Wait, what exactly is a VPN and why do I need it?

Keeping yourself safe online. It’s something that you know you should do, but you either rely on someone else to protect you or you haven’t had the time.

Just a few years ago, mention a “VPN” and literally nobody would know what you were talking about. They were a complicated and confusing geeky system seemingly only used for “faking” your location and gaining access to streaming TV services in other countries.

However, I’m here to try and break down the complexity.

Right now, if you’re on your phone – whether it be on WiFi or on the mobile network – you will have an IP address. Your internet provider or mobile network will be able to link that IP with your account, your postal address and your name.

Likewise, any website, and server you hit whilst clicking around, will be able to see your IP address too. That IP will logged, and the provider “owning” that IP can easily be contacted should there be any problem with your activity. The provider, in turn, can then get in touch with you.

Put simply, when you’re browsing around the internet, you’re not anonymous in any way. So, if you’re adding comments to a news article or responding to a tweet, your identity is being revealed.

A VPN works by creating an encrypted tunnel between you and the website or server you’re trying to get to. Once you have one, your internet provider or your mobile network will be unable to see what you’re doing on the internet. It means that everything you do is encrypted – all they will see is a VPN tunnel, nothing more.

It’s all too easy to create a fake WiFi hotspot

Privacy and security are obvious benefits. The internet, when it first started, wasn’t exactly the most secure. Websites were delivered encrypted, your form submissions could be intercepted and so on. Now, with “free” public WiFi hotspots, in cafes and bars, it’s all-too-easy for someone to sit in Starbucks with a phone and setup a public hotspot, monitoring all your activity, grabbing your credentials and finding out who you are. So, if you’re out and you want to connect to that free WiFi, get yourself a VPN connection activated first.

How about a free VPN?

There’s many of these. You’ll see them in the app store and you may think, “Why should I pay when this app is free?”

Well, as the saying goes, nothing is ever really free. There has to be a compromise somewhere. Your activity might be getting logged or your service may be throttled.

Plus, let’s be honest, the cost of a paid-for VPN is really cheap. Right now you can get a VPN from just £1.59 per month. Then you can browse and stream safe in the knowledge that no-one is tracking or snooping on your activity. Plus, with services like Surfshark.com, you also get the reassurance that speeds won’t be altered (some VPNs can be much slower than your regular internet feed) and they’re also among a new breed of VPN providers who will block malware, trackers and ads.

Add to that the fact that there’s some 500 servers in 50 different countries, and you can also adjust where your internet connection “appears to be”, switching your location easily from one country to another. Just grab the Android app at https://surfshark.com/download/android and give it a try. There’s also apps for iOS and Windows, plus all the major browsers. You pay once and get to use it on unlimited devices, and there’s no logging whatsoever.

So go out there and, at the very least, investigate why you should be securing your feed onto the internet.