What is a VPN? Do you REALLY need it?
Can you guess what’s common between Spiderman and Batman?
Abdul Rawoof Khan
Can you guess what’s common between Spiderman and Batman?
Well, both of them have secret identities. Both of them, wear a mask ( unlike most Americans, during a pandemic 😜 ). Why do they have secret identities? Are they doing anything evil? If not, then why do they cover their face?
There might not be a perfect answer to this, but the closest one is, to secure their privacy. Though they’re really strong and can fight with any villain, they don’t want to invite troubles by disclosing their identity. For everyone, they might be heroes, but they’re the villains in someone else’s story.
The technology we’re going to discuss is like the mask of these heroes. This tech is the mask in the world of internet.
So let’s get started!🔥
What is a VPN?
VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. As the name suggests, it gives you privacy online.
Originally VPNs were used only by big businesses, organizations, and governments to protect their data from hackers, but nowadays many companies offer this privacy to the common people at a certain price.
Features of a VPN that its users boast about are as follows :
1️⃣ Location stays private
2️⃣ Data is encrypted
3️⃣ Identity is anonymous
Why do you need a VPN?
When you visit a site like Facebook, you type the domain name. The domain name is like a nickname for the website’s IP address ( Think of IP address as the house address of that website, in the world of internet ).
It’s difficult for people to remember the IP address of a website as it consists of only numbers, so a domain name is given. Your mobile phone also has an IP address, just like any other device connected to the internet.
When you type the website’s domain name on the browser, you send your data into the internet from where it reaches a server. The server then translates the data and sends the website you requested, back to your device. The problem occurs when you send the data from your device to the server. During this data transfer, your IP address and other information are also transferred. This is the point at which hackers intervene and steal your data.
Imagine you’re sitting in a cafe, using the public wifi on your phone to make some bank transactions online. Someone else, with a laptop, using the same wifi, can get your passwords, emails, and other information. If you use a VPN, they won’t be able to access any of the information.
The websites you visit can also gather information based on your activity, but they use it to produce targeted ads or personalize their content for you. Usually, it’s not a problem, but sometimes they may decide or be forced to sell your data to a third party organization ( which could even be the government or law enforcement agency).
How does it work?
When you send information online, a VPN creates a tunnel that encrypts your data. So if anybody is able to access your data, they won’t be able to read it. The tunnel also makes it harder to hack into your data. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but it’s way harder than before.
A VPN also adds an extra server, so that when you type the domain name, your information first goes to this server and then to the internet. This extra step helps in changing your location. Changing your location unveils strange benefits.
For example, Netflix has content depending on your geolocation. So if you want to watch a show, but it’s not available in your country.
You send your information to one of the VPN servers in the US, then that server sends it to the Netflix website.
Netflix now thinks you’re an American because the signal is coming from a different server. Hence, you can watch the show without any problem.
📍Changing your location can also help during a flight or a hotel booking. Research has shown that hotels and flight prices change depending on your location. So, a VPN could also save you money.
Getting back to the privacy part, you might wonder, what if the govt asks the VPN organization for my data?
To counter this point, many VPNs also have a 'No Logs Policy’, which is like the incognito mode, wherein your browsing history or any other data, isn’t stored anywhere. So even if they want to, they can’t sell your data.
Hence, VPNs are really useful as they keep you safe on the web by changing your location, encrypting your data, and ensuring your privacy. No wonder there are millions of VPN users in the World.
Why do you need a VPN?🤔
There are many reasons to justify your need for a VPN. Some of them are :
1. To use public WiFi
As we discussed earlier, using public wifi makes you vulnerable to hackers. A hacker could either be a customer or even the shop owner, you never know! The average coffee shop uses the WPA2 password, which according to krackattacks.com, isn’t as safe as you think it is, though WPA2 is considered the most secure till today.
2. To travel freely✈️
If you’re traveling to a foreign country like China, where sites like Facebook and YouTube are blocked, a VPN can help you access those sites.
Well, if you’re not someone who travels to China so much, you might still consider using a VPN because you have a Netflix subscription that doesn’t work well in foreign countries.
You’ll not be able to play your downloads and might lose some shows which are restricted in the country you’re traveling to and lastly, your choices for streaming will also be affected.
All these issues can be solved, just by using a VPN 💁🏼♂️
3. To work remotely
Many companies deal with confidential data daily. If you’re an employee of such a company and want to work on the information stored in the server of the company, then you’d have to use a VPN or else you’d be risking the confidential data.
4. To be a political dissident ✊
Some countries don’t have the same protections for press freedom as the US. Some countries don’t even allow free speech. With authoritarian rulers on the rise in the World, you might want to ensure your privacy is safe as they can go to any extent to silence the voices that oppose them. Though the US has laws to protect press freedom and free speech, it still doesn’t own a clean image when it comes to spying on its citizens ( Remember Edward Snowden? ).
The dark side of VPNs
Now we know that our data is not in the hands of ISPs, but in the VPN servers. So if any third party organization wants to collect our data, it could now buy it from the VPN providers.
This dark source of income takes birth in the absence of any other source. In simple words, companies that offer free VPNs could be doing this to keep themselves running, so I’d suggest choosing a paid VPN service and the one that has a ‘No Logs Policy’.
Do you REALLY need a VPN? 🤨
Well, of all these benefits, you might argue, none of them are strong enough to make you a VPN user. It is absolutely alright. You may not be living in or traveling to China.
You aren’t a political dissident, you don’t use public wifi or even work remotely. It seems like you don’t need a VPN. So yes, you don’t need it.
I personally feel VPN isn’t a pain killer, it’s still a vitamin tablet for most of us.
Most of the famous/influential people would consider VPN a pain killer because privacy is a serious concern for them.
While we may argue that we don’t need a VPN, as we don’t have anything to hide from anyone, but we must remember to not have the same response to digital privacy.
Our data can be used against us in ways which we don’t even know about.
Going back to our Batman - Spiderman example, imagine if the government brings a law that says, nobody must cover their face and we support it by saying, yes we’re okay with it as we have ‘nothing to hide’. It’d become a problem for Batman, Spiderman, and all other heroes whose privacy needs to be protected, for our safety.
As Edward Snowden says,
“Arguing that you don’t care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don’t care about free speech because you have nothing to say.”
Abdul Rawoof Khan