The first episode of Digital Defenders is available to listen on Spotify and iTunes
Slowly but surely VPN is becoming a household word. There are three main reasons why you’d want to use a VPN: to browse the web anonymously without being tracked, to make it safe to use public Wi-Fi which isn’t protected by a password and, third, to unblock websites or content that you can’t otherwise access.
When we asked Tech Advisor readers about using a VPN, we found that the majority – 67 percent – of those who already used one did so for privacy online. Almost half also used a VPN to unblock content and 48 percent for securing public Wi-Fi.
VPN apps make it fast and ridiculously easy to connect to a server in your chosen country and get this privacy and protection in a snap. Like antivirus software, VPNs are something that you set and forget so you can get on with doing whatever you like safe in the knowledge that no-one else can see which websites you’re visiting and no-one can steal your bank details or even find out who you are.
Like it or not, without a VPN in place, your internet provider and websites you visit can see exactly what you’re up to online. They track your digital footprints and generally keep tabs on you. For the most part this is for convenience: a website might remember your preferences and who you are so you don’t have to enter that information each time you visit. It’s just like the bar staff at your local serving up your favourite tipple without you having to ask.
It’s also the reason why you’ll see adverts for products you looked at recently on Amazon and other sites. Some people find this unnerving but for others it’s an invasion of privacy. A VPN lets you reclaim that privacy and effectively use the web under a cloak: websites won’t be able to see who it is accessing them (unless you log in!), and your internet provider won’t know which sites you’re looking at.
When you’re at home connected to broadband a VPN offers the online privacy we’ve just talked about. But if you take your laptop, tablet or phone out and use public Wi-Fi you’re more at risk of a hacker intercepting the data sent between your device and the hotspot. And because most public Wi-Fi is ‘open’ and doesn’t require a password to connect to a hotspot, it means the data isn’t encrypted.
A VPN adds this layer of encryption, so you can send sensitive data, messages or emails without worrying that someone will be able to view it. Even if someone did manage to intercept the data, all they’d see is gibberish.
It’s worth noting that 4G is encrypted, so the biggest risk is when using a Wi-Fi network you don’t know or trust.
Unblocking websites and streaming services
The third main reason to use a VPN is to access websites or content that is restricted to a certain geographical location. If you’re travelling to the US and want to watch the latest episode of Top Gear on iPlayer, you’ll be greeted with a message telling you that only people in the UK can watch because of “rights reasons”.
But you can choose a server in the UK in your VPN app and this will make it appear to any websites or services that you’re actually in the UK, as it masks your real location and replaces it with a location in the country you pick.
Sometimes you’ll find that iPlayer is clever enough to realise you’re using a VPN service and refuse to let you watch, but NordVPN has UK servers which work with iPlayer.
The same principles apply for other streaming services. If you want to watch something that’s only available on Netflix in the US, you can use a VPN to connect to a US server, log in with your UK Netflix account and access those videos.
Features to look for
We asked Tech Advisor readers which feature they value most in a VPN. Almost one-third said the company’s no-logs policy was the most important factor while 29 percent said high-speed servers were a must. Almost as many – 23 percent – required their VPN to unblock video streaming including Netflix, Hulu, BBC and other services.
And these are indeed the three things you should consider when choosing a VPN provider. A no-logs policy means no data is kept on your activity with the service. It’s also well worth picking a company which is based outside of the “14-Eyes”, so they’ll never be compelled to hand over any data to authorities which could then be shared with other countries.
Why use NordVPN?
As one of the biggest VPN services around, NordVPN has thousands of high-speed servers around the world. There are apps for all popular devices that support a VPN connection, including iOS, Android, Windows, macOS, Amazon Fire TV and more.
Unlike some services which restrict you to just a couple of devices, NordVPN lets you use your account on up to six at the same time, meaning all the key devices in your family can be protected.
Headquartered in Panama, Nord doesn’t have to comply with any local laws which could compel it to hand over data about its users and it doesn’t keep any data in the first place, so there’s nothing to hand over.
Subscriptions start at just £2.30 / US$2.99 per month, too, and you can find out more on NordVPN’s website.