If you’ve been a student at any time in recent history, you may have been instructed to use a virtual private network to gain access to certain files and other data. Businesses have used VPNs for years as a means to enable remote workers carry out their duties away from the office, and students can use them to obtain course materials and submit work to give just two examples of the functions VPNs offer to academics.
The problem with public Wi-Fi
If you have found yourself studying outside of your home or off campus, you may have used public Wi-Fi networks to get online. One of the problems with using the kind of free Wi-Fi you can access in cafes, restaurants and suchlike is that these networks tend to be incredibly weak when it comes to security.
More and more people are using VPNs to boost their security levels when using Wi-Fi when away from home or even when using their domestic facilities. VPNs make it much harder for hackers to steal your information and make it easier for you to hide your activities from prying eyes.
Shopping around for VPNs
There are many companies offering you access to VPNs on the market, with some offering free services and others asking for payment.
Though it’s not impossible to access useful VPN facilities without paying, you are much more likely to be able to enjoy the levels of security and privacy you’re seeking if you do pay for a subscription. Many students have also been using VPNs to mask their real locations so they can view content meant for overseas audiences. When you use a VPN, you can keep your read address hidden and instead use servers in a country of your choice. If you do wish to watch geo-restricted content, the server you are using must be in the country where the services are offered.
Where to begin
To get started with a VPN, you will need to sign up and give the company your credentials. Though you can pay with your credit or debit card, growing numbers of people are choosing to fund their purchase with Bitcoins to avoid giving sensitive information away. When you have signed up, you will need to download the app or client so you can use the service. Any activities carried out will be hidden from your ISP whilst you are using your VPN. As you’ll be assigned a different IP address each time you logon, it will be harder for companies to target you with ads if this is something that concerns you, although to block ads completely you may need to use a browser add-on. People that wish to use a VPN over a number of different devices should check whether this is possible before they sign up for a service, as few people wish to sign up for multiple accounts to cover their phones, laptops and tablets.
Choosing a server
When the client or app is open, you will be given a choice of servers. You may see a list of countries. It’s normally wise to opt for the server nearest to you if speed is a concern, unless you are attempting to view something locked to a particular location.
If you do use a VPN to view geo-restricted material, you will normally be breaking the terms and conditions of the streaming service you are using, so do this at your own risk.
Is this legal?
VPNs are not illegal in most countries, at least for the time being. However, their use has been banned in certain countries like China, which is synonymous with online censorship. A great deal of people are using VPNs not to access content locked to other regions but to simply upgrade their security and privacy levels in a world where our personal information has become increasingly vulnerable. Some people have even taken the step of creating their own VPNs via coding and Raspberry Pi computers, although this can require substantial amounts of time and skill. If you are worried about security and privacy and don’t wish to disclose your browsing activities to your ISP, you may well wish to see if VPNs are a good match for your needs.