You may have heard of this thing called the internet – we use it to communicate, share stories, and look at memes. Most people are aware of the internet and how to use it to help them in their day to day lives or provide entertainment, however people rarely consider how secure they are when using this service, but why should you even care?
When we use the internet we are sending network packets from one device to another device, these packets contain small pieces of data, using the correct software these packets can be intercepted and viewed by individuals with malcontent. These packets can contain a variety of information depending on the website you are accessing. This information that can be intercepted can include personal data such as email addresses, usernames, the websites you are visiting, personal messages, images you are sending or receiving, and much more. Most users are completely unaware that their data can be intercepted in this way but to those who take their personal security seriously it can provide a significant concern.
In a normal internet transaction, the user device also referred to as the client device sends information in the form of network packets to a server which then takes this information and sends a response back to the client device in the form of more network packets. These packets can be picked up by potential attackers and they can read their contents and depending on what they find, they could use this information maliciously.
VPNs provide one answer to this problem by providing an effective way to protect your data. They work by first protecting your data using encryption. Encryption is a method used to hide data so that only the individuals or devices with the correct decryption key can read the data. This protected data is then sent over the network to the VPN server which decrypts the data so that it can be read and then sends it to the destination server for the information to be used. Once the destination server has received the information it can respond back to the VPN server which protects the response using encryption to be sent back to the client device. The client device can then decrypt this response and make use of it. Through this whole process, an attacker can still intercept the data packets between the client device and the VPN server however the data retrieved by the attacker will be encrypted and they will struggle to use this data without the decryption key which they do not have access to.
VPN services have a few other benefits, such as the ability to hide the origin of the requests from the destination server if one wants to hide their location from the server they are using. This method is commonly used to access sites that are blocked in specific countries however whether this is an ethical use of VPNs is up for debate.
There are a variety of VPNs on offer each with servers in a multitude of locations around the world for their clients to use. There are free options available, however they are often seen as unreliable and often have limitations on how much you can use them every month for free. The majority of VPNs such as Nord VPN, StrongVPN and CyberGhost are subscription based and considered much more reliable. As we move towards a more information-driven world VPNs will become more commonly used as people and small companies take their cybersecurity and personal privacy online more seriously.