What Is a VPN?

A good virtual private network (VPN) will encrypt your internet traffic, hide your IP address, and protect your privacy and security online. Find out what a VPN is, how it works, and why you need one in this complete guide to VPNs.

A VPN, or virtual private network, is a simple service that creates a secure, encrypted connection between your device and the websites you visit.

By encrypting your data and hiding your IP address, a VPN allows you to protect yourself against online surveillance, stay safe on public WiFi networks, and access region-restricted websites. They can be installed on almost any device and are usually very simple to use.

With data theft and internet censorship on the rise globally, it is now more important than ever to consider your online privacy and security – and using a VPN is crucial first step.

Unfortunately, not every VPN is trustworthy or effective. You need to ensure the service you use does not leak your IP address, log your data, or put you at risk in any way. Often, using a bad VPN is worse than using no VPN at all.

In this guide, we will cover everything you need to know about VPNs. You’ll learn what a VPN does, how it works, and how to choose a safe VPN that is right for you.

We’ll break down all of the technical jargon into simple language, so that you can understand what a virtual private network is and why you should be using one.

What Is a VPN?

VPN stands for virtual private network. It is a privacy tool that secures your internet connection in order to protect your privacy, anonymity, and freedom online. To do this, a VPN performs two main functions:

  1. Encrypts the data that travels to and from your deviceVPN services use encryption to generate a secure tunnel between your device (e.g. smartphone or laptop) and a remote VPN server. Your data travels through this tunnel and is then forwarded onto your requested website or application.

    The encrypted tunnel prevents internet service providers (ISPs), authorities, and attackers from spying on your online activity. If a third party does try to monitor your connection, all they will see is a sequence of unintelligible letters and numbers.

    For more on VPN encryption, skip straight to our How Does a VPN Work section or check out our dedicated guide to VPN encryption.

  2. Hides your IP address and masks it with the IP address of a VPN serverAn IP (Internet Protocol) address is the unique identifying number given to every individual internet connection. Your physical location and everything you do online is linked to it.

    With a VPN, you can hide your IP address from the websites you visit. Instead of seeing your true IP address, websites see the IP address of the VPN server that your connection is being routed through.

    By masking your IP address, you can keep your physical location hidden as you browse the web. This helps to prevent advertisers from tracking and targeting you, and governments from surveilling you.

    Using a VPN also lets you spoof your location. VPN providers offer servers located all around the world. The server location you connect to determines where websites and applications perceive your physical location to be.

  1. Screenshot of CyberGhost server locations in the Windows app.

    By selecting a specific server location, you can trick websites into thinking you’re browsing, streaming, or torrenting from that particular city or country. This can be useful when it comes to bypassing internet censorship or unblocking geo-restricted content, like another country’s Netflix library.

A VPN improves your privacy, security, and anonymity by encrypting your internet traffic, routing it through a secure tunnel, and masking your true IP address.

Though using a VPN is crucial for online privacy and freedom, it won’t protect you against all forms of tracking. For additional protection, you might consider changing your browser or using the Tor network.

The next section will explore why you would need a VPN. Alternatively, you can learn how to choose the right VPN for you or how a virtual private network actually works.

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