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What is VPN? - everything you need to know

You've heard that acronym before, but if you're wondering 'what is VPN' and 'why is a VPN so important', we've got you covered in this handy guide.

What is VPN - hands typing at a keyboard with symbols around it, including locks, the Microsoft Teams logo, and more

You’ve likely heard the acronym, whether through a multitude of ads, podcast sponsors, and more, but what is VPN? What does VPN stand for? Why do you need them, and how do they work? Well, prepare to be protected, as we’re here to answer all those questions for you.

For more internet-related help, check out our what is Facebook, what is Skype, what is Trello, and what is Linkedin guides. We’ve also got a bunch of other helpful how-to’s, including how to cancel subscriptions on iPhone, how to delete Instagram comments, and more.

Let’s break down everything you need to know about what is VPN?

What is VPN?

A VPN, or ‘virtual private network’, allows you to establish a protected network connection when you use public networks, encrypting your internet traffic in real-time and disguising your online identity. Now, that may sound like a lot of jargon to you, but it’s actually an extremely useful service that also gives you access to a bunch of internet content you may have been unable to see before.

Essentially, a VPN hides your IP (internet protocol) address, which is the unique string of numbers that identifies each computer using the Internet Protocol to communicate over a network. Hiding your IP address makes it much more difficult for third parties to track your online activities and steal your data.

A VPN can also disguise your location, with the VPN server acting as your proxy. This not only makes it far harder for third parties to work out your location, but it also gives you access to region-locked content through VPN location spoofing. In other words, if there’s a website you want to access or a TV show that you need to catch up on and it’s unavailable in your current location, you can switch your VPN server to another country where the content isn’t blocked.

Check out our guides on the best iPhone VPNs and the best Android VPNs for help finding the best platform for you.

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Do I need a VPN?

A VPN can be a handy tool for anyone who uses the internet, but there are some situations that make it far more important. For example:

  • While using public Wi-Fi – sure, it’s great to save some mobile data by hooking up your phone to the coffee shop Wi-Fi, but public hotspots are particularly vulnerable to hacker attacks. If you use a VPN while connected to public Wi-Fi, your online traffic is invisible, so you can browse in full privacy without putting your data at risk
  • While traveling – if you want to access your home content while jet-setting off on holiday or popping on a plane for a business trip, you can simply use your VPN to change your location
  • While browsing the internet – marketers, service providers, government agencies, and others all jump at the opportunity to track and collect your private data and browsing history. Put a stop to it by hiding your activity through a VPN
  • While shopping – a VPN ensures that you keep your credit card details safe, while also allowing you to avoid fake websites, targeted pricing, and other annoying schemes
  • While streaming – watch your favorite TV shows anytime, any place, without worrying about region locks or your IPS throttling your connection
  • While gaming – VPNs can help you avoid DDoS attacks and bandwidth throttling during gaming sessions

How does a VPN work?

Here’s how a VPN works behind the scenes:

  • When you connect to a VPN, it authenticates your device with a VPN server
  • The server applies an encryption protocol to all the data you send and receive
  • The VPN secures the data as it travels between you and your destination
  • To ensure your data always stays secure, the VPN forms an outer packet around it, known as an encrypted encapsulation
  • When the data arrives at the server, the server removes the outer packer through a decryption process

Which VPN should I get?

If you’ve decided you want to try out a VPN yourself, we’ve got an entire list of the best mobile VPNs for you to browse, all of which work for PC, too. However, if you’ve not got time to read through it, our time recommendation is ExpressVPN.

That’s all you need to know to answer the question ‘what is VPN?’ Now that you’re safe to get browsing and can access all that region-locked content, be sure to check out our Hulu download and Netflix download guides.