Whether you’re an avid streamer of Hulu and Netflix or an ‘Eat, sleep, game, repeat’ type, the chances are that you spend a lot of time online. Without wanting to panic anyone, statistically, the more time you spend online, the more likely you are to have your network security hacked by internet baddies or have your data throttled by your Internet Service Provider (ISP).
What’s more, if you’re an ace gamer and you’ve spent a wedge of green on state-of-the-art monitors, headsets, and kits, what’s the point if your ISP throttles you to the extent that the resultant lag stops you from playing at all? Or why splash out on that 4K TV only to receive pixelated programming? The solution is easy and free, and it’s called a Virtual Private Network (VPN)
You might have heard of VPNs, but how do they work?
A VPN is just an encrypted connection between you and the internet. Users can either choose the best free vpn extension for chrome installed on a laptop or whatever device as a browser extension, or in some cases, the VPN can be installed directly onto the router for the entire home.
In either case, the VPN places an encrypted, anonymized barrier between you and the website you’re visiting. Consequently, any tracking software, wherever you visit, can’t tell who you are or where you are. In terms of content streaming, this is very useful because
if you wanted to watch, for example, the UK-based BBC streaming platform iPlayer, with some of the most prestigious quality television dramas in the world, you would normally be unable to do so from, say, the USA. Only UK-registered IP addresses are permitted access to iPlayer, but using a VPN effectively fools the BBC’s server into locating you as a UK resident, so you can watch as many ‘Cor Blimey Guvna’ Cockney cop dramas as you want!
The other benefit for streamers is watching content much cheaper than it would be in their home country. For example, suppose you’re a big Bollywood fan living in Bakersfield. In that case, you could choose a South Asian server from your VPN from which to access Netflix and pay only a few cents rupee equivalent per month in subscriptions, accessing content that isn’t even available on the much more expensive Netflix access in the USA. Quite simply, it’s because the VPN fools Netflix into thinking that you aren’t in California but living in Kerala!
Data throttling kills gaming
Data throttling simply means that your ISP slows down or limits the speed of data transfer to your home internet connection. The practice is usually carried out to manage network traffic and reduce localized congestion. ISPs can also use it to encourage their customers to upgrade to faster packages. It is usually much more prevalent if you’re using a 4G or even 5G connection than fiber landline accounts.
Throttling is the worst thing for a gamer, as the lag can be so bad that the connection becomes unusable. But using a VPN anonymizes your real IP address from your ISP, so they can’t identify your individual account to restrict it.
The clever concept of split tunneling
Split tunneling is a VPN feature that allows you to decide which types of internet traffic should be routed through the VPN connection and which should go directly to the internet.
For example, users might wish to send streaming and gaming traffic through their VPN to avoid throttling and maintain high security. In contrast, a work-from-home user might use their company’s remote VPN and keep work content unrestricted on their device server-side.
Split tunneling is often configurable through the VPN client software but remembers that only some of your internet traffic is being protected and encrypted; the traffic that the VPN does not protect is more vulnerable to being monitored or intercepted by third parties.
Keeping safe from spyware and ransomware.
Whether you’re streaming or gaming, the last thing you need is your gaming account compromised or, worse still, all your passwords and social media hacked from your laptop. Spyware can be installed as easily as one click if you’re not careful, thinking you’re following a link to a cute cat video or an advert for a wicked headset.
Then there’s the issue of phantom Wi-Fi connections. Have you ever been to a shopping mall with an unsecured wi-fi network? Hackers love these places by creating their spoof networks. You might think you’re logging on to Costa’s Free Public wi-fi, but it could be a server set up by a bad guy parked in his car right outside who monitors your keystrokes as you surf. Logging onto a VPN adds an extra layer of security between you and the phantom and detects malware scanning in real time.
So whether you’re surfing, gaming, online shopping, or dating, if you want to keep safe online, install a VPN and sleep easy.