Before exploring what is VPN protection, let’s start with a hypothetical situation. It would be weird if every time you enter a bar, someone would ask you to write down your full name, phone number, address, recently visited places, names of loved ones, sexual orientation, and other personal information.
But if that’s creepy in real life, why are so few of us concerned about the same thing happening online?
Today, I’ll talk about why you should care about online privacy and what a VPN (Virtual Private Network) does to ensure it.
What is VPN protection?
VPN protection is your digital invisibility cloak. A VPN gives you more agency over your online privacy as it secures the traffic coming in and out of your device and hides your IP (Internet Protocol) address. An IP address is one of the main ways used to track and identify you on the internet.
To illustrate how a VPN protects you, here’s a quick comparison of what a VPN does and does not hide:
With a VPN
Without a VPN
E-mail you use to register
Credit card information used for purchases
What a VPN does and does not hide
Let’s clear the air: what does a VPN actually do?
Problem: Every single move you make on the internet is stored somewhere. Every website you visit and every purchase you make adds to your digital profile. Your ISP (Internet Service Provider) can legally track your online presence. Someone is always one step ahead of you.
Solution: A VPN does a lot for your (online) privacy, hiding your IP address, location, personal data, online activity, and even itself (thanks to the obfuscated servers). Apart from being good at hiding you, a VPN also encrypts internet traffic going in and out of your device. Encryption makes sure that you’re not that easily identifiable or trackable when your VPN is on (even to your own ISP).
Try it yourself: Connect to a VPN by choosing, say, a Denmark server, and watch your YouTube ads start talking in Danish. The website no longer knows where you’re really located, so it protects you from tracking.
Going from website to website without any online protection is like walking into a grocery store holding a big poster with your home address and recently visited places written all over it.
How does VPN protection work?
Using a VPN is like using a nameless parcel service. Without going deep into any technical parts, here’s how a VPN works:
When you connect to a VPN client, it uses rules (protocols) to create a virtual tunnel between itself and the VPN server. The client then scrambles (encrypts) and sends your data requests to the server, where it is put back together in order (deciphered) before reaching the internet.
The same process also happens the other way around, when instead of sending data, your device receives it from the internet. This way, no one can virtually see where to or from the information is traveling!
The main VPN protection components
Without encryption and protocols, there is no VPN. They are the rules that dictate how a VPN client ensures the privacy and security that you deserve online. I briefly touched on the former earlier in the article, but let’s explore it further now.
If you take a VPN apart, what’s inside?
- VPN encryption. Encrypted internet traffic means that no one besides your device and the VPN server can read it. Encryption ensures that everything you do on the internet is under several layers of protection. Naturally, many complicated components go into it, but I’m not going to go over it in too much detail. All you need to know now is that encryption makes VPN wheels spin.
- VPN protocols. While VPN encryption takes care of protecting data, VPN protocols safely and securely transfer that data (on top of doing some other things). If you want to dive deeper into what protocols are and what they do, there’s a lot of information on our website – you can start from the link I provided at the start of the paragraph.
Is VPN protection enough?
VPNs aren’t magic, unfortunately. While providing an impressive level of privacy and security online, VPNs can’t make you completely anonymous. Anonymity on the internet is impossible even if you take every precaution to be as private as possible. Data will still slip through the cracks only to be stored in some database and be used as an identifier.
No online protection will ever be enough for you to disappear off of the face of the internet forever. However, there are ways to have more privacy and leave a smaller digital footprint than the vast majority of internet users. And having a VPN helps a ton – as we’ve already discussed.
What else can you do to protect yourself online?
Without going into too much detail, here are some other ways which help take more control over your online privacy.
- Install antivirus software. Antivirus programs protect your devices from viruses and various malicious software like trojans, adware, worms, and more. Without antivirus software, your device will probably get infected within minutes, so it’s quite essential.
- Use anonymous browsers. Chances are you use Google Chrome, Edge, or Safari as your primary browser. While the latter does more for your privacy and security than the other two, there are browsers that have even more advanced security features. DuckDuckGo, Tor, Brave are among the most popular choices.
- Create stronger and unique passwords. You may be tired of hearing this, but having a strong password is essential if you want better protection online (or don’t want someone breaking into your messaging apps and scamming everyone on your contact list). With tons of password managers available, it becomes easy to use a unique password for every account. And you don’t even have to remember them because the tool does the job for you.
- Manage what your apps can access. If an app asks to access your contacts even though its functionality isn’t related to messaging or calling, you might want to consider not granting such access. There’s an in-depth article about iOS privacy and security features on our website that you might want to check out.
- Use two-factor authentication. 2FA is a method of verifying your account beyond just your username and password. Depending on your chosen method of authentication, you’ll be sent a unique code to your phone number or a dedicated app (like Google Authenticator). I first started using 2FA for my bank accounts and then applied it to other accounts as well. It might take an additional 20 seconds to log in, but it’s worth it because I know it provides me with extra security.
These are just a handful of ways of maximizing digital protection. As you can see, relying on one security tool isn’t quite enough, but if you combine a VPN with other methods of protection, you’ll be less susceptible to targeted attacks and hacking attempts.
Speaking of hacking, let’s talk about how (and if) VPNs protect you from hackers.
VPNs vs. hackers: who comes out on top?
VPNs do protect you from hacking attempts, but only partly. “Hacking” is a very broad term. It encompasses a wide range of cyberattacks, from breaking into a website and mining their users’ data to infecting downloadable files with malware that grants a hacker access to your device.
If you use a VPN, you have a better chance of protecting yourself from hackers because VPNs encrypt your data and mask your IP address. It leads to you being harder to track and identify; therefore, you’re not an easy target.
Become your own bastion of digital security
What is VPN protection? Essentially, it’s a way to give yourself more agency over your online privacy and security. VPNs can help you achieve that by providing extra layers of protection to your traceable information on the internet.
So, do you need VPN protection? Well, only if you want to protect yourself online from snoops and third-party ad brokers from making your data their business. Combine your VPN with other online protection measures, and you’ll build a real digital safehouse from all types of crooks online.
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