Lately, there has been a great deal of buzz over using a VPN. Although this may be a great idea, don’t think for a second that you are going to vanish off the Internet radar – a misconception many people have.
What is a VPN? Before we can explore the pros and cons of a VPN it probably helps to know what one is. A Virtual Private Network (VPN) is a technology that creates a secure network connection over a public network, such as the Internet. So in other words, a VPN is a private network contained within an open/public network. It’s really as simple as that. Corporations and Industry use VPNs so they can conduct business and piggyback everything on the Internet as their transmission line. Why build your own global network when one already exists, right? The reason these places trust the Internet with their information is because they have a private network buried within the Internet – a private network only they have access to.
So why would the average Joe want or need a VPN? If you’re using a WiFi hotspot, or sitting in a coffee shop using your phone or computer, there’s a good chance you are sitting there unencrypted and vulnerable. With the right software in place, somebody could watch everything you are doing, log every password you are entering, and possibly put software on your device that would make it a complete drone to their every command. Using a VPN while connected to one of these networks not only makes sense, it is absolutely imperative for your security. The thing many people fail to keep in mind while using a VPN – it doesn’t make you completely invisible to the rest of the world. Never fall into the illusion that none of your actions are being logged, tracked or watched. VPNs are meant to be a security layer, not a means to hide illegal activity. Many VPN providers are still subject to logging which can be obtained legally with a warrant.
Although I would recommend using a VPN (especially on free hotspots) just for the added security, there are a few pros and cons to consider:
- an inexpensive, efficient way to build a private network
- using the Internet instead of leased lines or private networks is virtually free
- the ease and speed of building/initiating a VPN
- the cost saving of not having to utilize additional servers and transmission methods
- lack of QoS management can cause packet loss and performance issues
- speed can generally be slower than a normal Internet connection
- price may be an issue depending on desired features
- network conditions occurring outside the VPN cannot be managed by the network administrator
- technologies between vendors may not be 100% compatible
Which VPN do I use?
There are many choices out there to choose from (see below). Your decision may be based on how much you want to pay if you want to pay at all. A great method to try out a VPN is to use Opera Browser (v.40 or above). This is a new feature in Opera, and it can give you a great test-drive using a VPN.
Opera’s VPN is accessed on the address bar, easy to switch on/off, moderate selection of VPN locations, display amount of data used and IP address (I’ve pixellated mine), and best of all – completely Free.