Originally, VPN (Virtual Private Network) was used by large companies to connect computers in distant locations and until today, the use of VPN is popular among organizations with more than one PC office.
Imagine, for example, that the Coca-Cola Company in Atlanta has an office building where all of the computers are connected to the company’s server through cables, and there is little danger that hackers will break into Coca-Cola’s private network.
Now Coca-Cola opens an office in Canada and its employees in Toronto need access to the private network. But running a cable from the office in Atlanta to Toronto is a bit too much just to maintain privacy. Therefore the company uses a VPN to virtually create a private network (hence the acronym “Virtual Private Network” or VPN).
This is how a connection was formed between the computer in Toronto and the main server in Atlanta in a secure way (the different communication protocols of the VPN are responsible for the security, which is, of course, not as perfect as a real private network, but is close enough).
This connection that is established between these computers without any real cables is, of course, made through the internet. That is why, many workers (working from home, working from a hotel, or people commuting) can connect to Coca-Cola’s virtual private network as long as they have proper credentials.
Take a look at the illustration we made to demonstrate a VPN.
Anonymous surfing with VPN
In practice, although the above explanation refers to large organizations, VPN services have become popular due to their secondary feature: The ability to be seen as if you are surfing from the main server when you might actually be in a different country.
Since the entire communication between your computer and the VPN service is encrypted, neither Google, your internet service provider nor the Secret Service can find out which sites you actually visit, the emails you receive, etc. The entire communication looks as if it came out of the VPN’s main server, which is usually located in a different country and more importantly, this communication is encrypted.
There are two main audiences for VPN services:
Regular people who simply want to surf anonymously, be it for security reasons, or the will to watch content over the internet that is blocked in their country (One of the common examples is Netflix which have restrictions in many countries).
People who are active in grey or even in dark areas, such as users who want to watch porn and do not want their internet provider or Google to know about it (in some countries, this is a criminal act), terrorists dealing with weapons, criminals encrypting data about their activity, etc.
What can be done with VPN?
Some of the most common uses of VPN are listed below:
Unblocking TV programs – VPN can serve for watching videos that are not available in the country you are in. For example, Hulu and Netflix movie services, British BBC series, Soccer matches and other sports that are broadcasted online for free only in certain countries.
Unblocking sites – Some countries block services like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and more. A VPN service allows you to be in China but lets you surf as if you are in the USA. Similarly, some schools and organizations block the access to popular sites and social networks and the solution to this is VPN.
Torrents encryption – In some countries, downloading torrents is a criminal offense. In other countries, internet service providers detects that a user is downloading Torrents and slows down the surfing speed as a way of punishment. A VPN service encrypts the transmitted data so that even your internet service provider will not know you are downloading Torrents and therefore no punishment can be given.
Hide identify – With VPN you can impersonate a user from a foreign country for a handful of reasons. (This is very useful in the internet community.)
Recommended VPN services
Nowadays, numerous VPN services are available. It seems as if every website developer is maintaining servers in different countries and calling themselves a VPN service.
Nevertheless, load management (so that your surfing will not be slowed down because many people are using the server), the ability to slip past Netflix and its counterparts (that constantly try to detect the VPN services and block them) and more parameters create a distinction between these VPN services.