A VPN (virtual private network) is an essential on-line security feature more and more people are using. They are affordable, easy to use and are a cyber-security necessity if you use public Wi-Fi as you travel, or even if you use public Wi-Fi closer to home. Using a VPN may even save you money with purchases made on-line from anywhere. They can be purchased in monthly blocks of time, annually or bi-annually, making them flexible as well as affordable. In my opinion the best VPN is TorGuard: their networks are solid, their speeds are blazing fast and their customer service is the best. Their annual AnonymousVPN service is an astounding deal and a must-have. Did I mention how affordable a VPN is?
In this post I will explain more about what a VPN is and exactly how you can benefit from using one as you travel or shop on-line. There are more advantages of using your own network than security and shopping, though. This post will help you understand all the reasons you should be using one. I am a Luddite even though I help run this travel blog, so I promise to keep the esoteric techie-talk to a merciful minimum! Understanding a VPN is rather simple; more people are using them everyday for many reasons.
What is a VPN?
A VPN is a software service you purchase that allows anyone with a Wi-Fi signal (you) to become “invisible” while on-line. With any Wi-Fi signal simply activate the service and connect to a network that cannot be spied upon by those around you. An unsophisticated hacker can see your activity on a public Wi-Fi network, but with a VPN your data is, in effect, encrypted and tunneled through “cyberspace” to a private network of your choice. This makes your data and on-line activity undetectable to prying eyes as it passes from your device to the intended recipient; that on-line bank account, or anything requiring a password is something you do not want a hacker to gain access to.
When you connect to a public network and you do not use a VPN, your data is vulnerable as it passes from your device through cyberspace to the server associated with the public network. In cyberspace your data shows as plain text to anyone who has hacked into that public network. By the time your data reaches the intended recipient it has already been compromised.
Your Network Without a VPN
Also with a VPN you can “appear” to be in another part of the world (Geo-spoofing) because your IP address changes. This gives you several different advantages I will explain later in this post. Geo-spoofing is great for travelers and anyone who shops on-line, making a VPN something you should seriously consider.
Even lifting censorship on the web as you travel internationally, which happens more than you think, is a benefit of using a VPN. There are plenty of providers out there to choose from, as a paid service or even for free. If you choose a free service be advised usage is often severely limited (speeds, network locations, data caps); consider paying for your VPN for an all-around more robust and unlimited service. Mama said shop around…
Your Network With a VPN
You likely have anti-virus and malware protection on your computer, however these alone are not enough to fully protect you on a public Wi-Fi network. A hacker compromising the public Wi-Fi network you are on simply sees everything you are typing; virus and malware protection will not prevent this. Use a VPN on any Wi-Fi signal and your data is tunneled through, encrypted and safe from hackers. Gaining access to public Wi-Fi is common; often we assume our connections to be fully safe when they are not.
When you use your VPN service you choose a network to be placed on anywhere in the world. This is totally independent of the public network you have just connected to. You are using that public network only to gain access to the internet, via a signal, which is all you need to activate your VPN. In effect you cease to appear on the public Wi-Fi network where the potential hacker is waiting. Your data and location are known only by the VPN provider and the end-point of your on-line transaction, even though a hacker may be spying on the activity of everyone sharing the same public internet signal as you. If you use public Wi-Fi and you type a password into anything, you should seriously consider using a VPN
What is Geo-Spoofing?
Another major benefit of using a VPN is geo-spoofing, which allows you to fake your geographic location to benefit you. You can, in effect, appear to be in any country where your VPN provider has a network. Similarly, you can appear to be in your own country if you are traveling internationally. Why is this so important and how can this benefit you as you travel or shop on-line at home?
On-line retailers may target products and prices based on where the potential shopper is at any moment – your IP address gives away your physical location to a retailer. A VPN lets you change that address as often as you like, appearing as if you are elsewhere which can give you an advantage. Below is an example:
Pretend you live in Denver and you want to purchase a round-trip flight from Denver to Houston. You are searching on-line (without a VPN) while at home in Denver. The seller knows your location via your Denver IP address. As a result of your IP address the ticket price can be tailored to benefit the seller; they know you are in Denver and they figure you have little choice but to leave from Denver. If you appear to be elsewhere (using a VPN) and you search for the same round-trip ticket, the seller may offer a more handsome deal to entice you to buy. Choose a network location to show you are not in Denver (even though you are!) and the seller may see you as potential buyer with more choice as to how to get to Houston than from Denver alone.
Some swear this is an effective way of getting the best deal as you shop on-line for all types of goods and services. The above scenario is merely an example of how your location can be used to tip the scales, either for the seller or you. If you have a 100% fool-proof method of getting the best possible airfare rates 100% of the time, let us know!
More Benefits of Geo-Spoofing
Depending on which country you travel to you may find you cannot access your favorite websites, known as geo-blocking or geo-restricting. Some foreign governments/regimes make it impossible to read certain news sources or visit your favorite retailer, for example. Even Google and Google-related service can be completely off-limits! The horror! With any Wi-Fi signal and a VPN it is easy to bypass these ridiculous regulations and spoof your IP address to a more tolerant country. You are now free to visit any site blocked by the country you are physically in. Pretty simple, huh?
One more benefit of geo-spoofing and bypassing geo-blocking with a VPN while traveling is the ability to stream your favorite on-line entertainment no matter where you are. Certain streaming media accounts may only be available to you if you are in the country where your account resides. Although different from being denied access to certain websites in less-tolerant countries, this practice is just as pesky and yet just as easy to work around.
Viewing first-run shows on your domestic media account may only be available if you are physically in your country – your IP address will give away your foreign location. Use a VPN to connect to a network in your country and as a result stream all the first-run shows you want. Always make certain the provider of your choice offers network locations in the country or countries you need.
Battle of the Network Stars
There are dozens of VPN providers to choose from with even more joining the ranks. However, consider a few extra sporty options when choosing a provider because all are not equal. Some companies simply do not offer these extras, turning a seemingly good deal into a lemon of a product. Get started by checking out TorGuard. Their services are sleek, powerful, feature-packed, economical and totally focused on safety.
Below are some extra options to look out for when choosing your VPN:
1.) Customer Service.
On-line chat support is important to Luddites like myself! Does your potential VPN provider offer 24/7 live chat support to help you out if you need it? Look for this form of support; having a team stand behind their product when you need them is very important. Technical issues are often handled through a ticket-based support system, which is different from live-chat support. Always consider what type of support will suit you best.
2.) Internet Kill-Switch.
An internet kill-switch is a safety feature not all VPNs offer. This ominous-sounding option will shut down your internet signal should the private network briefly drop the connection to your computer. A kill-switch will prevent you unknowingly transmitting sensitive information without the protection of your private network – simply reconnect to your Wi-Fi signal and reconnect to your private network. Not all VPN providers offer this feature, however TorGuard does.
You can find the network locations for a particular provider on their website. TorGuard offers servers in 50+ countries with over 10 network locations in the U.S. Look for a provider that offers a broad range of servers all across the globe. Furthermore, you may want to find a provider who offers a network in your country based on your personal on-line needs. If streaming media is important to you when traveling, consider a VPN provider with a server in your home country.
4.) Money-back Guarantee.
Many providers offer a money back guarantee with their service. Check to see if the your prospective provider offers a guarantee and how long their offer stands.
5.) Payment Options.
Keeping in mind transmission of data in an unsafe cyber-world, many VPN providers will accept a variety of payment methods in addition to credit/debit cards. Any provider worth their salt will provide a customer with anonymous forms of payment. Pay using a cryptocurrency of your choice or even certain gift cards if you wish. Why not put that $25 gift card from Olive Garden to better use paying for your VPN?
6.) Multiple Allowable Devices and Supported Operating Systems
With one paid account you can often protect up to 5 devices. This can include mobile devices if the provider of your choice offers software for Android and iPhone. Also make sure your prospective provider offers software for the operating system (OS) that applies to you; e.g. Windows, OS X , iOS or Linux.
7.) Free Trial.
A free trial may be just what you need. Some providers offer trials for several hours (?) or several days. This is your chance to drive it around the block and kick the tires. Providers limit free trials in their capacity, offering less networks or caps on the amount of data transmitted. Nevertheless, a trial is a great way to get to know a provider and some of the resources they offer.
Having a VPN while traveling or even at home just makes sense. They are very affordable and effective, providing benefits in areas we tend to overlook as we happily browse and shop. Most of all, safeguarding password-protected services and account numbers in an increasingly open cyber landscape has never been easier or more relevant. We have been using a VPN as we travel and conduct business on-line since 2017 and we would never do so much as enter a password over a public Wi-Fi network without one. Finally, I encourage you to learn more about the right VPN provider for you and take full advantage of the wonderful services they provide.
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