A couple of years ago you would rarely have heard the term ‘VPN‘ outside the tech industry. If you weren't into that scene then the name probably never cropped up.
With ‘VPN' now being the buzzword of the day, it seems everyone and their dog is signing up for a VPN service. So it's time to ask, do you really need one?
You've probably heard people are protecting their privacy, accessing overseas Netflix catalogues and a whole lot more. If you're like a lot of people you're probably still a little confused as to what a VPN is? what does it do? and if you should get one or not.
In this article I'm going to answer those questions so you can make an informed decision once and for all if you really need a VPN service or not.
What is a VPN?
A VPN in its intended form is a privacy tool aimed at protecting your privacy.
They come in the form of an app and most reputable providers such as ExpressVPN support all major systems. This usually includes Windows and Mac OS computers, Android and Apple iOS phones and tablets and even other devices like the Amazon Fire TV Stick and Linux systems.
They work by jumbling all of your information up using something called ‘encryption‘.
This makes it unreadable to anyone else, including your internet provider (ISP), hackers, governments and anyone else trying to spy on what you're doing online. It can also help stop large companies from tracking your every movement.
That's the main purpose of a VPN but there are others.
What uses are there for VPN services
A VPN can be used for a whole host of purposes but below I'll cover the major points.
Disguise your internet usage & protect your privacy
Without question, the most important use of a VPN is to disguise your internet usage. While a VPN alone can't make you 100% anonymous (and don't trust anyone who tells you they can) they do add extra layers of protection in your quest to be anonymous.
Parts of your internet usage can be read by others and from this, it could link you to your actions. When using a VPN all of your usage is first sent somewhere else known as a ‘VPN server‘ using ‘encryption‘. When it reaches that location the encryption is removed and it's passed onto the wider internet. Your fingerprints are essentially removed.
Of course if you were sending an email from your own computer and in it you had some personal details, a VPN definitely can't disguise this, it will still be encrypted to the point the VPN server passes it to the wider internet.
Often how ‘anonymous‘ you are depends on your usage and actions as much as it does on using the VPN service.
Access geo-restricted content
The internet is now heavily fenced off with geographical borders. This stops you from accessing websites and services not intended for your country.
One of the biggest is Netflix. They divide the virtual world up into countries and offer completely different selections of movies and TV shows depending on where you are in the world.
As an example say you're in the UK. By using a VPN from a provider like ExpressVPN you can make it appear as if you're in America. This will let you access the American Netflix website which has more and different content.
The same as if you go abroad, you could access BBC iPlayer from another country.
Bypass speed and other restrictions
You would imagine the internet is neutral when it comes to the type of usage you carry out but you'd be wrong. Depending on the types of things you do on the internet your speeds can be slowed.
Two of the most common reason your internet service provider (ISP) will slow your speed is if you use Torrents or Newsgroups. This is sometimes extended to high-quality streaming from sites like Netflix.
This can cause buffering and other slow download issues. By using a VPN you can beat these restrictions. Your ISP won't know what you're doing or what services you're using so it will be impossible for them to slow your speeds.
Do I really need a VPN service?
If any of the reasons above felt important then Yes, you need a VPN service.
While a VPN isn't a requirement it has ever more become essential. A few years ago online privacy wasn't all that high up in the list of things most people cared about.
With recent large-scale privacy scandals and continuing data-breaches, it means protecting your privacy has become as important as protecting your devices from viruses.
We all without question run anti-virus software and the VPN has become no different, it is now another required tool in your arsenal to protect your online life.
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Which VPN service should I choose?
Knowing that you need a VPN is only half the battle. Knowing which VPN to choose is another battle altogether.
There are now well over 500 VPN providers to choose from. Everything from large multinational companies such as VPNHub, Norton and Kaspersky to large independent VPN services from ExpressVPN, IPVanish and NordVPN.
There are even more artisan providers like LiquidVPN and VPN.ac too.
But which should you choose?
My list of five recommended providers which have been tried and tested over years are as follows.
My Top 5 VPN provider recommendations:
I've been using ExpressVPN for the past 6 months regularly and rarely have an issue with them. They're great for your protecting your privacy, in fact that has been put to the test in a recent court case.
They also work well with all popular services from Netflix to BBC iPlayer allowing you to watch them around the world.
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Conclusion: Do you really need a VPN?
For most people a VPN is now an essential tool in your fight to protect your online privacy.
Just as you use anti-virus or anti-malware software and apps, you should definitely be adding a VPN to that list. The threats to online privacy have grown so great that it's good practice to use a VPN.
The added benefit is if you want to access extra content on sites like Netflix or if you're travelling outside your home country then a VPN can help you do that too.
I recommend ExpressVPN and they've got a 30-day money back guarantee so if it's not for you then you can simply get your money back.
Have you been toying with the idea of getting a VPN? What has made you finally get one or been stopping you? I would love to hear your thoughts so why not let me know in the comments section below?
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