Do you know that when you browse the net, the whole log of your browsing history can be tracked at the ISP level and individually at the websites that you visit?! Because your data is not encrypted and your IP is detectable for anyone caring to track.
People surfing the web normally do not give much attention to these things but they matter a lot from privacy viewpoint.
Scam artists can steal your data by placing misleading click bait links. Someone can get into your system pretending to be offering free WIFI! Regulatory agencies and others can see your browsing history and find out the sites you have been to!
What is the solution? Use a VPN server as intermediary.
How a VPN works
Let us see how it works. Look at the diagram below –
The diagram above depicts the scenario when you are doing normal web browsing. You click on a link, the request a web page goes out and comes back via the ISP. Here ISP is the intermediary. It can keep track of all web pages you visit and create a profile if it wants to.
The target webpage (website) also can track you through your IP. It gets the IP information when you visit the webpage. The target website can track what you do on their website using cookies and IP information and can retarget you with marketing ads later.
In fact, typically this is how websites track users. Your IP and machine information is open for all to see and track. Using a VPN you can change all that.
When you use a VPN service, your request for any webpage first goes to the VPN Server , which then encrypts it and forwards it to the requested webpage. In the process the targeted webpage (website) does not know where you came from as the originating IP is lost and only the IP of the VPN server is presented.
Not only that. Due to connecting to the VPN, a secure tunnel is made which makes it impossible for your ISP to know where you were in the internet as all the information flows from you to the VPN and back comes encrypted data which is like garbage to the ISP.
The diagram above depict the scenario when you use a VPN server.
When you connect using a VPN server, the connection makes a secure tunnel. Any subsequent request to webpages travels through this tunnel and not through the ISP. Hence the ISP can not track which webpages you visit.
The intermediary ISP server loses track of you and so does the targeted webpage (website).
Yes, the ISP can know that you are using a VPN if it cared to check as the data flows through its channels first, but once you make the connection to the VPN, it can not know the sites you browsed.
The target webpage (website) obviously gets a fake IP (from the VPN) so it cannot track your usage habits too.
Access restricted sites
So how do you access restricted websites using VPN? Well, you simply connect through the VPN and voila!
Usually websites are blocked by your Internet Service Provider (ISP) for various reasons including Government restrictions. They can do this because they know which website you are accessing.
With a VPN your browsing history is invisible to the ISP. Hence it can not detect and restrict any website that you are accessing.
But be aware, many VPNs also log the history of websites that your browse. If you want to keep your browsing private, ask for a VPN that does not keep any log of your surfing.
Other benefits of a VPN
Besides being able to access restricted content, there are other benefits of a VPN service.
- Hide your private information: This is the most viable reason to use a VPN. Surfing the web without a VPN exposes you to theft of all the personal data you send over the connections. Websites and applications are doing that regularly. They steal your machine information, browser information, IP information and track your usage. Using a VPN can put a stop to all these.
- Overcome throttling of bandwidth: Your ISP can constrict the bandwidth of certain websites and make others fast. And they will not tell you about that! In fact there was a time when people revolted against this very proposal of favoring some website in the USA and the net neutrality concept was forwarded where ISPs can not throttle bandwidth of non-profitable websites. But this may happen without you knowing and using a VPN is a fitting way to bypass any bandwidth throttling.
Is using VPN server legal?
Using a VPN is legal in most countries, except some dictatorship and china. Chinese authorities ban VPN and dishes out strict punishment to the ones who break this law.
In USA too the ISPs can not be too happy about people using VPN as they can not track the user and hance can not create a user profile to sale! But it is legal to use a VPN is the US and so they can do much about it!
In India too using a VPN is legal and there are no restrictions to its usage. People often use it to work from home and login to their work networks.
On the downside there are illegal torrent sites and streaming sites that offer pirated copies of software and movie and sports stream. One can connect to these sites through a VPN but the practice it not recommended as it is unethical to rob people of their hard work this way.