What is a VPN?
Put simply, a VPN (Virtual Private Network) is a way to anonymise your Internet activity. Your web traffic is encrypted and tunnelled through the VPN, meaning your true IP address is hidden — websites you visit will not see your true IP address — they will only see the IP of your VPN server.
The VPN's encryption prevents your ISP, your government, or even hackers from snooping on your browsing and download habits. Nobody can see the content you download, or websites you visit, and any blocked or censored websites become free to browse.
With a VPN:
- Your IP is hidden — you can anonymously surf the internet!
- You can bypass blocks on sites filtered by your school, workplace, ISP, or government — a common example is the Pirate Bay (blocked in the UK and much of Europe). Governments are increasingly looking to restrict use of the internet: many European countries block websites accused of copyright infringement — over 200 such websites are now blocked in the UK, and under government proposals announced in November 2016, ISPs could soon be forced to block “indecent” content, such as pornography, until users verify their age.
- You can safely and securely use public WiFi hotspots, without worrying that hackers could try to steal your passwords or other sensitive data.
- You can bypass geographical restrictions on content — freely use Netflix, Hulu, BBC iPlayer, YouTube, Google Play Music, and so on. Many services restrict content based on your geographical location (determined by your IP address). With a VPN, you can pick servers based in particular countries: if a video is only available to American viewers, you can switch to a server based in the United States!
- If you use BitTorrent or other P2P software such as Soulseek, your ISP can't see what you're downloading, and you can evade throttling of P2P traffic.
Setting up a VPN can seem daunting, but is often as easy as downloading and installing a piece of software — you can be up and running in under 10 minutes.
For a simple, accessible guide to the incredibly easy process of setting up our recommended VPN — PrivateInternetAccess — read Your First VPN.
However, there are hundreds of different VPN providers—and each is different from the next. You can browse a list of over 25+ popular providers, with important info like price, jurisdiction, payment options, server locations, supported protocols, and logging policy.