There are vulnerabilities associated with being constantly connected to the web: hackers and malware targeting your personal information, scammers looking to defraud you, and big companies spying on you today so they can sell you something tomorrow. Since staying off the internet isn’t an option for most of us, what’s the next best thing? In many cases, it’s using a VPN connection.

What is a Virtual Private Network (VPN)?

VPN stands for “virtual private network.” VPNs have long been used on the enterprise level because they help big companies keep customer data and proprietary information secure. They are increasingly popular for home use because they’re attractive to privacy-minded individuals. 

VPNs are a separate service from your internet provider that you can sign into whenever you’re online to shield your activity from hackers, advertisements, fraudsters and any other unwelcome third parties. They work by concealing your real IP address and assigning you a temporary one. In the digital world, an IP address is a unique number that gets linked to all of your internet activity. Changing this identifier helps you stay more anonymous on the web. 

Benefits of Using a VPN 

The Best VPNs in 2019

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What should you expect when logging into a VPN?

After you subscribe to your VPN of choice, you’ll have to download the software on each device you want to protect. Each VPN’s app has a different interface, but usually the set-up and sign-in process includes following a few device-specific prompts and selecting the location of the VPN server you’d like to use. It doesn’t matter which location you use if you’re just seeking more privacy, but it does matter if you need to mimic the internet browsing experience of a specific place or country (perhaps during travel, or if you’re need to stream specific content).

Can you use a VPN to protect your Wi-Fi network?

Yes – if you have a VPN-compatible router, you can protect your entire network with a VPN instead of manually connecing each one of your devices. You can either buy a router with a VPN service pre-installed, or you can manually connect your VPN to a compatible router. Your VPN provider should be able to provide instructions and help you troubleshoot.

What can’t a VPN do?

Any security expert will tell you: Nothing connected to the internet is 100% unhackable. Even the best VPN can’t protect against user error, viruses, phishing scams, third-party data breaches or physical tampering. Since VPNs do require a couple of extra steps and change the way you experience the internet, not everyone will want to use one all the time.