You may have heard of something called a Virtual Private Network or VPN, for short, as a way to boost your online security, especially when connecting to public Wi-Fi networks. It is also a good way to hide your internet tracks from would-be snoops.
Simply put, a VPN service lets you create an encrypted connection with one of its servers, and you use that server to browse the internet. The connection is encrypted through the server, so the VPN can't see your traffic either. OK, it's a bit more complicated than that behind the scenes, but that's the result.
Think of it as a middleman that provides a tunnel between you and the websites you're visiting. With a VPN, your IP address can be concealed from prying eyes, even from your ISP, so your browsing activity can't be readily tracked to you.
A VPN is extremely useful when connecting to public Wi-Fi spots since it prevents snoops from intercepting your web traffic. Using one can also cloak your activity from advertisers, hackers and even spying from government agencies or your ISP.
Although using a VPN is a good way to increase your security, there are trade-offs. First, since your connection is passing through the VPN service and making more stops, your browsing experience may slow down.
Second, depending on the country your VPN service is routing you to, some activities that are blacked out in certain regions may be inaccessible to you.