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Remove Internet Limits With A VPN (Part 1)

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Protect your privacy, increase security and access any web content without restrictions. Roland Waddilove shows the benefits of a VPN

Picture the following two scenarios. The first is someone that frequently travels abroad and while they’re away they want to keep up with their favourite television shows. They can’t bear to miss an episode of Eastenders. No problem, you think; they just need to log into iPlayer at the BBC website and watch it over the internet. Sadly, though, it won’t work because iPlayer can only be accessed from within the UK and no one abroad can watch the streaming television shows. It doesn’t matter that you’re a licence payer: if you’re abroad on holiday or business, then tough.

This website works out where in the world you’re located. With a VPN it’s completely wrong

This website works out where in the world you’re located. With a VPN it’s completely wrong

The second scenario is someone that values their privacy but also likes to use the internet. It is debatable whether internet and privacy belong in the same sentence, because everywhere you go and everything you do on the internet is tracked by someone somewhere. Advertisers and websites spend a lot of time and effort gathering information about people visiting websites and using web services. It’s also possible for someone not just to track the things on the internet that you use, but also to eavesdrop on the communications. They could intercept the network traffic and analyse it or even change it, which is a scary thought.

What Is VPN?

The solution to both of these problems is a VPN or virtual private network. The internet is a public network and computers communicate by sending packets of data to each other through numerous wires, cables, routers, switches and hubs. At any point the data can be intercepted and read, at least in theory, and you can see where it came from and where it’s going to. A VPN is a sort of private network that operates over the public internet.

You can’t watch iPlayer from abroad, even if you’re a licence payer

You can’t watch iPlayer from abroad, even if you’re a licence payer

Basically, the data is encrypted before being sent and it’s decrypted at the receiving computer. The encryption used means that if anyone tries to read the data, they wouldn’t get very far at all, not even with a million-pound supercomputer.

A VPN offers privacy and security over the inherently public and insecure internet. Only the sending and receiving computers using the virtual private network can read the information that is being exchanged between them and it’s practically impossible for anyone to hack into it. What’s more, it’s also impossible to tamper with the data and anything that changed it would be immediately obvious. Of course, nothing is actually impossible to hack, but if it takes a Titan Supercomputer (currently reckoned to be the fastest in the world) to crack the security, then it’s pretty near uncrackable and is certainly good enough for most people.

“A VPN offers privacy and security over the inherently public and insecure internet”

So a virtual private network is between two computers, which leads to the obvious question of how it’s set up and how it takes place. What are the practical difficulties in setting up a VPN? The main requirement is that both computers must be running VPN software. Large companies have internal networks through which employees can exchange files, access resources and send messages. If the company has two geographically separated offices, they can be connected over the internet using a virtual private network. Both offices can then use a single network, and employees in one office can communicate with people in the other office like they were just down the corridor in the same building. What’s more, an employee that’s on the road or working from home could connect to the office network using a VPN and it would be just the same as if they were in the building. Even though data is being sent over the public internet, it’s completely private and separate from the rest of the internet traffic.

Internet Censorship

In the Western world we take free speech for granted and don’t give a second thought as to what we say and who hears us. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion we say, even if we don’t agree. However, in some parts of the world you can get into serious trouble for airing your opinions in public and on the internet. In fact, you might not be allowed to access certain websites and services. Blocks can be put in place that limit what is available on the internet. Only recently, Iran blocked access to Google search and email services. What’s more, authorities said they would prosecute anyone who criticised government officials. There are dozens of other countries that limit web content and free speech too.

 Internet Censorship Map

 Internet Censorship Map

With a VPN, though, no one knows what you’re doing on the internet, which is great for paranoid people who dislike the idea of people being able to snoop on them and watch their activities. It’s possible to connect to a VPN service, which has an exit point (computer) located elsewhere in the world. This allows them to access content or to air their views on the internet, but as communications are encrypted between the remote and local computer, the authorities cannot spy on them or block them.

You cannot connect to any old computer on the internet, such as a website, using a VPN because web servers do not run VPN software. What you can do, though, is to connect your computer to another computer using a VPN and then that computer connects to the website in the normal manner. The remote computer fetches the web page or whatever information is requested, encrypts it and sends it back to your computer.

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