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VPNs: what are they and why should you have one?

Alex Mott
1 Feb 2017
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5 reasons why we should all be using a Virtual Private Network

There was a time when VPNs were something only corporate employees used so their bosses couldn’t catch them skiving on company intranets. Those times, though, are long gone.

With seemingly daily news about hacks from various individuals, and now the government’s Snoopers' Charter becoming law, more and more people are turning to personal VPNs to boost their digital security.

What are VPNs?

VPN stands for “virtual private network” and is just a secure connection of networked computers. “Networked computers” simply means “the internet” and a “secure connection” means that digital security keys are sent to between the two computers talking that ensure no other computer can pick up the data being sent between the two. In other words, the data is encrypted.

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Why do you need a VPN in your life?

The first and most obvious reason to get on the VPN bandwagon is that they keep all your online activity and communications secure – as well as your identity.

You can also browse the web from different IP addresses when using a VPN, which is great for when you’re travelling. So let’s say you’re a British national in the US and you want to watch the BBC. Simple, just login in with a UK IP and you can. And it works the same in reverse, giving US citizens access to US content while outside the US.

It’s also a great option if you’re logging on to public Wi-Fi networks like the ones used inside airports and coffee shops – a VPN will keep your details secure, hiding you behind a layer of encryption and thereby making it impossible for hackers to access your personal data.

As we put more and more of our real lives online, encryption is more important than ever. That’s why we’ve put together this list of all the reasons you need a VPN.

1. For extra digital security Our whole lives are online now – from photos to finances. Using a VPN will provide extra encryption and security when you are transferring your personal data between your computer and institutions.

2. For downloading torrents There are as many legitimate, legal reasons for downloading torrents as there are torrent users who download pirated movies. The problem is ISPs have a very hard time distinguishing between the two. That means they sometimes block users who are using torrents for perfectly sound reasons. A VPN would make it much harder for your ISP to see you are the one downloading torrents. One of the best VPNs for torrents is Hotspot Shield.

3. For watching georestricted content Live in the UK, but travelling around Europe and want to watch BBC iPlayer? Using a VPN could allow you to make it look like you are still in the UK, thus giving you access to all your favourite shows. If you want to watch US Netflix, for example, we recommend NordVPN

4. For using online cloud storage solutions Online storage solutions such as Dropbox, Box, and OneDrive do a decent amount of work securing your files on their servers. However, when the files are in transit, they’re less secure. Using a VPN adds extra encryptions to your cloud storage upload and downloads.

5. For when you log on to public Wi-Fi at cafes Public Wi-Fi hotspots such as those found at most cafés are notorious hangouts for hackers. That’s because these hotspots generally have very weak security to the public can get onto them with little effort. Using a VPN will add the security to these hotspots that they should have. If you're only after an occasional VPN, CyberGhost is a good choice.

Read next: Best VPN services of 2017: The best VPNs for BitTorrent, Netflix and access to blocked websites

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