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Anonymous Surfing Using a VPN (Virtual Private Network)

How to Browse the Web Anonymously with a VPN

All of the advantages (and more), and none of the disadvantages of web proxies for anonymous surfing are available by using a VPN, a virtual private network. A VPN is a kind of “super proxy”, hiding your true IP address and encrypting your entire Internet connection. The one major drawback of using a VPN is that they are usually not free but premium in nature (requiring a subscription fee).

Unlike simple web proxies, a VPN creates a tunnel of secure data between your device and the VPN provider’s servers. This can mean that all of your Internet traffic, including web browsing, social media activities, torrent file-sharing as well as chatting and messaging are channeled through a secure (encrypted) tunnel, preventing monitoring and surveillance.

Anyone snooping your Internet connection (your ISP or an adversary) while you are using a VPN will only see a stream of undecipherable encrypted data. This also makes VPN services a complete answer to the risks that arise when using Wi-Fi hotspots, public wireless Internet access points.

Most VPNs nowadays are easy to install and use. Depending on the VPN you choose, you may have to set up your web browser app or Internet settings in much the same way as for a proxy by entering the VPN service’s address and port. But it’s usually more common that there is only a small app to download and install, which you then simply enable with a single click whenever you want to be anonymous online.

How a VPN Works

When you visit websites (or make other Internet connections supported by the VPN), the traffic is first routed to the VPN service and then to your device. Therefore, similar to a web proxy, it is the VPN’s IP address that is visible at the other end of the connection. Your own IP address is kept hidden by the intermediary VPN, acting as a proxy.

Using a VPN also means that all of the subsidiary details obtainable from an IP address – such as your geographic location, the pages you previously visited, how long you stayed on a page, the site you just came from (the referring site), the operating system and web browser app you use and more – are also kept safe. When you use a VPN it keeps hidden all this information from trackers, profilers, hackers, snoops, Big Brother and adversaries alike.

As with a proxy, you should carefully choose any VPN service. The benefits described above are only as assured as the integrity of the provider you deal with. For example, how long have they been in business? Also, check whether the VPN keeps logs of your activities and whether they share your data with third parties (advertisers, partners, affiliates etc.). As tedious as it may sound, read the provider’s terms of service and privacy policy (usually in the website’s ‘Legal’ or ‘Terms of Use’ section).

There may also be certain advantages for choosing a VPN service based in a specific country as some jurisdictions have stronger privacy laws than others. For example, some countries are often cited by commentators as having stronger privacy protection for consumers, but always do your own homework especially as laws are subject to change.

As an added bonus, a good VPN also acts like another line of firewall-type defense for the devices you use with it. This is because your Internet traffic will first be routed through the VPN’s servers which are protected by hardware, software and other resources more advanced than your own.

Many VPNs also now offer many advanced features. These can include being able to select exit gateways (servers) located in specific countries. Being able to select which country your Internet traffic appears to be originating from enables you to access content that would be otherwise subject to geographical restrictions such as watching online TV programs or streaming video.

Some VPN features automatically find and use the fastest exit gateway servers at any given time. Yet other features let you choose the apps whose traffic is routed through the VPN while your other apps continue to you use your regular, non-VPNed Internet connection.

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