A VPN is primarily a security product, a secure virtual private network which can protect data in an unsecure environment. Nowadays that insecure environment is normally the internet, an amazing global network that has transformed our lives but as far as security goes it’s pretty hopeless. The problem with the internet, is the very reason it’s become so pervasive – it works with all sorts of different devices. Can you imagine if the internet was segmented – my Apple Mac could only connect with Apple Web servers or web sites on Linux servers could only be accessed via Linux desktops? It would be fairly hopeless, yet it would be much, much easier to implement security in this context.
Of course we do have security in our web browsing of sorts – it comes in the form of the SSL layer in HTTPS. The little padlock you see at the front of the web address means that your communication with that web site is encrypted and is not transmitted in clear text. Everything else that goes through your browser does travel in clear text across hundred of routers, switches and hubs owned by a myriad of companies and organisations. HTTPS is not that secure anyway and connections can be intercepted and accessed but it’s certainly better than nothing.
However it’s without a doubt that a Virtual Private Network (VPN) is much more secure, it consists of an encrypted tunnel between two points in which data is transmitted. It ensures that nobody can intercept data, particularly at it’s most vulnerable point which is at transmission. You can see the attraction particularly if you’ve ever sat using a public wifi network at a cafe or hotel with a packet sniffer and seen everyone’s data fly across your screen (try it!).
So of course security is important however the reality is that today a VPN service is not always used for it’s primary purpose. It’s more used for hiding your IP address – in order to bypass filters and content restrictions. Using a VPN as an online IP changer – like this video demonstrates:
Means not only can you bypass heavy handed government filtering, such as Turkey which routinely blocks the big social media sites. You can also side step the much more common geo-blocks which the world’s major media sites operate. Most of these need you to be in the country of broadcast to gain access – USA for HBO, UK for BBC and so on. However if you use a VPN which terminates in a specific country then you can bypass these blocks. So the next generation of VPN software allow you to switch your connection between different countries therefore bypassing all these blocks.
Which is great but of course, if you’re just trying to stream the latest ‘Game of Thrones’ onto your PC or laptop, you’re probably not that bothered about security only whether you can watch without buffering and in HD. The secret to this of course is speed, a speed VPN for PC is the important factor not whether someone can decrypt your data – a video stream isn’t that interesting anyway.