You might want to use a VPN, be it for privacy issue, or because you want to “change” your location, while travelling, or even because you live abroad and want to access local media from your birth place… There is many reasons to use a VPN but you shouldn’t use any VPN, you should use a good VPN.
How internet works?
First of all, let’s see basic overview of how internet works. While using Internet, everything you do is logged. For example, when you are visiting this website, I have “logs” from your visit. These logs give me your IP address (this IP is given to you by your ISP), the time and date, and what browser you are using. If you came to this website by clicking a link, I will know it as well.
With the IP address from the logs, I can find who it belongs to, and where (at a city level, more or less) it is located.
Every website owner has access to these information for their respective websites, and only their websites.
It is quite disturbing, and it is even more disturbing when you know that almost every website has, for example, a Facebook plugin. This means that Facebook, will know exactly every every website you browsed to.
Now comes the interesting part of VPN, more especially why should use a good VPN.
What makes a good VPN?
When using a VPN, what happens is that you connect your computer to that said VPN. From now on, everything you do on Internet will be done by the VPN (a bit like a proxy server, or a proxy person). This means, that website owner can know (or guess) you are using a VPN, they will not have you real information associated to your IP. Your VPN’s IP will be displayed instead of your real one. Moreover, while you can sometimes have 1 unique IP address with your ISP, a VPN will provide the same IP to many customers, making it even “less personal”.
However, keep in mind that, even if the “end” website do not log you real IP, the VPN server will often do. At least, the VPN company knows what is your real IP and what is the one they provide you. Depending on their terms, and country law, they will have to log more or less information about you, and what you do. This is a very important point when trying to find a good VPN provide. You want to have the less log possible.
Since only the VPN’s IP is seen by websites (or any other Internet service) on the internet, this IP can belong to a VPN in any country. This is where it gets interesting to “fake” your location. A good VPN, would be one to offers several locations to choose from.
Of course, nothing is always 100% good.
When using a VPN, this will reduce a bit your connection speed. The VPN encrypts your connection, it means it will hide the traffic to the eyes of your ISP. The only thing you ISP will see is an encrypted connection from your computer (or router, if you decide to install the VPN directly on the router) to the VPN server. This takes a small amount of “data” to hide the real data. Hence, reducing you a little your connection speed (approx 5%). It is very important to test a service before buying it, because sometimes the VPN server will totally suck and this will limit your connection even more! You have to make sure that the VPN you choose can handle you connection speed, otherwise it won’t be a good VPN for you.
We have seen that VPN can hide your real IP. However, it will still be unable to hide what browser you are using, what OS, what resolution you screen uses, etc. When we use internet, we sent a huge trail of data, often personal data, without even noticing it. This data, can help “trackers” to gather unique data about yourself and manage to identify you against several websites. If you really care about anonymity you should check services like Tor, but this will have a bigger impact on ease of use and connection speed.
Unfortunately, more and more websites are able to detect you are using a VPN. Most often, by just blocking the IP ranges of known VPN providers. Or by using some tool / script that will “guess” if you are using a VPN or not. For paid services, they can check where your credit card comes from, etc. Unfortunately again, these detection methods seem to become better every day. This means, that it will not be granted that you can access Netflix US when you like in Europe. Once again, you have to try it by yourself. A good VPN provider will often offer money back guarantee.
Last but not least, when choosing a VPN protocols are very important. There is known VPN protocols that are insecure. I will always choose and recommend to use the OpenVPN protocol. This is a real secure protocol, and it works on all platforms.
In order to sum up, there is many reasons why you want to use a VPN. It could be to stay “under the radar” (just because you need it, or want it), it could to change your location, or even for your security (if you use open WiFi hotspot, then you absolutely want to use a VPN), and many others. However, if you do so, there be sure to try first and choose what seems adapted to your usage.
For example, if I want a lot of privacy, I will use Tor service (which is not a “real” VPN). If I want a VPN that gives me plenty of location, and many different IPs / identities I would use something like IPVanish. If I want something more custom, then I will you my own VPN.
So be sure to choose a good VPN, and avoid at all costs the bad ones!