What is VPN and do you need one?

We’re answering your question, “What is a VPN and do I need one?”

It stands for “virtual private network” and it creates a private connection between you and your destination.

A VPN is a relatively easy way to help keep your info safe when you’re online.

Watch here (fans of The Office, rejoice*):

*(If you haven’t seen The Office, you might want to check out this famous scene)


Do You Need a VPN?

Back in the day, you could work in an office — on an office computer — and in theory protect your work data.

Now, many people are working from home, connecting from their own personal networks. But home networks are often not as safe.

Many people, for example, don’t update their router or change the password that comes on the device, allowing attackers to simply look it the passwords and take over.

On top of that, you may use risky public Wi-Fi, like standing in line at a coffee shop checking your bank account, or waiting at the doctor’s office answering email.

If so, you might as well be sending a postcard with your sensitive info on it, including bank account passwords, private email, crucial work data and more. Other people can read your info and use it against you, stealing money and data and posing as you to commit crimes.

Using a VPN is like putting that postcard into a protective envelope and sending it through a tunnel. It can scramble — or encrypt — your data to keep it away from eavesdroppers and identity thieves.

How Do You Use a VPN?

You can download a VPN onto your laptop, phone and tablet.

Some VPNs cost money and some are free. But free is not always free: some no-cost services may be gathering and selling your data to make money, or sending you ads. And some contain malware.

Researchers reported in July that they found supposedly private data from seven free VPNs — all apparently related to the same company — exposed on the Internet.

But paying for a VPN is no guarantee. A security company found three paid VPNs on the Apple Store this spring that charged you $9.99 per week, but provided no VPN at all.

Also, VPN services can be hacked and can have security flaws, just like other digital services.


A symbol for Buckler VPN, one of the apps determined to be fake by security company Avast. Image: BucklerVPN


How Do You Choose?

Don’t just search “best VPN” and pick the first one that comes up. Shady VPN companies may seed the search results and make fake reviews and review sites to get you to download.

Experts recommend you check with reputable sites like PCMag and Tom’s Guide to see their reviews on VPNs, rather than relying on a quick Internet search.

Watch out for things like:

Claims of “fastest” or “best” or “most secure.” Many VPN companies will lie about their service to draw you in. Research their claims before you download.

Claims of 100% anonymity. A VPN will not make you completely anonymous online.

Lifetime VPN subscriptions. The “lifetime” you pay for may last only as long as the company feels like providing it, with no refund given.

Lack of customer support. Check for customer support accounts on social media and see if people are interacting with them. You can even test by sending your own message to see if support exists and will help you in times of need.


A VPN changes its policy after people have signed up, according to Restore Privacy. Image: Restore Privacy


A VPN can also help with privacy.

Your ISP, or Internet service provider, may be selling your browser history — an uncomfortable thought if you are searching up medical or legal information online, among other issues.

In addition, the National Security Agency just issued an alert about using find-my-phone services, Bluetooth and automatically connecting to Wi-Fi, saying they can allow you to be tracked.

The NSA recommended you use a VPN, which can help you keep your location private, as well as turning off those services when you’re not using them, among other steps.

Do You Need One?

If you are working from home, check with your work on its VPN policy. Many companies will require you to use a VPN to keep communications more secure.

If you are using public Wi-Fi, you definitely need to use a VPN to protect yourself.

If you are connecting to the Internet from home for non-work reasons, you can use a VPN for more privacy.

You can go without a VPN when going online from home, but you will want to make sure you are taking security steps to protect your router and your home network.


See more answers from Archer News:

What is RDP?

What is encryption?

What is a botnet?

What is Mimikatz?

The top 4 things you need to do with your home router



Main image: Robot fish underwater. Image: Geerati/iStock

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