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A VPN (virtual private network) is like a tunnel — it establishes a way to transmit data securely over the Internet between your laptop and your nonprofit's server. In this article, we walk you through why it's needed and what your options are in setting up a VPN.

If you pay any attention at all to tech security, you probably know by now that you should be very careful about using public Wi-Fi networks, particularly if you're handling personal information or other important data. And if you are working on sure.bet you'll want to be absolutely sure your organization's data doesn't fall into the wrong hands.

What's the answer? You could ban your remote workers from using public, unsecured Wi-Fi at cafés, but that isn't a very practical solution. Maybe it's time to consider a VPN.

What's a VPN, Anyway?

VPN stands for virtual private network — it's a buzzword-y name, but it's essentially a way of securely transmitting data between your computer and another server over the Internet. A VPN server allows far-flung employees to effectively become a part of your nonprofit's secure in-office network over the public Internet. Think of it as a secure "tunnel" through which your data travels. The data that travels though this tunnel is encrypted, which goes a long way toward keeping would-be data thieves from eavesdropping on your remote workers.

How does a VPN work?

A VPN hides your IP address by letting the network redirect it through a specially configured remote server run by a VPN host. This means that if you surf online with a VPN, the VPN server becomes the source of your data. This means your Internet Service Provider (ISP) and other third parties cannot see which websites you visit or what data you send and receive online. A VPN works like a filter that turns all your data into "gibberish". Even if someone were to get their hands on your data, it would be useless.

What are the benefits of a VPN connection?

A VPN connection disguises your data traffic online and protects it from external access. Unencrypted data can be viewed by anyone who has network access and wants to see it. With a VPN, hackers and cyber criminals can’t decipher this data.

Secure encryption: To read the data, you need an encryption key. Without one, it would take millions of years for a computer to decipher the code in the event of a brute force attack. With the help of a VPN, your online activities are hidden even on public networks.

Disguising your whereabouts: VPN servers essentially act as your proxies on the internet. Because the demographic location data comes from a server in another country, your actual location cannot be determined. In addition, most VPN services do not store logs of your activities. Some providers, on the other hand, record your behavior, but do not pass this information on to third parties. This means that any potential record of your user behavior remains permanently hidden.

Access to regional content: Regional web content is not always accessible from everywhere. Services and websites often contain content that can only be accessed from certain parts of the world. Standard connections use local servers in the country to determine your location. This means that you cannot access content at home while traveling, and you cannot access international content from home. With VPN location spoofing, you can switch to a server to another country and effectively “change” your location.

Secure data transfer: If you work remotely, you may need to access important files on your company’s network. For security reasons, this kind of information requires a secure connection. To gain access to the network, a VPN connection is often required. VPN services connect to private servers and use encryption methods to reduce the risk of data leakage.

Conclusion

A VPN connection establishes a secure connection between you and the internet. Via the VPN, all your data traffic is routed through an encrypted virtual tunnel. This disguises your IP address when you use the internet, making its location invisible to everyone. A VPN connection is also secure against external attacks. That’s because only you can access the data in the encrypted tunnel – and nobody else can because they don’t have the key. A VPN allows you to access regionally restricted content from anywhere in the world. Many streaming platforms are not available in every country. You can still access them using the VPN.