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What Is A VPN?

What is Virtual Private Network?

VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. VPN was originally used by large corporations to enable remote users to connect to their main business network. It’s only relatively recently that VPN services have become more widely available, especially since more and more of us are either home-based workers or have some element of telecommuting included in our employment contracts.

Why use VPN?

VPN enables users to carry out a variety of useful functions; printing to your home printer from remote locations, accessing your home network from anywhere and routing internet traffic safely through your own secure network.

VPN presents the user with an extremely convenient way of working. Wherever you are (as long as you have web connectivity) you can access all of your home network resources. VPN enables you to check on your router status for example, look at your media centre status or even check networked security cameras if you wanted to. You could also access shared files from your own network or from another computer which is really useful if you’ve travelled miles for an important meeting only to find you’ve forgotten an essential document.

What makes VPN so secure?

In simple terms, once your device joins the VPN network, it’s connected virtually to all the other devices contained within that network. Once the VPN is created, you can route all your internet traffic straight through it. Essentially, a tunnel is created for all your data to pass through en route to your network. The tunnel is encrypted so that all the information you share over the VPN is protected, even if the network you are using is itself not encrypted.

If a hacker were trying to steal your data as you surfed the web using an insecure network, although the traffic coming from your computer would be visible to the would-be thief, it would not be readable; all your passwords, usernames, bank details and sensitive information would remain hidden.

How to set up a VPN

The easiest provider to use if you wanted to set up your own VPN is Hamachi. The downloadable software is free and works on pretty much all platforms. The only issue with this is that you have to keep your home computer running in order to connect to it and this may not be worth it unless you are expecting to be out of town and you know that you will need to access your home network while you are away.

Most computers now have power-save features that will put your machine in ‘sleep’ mode, and then wake it up when it’s required. There are other VPN solutions available but they are subscription based. Hamachi is free because you are using your computer’s energy to power the VPN, not the server in a provider’s data centre.

In a nutshell

So, VPNs provide a secure tunnel through which your encrypted data travels. You can use a host company or host the VPN yourself. Using a VPN is the best way to keep your data safe when you’re using an unknown and potentially insecure network.

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