What is a VPN and can they protect your privacy?

A VPN, or virtual private network, may sound confusing, but it doesn’t need to be. As we become more data-conscious, here is a quickfire guide to what they are and how they could be useful for you.

How they work

You don’t need to be a computer whizz kid to understand VPNs. You also don’t need to be a hacker to benefit from using them. VPNs are basically just a tool that helps you to hide your online activity from prying eyes. They work by disguising your IP address – which is used to track your movements on the web – and hiding your online activity.

By concealing your IP address, they can also be used to make you appear as if you are in another country. People in places with strict internet censorship rules connect to the internet through VPNs to view sites they would not usually be able to access.

Why have one?

You might be wondering why you need this layer of security if you’re not doing anything you need to hide. The answer is: using a VPN could help protect you from fraud and unwanted monitoring. It makes it harder for hackers to trace your activity online and, say, steal your credit card details when you enter them into a website.

If you often use public WiFi hotspots, a VPN might be something you want to seriously consider. Insecure connections like these, often found in cafes and airports, are tempting targets for hackers.

Are they safe?

If you’re considering using a VPN, make sure you do lots of research before selecting one. As with any purchase nowadays, you should compare different options and read reviews to ensure you’re picking the safest, cheapest option.

Another thing to consider: Avoid using a VPN in a foreign country to access sites blocked there. You don’t want to end up on the wrong side of the law.

What are the downsides?

Some users will notice their internet speed slowing somewhat while using VPNs. You’ll need to decide on what matters more: privacy or speed of surfing.

If you’re a victim of fraud

Experian CreditExpert, our paid service, could help to find out if your details have been compromised. We help you protect your identity by scanning the internet for your personal details and letting you know if we think you're at risk of fraud.

If you have been affected, we offer dedicated support from an expert who can contact lenders to help get everything fixed on your Experian Credit Report. Once you have joined, we can then continue to monitor and send alerts if we find anything concerning.