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What is a VPN?

A vital tool for online security, in this guide we dig into what exactly a VPN can offer you

As of 2019, 57% of the world had access to the internet. While global connection offers a huge range of benefits to businesses, it also introduces new concerns over online privacy and security. Indeed, according to Statista, 53% of internet users said they were more concerned about online privacy than they were a year before.

As the online environment evolves, and as online crime evolves along with it, both business and personal users are trying to find ways to protect and safeguard their online presence.

A VPN is just one form of online protection. Originally created to securely connect different business networks and enable remote working, VPNs have gone on to offer a range of solutions.

In this article, you can find out more about what a VPN is, and what it can do. We'll also look at the other services they offer, as well as how they can be applied to any business. If you want to take a look at a top-rated provider now, simply visit PureVPN's site.


What is a VPN?

A VPN, or virtual private network, is a connection method that adds security and privacy to both private and public networks. Businesses will often use virtual private networks to protect sensitive information.

Security is one of the main reasons that businesses use VPNs. As new methods of hacking emerge, it has become more important than ever for businesses to operate as many safeguards as possible. A useful comparison of how a VPN works is to compare it to a firewall, which protects data on your personal computer or laptop; a VPN works in the same way, but protects your data online.

In the simplest terms, a VPN connects your device – be it a personal computer, smartphone, or tablet – to a server. This server can be kept at a different location, and allows you to browse the internet using that server’s internet connection.

If the server you use is in a different country, it will appear as if you are browsing the internet from that location. The added benefit of this is that you can also access location specific browsing, which may be unavailable in your actual location – indeed, this is a popular way for people to access another country’s streaming services, since platforms like Netflix will often have different offerings based on where the viewing is logging in from.

What does VPN stand for?

VPN stands for virtual private network.

What is a VPN router?

A VPN router is a divide that enables network communications in a VPN environment. It supports the connection and communication between VPN end devices, usually over several locations. The VPN ‘end’ device is effectively the endpoint of a connection – so in most cases, this would be your device and the VPN server.

What is a VPN appliance?

A VPN appliance is a device that offers increased security features, which is usually offered by VPN providers. Also known as an SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) VPN appliance, a VPN appliance offers various features, including firewall protection, authorisation and authentication, and encryption. Each of these features increases the protection of your device.

What is a VPN server?

A VPN server is configured to deliver VPN services to users. These servers are owned and operated by whichever VPN provider you sign up to, and can be either physical or virtual. The server combines hardware and software that enable users to connect to protected networks.


How does a VPN work?

A VPN works by routing your device’s internet connection through a private server, operated by the VPN supplier you use.

When the data is transmitted online, it comes from the VPN rather than your computer. The VPN server acts as a sort of intermediary between your device and the internet, effectively hiding your IP address and protecting your identity

In simple terms, without a VPN, your laptop connects directly to the internet. Whereas with a VPN, your laptop connects to the VPN server, which in turn connects to the internet. If you don't use a VPN, your identity and location are far easier to determine, meaning that your information and data is less secure. A VPN adds an extra layer of security.

In terms of security, VPNs also use encryption protocols and secure tunneling techniques to cover all online data. The best VPN providers will also have integrity checks and other measures in place to give you as much peace of mind as possible.

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What does a VPN hide?

If you've read the sections above, then you'll have a basic understanding of how a VPN works. However, you may still be wondering what it actually hides, and how this helps your business.

A VPN hides your IP address
An IP address – or internet protocol address – is your device’s unique address online. An IP address is unique to any device that you own – for example, if you use a laptop, a smartphone, and a tablet, each will have a different IP.

All of your online activities can be linked back to the IP address of whichever device you use, including things like searches, website visits, and social media activity.

A VPN will mask your real IP address, meaning that your activities are anonymous and cannot be tracked back to your device. This prevents online entities from tracking your movements online, from search engines like Google to individual websites, and even hackers.

While using your browser's built-in private or incognito function can provide a certain level of security and privacy, your internet service provider (ISP) can still track your activity. With a VPN, your ISP cannot track you.

A VPN will hide your location
VPN providers almost always provide global options, with servers around the world that you can connect to the internet through. This means that, wherever in the world you are, you can use a VPN to make it appear as if you are somewhere else.

This function of VPNs has been widely used around the world by people looking to access location-specific services, such as Netflix, but can also be used in other ways. For example, creative VPN use can even help you to get lower prices on flights, hotels. and other products, as pricing is often set locally by major businesses.

As well as providing some of the more gimmicky benefits listed above, VPNs can be incredibly useful in business, with VoIP phones being one example of a technology that can benefit from IP shielding.

A VPN can hide personal and professional data
The convenience of public wifi comes with some strings attached, including serious security risks. Hackers can use these public connections to steal information – and if you are using a work laptop or phone, this can also include your business’s private information.

Hackers can also use public wifi to distribute malware, steal logins and passwords, or ‘listen in’ on private communications.

Accessing the internet through public wifi with a VPN provides security that keeps your activities safe. Your VPN will create a hidden tunnel, even over unsecured networks, that will keep your data safe, making it vital for anyone who often travels for work.

A VPN will hide web browsing
Deleting your browser history and cookies does not erase all records. Even taking these measures will leave data that is accessible, whether to legitimate operations, like your internet provider, or to illegitimate operators.

While a private or incognito mode will disable browsing history, cookies, and your web cache, you can still be identified though your browser and OS. This information can be pieced together to link activity back to a specific IP address, but a VPN is able to hide all of this information.

A VPN will hide your social media identity
Depending on how you use it, social media security might be vital to your business – but it should always be important. Depending on the network, website administrators and platform owners may be able to track your IP based on social activity.

If you prefer to remain anonymous, a VPN will help to mask your IP address even when you’re actively engaging with others online.

A VPN will hide spending
Like other activities mentioned here, your online spending provides remarkable insight for both legitimate and illegitimate operations.

A VPN will hide this activity. Your IP address will be protected from ecommerce sites in the same way that it is protected from others, thus guarding your privacy. This can mean that advertisers will not be able to target you with marketing based around your activity, but will also offer a certain level of protection against financial hacking.

A VPN can hide mobile activity
As mobile devices become the dominant form of online browsing, it goes without saying that you need to have protective measures in place.

In the same way that browsing the internet on a laptop will let people know your location and identity, so will browsing on a phone.

A mobile VPN app will provide the same security to browsers, shielding sensitive information. In many ways, this is a more important option, as phones are actively used in all locations by millions of users. If you work on your phone at all, or use communication apps on it, then you could benefit from using a VPN to protect your data.


What is VPN on mobile devices?

A VPN is basically the same on a mobile device as it is on a computer. It offers protection for users that will prevent online misdemeanours, while also offering online anonymity.

A number of VPN options exist on mobile devices, with some being suitable for Apple products, some for Android, and some for both. If you need to increase your mobile protection, then you should consider which option is going to be best for you – you can find out more on our best VPNs page.

Bryn Glover
Bryn Glover

Editor

As Editor of Startups, Bryn runs content strategy and our annual campaigns. A lover of small business, you can find him writing about exciting entrepreneurs and UK industry trends.