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As more people become concerned with online privacy, the topic of using a VPN has been brought up on several occasions. A VPN, for those who are unfamiliar with the term, is a Virtual Private Network. When you connect your phone or your computer to a VPN it essentially takes your device and virtually places that device on a different network.

How does it work?

When you use a VPN it creates a secure tunnel-like connection between your device and the network you have connected to. The device will behave as if it was physically placed inside the host network, whether that is your office or a service you are paying for. The burden of securing the network is placed with the host network as well, so you shouldn’t need to worry about your private information while connected, as long as you trust the host network. The VPN connection itself is secured as well using encryption built into the connection from the device and from the host network.

What is it used for?

There are 2 main reasons you would want to use a VPN. Many business professionals use a VPN to connect to the office. There are files and programs that require a connection to a server that is physically located at the office. When you connect to the VPN it can make your computer behave as if you are sitting at your desk even when you are actually sitting at a coffee shop, your house, or the beach.

The other reason you would want to connect to a VPN is to keep your browsing and other information safe from others on a public network. Pulling your device away from the public network can protect it from malicious activity that is occurring within that area.

For countries with strict internet laws like China, VPN’s are also used to get around those restrictions. Users will connect their phone or other devices to a VPN, which essentially places their device on a network outside of the country, allowing them free access to the internet. Once the government discovers the connection, however, it can be shut down.

Should I be using one?

Many people are becoming concerned about their internet service providers tracking their information and browsing habits and history. Several ISP’s have terms of service that allow them to do this type of data mining. If you are concerned about this, it’s a great idea to always connect to a VPN when using the internet on these types of networks.

If you are frequently on public wireless networks, you should get in the habit of using a VPN there as well. This is great for road warriors and frequent travelers. Hotel wireless networks are notorious for being compromised or having malicious users sniffing around attempting to steal data. Using a VPN can help protect you and your company.

Obviously, if you require files and applications for your job that are not accessible from the cloud, setting up a VPN for your office network can allow you to work from home when the need arises. Setting up a VPN to your office can be complicated, and should be left to your managed IT support provider. You would want to make sure that the VPN is safe and secured, so getting a professional’s help will be necessary.

There are many companies offering VPN services these days. It’s best to do your research to decide on the right one for you. You are trusting this company with your private information, and you will want to thouroughly check them out before you decide.