We live in an interconnected world, a world where, in an instance, someone at the other end of the world can access your private information such as location (from your IP), browsing history, and even browsing data all at the click of a button.
Whether you are a personal computer user, a small business, or even a large corporation, you cannot (and should not) take your cybersecurity lightly because how safe you are while using the internet and interconnected devices determines the safety of the information you send over the internet or network.
Using a VPN is one of the most effective ways to protect your data.
What Is A VPN And How Does It Work?
VPNs, especially for mobile devices, are becoming increasingly common. Part of the reason for this is the ever-increasing rate of cybercrimes, hacking, and phishing attacks, especially now that we have technologies such as online and mobile banking.
A virtual private network, VPN for short, is an internet security system that allows you, the user, to send data over the internet in a safe, secure, and in the case of some VPN platforms, secretly over a private network.
While this sounds complex and very technical, the premise is actually very simple to understand. A VPN is a service that allows you to hide crucial information such as your IP and location from the websites you visit. For instance, if you are in X country where you cannot access Y site—such as Netflix in some countries—using a VPN changes your IP address so that you can access the data without any problem.
How VPNs work
The role of a VPN is privacy: it allows you absolute privacy as you send data over a network.
Now, while the VPN you use will greatly determine how it works—some will ask you to sign up and create an account while with others, all you have to do is download and install the VPN app or software—most VPN services and platforms have the same underlying technology.
First, most VPN services have various server farms across the world and to access these servers, the virtual private network, you will need to install a software or app. Once you have the app on your device and fire up the app/software, the app/software connects to the server you have chosen (the server location operated by the service), and by so doing, any data you send over the network first goes to the server.
The server then encrypts this data before sending it out to its target destination; all of this takes milliseconds depending on the location of the server.
Why You Need A VPN
While a VPN may seem like a lot of work, it plays an integral role in privacy protection (which is the main role of cybersecurity) and if you are using the internet in any capacity, you should seriously consider using a VPN for, at the very least, the following reasons:
As we have stated, privacy (not anonymity) is the main aim of a VPN.
The first thing a VPN does to protect your privacy is to ensure that your internet service provider does not access your information or, at the very least, your ISP does not keep a copy of your log.
By encrypting your data using very complex mathematical formulas and in the case of some VPN, cryptography, ensuring that the data sent between you and the VPN is secure and private, you can keep your ISP from accessing your private information such as the sites you visit, the data you send over the network and the likes. This has vast implications for your cybersecurity.
This is important now more than ever because ISPs are allowed to sell your data and browsing history to private companies for targeted ads and other behavioral uses.
Thanks to a VPN, when your ISP cannot see the information you send over the network—since all the ISP sees is that you have connected to a VPN and not the information sent between you and the VPN—it has no way of determining how you use the internet or the information you send. This, however, is not always the case with all VPNs.
When you consider that, most ISPs are prone to cyberattacks and mass surveillance by governments and hackers, using a VPN protects your privacy because when your ISP has no idea of the information you send over the network, you are safe from such exploits.
The third important thing worth noting here is that normally, most of the websites you visit log your IP and location (your real IP, which is a special number your ISP assigns to you and that has your real location). When you start using a VPN since your ISP will only see the connection between you and the VPN, all websites that track and log your IP will log the substituted IP.
For instance, if you are accessing the internet from Kosovo but using a VPN server located in the U.S., any website you access and that tracks IP’s and locations will log your U.S based IP address. This keeps your browsing private!
I use a VPN service for cloaking my real IP Address. Below you’ll see information about your current computer, which browser you are using, your IP Address which tells me where you are right now and your computer screen. I can use this information to trace you back to wherever you are now but don’t worry, I won’t. I can’t speak for anyone else though.
To prove that the IP Address indicated in the above screen is the same one you are currently using, just open a new tab and go to Google search and type “my ip address”. Google will immediately tell you what is your current IP Address, which should be the same as the one indicated above.
2- Bypass Bandwidth Throttling
ISPs are very notorious at throttling your bandwidth allocation and speed especially when you use streaming services such as Netflix and YouTube; they do this to enhance their network (by applying something they call a fair user policy) and to increase their profits by reducing the amount of traffic flowing through their networks.
Since a VPN hides your online activity, and all your ISP sees is the connection established between you and the VPN (not the information sent between the two points), it has no reason to throttle your bandwidth or speed even when you are using streaming video services such as Youtube.
3- Bypassing Geolocation
If you visit Vevo and other sites when in specific countries, you are likely to see the following message:
We call these geolocation borders, something VPNs proved very effective against; in fact, a VPN allows you to unlock all location-blocked content. For instance, although users in other countries pay the same Netflix fee paid by users in the United States, Netflix users in the United States have a larger library of shows.
By using a VPN that has U.S. based servers (most worthy VPNs will give you a wide selection of server locations from which to choose from), you can access geolocation content and in the case of Netflix, access the platform as if you are using it while in the U.S. We talked about the reason for this: a VPN replaces your actual IP with that of the connected server location.
4- Secure Remote Access
The most adept VPNs offer secure remote access, a feature that allows you to access information on your server or communicate with other businesses without compromising security and privacy. From a business standpoint, this is big because even when your employees are working on the go and using a VPN, you do not have to worry whether they are using a public hotspot to access the internet—and thereby compromising your security.
As you can see from the above discussion, A VPN is something you should consider having not only on your work computers but also on all other devices that you use to access the internet or sensitive data you would rather keep private.
Fortunately, the VPN market has many options from which you can choose. PIA VPN is one such option.
PIA VPN: A Review Of PIA VPN
Private Internet Access, PIA in short, is one of the leading, American-based VPNs. The VPN operates more than 3236 servers in more than 29 countries with more added each day.
Being one of the best VPNs presently available in the market, PIA VPN has some of the best VPN features you can imagine. For instance, the app is super-fast, offers great security features, and offers P2P support all at a relatively cheap price.
As stated, PIA VPN is one of the cheapest VPNs in the world. Its most basic price is $2.91 a month for a two-year plan billed as a one-time fee of $69.95. However, the VPN offers three pricing options. If you choose to go the monthly payment route, you will pay $6.95 per month. If you choose the yearly route, you will pay $3.33 per month billed as a one-time fee of $39.95 per year. The two-year plan mentioned above is the most pocket-friendly!
With that stated however, in relation to price, when you consider that most good VPNs charge an average of $10.50 per month, you can see that with PIA, you get great value for money all without compromising your internet privacy in any way. However and perhaps this is a downside, PIA does not offer a trial period or even a free version of its app.
The purchasing options offered by the APP are extremely efficient and easy to navigate too. You can buy and renew whichever plan you choose using Amazon payments, PayPal, credit cards, and cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin. Further, the platform also accepts gift cards as payment. It supports gift cards from over 90 different retailers key among them Bloomingdales and Starbucks.
Canceling your plan is also relatively straightforward and easy (you can access the feature from the large “Cancel” button within your PIA dashboard/account).
As mentioned, for the cheap price of $6.95 per month (if you choose to go the monthly payment route), you get a number of features that enhance your internet security. First, and like most other VPNs, PIA encrypts your information, which safeguards your information and privacy.
Using the default 128-bit encryption, PIA ensures that your information is safe from spammers and hackers. Moreover, the app allows you to use 256-bit encryption, a military-grade encryption, with the compromise being that even though 256-bit encryption is more secure compared to 128-bit encryption, it affects/slows down performance. While other VPNs also offer this kind of encryption, PIA is the only VPN that allows you to choose which encryption level to use for your data authentication and handshake, which you can do by overriding the default SHA1 and RSA-2048 and instead using SHA256 and RSA-4096.
PIA also offers a feature they call IP Cloak, a feature that allows you to mask your IP with an anonymous IP from their servers. By cloaking your IP, PIA ensures that websites (and your ISP) do not track your Geo-location and information you send over the internet. Once you connect securely to PIA VPN server, they substitute your real IP with a U.S. based IP address (or any other location you pre-select from the list) thereby changing your location so that even if a website were to log your location, it would log your new location.
Moreover, PIA has a very handy feature they call internet kill switch, a feature designed to shut off your internet automatically whenever your connection drops the connection to a secure VPN server. This feature prevents identity and IP leaks. The feature is so intuitive that once your connection reestablishes a connection with PIA’s secure servers, it automatically reconnects your internet.
You, undoubtedly, need a VPN since having one ensures optimum data privacy. It ensures that your ISP and website do not track your IP and location, which as you can imagine, makes you less trackable and provides secure browsing.
The fact that PIA is relatively cheap (compared to other premium level VPNs), lightning fast and chockful of invaluable privacy and encryption features makes it one of the best VPNs available in the market.
by Edgar Vera, MS Cybersecurity