A Virtual Private Network, or VPN, is a method of protecting your privacy and security when using the Internet.
Normally, when you connect to the Internet, whichever service provides that connection will be able to see which sites you are visiting and – if the website is not using https – what you are doing there. This means that your Internet activity could be viewed and logged by your broadband provider, mobile carrier or wifi hotspot service. The same is true of anyone spoofing a wifi hotspot, which is a common way for hackers to steal login credentials.
Early in 2017, both the Senate and the House overturned privacy rules created by the FCC, allowing ISPs to sell your Internet browsing history and location data to advertisers. The government is also planning to do the same to net neutrality rules, effectively creating a two-speed Internet – something mobile carriers already do.
An additional issue is that some companies may limit access to content based on your geographical location. You may not be able to watch your favorite TV shows on Netflix while travelling, for example.
A VPN solves all three problems as it makes it impossible for an ISP or carrier to see which sites you are visiting or what you are doing there. Instead of connecting directly to a website or other Internet service, you connect to a VPN server which creates an encrypted ‘tunnel’ to your destination. All any intermediate company can see is that you are connecting to the VPN service.
Not all VPNs are created equal. Some can’t be trusted, while others may be blocked by Netflix and other services. Check out our review of NordVPN for an example of a service which keeps no user logs and works with Netflix.