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What Does a VPN Hide?

Graham Cook  — May 15, 2019

Personally Identifiable Information (PII). You may have heard this term before in news reports and articles. It’s what was stolen from numerous companies over the last few years.

PII comprises names, addresses, emails, and phone numbers. Those are benign. But when you factor in other PII like Social Security and credit card numbers, then it becomes scary. And this isn’t all PII is comprised of…

It can be medical records and school transcripts. It can email featuring PII elements. They can even pull records featuring your blood type. Or your browsing history.

How to Hide Your Private Data

Lately, it seems like you’re an open book every time you access the Internet. However, that’s not the case. A majority of companies out there tightly secure the information that can be accessed. This is done through a combination of firewalls, switches, and virus protection.

But there are some people who still feel it’s not enough, and you may be one of them. Like the websites you visit, you can protect PII. Virus software is enormously important for this. And so is any built-in firewall protection. But the most important thing you can do is set up a Virtual Private Network (VPN).

Enabling a VPN creates a powerful shield around your data. It allows you to get out to see the web like you normally would. Yet, in the background, it stops others from getting in for a peek at your PII. In fact, accessing the internet through a VPN makes you somewhat invisible?

What Does a VPN Hide?

Before we answer that question, let’s provide some information on how a VPN hides you from others…

The data your transmit, be it your name and address or your browser history, is encrypted several times across several random internet nodes.

In turn, this creates a looping route. Since the nodes only know the before and after IP address, a complete pathway isn’t established.

Think of this as taking a walk during a snowstorm. While you’ll leave footprints on the way to your destination, they’ll be filled in by new snow, thus eliminating evidence of the direction you came from. If you take a slightly different way back, then someone who follows you will only know one direction.

So, back to the original question: what does a VPN hide? Well, first and foremost, the IP address you come from. Your Internet Service Provider (ISP) assigns you a certain address.

While it can be static and never change, it can also be a Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP). In simpler terms, a randomly generated IP on their network.

Regardless, if not protected by VPN, others can learn of your location by checking route traces. Rather than sending information directly from the IP address you were assigned by the ISP, the VPN provides it’s own address and attaches it to the activity. In other words, if you’re based in New York City, the route trace can show your connections from a server in Chicago.

By doing this, a VPN protects all of your personal data. So, when you shop and pay for an item, it stops others from seeing your transaction activity. If you’re looking up medical records or bank transactions, it encrypts the data so it’s not only unreadable but also harder to pull apart.

Furthermore, because it keeps you as anonymous as possible, a VPN hides you from cookie generators. These little pieces of data stored on your computer aren’t simply used to get you back into a site without logging in, but they also record your activity on said site.

While you can delete these cookies on a regular basis, they continue to appear as long as you don’t block them via your security software or internet browser. And, if you do block them, it can cause issues accessing some aspects of a website.

With VPN, the cookie may be established but your identity is still hidden. So, it can’t collect the necessary data to continually show you ads on other sites or deliver pop-up messages.

The Bottom Line on VPNs and Private Data

So, what does a VPN hide? Primarily, your life. It effectively closes down access to all of the PII that is established on the internet, and that’s a lot. So much that using a browser’s incognito mode or disabling all cookies won’t stop someone from getting what they want.

That’s why a VPN is so important. Think of it this way: your company might offer VPN access if you want to work from home. And your bank uses a VPN to send and receive a constant stream of financial transactions.

If these locations have had success with a VPN to protect your data, why shouldn’t you use the same method to protect it while at home? Overall, if the internet were a game of hide-and-seek, the use of VPN keeps you well-hidden from those who really want to find you.