As more aspects of our daily lives become digitized and internet-connected, online privacy and security are more important than they’ve ever been. The easiest way to keep yourself safe in the digital age is with a virtual private network, or VPN. A good VPN encrypts and routes your internet connection through secure remote servers, protecting both your data as well as your identity, but there are a lot of services out there to choose from. The good news is that you don’t have to pay much for even the best VPN providers — and the above roundup of the best VPN deals and sales can help you get duty-grade protection for even less.
Virtual private networks, or VPNs, are fairly straightforward in how they operate. Their most basic function is to encrypt your internet connection and route it through remote servers run by the VPN provider across various locations (usually multiple countries). This “tunnel” hides your IP address — the unique fingerprint, not entirely unlike a phone number, that shows your general location along with other information — by replacing it with that of the VPN’s server.
By tunneling and encrypting your connection in this manner, a VPN both protects your privacy and keeps your data safe from prying eyes. Even your ISP can’t see what you’re doing, and if by some chance a hacker was somehow able to penetrate this tunnel (highly unlikely), the encryption would prevent any intelligible data from being stolen. That’s not all a VPN does, though; this remote connection also allows you to bypass geographic restrictions such as government censorship and region-locked content. That means you can say goodbye to those annoying “content not available in your country” error messages.
Are VPNs Legal?
Virtual private networks are legal in almost every country, including every Western country. A few nations including Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea have banned or restricted the use of VPNs, however, although some may still work in those countries. Also note that while using a VPN to bypass regional restrictions on sites like Netflix and YouTube is not against the law, it does typically violate the terms of service (something to be aware of).
It should go without saying that any activity that is illegal without a VPN is still illegal when using one. Although the best VPN providers often promise that they do not keep logs, there is really no way to be 100% sure of this, and there have been instances of these companies handing over user information to law enforcement during the course of a criminal investigation.
Do VPNs block ads?
The purpose of a VPN is first and foremost to protect your privacy, and while the main way they do this is through encryption and remote server connections, most providers also offer additional features such as ad-blocking, online malware protection, and other extras that security-conscious people (exactly the kind who would use a VPN) want.
Do VPNs change your IP?
The short answer is yes, but technically, a VPN is not so much changing your IP as it is masking it. Your own IP address remains the same, but only your VPN (more specifically, the VPN’s server you happened to be connected to) can see it. As you are connecting to other websites and services through the VPN’s server, that server IP is what is seen on the other end of the connection. As long as you are behind your VPN, your IP remains hidden.
Are VPNs safe?
If you stick with trusted providers like the ones above then you can be sure that your data is safe and that your VPN service is doing what it says it’s doing (and what you’re paying for). VPNs are typically very easy to operate, with intuitive and user-friendly software that leaves little room for error. If you want to be sure, though, then you can always perform a leak test to see that your VPN is set up and working properly.
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