Ever since the mandatory data retention bill was introduced, VPNs and proxies have been turning into everyday terms. What’s a VPN and why is everyone getting one?
What is a VPN?
In general, when people talk about VPNs, they’re talking about a VPN/proxy combo.
A VPN is a Virtual Private Network – a network that allows the sharing of encrypted data. Businesses have used VPNs for years to allow distant offices to share resources securely. It’s basically a tunnel through which data travels, hidden through encryption. Other people can see that there’s data travelling from one point to another (e.g. from a server to your computer) but not what the data actually is.
VPN providers generally connect your computer to a proxy server. This hides your IP address, allowing you to use the internet anonymously.
Why should I get a VPN?
Although a lot has been made of the ability to pirate media tracelessly with a VPN, there are other, less morally dubious advantages too:
- Avoid geoblocking and region-specific price discrimination – with many VPN services, you can pick from a wide variety of proxy servers for your data to travel through. Internet sites then assume that’s your location. This lets you watch YouTube videos and other content that’s usually locked by country, and give you better prices on software and media that has the arbitrary Australian markup. It’ll also let you circumvent any possible censorship that’s put in place – there’s been talk of blocking sites used for copyright infringement, but as we’ve seen in the past, a lot of innocent sites get blocked as well, and there are legitimate reasons for accessing torrent sites (e.g. checking if anyone’s pirating your stuff!).
- Prevent your data and identity from being stolen – You can use your VPN to encrypt your data when using unsecured public WiFi connections (such as in cafes and airports). Massive banks of metadata are a fantastic target for hackers, so VPNs can help protect your data.
How much does a VPN cost?
Not that much – you can get one for $5-10 a month! There’s a fantastic comparison by Choice magazine here.