What the Tech? Explaining virtual private networks
If you're suspicious of the government watching your online movements, or just the fact Google keeps track of your search and YouTube history, you've probably discovered Virtual Private Networks, or VPN's. It's a software program that sits on your computer or smartphone and encrypts data that is on them and your activity on the network.
Maybe the best way to explain a VPN or virtual private network starts at home. Your house has a street address. Your computer has an IP address. Look it up, just Google "what is my IP.” The numbers you'll see is the unique digital address of your internet connection/network. But you can hide that address and make it appear that you're somewhere else with a virtual private network.
"This is what people use it for. If they want to get around and say ‘I want to appear that I'm in this city or this state,’" said David Gray, a computer network expert who's been using virtual private networks since the days of dial-up.
Gray explained that people want to hide their IP or pretend to be in another area for several reasons. A growing number of people want to stream movies, TV shows and sporting events that aren't available in their area. Netflix offers hundreds of movies and TV shows in other parts of the world that are not available in the United States. Using some vpns, users can trick Netflix into believing their in another country. Netflix has gotten much better with this in recent years and only a few virtual private networks are capable of hiding your actual IP address from Netflix.
Others may want to hide their address out of fear that the government is watching them or that someone else is snooping on their web browsing history and habits. Others understand how vulnerable they are to hackers.
“(Some) use it to hide yourself over the internet for security for hackers not to be able to find you," said Gray.
Using a virtual private network can be simple. First you'll download the program to your computer. Trustworthy VPNs usually have a subscription cost of $35-$100 a year. Once it is installed on a computer, you simply open the program and choose which location you want to use. "Private Tunnel,” which I use, offers about two dozen locations in the U.S and around the world.
Other popular virtual private network companies are NordVPN, CyberGhost and TunnelBear.
A VPN is very important if you use public Wi-Fi, like at a coffee shop, it encrypts what's on your computer and what you're doing online, not just on your laptop but on your smartphone and tablet.