VPN – What is it?

A virtual private network is something more and more people are using on a daily basis as we see more people working from home.

A VPN will allow you to connect from your location to a remote server and allow you to work from this location. This is a great scenario these days but understanding the basics of how it works and the limitations might help you decide when to and when not to use a VPN.

All internet traffic is routed, similar to how our roads work. Our internet traffic has a destination, it hops on a road and gets there, but what can happen along the way? Rough spots, unknown roads that take you in a strange direction, traffic congestion and bad GPS! 

In the case of a VPN, if you are working a great distance away the traffic and the drive might change along the way or take a long time. 

Let’s say we need to go to our local computer store Cochrane Computers to visit Ron but we are still driving with our VPN on so it takes us way down to Lethbridge first, that trip sure might take some time and depending on traffic your GPS might route you 10 different ways to get there.

In a real-world example where you might be attempting to work on one of these, they may be a little bit slow or unreliable depending on where your VPN is, what type of internet connection it has, how many people are using it and what type of internet devices are between you and the other location. While doing a voice call or some sort of video conferencing we are asking the internet to do much more than just go grab me a website or load this video, we are asking it to have little to no delay while processing the audio and video. If you have a VPN on instead of directly connecting to the voice or video service that is hosting the call you are first connecting through the private network to that destination then out to your voice or video server, potentially adding significant delay, congestion or all sorts of other unknown variables. 

While doing any sort of voice or video conference please ensure you are not on a device that has a VPN connection.

There are other types of online VPN services that tend to be advertised to “protect your data” “keep you anonymous” and not log your traffic. These services tend to be unreliable and actually may expose your data to more devices than they are actually protecting you from.

All devices including your cellphones, routers and computers are logging information, most logging by these devices is benign and nothing to worry about, especially when you are connected to a reputable internet connection like at your house or work.

By using one of these VPN services in a location such as this you are adding more routes to your destination potentially adding more devices logging your information as well as more chances for your data to have an issue along the way (lag or lost connection)

The usual use case in this situation is to access region-locked content such as sporting events or region based video services.

This is illegal use.

The situation where one of these VPN services might be useful is in a scenario where you might be travelling and accessing public wireless or internet connections you are not familiar with like coffee shop wifi or hotel internet connections.

These connections can be very risky to use and it is advised to never use them for any private access such as online banking or accessing secure accounts or data.

In the event you absolutely need to use something like this, a VPN service might help to keep your data more private than just connecting to one of these untrusted networks.

In summary, if you need a VPN to access work documents but also need to be on a zoom call, look to use a device that is not connected to the VPN to do the voice call. A direct connection is always best.

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