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There’s much debate about the importance of a VPN when you’re connected to the internet. VPN stands for “Virtual Private Network,” and when you connect to the internet with a VPN, it means you are then browsing the internet with an encrypted connection and anonymously.

To date VPNs have been mostly used for getting up to no good: don’t want your government to be able to see the torrent you download? Use a VPN. Don’t want your internet service providers to know what you really get up to on the computer late at night? Use a VPN.

Setting up VPNs is made easy with Windows, but choosing the VPN you want to use is not. There are loads of different VPN providers, and not all of them do the same thing. For example, lots of the paid VPN services out there provide a better service than the free ones. A free VPN can sometimes sell your data to third-parties, so as by which to defeat the purpose of using the VPN in the first place if the VPN were to sell your data to the company you were trying to hide from. You could test your luck, but you also wouldn’t want to get up to highly illegal activities online and assume you’re safe behind something that’s free. It would be more safer to assume that the federal police are watching those connections for anything worth their time.

What Does a VPN Actually Do?

When you use a VPN and have it all set up correctly through the operating system you are using, they mask your IP address, so you become a lot less vulnerable to the web susceptibilities that way: hacking, DDOS attacks, whatever it may be that people want to try to do to hurt you can’t be done because nobody knows what your IP address is. A VPN also won’t ever give up your geolocation, meaning that no sites can try to track your whereabouts. A lot of sites get what is referred to as “nonpersonally identifiable information” when you browse them. Some of our friends were unpleased to know that we had such information available to us that to revealed what web browser they were using, what screen size, what operating system, and even roughly to the nearest mobile tower that they were when they browsed our website. That type of stuff, without ever knowing your exact location, is always available to website owners should they wish to pursue it when you browse without a VPN protecting you. The last more-than-useful thing the VPN service does is encrypts your data, making a hacking mission to get your data next to impossible. The occasional story pops up around the internet about someone’s data being encrypted, and it got stolen and how could that happen, and encryption sucks—but believe us when we say that encryption, when working correctly, is very secure. VPN encryption has multiple layers which makes it all the more difficult to penetrate. We won’t say that the encryption is impossible to break, but it is very very very hard to defeat due to its complexities. The thing you need to be aware of with VPN encryption, however, is that it is only encrypting your data back to the VPN server. To have full encryption between you and the website you are browsing, you would need to rely on that website having SSL security, which is the https you see in the address bar. If a site is not offering that, then there’s no way you can connect to that website with encryption. That’s part of the reason why these tech giants are pushing for people to use SSL by offering sites extra ranking power if they use it—it isn’t so much for themselves, it’s because other people are relying on it for their own encryption to work: it’s a case where it takes two to tango with encryption.

Only Worried About ISPs?

An Internet Service Provider, otherwise known as ISP, knows everything you get up to on your computer. There is no such thing as privacy between your basic connection and what goes back to your ISP. Most people assume that the ISP wouldn’t be looking at what you’ve been doing since they have so many people’s accounts and therefore who the hell cares about it. And we aren’t even necessarily saying that that is not true: it might be, we can’t see what they’re really doing behind there either.

But if you ever start to get a bit paranoid and lose the passion for using the internet because all you’re envisioning is some guy watching everything you visit and eating popcorn with his legs up on a velveteen desk, there are some things you can do about it without having just to walk away and do something else.

A lot of people choose to get a paid VPN service to block ISPs from viewing their history. It is a handy option if you have the money, which can be somewhere around $50 a year, but it isn’t the only option out there either. There are at least a couple more good ideas you could make use of, one of which is applying https everywhere. You aren’t expected to know what https is at its deepest level or even how to set it up everywhere: https everywhere is actually the name of a browser extension that you just install with one click and then it gives you the https everywhere, meaning all the websites that you visit. You might already notice that when you visit some websites (like ours for instance) that they give you this https connection in the browser address bar at the top of the page, easily distinguishable from the old thanks to the new green color designed to signify that it’s now as trustworthy as can be. That type of https means anything you do with regards to that particular individual website is going to be encrypted. However, that isn’t shielding you from ISPs watching you. Https everywhere, on the other hand, does, in fact, stop your ISP from seeing the webpages you visit because they get blocked out. It isn’t on-another-level awesome: your ISP will still see the domain name, but you can browse that domain name and view as many webpages as you want and they won’t be able to see which webpages you are using, and that’s really the main part most people want to hide anyway. Another thing you might want to try is adjusting your DNS. The Domain Name System, known by many a geek as just DNS, dictates how your computer translates a human-readable website name (consumingtech.com) into something else that appears in a more machine-friendly format usually consisting of nothing but numerical values as a new Internet Protocol address. But forget about all that technical stuff: all you need to worry about is that it is the DNS that is responsible for your site being connected to your ISP. Most computers use the IPS DNS by default, and you have the freedom of changing that so your DNS is using a VPNs; when you do that it means your internet still works thanks to your IPS but the IPS is no longer able to snoop.

Choosing the Right Service for Your Needs

VPNs are still relatively new in this wonderful world we live in, and you need to be careful who put it your trust in when signing up to a particular company’s services. There hasn’t been any significant news yet about a VPN service being untrustworthy, but it could happen. When you put your trust in a VPN service you need to know that the people behind the service could actually see your connection, so they have every opportunity to see your IP address that you are hiding, to see your location that you are hiding, and so forth. The obvious thing to do if you are the government is either own one of these VPN services or at least extort or bribe one of them so they can get access to it. A government agency like the NSA is going to be well aware that a lot of bad activity is able to be exposed if they were to get access to the information that’s being hidden behind these VPN services. Using a VPN service to hide from amateur hackers and other things alike is wise. We don’t advise using a VPN to try to hide from the governments in any way, however. If a government agency wanted to go to work and catch everyone doing illegal things they could. One thing to remember with regards to torrents is that sometimes governments, depending on your whereabouts, can put a ban in place for the residents of that country or region to no be able to browse specific sites—for instance, people in Australia at the moment can’t just use a computer and browse The Pirate Bay website. These types of blocks are easily bypassed by using a VPN. That type of thing is entirely different to actually expecting that the government couldn’t then find out you were downloading torrents. You are only using that VPN to get access to the torrents so you can then download them. Don’t expect anything other than that. There could be lots of people tracking your activity, but they just don’t really care about it. That’s the more likely scenario rather than them not watching.

VPNs Connected to Operating Systems Such As Windows 10

If you run Windows 10, or perhaps many of the other up to date operating systems available out there too, you’ll find an option for hooking up a VPN connection. This often confuses people as to how a VPN works: they’ve just read all about these services that offer VPNs, and now there’s an option from there operating system for a VPN as well. That then promotes questions like: does this mean that you need to connect your services that you sign up to through this VPN in the operating system? The answer is No. When you sign up to one of the services that come from a website such as Hide My Ass, you just use their full list of services, which includes their servers. The VPN setting you get from an operating system such as Windows 10 is when you actually want to host your own VPN server instead. If you aren’t hosting a VPN server, which is going to be most people, then you don’t need to worry about connecting it through your operating systems.

Hosting your own VPN server isn’t going to be a very good choice for most people because it tends to be cheaper just signing up to use someone else’s instead since there are now some pretty large companies out there collecting money from a great many people and thus it allows them to offer you a decent price that you probably won’t be able to match on your own.

You’ll be pleased to know though that a VPN server isn’t anywhere near the size (or the cost) of an average web server which can be huge and really expensive. A VPN server is only about the size of a terabyte external hard drive that’ll comfortably fit in your hand should you ever need to lag it around. When people realize the favorable size and cost of the base product, they tend to get excited, but there are other costs to consider before jumping in and deciding to own one yourself instead of paying for a website’s service. You’ll need to consider the bandwidth costs required to run it—not the end of the world if you are running on an unlimited connection which usually tops out at around 700 GB’s (nothing is truly unlimited)—, the licensing costs—depending on your VPN solution, you might have to fork out money for a server or client license, and the amount of processing power—that’ll be the hardware you own or host and the power required is determined by how many connections you have, the type of encryption, and how much bandwidth is being used.

Browser Extensions

If you don’t want to sign up for a full VPN service, you could always just use a web browser extension instead. The Google Chrome web store has a bunch of these available for everyone to install. All you need to do is head to the Google.com search engine and type “Google Chrome Web Store” and then click on the Chrome Web Store from the results page. Now use the search field in the top left corner of the Chrome web store’s homepage and type “VPN” and hit the “Enter” key on your keyboards. It’ll bring up the results for all the different VPN extensions you can use for the Google Chrome web browser. The Hola extension is a popular choice, but you’ll also find other options there as well, including the likes of but not limited to Zenmate VPN, Hotspot Shield, SaferVPN and Free Residential VPN. Once you install them they’ll show up as all new extensions do in the top right corner of your web browser—that part is universal among all web browsers, even though browsers from different companies usually like to vary their features, so they aren’t the same. The difference with the VPN browser extensions is that they don’t always have you hooked up to the VPN service. Instead, visit the website that you want to be hidden from and then click on the icon in the top right corner of the browser and follow the instructions. For instance, if you install Hola, it will give you a bunch of flags which represent each country, and you would then need to click on the country’s flag that you want the extension to act as though you’re from. It’ll then reload the webpage and have you from that country, and the site should then work. That’s what you would do if you wanted to browse The Pirate Bay and it was blocked from your country, for example.

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