Why do you need to start considering a Virtual Private Network (VPN) service? Oh so many reasons...

Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) aren't new but they're getting a lot of attention lately for both security and privacy-related reasons. With stories of hackers seemingly perpetually in the news, and ISPs now free to sell your online data and internet habits, you may be considering a VPN for your home or office connection. Here's what you need to know.

How do internet connections work?

When your computer is connected to the internet, you are establishing a link from your computer to your internet service provider (ISP). This link, in turn, connects to other, similarly linked, computers. Through a system of internet protocols, your computer is then able to communicate to all of the other connected computers.

The connection you make to your ISP is unencrypted.

This means that anyone who is on the same network as you can potentially "see" every communication your computer makes to your ISP and beyond. How someone would "see" your communications is beyond the purview of this article but the tools to spy on your communications are easily and freely attainable. A such, anyone, reputable or not, has access to them.

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There are some internet protocols that help protect sensitive data whilst travelling over your unencrypted connection such as when you connect to your bank using the HTTPS protocol that will encrypt your communications to a single website. Similarly, your email provider may provide you with a secure POP or IMAP or TLS protocols, also encrypting the singular connection to your email server.

The problem with these secure protocols running on top of your unencrypted connection is that, although your ISP (or someone running some spying program) cannot see the information your are sending to your bank or email server, they CAN see that you are in fact connecting to your bank or mail server (or dating site or porn site for that matter).

So, they still know what site you connect to and what time you do it. Your personal habits are still being collected even if you want it to or not. The security implications are greatly increased when you are travelling and are using someone else's WiFi network and ISP.

How does a VPN protect your internet connections?

In it's simplest terms, adding a VPN adds a layer of encryption between your computer and your VPN service provider. This means that any communication from your computer through to your VPN service provider is encrypted.

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Therefore, anyone on your network or even your ISP's network becomes effectively "blind" to your communications.

Someone spying on the communications to and from your computer would only see random data. No information on where you are connecting to is leaked.

In other words, with a VPN, there will be no way to discern what traffic is to your bank or what traffic is going to something mundane like a weather report. There's no way for your ISP or anyone trying to sit between the connection to collect or harvest your internet usage.

What happens when your internet communications go beyond your VPN provider?

Let's say you connect to your bank. You go from your computer, through the encrypted VPN tunnel, across your ISP, to your bank. Your data is protected, even from your ISP, by the HTTPS connection. And, from your bank's perspective, you are connecting from your VPN provider's IP address and NOT your actual IP address.

Anyone trying to spy on the traffic from beyond the VPN provider IP would have no idea who you are or where you are actually connecting from. You are in effect anonymous in terms of your internet presence — especially if the VPN provider has thousands of clients and if the provider has a no logging policy.

How can you benefit from a VPN?

  • Increases the anonymity of your online activities.
  • Reduces the chances of anyone eavesdropping on your communications whilst connected to your home or office network.
  • Reduces the chances of anyone eavesdropping on your communications whist connected to an external network.
  • Securely connect to a home or office network while travelling.
  • Circumvents the blocking imposed by a firewall or ISP that blocks specific internet services.

If you value your privacy or need to better ensure your security, you should look into getting a VPN. If you use your computer, phone, or tablet at coffee shops or airports, you should absolutely get a VPN.

Which VPN should you get?

If you're highly technical, you can setup your own VPN server via macOS Server. Otherwise, there are several good VPNs out there to choose from.

Best VPN services for Apple users

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Have any questions about why you may need a VPN?

I like the idea of protecting my internet presence and having greater privacy. If you're on the fence or have a question or comment about VPNs in general, leave it in the comment section below!