What is a VPN? And why you should use a VPN on public Wi-Fi
Written by a NortonLifeLock employee
A virtual private network (VPN) gives you online privacy and anonymity by creating a private network from a public Internet connection. VPNs mask your Internet protocol (IP) address so your online actions are virtually untraceable. Most important, VPN services establish secure and encrypted connections, guaranteed to provide greater privacy than even a secured Wi-Fi hotspot.
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Why you need a VPN
If you’ve ever wondered if it’s safe to use public Wi-Fi, you are not alone. In fact, according to the Norton Cyber Security Insights Report, 6 in 10 consumers believe using public Wi-Fi is riskier than using a public restroom. And it is. Surfing the Web or transacting on an unsecured Wi-Fi network means you’re placing your private information and anonymity at risk. That’s why a virtual private network, better known as a VPN, is a must for anyone worried about online security and privacy.
Think about all the times you’ve been on the go, reading emails while in line at the coffee shop, or checking your bank account while waiting at the doctor’s office. Unless you were logged into a private Wi-Fi network that required a password, any data transmitted during your online session was likely vulnerable to eavesdropping by strangers using the same network.
The encryption and anonymity that a VPN provides protects all of your online activities: sending emails, shopping online, or paying bills. VPNs also help keep your Web browsing anonymous.
How a VPN protects your privacy
VPNs essentially create a data tunnel between your local network and an exit node in another location, which could be thousands of miles away, making it seem as if you’re in another place. This benefit allows “online freedom” or the ability to access your favorite apps and websites from anywhere in the world, as if you were at home.
What should you look for in VPN services?
The VPN market is crowded with options, so it’s important to consider your needs when you’re shopping for VPNs.
Think about what is important to you. Do you want to be able to surf the Web anonymously by masking your IP address? Are you afraid that your information could be stolen on public Wi-Fi? Are you a frequent traveler who wants to be able to watch your favorite shows wherever you are in the world?
A good VPN will check all three boxes, but here are some other questions to ask while you’re shopping for the VPN that’s best for you.
How to choose a VPN
The best way to stay secure when using public Wi-Fi is to use a VPN solution, like Norton Secure VPN, which is compatible with Android and iOS smartphones and tablets, as well as Windows PCs and Apple Macs. Here are some questions to ask when you’re choosing a VPN provider.
- Do they respect your privacy? The point of using a VPN is to protect your privacy, so it’s crucial that your VPN provider respects your privacy, too. They should have a no-log policy, which means that they never track or log your online activities.
- Do they run the most current protocol? OpenVPN provides stronger security than other protocols, such as PPTP.
- Do they set data limits? Depending on your Internet usage, bandwidth may be a large deciding factor for you. Make sure their services match your needs by checking to see if you’ll get full, unmetered bandwidth without data limits.
- Where are the servers located? Decide which server locations are important to you. If you want to appear as if you’re accessing the Web from a certain locale, make sure there’s a server in that country.
- Will you be able to set up VPN access on multiple devices? If you are like the average consumer, you use between three and five devices. Ideally, you’d be able to use the VPN on all of them at the same time.
- How much will it cost? If price is important to you, then you may think that a free VPN is the best option. Remember, however, that some VPN services may not cost you money, but you’ll be subjected to frequent advertisements instead. If you compare paid vs. free options, you may find that free VPNs:
- don’t offer the most current or secure protocols
- don’t offer the highest bandwidth and connection speeds because of the volume of free users
- do have a higher disconnection rate
- don’t have as many servers in as many countries globally
- don’t offer support
There are many points to consider when you’re choosing a VPN, so do your homework to make sure you’re getting the best fit for your needs. Regardless of which provider you choose, rest assured that any good VPN will provide far more security, privacy, and anonymity online than any public Wi-Fi hotspot ever could.
30 Second Video: What is a VPN?
There’s a good reason hackers love free public Wi-Fi. It’s because they can easily access information on unsecured Wi-Fi networks. VPNs, or virtual private networks, like Norton Secure VPN can turn those public Wi-Fi hotspots into secured private connections.
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Editorial note: Our articles provide educational information for you. NortonLifeLock offerings may not cover or protect against every type of crime, fraud, or threat we write about. Our goal is to increase awareness about cyber safety. Please review complete Terms during enrollment or setup. Remember that no one can prevent all identity theft or cybercrime, and that LifeLock does not monitor all transactions at all businesses.
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