How to Use a VPN to Optimize Internet Browsing
VPN is short for 'virtual private network' and it can be a very useful way to protect yourself online. They function as a cloaking device to protect your online integrity when using public networks. Depending on which networks you use, you can be more vulnerable to online attack. If you use an open WiFi connection or an unsecured network such as those you find in coffee shops, you might want to consider a VPN as a way to keep your personal and private information secure.
To find out more about how VPNs can help you optimize Internet browsing, read this OneHowTo.com article and get informed.
Why Use a VPN?
When you connect to the Internet, you need to go through your ISP (Internet Service Provider) which sees all your online activity. VPNs mask your online activity by creating a heavily encrypted 'tunnel' between your computer and whichever host server you are trying to connect with, hiding your activity from ISPs and anyone else trying to access your information. It can even move your 'geo-location' so that it appears you are accessing a network from another country.
If you are not doing anything illegal during your internet browsing, why would you want to hide your activity? The answer is simple: even if you do not want to commit illegal acts via your computer, some fiendish people might want to use your personal IP address to do just that. Using a VPN can stop hackers using your IP to commit fraud, disseminate child pornography, spread viruses and steal your sensitive information. It can also protect you further as hackers can make it look like you have been committing these acts and put you at great risk of getting into trouble with authorities.
What to be Careful About
Different VPNs provide their services in different ways. The biggest difference of VPN providers is between paid-for and free services. A subscription service has an in-built incentive for providing quality protection: they make money. Free VPN services can be trickier as you need to be careful that it is not susceptible to fraud. VPNs can provide P2P (Peer to Peer) options which connect one user with another who wants to share files. Often this can involve sharing copyrighted material, but if you want to share your own files you can still be susceptible to fraud as your own IP is often displayed on P2P software (which includes BitTorrent protocol).
It is also possible for whoever is on the other end to access your information through the VPN. the once popular Hola VPN has been accused of allowing botnet services to launch attacks through the IPs of its users, so take this into consideration when downloading free VPNs.
VPNs offer a heavier encryption, but this also leads to more strain being put on your network as it works harder to process all the information. The drop in performance may only be between 10-20%, but if you already have a slow connection this can make performing activities like streaming and downloading painfully slow. As the VPN allows you to change which country you appear to be browsing from, try changing these countries and performing tasks to see which work better for your location. You might also want to use an ethernet cable rather than WiFi as, in general, these should be more reliable for speed and give you optimized Internet browsing.
Using a VPN will require a little trial and error as you work out which is best suited for you. You should also make sure that there is not another reason why your internet may be running slower than usual.
Why Change Countries
Content restrictions are a complicated business and each country enacts its own forms for different reasons. More repressive countries like China and Iran have Internet censorship systems which are very comprehensive, but it is still not illegal to use a VPN in and of itself. Most countries offer legal rights to the privacy of their citizens, so it would be very rare to get into trouble for using one.
Changing country on your VPN also allows you to access content blocked by different countries for often arbitrary reasons. Many people wish to stream blocked content through their paid services by doing this, although you should be careful. It does not appear to be illegal to watch blocked content through a VPN, but some companies will try to stop VPNs from doing so. You will want to keep an eye out to see if legislation changes and you are at risk of getting in trouble.
Staying Safe in Public
Public or open WiFi connections such as those you would find in a cafe or library are susceptible to attack. Hackers know that these connections are vulnerable and many will try to use them to access files on your computer or piggy back on your connection to commit a crime. Using a VPN means that you become hidden to most of these hackers and you can browse with less fear of a cyber attack. VPNs will also help to stop spambots infiltrating your computer through dangerous websites or programs, so they are useful in this way too.
Weighing up Your Options
Considerations you need to take into account when choosing a VPN are numerous. If you only want to use it for casual browsing, many free VPNs will allow you to use the web with a capped limit of browsing megabytes per month and they should be sufficient for your needs. If you use the internet a lot, you will want to use a service with a higher cap or none at all. This usually means getting a paid-for service. If you work for a company which stores sensitive data or you want to start a company of your own, VPNs offer a great way to keep yourself protected. You should make sure, however, that their reputations are sound, so do your research before downloading a program which has such access to your personal information. A company with good customer support is always preferable and can be a good way to tell how reliable they are. Different countries have different laws as to what information VPNs need to keep on you, so you might want to choose one which works out of a country like Romania or Sweden which are not required to keep usage or connection logs of its user's activities.
Even a free VPN can be a good way to take better care of the information you store and send, but paid-for services with good reputations will ensure you have both better protection and greater peace of mind, thus providing you with optimized Internet browsing for your needs.
If you want to learn more about staying safe online, check out How to Protect Your Metadata and How to Change the Password for My Router.
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