What Is A Virtual Private Network? How Do You Choose The Best VPN Service?

You probably know someone who won’t do any of their banking or shopping online for fear that their personal information will be stolen. You may also know someone who is very careful choosing the websites they visit or refuses to use public WiFi networks, because they’re convinced that their movements and activities can be easily compromised and used against them by hackers, criminals or the government. Those often-valid concerns may be yours as well.

There’s a way to take control over your online activities and who can see them. It’s the same method many large corporations use to protect sensitive data, and that others use to access geographically-protected content. It’s called a virtual private network, and the best VPN service will allow you to stay largely under the radar with a much greater level of web security than you have when just “getting online.”

What Is A Virtual Private Network?

The easiest way to explain a virtual private network is by looking at what it does. Normally, your computer (and every machine connected to the Internet) is identified by its IP address. That’s an easy way to tell “who you are” and where you go online. When you connect through a VPN, however, your IP address is replaced by one belonging to the network, and associated with another location which could be anyplace in the world that the network provider operates servers. Those who might be trying to track your comings and goings, steal data being sent to or from your computer, or steal your online identity can no longer tell “who you are” and their attempts to identify you are fruitless.

How is this accomplished? The best VPN service will use advanced encryption techniques to route your Internet transmissions through a secure tunnel to its network, where a different IP address is assigned to your transmissions before they’re redirected to their final destination. The virtual private network knows that your computer is part of the network by means of VPN software, also known as a VPN client, installed on your machine. That software is also responsible for decrypting information received through the VPN, so it can be displayed on your screen; the best VPN software does it seamlessly and swiftly.

There’s much more technological hocus-pocus involved, naturally, but it’s not necessary to understand it to know that you should be using an advanced virtual private network and the best VPN software in order to be properly “hidden” online. We’ll look at the key points you need to know in order to select the best VPN network in 2016 shortly, after we examine some of the common uses of a virtual private network.

What You Can Do on a Virtual Private Network

We’ve already alluded to some of the obvious reasons a VPN service can be beneficial, even if you’re just an everyday, law-abiding surfer or business. It’s an extra layer of security for financial transactions, as well as protection on the public WiFi connections in Starbucks or at the airport, which are susceptible even to low-level hackers. It can stop Google or other online mega-presences from tracking your movements and your activity, and prevent business competitors from knowing that you’ve been checking out their site. In fact, many businesses have their own site-to-site VPNs to ensure that connections between their servers or locations are encrypted and safe.

A virtual private network can come in extremely handy in other situations. It can allow secure Skype or other VoIP connections to or from countries like China where governments monitor and intercept communications. It can let you avoid being placed on surveillance or blacklists if you use torrent services to download legal material – or if you believe that Internet tracking goes much further than that, it can protect you from being put on anyone’s list, kept for any purpose.

And if you want to watch video feeds that are blocked in your area or country, using the best VPN service available will be a godsend.

Video Feeds on a VPN: Netflix, Hulu and Sports

Many sports telecasts are blacked out outside of a team’s home area. If you want to watch your “home team” play but you’re traveling or have moved to a different region, you are often out of luck. Not with a virtual private network, though; if your “location” is seen as being in the team’s home region you’ll be able to watch without an issue, since using a VPN that assigns you an IP address in the right city or state will unlock the telecast for you.

National boundaries often block your ability to watch premium video streaming services as well, even if you have the right subscription but are simply vacationing or traveling overseas. The message “This content is not available in your country” is often displayed either because of copyright laws or corporate policies, like the one at Hulu which restricts viewing to the United States. A virtual private network is the answer here as well; just claim an appropriate IP through a VPN – Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime and other services will immediately become available to you. If you’re regularly on the road, VPN Netflix, Hulu and sports connections are an absolute must.

Finding the Best VPN in 2016

If you’ve used a virtual private network in the past, you may want to look around for a more modern alternative, since the best VPN in 2016 is very different than old-school networks. Here’s what the best VPN service will have today.

  • Security: The network should provide strong protections for all transmissions as well as identity protection, and ideally should not log your activity online.
  • Speed and Reliability: Both are paramount for any network connections, but become even more important when your data is being routed through VPN servers.
  • Advanced Technology: The best VPN services will support P2P and VoIP communication. Most will use PPTP (point tunneling protocol) to make network connections since PPTP is already integrated into Windows so it’s easy to use; in conjunction with the best VPN software provided by top networks, any holes can be plugged effectively.
  • Multiple, Selectable VPN Gateways and IPs: A network with a number of gateways and IP options allows you to connect through IPs located in different cities or different countries, and to change your IP at any time if it is blocked by the site you’re trying to access. Don’t choose a provider with just one gateway or a single IP option, because you may find it useless quickly.

Virtual private networks may seem complicated, but they’re not. You can set up your computer to work a VPN in just a few minutes, and you have the security and protection that many feel is a requirement for Internet activity in 2016.

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