Once upon a time, no-one really used VPNs (Virtual private Networks) outside the corporate environment. IT Support staff would use them to dial into networks to restart servers or reset some user accounts from home and laptop users would use a VPN to tunnel back to download email or a documents from their home share. Nobody would really use this technology in their private life, except perhaps those who really understood how completely insecure the internet was. This has now changed and now literally millions of people use virtual private networks every single day of their lives.
The main focus of the VPN is of course security, when you are using the internet via a VPN then all your data travels through an encrypted connection between you and the server. Without this protection the majority of your data flies across the shared hardware of the internet mainly in clear text. It stops your emails being intercepted, hides your login details and keeps your web destinations private however this has not been the primary driver in the use of this technology.
The real attraction is due to the way that the internet has become segmented over the last decade or so. During the inception years of the internet, your location was largely irrelevant – if you were online you were exactly the same as any other user. Of course some people were browsing over fast computers on dedicated data lines, whereas others where logging on to an ancient computer coupled to a standard telephone line and modem. Yet the principles of what people could access were exactly the same, there was no discrimination or segregation based on your physical location.
This is not now the case, in fact where you are located will heavily influence your online experience. Browsing the web from China is very different from downtown Chicago and I’m not talking about language localizations, but what you can access. China is of course an extreme example as they heavily control what you can access over the internet, but even if you’re in a country who’s Government doesn’t filter the web – you’ll still find blocks and controls all over the place. Your digital identity is effectively linked with the physical location of your IP address and is used by web site owner to determine what you can see or not. Ever tried to play a YouTube video and found that ‘this is not available in your country’? More often than not it will be down to a copyright or licensing issue. The same will happen, on thousands of websites across the world – your location will determine your access.
This can become tiresome, it’s not so bad if your digital identity is based on an American IP address for example because you’ll mostly get access to all the biggest media sites. However even then, there are loads of popular sites your location will deny you like the BBC iPlayer for example.
However if you’re somewhere a little more remote or obscure you’ll find yourself blocked from millions of web pages and treated somewhat like a web pariah.
It’s frustrating, yet it all is easily bypassed by simply hiding your real IP address. Most people aren’t able to modify their address because it is controlled by their ISP but if you connect to a VPN then your address will be determined by the location of the VPN server. Which is why companies like IPVanish and Identity Cloaker have produced VPN software which allows you to click any country and choose the IP address you want.