Back in the days VPNs were mostly used by citizens of authoritarian regimes for anonymous and guaranteed access to the unlimited world of the Internet. Today the appliance has reached its peak surpassing our imagination. A serious impact, triggered by president-level statements about a possible US ban on TikTok and other Chinese web services due to hypothetical espionage threat. So, in light of recent events, the interest around VPN technologies has spiked, coming not only from the residents of Japan or India, as it was before, but also from the very US citizens.
However, the demand for VPN has arisen not because of politics, but simply for technological reasons. This technology is widely used in regions where popular websites and social networks don’t work well for local providers for some obscure reasons. Recently, in August 2020, as a conclusion of access problems with Instagram, the popularity of VPN applications in Uzbekistan has skyrocketed in a matter of weeks. VPNs contributed up to 75% of the most downloaded applications in this region, and a significant portion of this audience consisted of relatively wealthy iOS users.
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Why YOU might need a VPN
In today’s world where private and professional lives have migrated to the internet and governments are watching over their citizens, it’s hard to come up with the reason why you DO NOT need a VPN. It’s no longer a tool of activism, but simply a consumer’s vehicle of convenience.
And now you are suddenly inside a submarine, invulnerable to those threats and hidden from radars. That submarine is a VPN tunnel, the encrypted connection between you and the server. What you are doing inside this VPN submarine is invisible to the world.
What are VPN used for
Here are just 3 common reasons people use VPN services today:
To avoid regional restrictions
Most things in 2020 are happening online, in non-local digital environments. However, there is an irritating thing that reminds you of the real world. It is the “region” of your physical location, detected by the websites automatically. Quite a lot of factors are tied to it: for example, you can watch the original programs from ABC, Discovery Channe,l and BBC in streaming mode on your laptop.
But you can do it only if you happen to be in the broadcasting region of this particular TV channel (UK or USA). Price tags for video games on Steam and for some regular products in online stores are also geographically tailored, sometimes with a huge gap (20–200%).
Many people make use of a VPN for purchases in foreign online stores (while changing their region to the region of the seller). This service has a wide audience: according to InternetRetailer.com, up to a quarter of all online shoppers have made at least one purchase from a company located outside their home country. The point is, if you and the seller are in different regions, you might face payment problems (for example, the seller may refuse to accept your credit card simply because it was issued in another country).
Finally, there is an outrageous practice when content can be accessed in one region and is unavailable in another one (this happens with Netflix, Hulu, YouTube). The reasons for this may be different, for example, local censorship, different costs of licensing agreements, or nuances of copyright laws. The end-user, however, does not want to understand such intricacies, he/she just wants to enjoy watching the content. And if it can’t be done using the real address, the VPN is always a solution.
When using VPN, the real IP address is hidden and the only IP (and the physical location associated with it) address that can be seen is one of the VPN. It’s much harder to trace the real IP and track the exact location of a person using a popular VPN server.
The downside of this technology, however, is the possibility of slowing down the internet connection speed, sometimes significantly, especially if a person is used to a high-speed connection at all times. The speed of VPN connection mainly depends on the protocol used in the technology, i.e. the set of “rules” according to which the traffic-transmitting encrypted tunnel is formed.
There are several standard protocols used today, like IPSec or OpenVPN, as well as custom ones (Proprietary VPN). Some VPN providers give users the liberty to choose from a variety of protocols for those people who are encountering problems while using the standard one (for example in China).
Security and anonymity
Public Wi-Fi networks are highly vulnerable to hackers. It’s advisable not to access mobile banking apps using public Wi-Fi, since the connection can be easily compromised at any time. That’s when VPNs come in handy — they help you stay secure when connecting to public networks whether it’s a local café, popular hotel, or a big organization.
VPNs also provide a private and secure connection that shields your web-surfing from the prying eyes of advertisers who record your activity for further display of products and ads.
Actually, VPN provides not one, but two levels of safety. First is the VPN tunnel itself, which secures your information from interception. Second is the mandatory encryption of transmitting information, which makes it readable only for you, VPN server, and the client-side.
In many countries, restricting social networks and “problematic” websites is a daily routine or, at least, regular practice. At the same time, in many public companies and corporations, the use of social networks and certain websites at a workplace is not encouraged and even monitored by the security department.
Freedom of accessing any information is an essential feature of a free person, and a VPN will help you browse the information you want from any physical location. This is achieved by the rerouting of your traffic through remote servers located in other parts of the world, hiding your IP address.
How to choose a VPN service
A VPN should suit your needs. If you want to watch streaming videos and movies online, look for a service with fast speeds, reliable connection, and unlimited bandwidth. If you need security, consider encryption and anonymity as your priority. Most importantly, read about VPNs’ protocols, make sure their pros and cons are well-known through numerous tests by the experts.
A VPN must be cross-platform. If you are going to use it on a PC or a smartphone, make sure that the VPN service has support for both desktop & mobile. This could be a problem for proprietary VPN protocols, so be sure to check this.
A VPN must be global. The number of servers and their geographic diversity is the main factor of choice in the overall assessment of the service. More servers, more ways to route the traffic, much harder to track down. Good VPNs have several thousands of servers, so wherever you are on the planet, you can always find a VPN server nearby.
A VPN must not be free. You can’t really skimp on your security: think about it, do you really know how free VPNs actually monetize their activities? In addition to this tricky question, free services may be limited in functionality, speed, and technical support. The price for a VPN subscription is not so high, so you have plenty of options to choose from.