No, you're not paranoid. There really are people who watch traffic on unsecured Wi-Fi networks in an attempt to intercept your personal data. If you aren't thinking twice about typing in passwords, banking information and credit card numbers, phishing hackers can gather your private information. This can cause serious problems for you in the future.

One of the most common ways to use the Internet without fear is by utilizing what's known as a virtual private network, or a VPN. A VPN creates a virtual encrypted route between your computer and the server. This makes it impossible to know the origin of anything you type. It masks your IP address, protects your anonymity and secures your data.

In today's modern online world, it's one of the smartest things you can use. Let's take a closer look at the functions and benefits of a VPN.

How VPN Works

A VPN masks your online activity by routing your connection through a different server to the one on the network that you’re using. It can encrypt data, which means the VPN converts your data into code that unauthorized sources can't translate. A VPN may also use tunneling, which encapsulates information into a different format. This conceals information you send and receive while you're using the Internet on your private network.

The Internet runs on servers that are constantly sharing and transmitting data between each other. When you hop online to browse, your computer starts sharing data directly with the servers of the sites you're visiting. This means hackers can potentially intercept the communication to see what you're sharing and tell it's coming from you. This isn't great news when you're sending sensitive data, such as banking information which you don't want to get into the wrong hands.

A VPN creates a way station in your data's journey from your computer to other Internet servers. With a VPN service, your data goes to the private network server first, where it's repackaged and concealed. It then moves from the VPN server to its ultimate destination. You're concealing the source of your data, and it looks to hackers like the VPN — not you — is the origin of your traffic and information. Cybercriminals can't tell you're the data source, and they also only see encrypted data.

You can create and use one of these private networks by downloading VPN software or by logging onto a VPN provider's website. The software or website then facilitates all the hidden data transfers you make while browsing the Internet via the VPN.

Protects Your Security

The primary benefit of a VPN is its added security. When you're at the coffee shop, you may immediately log on to the Web through the free Wi-Fi network with the shop's name in it. But how do you know whether the free network is actually run by the coffee shop or by someone interested in stealing your data?

With a VPN, your data is encrypted for confidentiality on the remote, private server. Even if you're accessing a Wi-Fi network that a cybercriminal has set up, your information still isn't visible to them. You simply need to connect to your VPN program as the first step after logging on to an unsecured Internet server. It's that easy.

Allows You to Search Blocked Sites

Residents of some countries can be blocked from popular websites like Facebook and Google, but people are still able to access these sites if they're using a VPN. That's because VPNs can connect to these services from private servers located in other countries that don't block specific sites. Blocked sites are actually quite common; some small businesses and government agencies only allow traffic from their own countries as a security measure. This can prove problematic if you're overseas on holiday and want to do some work.

By connecting to a VPN immediately upon accessing the Web in a foreign country, you'll be able to browse as if you're at home. Of course, you'll want to be proactive and download or sign up for your VPN service before traveling abroad.

Protects Your Cell Phone Data

There are plenty of VPN companies popping up in the marketplace today, and not all of them can provide the services you need. Because we conduct so much shopping, emailing and business using smartphones, it's smart to find a VPN that can work on your phone as well. It's more difficult for hackers to gather information from phones. But all you have to do is read an article about the Snowden leaks to know the government has no problem accessing your information.

In general, VPNs work similarly for Apple products as they do for Windows or Android operating systems. However, VPN systems for iPhone actually require more robust protocols, providing you with that much more protection.

Offers Peace of Mind

Unfortunately, not all VPNs are as safe and secure as you need them to be. It's important that you research your VPN provider to ensure it offers customer service and accountability to answer questions and concerns. VPN providers typically prioritize certain features, and your priorities should align with those of the service you select. Search for a provider that offers 24/7 customer service, so you're always able to get assistance if you encounter issues.

A secure VPN connection offers a powerful way to secure your online activity and safeguard your information. Not all VPN services and providers are created equal, however. It's important to select a comprehensive, trustworthy service that meets your specific needs and gives you the freedom to browse the Internet confidently and securely.

Related articles and links:

What is VPN

Protecting Wireless Networks

Wireless Network Security Tips

Product links:

Download Free VPN