What are Virtual Private Networks and how do they work?

A Virtual private network (VPN) is a piece of software that allows you to access the internet privately, acting as a tunnel between you and your destination, enabling users to send and receive data securely across the internet. Much like having a firewall on your network to protect your computer, a VPN will secure your data over the internet.

If you are viewing YouTube videos or browsing the web from the comfort of your own home, then a VPN may not be necessary. However, if you are using a coffee shop or a library for their public Wi-Fi, which are notorious for being insecure, as a way of transmitting your bank account details, it is highly recommended to use a VPN to make this connect more reliable and secure.

In a typical public Wi-Fi environment, an individual with malicious intentions can passively sit on the network, access any of the information that you are sending over the network and obtain this for themselves. By using a VPN, the data is encrypted as it is transmitted over the internet, meaning that even if someone is able to view this data as a middleman, it is rendered unreadable to them.

Besides security, there are other reasons why individuals may opt to use a VPN. Activists rely on these VPN services to circumvent government censorship, so they can communicate with the outside world which, in some countries, may be against the law. In business, a VPN is often used as a way of creating a secure tunnel between two business sites and exchange data safely between these two locations. Staff members who work remotely can also opt to use the company VPN on their machine, establishing a secure connection with the company network regardless of their location.