A Virtual Private Network, or VPN, is a way to add security and privacy to private and public networks, like WiFi Hotspots and the Internet.
VPN stands for “Virtual Private Network”. A VPN can help to improve security and privacy when using the internet.
When you connect to the internet, you do so through an Internet Service Provider (or ISP). If you're connecting from home, you probably connect to BT (or Sky, Plusnet...other brands are available), or Virgin. On public WiFi, you may not actually know who the ISP is, and we have to take it on faith that they are responsible, honest and secure - and right there you might see a problem.
Once connected, you then have access to the rest of the internet. All your internet traffic passes through your ISP’s servers, and could be viewed by your ISP.
When you use a VPN, after connecting to the ISP, you then connect to your VPN. Once connected (after authenticating, perhaps using a username/password, or some other key exchange), all of the data traveling between your computer and the VPN server is encrypted so that only you and the VPN server can “see” it.
How does a VPN work?
A VPN is an extension of a private network (such as your home or business network), across a public network such as the internet.
When you connect to the internet, you machine joins the ISP's network. When you then connect to a VPN, your device joins the VPN network.
Aside from the security benefits this provides, it also means that you can access all of the resources available to the network you connect to.
To provide an example, imagine that you have a network printer in the office. You're working from home, but because you're connected to the office VPN, you can still print to the office printer.
How to get a VPN
There are a three main options for getting a VPN:
Your business/company provides a VPN
We would suggest that if your business allows, or even encourages remote working, then providing a VPN is essential. Connecting to a VPN makes your device a part of the office network, and all the data between you and the office is securely encrypted.
Ask your manager of IT support about how to connect, and make sure you use the VPN whenever you do company work from outside of the office.
You use a commercial VPN
There are numerous commercial VPN options available. They will all have good and bad points, and vary in price too. We would suggest the main things to look for are:
- Multiple locations.
- Promise not to store your data.
- Recommend steering clear of “free” options.
You provide your own VPN
If you're a little bit tech-savvy, and if you have, or are willing to buy suitable networking hardware, you can set up your own VPN at home.
We'd recommend buying a router that has VPN capabilities. That will take a lot of the heavy lifting out of the process of getting things set up. If it's a good router, getting up and running should be pretty quick.
Just be sure to lock down the other security settings on the router!
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