What is a VPN anyway?

Trust me, it’s not a scary thing. Just recently I had a relative ask why I had two WiFi networks at home. I explained that one was a VPN router, and offered me privacy and security. That, if I’m being honest, made their eyes glaze over a little.

The term “VPN” will, to many, sound like a needlessly complicated IT term which they don’t need to know about. Even when you read it out fully, the “Virtual Private Network” sends shivers down the spines of many friends and colleagues.

Let’s call it a “magic pipe” instead shall we? Just for the purposes of this article.

Without one, when you’re at home or out on your mobile, the traffic you send and receive is being monitored and controlled. If you’re in a cafe or you hop onto a WiFi hotspot at the supermarket, they will know what websites you’re visiting and what traffic you’re pushing through. At the internet provider, they can then manage traffic, giving a higher or lower priority to streaming media, email, web browsing and more.

Also, when you’re trying to get to a website in another country, or you’re trying to access some streaming video which is restricted to residents of a certain country, your IP address will reveal where you are. Want to access that new TV show that just aired in the USA? You can’t because the servers for the American TV channel will realise you’re in Europe and block you.

With a VPN, or “magic pipe” you get to move that IP address – that identifier given to your gateway onto the internet – further away. This means that you can access region-restricted websites. You can move that gateway around ad-hoc too, and you don’t need to be at home on a laptop. You don’t even need any convoluted configurations or a large amount of faff. Just use a mobile VPN via an app and you can instantly protect your privacy. Protecting yourself from monitoring and traffic shaping.

Apps like NordVPN are available both for iOS and Android. This one covers more than 50 countries and they’ve got around 500 servers. It means that you don’t just get the flexibility to “pretend” you’re in another country, but you get a decent throughput too. The interface is easy to use and you just need to choose server via an interactive map.

Costly? Well, that’s perhaps another misconception. Many VPN providers won’t shout too loudly about it, but don’t forget that you can add multiple devices onto one account. Six different ones in the case of NordVPN.

I’m currently using PureVPN, which has automatic switching to the fastest server in the location of choice. They have around 750 servers at the last count and you can use 5 different devices on one account.

So, if you do find it a bit confusing, give it a try. Grab a recognised VPN app. PureVPN, which I’ve just mentioned, have a free version which let’s you choose from a selection of locations and you get 2GB of bandwidth even as a free user.

Once you’ve got a “magic pipe” you are free to use the web privately. You can connect to un-trusted WiFi networks and be safely protected and ensure that traffic isn’t being “shaped” or monitored.