Technology

What is a VPN and what are the features and (dis)advantages

How the internet works (simplified)

First of all, a little bit broadly, what the Internet actually is. At its core, the internet is just a bunch of interconnected computers, mobile phones or other devices communicating with each other. All the wires, networks, routers and the like are just a means of making something like this possible and running a network this big.

Over this network, whether by wires or wirelessly, data flows. Do we need to visit a website? We type its address into a web browser, the Internet infrastructure finds which other computer (called servers) this web page is stored on, and then sends this page to us in the form of data that the web browser understands and can render this page, ideally as intended.

To use the internet we need to know IP addresses

In order for all this to work, all devices on the internet need to have their own addresses, called IP addresses. At its core, this is exactly the same principle as the address of the house you live in. Simply put, an IP address can uniquely identify a device that is connected to the internet. When two devices are communicating over the Internet, it is always necessary to know the IP addresses so that data is delivered to the correct address, just as it is necessary to know the correct address when sending conventional mail.

The problem with this operation is that, because the IP address must be public by the very principle of the Internet, it is also relatively easy to find out where the device is, and within a relatively small radius. There may be situations where this is absolutely undesirable, but what about when an IP address is necessary for the functioning of the Internet? That’s where a VPN comes in

What is a VPN?

VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. Don’t worry, it’s nothing complicated in principle at all, despite perhaps such a complicated name. A VPN is an intermediary through which your data flows over the internet, but also an intermediary that sends you data. The easiest way to see this is in the diagram:

VPN Shield

This usage allows for several functions at once:

  • Encryption: the data that goes from you or comes to you is encrypted thanks to the VPN. Neither your ISP, the government, or anyone else knows what the contents of the data is that is going out or coming in.
  • IP address hiding: all requests are made by the VPN server. Websites, e-shops or any other services only see the IP address of the VPN. You are thus hidden behind a completely different computer and these services then don’t know your real IP address or your location. The only point on the internet that knows your real IP address is the VPN service, which simply has to know it by the very nature of how the internet works.
  • VPN server locations: a VPN server can be located absolutely anywhere in the world. Proven services offer hundreds or even thousands of locations. This has the advantage that for all other sites it looks like you are completely elsewhere in the world. Want to make it look like you’re accessing a site from the US? No problem, you just click on a VPN server in the US and that’s it.

The benefits of using a VPN

A VPN is a completely affordable service nowadays (you can fit the price into a few crowns per day) and it comes with a whole host of benefits. Some of these include:

  • Using public Wi-Fi: When you connect to a public Wi-Fi network in cafes, airports, malls, and so on, it’s not for the power user to intercept all the data you send or receive over that network. So a hacker knows what sites you’ve visited, what emails you’ve sent or received, but if you enter a password somewhere, even that could potentially be in danger. Not so with a VPN. That being said, all communication travels to and from you encrypted thanks to the VPN server. If you’re using a public Wi-Fi network, the most a hacker can get is unbreakable encrypted data that’s useless to him
  • You can bypass location and unlock services: sometimes you may have encountered a service or, for example, a video that is not available for the Czech Republic, or you are on the other hand abroad, and some otherwise commonly available service is not available there. With a VPN, this is not a problem – you simply choose a server in the country where the service should be available, and proceed to use
  • Bypassing censorship: some countries may censor data, data, or block sites outright. With a VPN, you can bypass this censorship, and thanks to encryption, no one knows what data you’ve sent or received. However, beware, you may also run into legislation that punishes such circumvention. Although we don’t agree with censorship, be careful about circumventing it
  • Better prices: your IP address will identify where you are fairly accurately. This is also known by various websites and services that can set prices based on your location. Do you live in the city? Chances are you make more money than people in the countryside, and therefore your prices will be higher. Similar policies are used by airlines, which even monitor whether you’ve already looked at a given offer. With a VPN, you can change your location and arrange cheaper services
    No one is watching you: your data and locations are encrypted or anonymised. No one knows what data you send or receive, so governments, corporations or anyone can’t just track you

Disadvantages of using a VPN

There are some disadvantages too, but it’s true that these are more of a minimal inconvenience. But it seems fair to mention them anyway:

  • Slower connection: data has to go through the VPN server first before it can get from or to you. This means that the connection will also be a bit slower. Usually this is a very small drop in the order of percent or low tens of percent, but if you’re using some really remote VPN server, this slowdown can be more noticeable and will be especially noticeable in the response time. Using nearby VPN servers will minimize this response and overall connection slowdown
  • Services may know the IP addresses of VPN servers: VPN servers use IP addresses, but these may become known over time. Different services can make lists of known IP addresses of VPN servers and then block them. But good services change or add new IP addresses. Additionally, there are very few services that are interested in blocking data from VPN servers, so you don’t see this as often, and when you do, you can usually just choose a different VPN server
  • VPNs don’t block cookies: cookies are small text files stored in your internet browser. They store a variety of information and allow, for example, that you’ve logged in to a site for a long time, but in principle it’s possible to store a lot of information in cookies and then tailor the content of the site accordingly. However, even when using a VPN, cookies are still available to sites and they still use them. This can be helped by using an anonymous window that automatically deletes cookies when you close it, or blocks cookies outright and does not store them in any way

How to choose a VPN service

Choosing a VPN is quite crucial. It’s the VPN service that will be the only one that knows where you really are, so you need to trust it and not just choose based on the lowest price or even just use a VPN for free. Take a look at what aspects of services you should definitely look at before choosing and why they are so important:

Reputation and credibility

There’s not much to discuss here. Once a VPN service has ruined its reputation with sheepish promises, poor security, but also, for example, a leak scandal or even the unlikely sale of data, you need to choose a different service and avoid this one altogether. That’s why VPN services are so careful about their reputation and really work hard to make sure that their service offers exactly what is expected of it. When choosing a VPN, make sure to read both reviews and the opinions of other users.

In this case, you really can’t go wrong by simply choosing the VPNs with the best reputation. You’ll find the most respected ones in this table, then below you’ll find out what else a VPN needs to do, and what this offering clearly fulfills.

The VPN does not hide or keep records

A trusted VPN service keeps no records of what you’ve been up to or what data has flowed between you and their servers. The so-called No-Log Policy is essential because if that data doesn’t exist, there’s no way anyone could ever get to it either. In the VPN table, you’ll find those services that have proven that they really don’t store any data and that no one has been able to get any data.

VPN services are also often based in states that cannot legally mandate them to hide this data. Therefore, they cannot even be ordered to report, hide or release anything.

This condition is essential when you’re after complete anonymity when using a VPN.

Strong encryption

VPNs are good to use for a variety of reasons, but one of the crucial ones is that the data between you and the VPN server is encrypted. Thus, no one is tracking what data you are sending or receiving, not even your internet connection provider.

When you’re choosing a VPN service, look for AES-256 encryption, which is the security standard used today by both governments and agencies that deal with the security and protection of classified information.

Number and location of servers

VPNs also serve as a way for other sites and services to make it look like you’re somewhere completely different and perhaps in another country. A VPN service should have enough servers around the world and offer at least 1 in every major country. That way you can switch between servers conveniently and choose which server your data goes through and which country you can masquerade as.

Unlimited data flow

With VPN services, you shouldn’t have to think about how much data you’re sending or receiving. In fact, a VPN should be on all the time and you shouldn’t be limited in downloading, uploading, sending or anything else. If a VPN is limiting you in terms of how much data you can use, you’re better off looking elsewhere.

Free trial

You should be able to try and test the VPN, test the functionality and the server offerings. VPNs can offer both a lined trial period of years for free, or a money-back guarantee. Both seem perfectly fair to us, and with both options we have the opportunity to try everything out, and if we don’t like the service, we simply get our money back.

Feature

Again, look to see if the service has everything you want from it. Some services don’t allow different kinds of internet usage, need downloading via torrents or similar. Before choosing, make sure you can do everything you want and need to do on the internet even with the VPN turned on. Of course, if you find that the VPN doesn’t suit you because it doesn’t know this or that, take advantage of the money back or trial period. Generally though, the VPN services you’ll find in the table can do everything you need and have no limitations in terms of what you use them for:

Price

A VPN is not an expensive service, and you can comfortably fit in a couple of hundred a month(10 to 15 Euros to be precise – for longer-term tariffs, the price then drops quite significantly too). However, with this service in particular, it is not worth reaching for the cheapest option, which may have various limitations or simply isn’t as effective at protecting data yes anonymization. Services that are a buck or even free may not have as good an infrastructure, encryption, or are simply not as trustworthy. Therefore, it doesn’t pay to downright skimp at the cost of the service being no good. In this case, choosing a trusted and functional service definitely matters.

Free VPN? Maybe not the best idea

A VPN can be a handy tool, and if you need to use its services on a one-off basis, for example to find out the results of a Google search in another country, then there’s no problem with a free VPN either.

Unfortunately, as a long-term solution, free VPNs aren’t really suitable. The service may only pretend to be a VPN, the encryption may not be up to scratch, but you’ll also deal with server outages, slow connections, or limits on downloading and uploading data. There are also significantly fewer servers and in fewer countries.

Free VPNs also typically don’t address protection as much and are based in states that legally command them to keep records of your data, but also your IP address or other information. She anonymity thus applies rather halfway, and if needed it is possible to trace what data has passed to or from you, but also your actual IP address.

All of this can be handled, because it is after all a free service. Also, this business model has to make money. That’s why these free VPNs are often overwhelmed with advertising, and this is an even better case. These services can sell your data to other companies. This is a blacker scenario, but when it comes to security, it’s definitely not worth taking this risk here.

Paid services get money directly from their customers, whose trust they have to keep. So they can operate without advertising and, in turn, do everything they can to make sure customers have everything they need.

Again, a free VPN for some specific one-time use may make sense, but in the long run it’s simply better to use trusted companies that are motivated by compliance and high security.

Is it possible to use a VPN on mobile, tablet and desktop?

VPNs should be used on all devices, and it’s definitely possible to use a quality service on all types of devices and operating systems, so Android mobiles as well as iPhones, tablets or computers. But the list doesn’t end there, as VPNs also work for games consoles or smart TVs. Anything that communicates heavily over the internet should be secured with a VPN, and a quality service offers apps with which this is exactly possible.

If you have a VPN service, we will make it operational on all devices. We use mobile phones more and more often, but the actual data security is generally not that much taken care of. While the use of antivirus and firewalls is already common on computers, mobiles are neglected in this respect.

Is it legal to use a VPN?

Yes, there’s nothing wrong with using a VPN from a legal standpoint. There are a number of perfectly reasonable reasons why you may want to hide your location, IP address, but also encrypt your data so that no one can access it. So using a VPN itself is perfectly fine, and you don’t need to worry about it when you’re using one of these services.

However, a VPN does not give you a free pass to commit illegal activities on the internet. A VPN hides your location on the internet and encrypts the data between you and the VPN server, but that doesn’t mean that anything you do on the internet is completely anonymous. For example, you can log in to a service or social network. She network knows that you’re logged in, although it needs to not know where you are physically right now.

Why get a VPN

Our lives are slowly but surely moving online. We need to protect our data, and even where we are right now is theoretically exploitable. A VPN helps protect our privacy, even where we are. It helps us protect data in public places and networks, and encrypts communications between us and the VPN server.

If you only use the internet to read the news or play games, or if the internet isn’t such an essential part of your life, you can do without this service. But if you’re after maximum security and want to protect your data, passwords and sensitive information, then a few hundred a month is a very fair price.

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