What Is A VPN, Anyway?

A VPN (Virtual Private Network) is a way of protecting your computer data during transmission from point A to point B by using VPN software. It can do this over a wired or wireless network connection. When your are connected to a public wireless network at a library or coffee shop - point A would be your laptop or tablet, and point B would be the wireless router of the coffee shop, which then in turn connect you to the Internet.
Even if the available public wireless network has a password for access (and many don't), you are still sharing that connection and are susceptible to anyone who has the smarts to intercept you network traffic (the bits and bytes flying around). The VPN software creates an encrypted "tunnel" through which your data travels to the wireless router, thus effectively shielding it from being intercepted.

Encryption refers to the process of "scrambling" the data during transmission, so that it's almost impossible for outsiders to make sense of it. This is also what happens when you connect to a bank website using SSL (your browser shows the address as , instead of just

Using a VPN encrypts all your traffic, including email and so on, not just the communication with the bank site. It's fine (and preferred) to still use the https: connection to the bank, the two encryption types won't interfere with each other.

While this is a result of a lot of software churning away on your behalf, that's the net effect; it makes an "open" connection much safer for you to use. I have a quick video guide on installing HotSpot Shield VPN software (available as a free ad-supported version and a paid version), so you can see what's involved - actually, it's pretty straightforward .

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