could prove to be a deal breaker.
For instance, AAA games often require the fastest internet connections and may become unwieldy when passed through a VPN. That’s because the VPN adds another in what could be a long line of server relays and connection points between the user and the nearest edge node employed by the game provider. The added connection could potentially introduce additional latency or intermittent connection issues.
Of course, the only way to know if it will cause an issue is to try. And because some VPNs offer service starting as low as $5/mo, it’s worth it for most people to try and see.