Virtual private networks are great. A virtual private network is exactly that. A network that’s private and put together virtually through software instead of via cables and other hardware.
You probably have a private network at your home right now. Your router creates one for you. It broadcasts your wifi signal and probably has the option to plug a few computers into it with an ethernet cable. All of your devices connected to your router (either through wifi or through a cable) are connected on their own private network.
A VPN allows a device outside of that network to connect to it and interact with it like any of the other devices on it would. VPNs are used all the time by companies so that employees working remotely can access things that are only accessible from within the company network. But you might want to use one too.
Think of all of the computers (this includes servers that you connect to from your ISP and servers that serve up websites and everything else) on the internet as little igloos. These igloos all have doors that are connected to other igloos. The igloo that is your home internet connection is connected to a server from your ISP, that server then connects to other servers and so on. When you go to a website your traffic has to pass through probably a dozen or more of these igloos before it finds the one it wants.
One of the benefits of using a VPN is that it will encrypt the traffic from your device to the VPN. If you’re sitting at a coffee shop using wifi anyone else on the same wifi (they’re in the same igloo as you) can see what websites you’re going to as well as a bunch of other information regarding your current browsing session. Using a VPN would encrypt your traffic so that the only thing that was seen is that your device was talking to another device (the VPN). That’s it, they wouldn’t know which websites you go to, how long you spend on them, nothing.
A VPN gives your computer it’s own little igloo and stretches the doorway all the way from your computer to wherever the VPN is. If the VPN is properly configured no one else can peek into that doorway to see what’s going on. There are many good reasons to use a VPN. I have one on my home network that I use to remotely manage devices that I have. I also use it to keep my browsing secure when I’m on a public wifi network. You can have one too, they don’t take a lot of computing power so if you have an old computer that you don’t use much you can use it for this.
A new VPN has recently become popular and it’s so well built that the makers of Linux have added it to Linux. Wireguard is a simple to setup and simple to use VPN. It has installers for any computer that you might have as well as for your iOS or Android devices. But if you don’t have the expertise to install your own VPN or don’t have a computer laying around you can still use a VPN. Many companies offer a VPN service that will let you connect to their VPN and make it look like your traffic is coming from any number of other countries. You’ll have to pay a small monthly fee (don’t use any free ones, they’ll be selling your traffic or doing other shenanigans) but an additional benefit to using one of these VPNs is that even your ISP won’t know what websites you’ve gone to. In todays world your data is worth a lot of money to a lot of companies, keeping it private and secure is worth looking into.