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Using a VPN may be one piece of keeping you private and secure while browsing online. Here's what you need to know about VPNs — what they are and what they can and can't do.

This article originally appeared on Discover & Learn on June 21, 2021

You may have heard or seen ads for VPNs. They might sound technical, but what are they really? What do they do, and most importantly, do you need one to keep yourself secure on the web?

So, what’s a VPN and what does it do?

A VPN is a Virtual Private Network. When you use a VPN on your device, it securely connects you to an online network. Using a VPN can be one part of keeping information more private each time you use your devices.

Think of a VPN like having tinted windows on a car: you get some more privacy, but it’s not 100 per cent. People can still see the make and model of your vehicle for example, but when you use a VPN, it’s as if you’re driving a different car every time.

Why you might want a VPN

  1. You want more privacy online. Many sites use your location and other data to give you personalized suggestions. If you don’t like this, you can use a VPN to anonymize your location and encrypt the information between the VPN and any site you visit.
  2. You use public Wi-Fi a lot. If you do your browsing with Wi-Fi at school or other locations, a VPN keeps your information encrypted once connected to a network.

Can you browse safely without a VPN?

If you decide a VPN isn’t for you or you’re not able to access one, here are a few quick tips on staying safe on the web without a VPN.

  1. Keep your passwords extra-strong. VPNs don’t make it safe to use simple passwords. Making your passwords strong and unique to each website you use them on, then changing them on a regular schedule, is a great step to help keep your data private and safe.
  2. Rethink how you use social media accounts. Even while you’re using a VPN, logging into a social media account or using social sign-in on a site removes your anonymity.
  3. Keep your software, browsers and devices up to date. Your devices and apps will get regular updates makes sure you have the most recent security protections.

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