What is a VPN and why should you buy one?

Anna Hecht
Updated 7th May 2018

Story highlights

  • A virtual private network, or VPN, is your first defense against having your identity compromised online
  • Here's an explanation on what it is, which ones to buy and why owning a VPN is important

A VPN, or virtual private network, serves as a solution to a common problem: online identity theft. Since so many are in the dark about the purpose for this layer of security, we've outlined every detail — from why using a VPN is important to how you can sign up.

While the prospect of having your personal data stolen may seem unlikely, it's actually far more common than you think. According to an online survey by The Harris Poll, nearly 60 million Americans have been affected by identity theft, including nearly 15 million in 2017.

These numbers should make you rethink investing in a VPN security plan if you haven't. Among the many reasons for doing so, the top two include: 1) Better protection against hackers when using public Wi-Fi and 2) Keeping your online presence, financial data and personal information private.

How does a VPN work?

IPVanish, an award-winning VPN service provider, effectively explains the secure connection process in this illustration:

As you can see, the VPN protects your data by installing an encrypted tunnel from the network to your device. This tunnel has the ability to hide your IP address so that your identity is masked from prying eyes, such as hackers, firewalls and the government. That way, when using the internet, any external traffic is run through the tunnel so that your credit card data and other personal information are safer — even when using local hotspots and other public internet sources.

As an added perk, when you have access to a VPN, you can bypass any censorship that would otherwise prevent you from connecting. For instance, certain universities, employers and governments have censorship in place that restrict public internet connections. But, when using a VPN, you'll be able to connect wherever, whenever.

How to get started using VPN?

When using a VPN, you'll need to sign up with a provider. IPVanish VPN offers affordable rates depending on the length of the package. For instance, if you sign up for a year, it's $6.49 per month (or $77.99 billed annually). However, as an exclusive deal for CNN Underscored readers, IPVanish is offering its yearly service at the discounted price of $5.20 per month (or $62.39 for the year).

We'd also recommend Norton by Symantec. Norton services provide a secure internet connection on public Wi-Fi to "help protect private data, like credit card numbers, passwords, and banking details." For a year of service, Norton costs just $3.33 per month for the first 12 months.

Additionally, AVG currently offers the AVG Secure VPN for "a secure and private connection to unrestricted internet access." The AVG site says the VPN service is still necessary — even when you have Antivirus software installed. Without a VPN, you're left "wide open to cyber criminals, advertisers and even your internet service provider snooping on your browsing activity." For more information, visit AVG. For a year of AVG Secure VPN, it'll cost you one payment of $59.99.

Note: The prices above reflect the listed retailer's price at the time of publication.