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Originally posted on Lifehacker
What Is a VPN?
Put simply, a Virtual Private Network, or VPN, is a group of computers (or discrete networks) networked together over a public network—namely, the internet.
Businesses use VPNs to connect remote datacenters, and individuals can use VPNs to get access to network resources when they’re not physically on the same LAN (local area network), or as a method for securing and encrypting their communications when they’re using an untrusted public network.
When you connect to a VPN, you usually launch a VPN client on your computer (or click a link on a special website), log in with your credentials, and your computer exchanges trusted keys with a far away server.
Once both computers have verified each other as authentic, all of your internet communication is encrypted and secured from eavesdropping.
The most important thing you need to know about a VPN:
A VPN secures your computer’s internet connection to guarantee that all of the data you’re sending and receiving is encrypted and secured from prying eyes.
Whether the VPNs you’re familiar with are the ones offered by your school or business to help you work or stay connected when you’re traveling or the ones you pay to get you watch your favorite shows in another country as they air, they’re all doing the same thing. For much more detail on what VPNs are, how they work, and how they’re used, check out this How Stuff Works article.
Why You Need a VPN, or How You Can Benefit from Using One
A VPN alone is just a way to bolster your security and access resources on a network you’re not physically connected to. What you choose to do with a VPN is a different story. Usually, VPN users fall into a few separate categories:
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- The student/worker
- This person has responsibilities to attend to, and uses a VPN provided by their school or company to access resources on their network when they’re at home or traveling.
- In most cases, this person already has a free VPN service provided to them, so they’re not exactly shopping around.
- Also, if they’re worried about security, they can always fire up their VPN when using airport or cafe WI-Fi to ensure no one’s snooping on their connection.
- The downloader
- Whether they’re downloading legally or illegally, this person doesn’t want on some company’s witch-hunt list just because they have a torrenting app installed on their computer.
- VPNs are the only way to stay safe when using something like BitTorrent—everything else is just a false sense of security.
- Better safe than trying to defend yourself in court or paying a massive fine for something you may or may not have even done, right?
- The privacy minded and security advocate
- Whether they’re a in a strictly monitored environment or a completely free and open one, this person uses VPN services to keep their communications secure and encrypted and away from prying eyes whether they’re at home or abroad.
- To them, unsecured connections mean someone’s reading what you say.
- The globetrotter.
- This person wants to watch a major sports event live, without dealing with their crummy local networks.
- They want to check out their favorite TV shows as they air instead of waiting for translations or re-broadcasts (or watch the versions aired in other countries,) listen to location-restricted streaming internet radio, or want to use a new web service or application that looks great but for some reason is limited to a specific country or region.
- Some combination of the above
- Odds are, even if you’re not one of these people more often than not, you’re some mix of them depending on what you’re doing.
- In all of these cases, a VPN service can be helpful, whether it’s just a matter of protecting yourself when you’re out and about, whether you handle sensitive data for your job and don’t want to get fired, or you’re just covering your own ass from the MPAA.
Even if none of the above really sound right to you, you can still benefit from using a VPN.
You should definitely use one when you travel or work on an untrusted network (read: a network you don’t own, manage, or trust who manages.)
That means opening your laptop at the coffee shop and logging in to Facebook or using your phone’s Wi-Fi to check your email at the airport can all potentially put you at risk.
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Garrett is the publisher, editor, writer forThe HRIS World Research Group, which includes The HRIS World, The HRIS World Research, The HRIS World Jobs, The HRIS World News, and The HRIS World Videos
With more than 20 years in roles as a client executive sponsor (#thwCES), project manager as well as functional / technical lead, Garrett is sought for his expertise for project insights, thought leadership, and team management globally.
He has been involved in large-scale and complex implementations since 1991 and has recently moved his operations to be with his wife in Brazil.
Garrett has had the pleasure of working with some of the greatest talents in the industry, and constantly shares his experiences and knowledge through content and webinars.
He maintains his fluency in Portuguese, German, French, and English with his various endeavors and contacts..
When not working, you will have to be adventurous to stay up with him as Garrett loves motorcycling, gunnery, boating, sailing, flying, and sports fishing -- and accompanying his wife on her various likes
About The HRIS World Research Group
The HRIS World blog, which is read by more than 50,000 from more than 160 countries monthly, manages to have more than 550,000 pages viewed monthly. 40%+ of the audience are decision-makers in their organization (and about half of that being C-levels!).
As CEO for CGServices USA Inc, he focuses on multi-provider, multi-line implementations consultation for HRIS systems
Council and Education Member of Gerson Lehrman Group Council, helping institutions of the world leaders meet, engage and manage experts across a wide range of sectors and disciplines.
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