Christian M. 8 min read

A simple guide to VPNs

Online security and privacy are growing business concerns. Not only is important data being stolen and published in the dark web, but businesses are directly losing millions of dollars through cybersecurity breaches (i.e. hacks).

While some of this is almost inevitable due to the use of cutting-edge technology, most issues can be avoided by using simple cybersecurity tools like VPNs, that remain largely under-utilised, particularly by small businesses without a cybersecurity budget.

In this article we explain in simple terms how Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) can be used by remote workers, e-shop businesses and other digital workers to boost any business’s privacy and security.

💡 Key Takeaways:

  • Bypass censorship: Digital nomads working from countries like Cuba and Vietnam will need a VPN to bypass the country’s internet censorship and access the resources required to do a good job.
  • Security: Accessing all your business resources and domains through a VPN prevents data thieves, snoopers and scammers from accessing sensitive data.
  • VPN Services: Don’t use freely available VPN services as these don’t guarantee the privacy and security you need. Either pay a subscription or host your own server from your business headquarters.

What is a VPN and why do we need it?

If the internet was a bustling public street lined up with websites, apps, and platforms, a VPN—Virtual Private Network—would be like accessing the same high street but from a parallel universe or doing so using an invisibility cloak. As such, it’s a sacred tool for all kinds of internet users, from foreign soap opera bingers to digital nomads working their corporate jobs remotely.

Perhaps a good way of explaining it is by breaking ‘VPN’ into pieces. It’s ‘Virtual’ because it’s not a physical connection, ‘Private’ because it keeps your online activities to yourself, and ‘Network’ because it’s all about connecting you to another parallel network, like a parallel internet reserved for those with access keys.

When you use a VPN to access your business’s databases, all your data is encrypted by wrapping it up in uncrackable code before it journeys across the internet. This encrypted data is unreadable to anyone who might intercept it, keeping your personal and commercial details well and truly veiled.

What happens when you connect to a VPN?

Going back to the internet as a bustling public street analogy, connecting to a VPN would be like unlocking a secret door to a parallel universe that exists within the same street. Only in this universe, it’s just you, the road is clear, and anyone from outside can just ‘perceive’ that you are there but not know what or who you are– you essentially become like an encrypted ghost in the normal internet realm.

When you switch on your VPN, it’s as if you’re stepping through this hidden door. Your device establishes a connection with a VPN server, which can be hosted by either a friendly entity from anywhere in the world or your own business headquarters. This connection forms a secure, private channel — your very own road in a parallel universe.

Now, all data that leaves your device is encrypted, i.e., put into a secret language. It’s as if every message you send out on your private channel is wrapped in an indecipherable code. Your messages look like gibberish to anyone peeking into your ghostly figure from the bustling public street, just a moving blob in the ether.

This encoded data is sent through your private channel to the VPN server (most likely your business IT department). The server, equipped with the secret key to the code, decrypts the data into a language the internet understands. Your trusted colleague then takes your coded messages, deciphers them, and then delivers them to the right address on the public street.

Responses from the internet come back the same way but in reverse. Your colleague receives the messages, encodes them, and sends them through your private road. When they reach you, they’re decoded back into a language you understand.

So, when you connect to a VPN, you’re stepping off the public street and into your private parallel universe, ensuring a secure, private, and untraceable journey online. None of the savvy thieves who want to steal your passwords or spies who want to snoop on your business secrets can access this information.

💡The implications? A significantly more robust way of connecting to your headquarters when working remotely. In fact, many businesses wouldn’t even allow remote connections without a VPN.

What are the main uses of a VPN?

Having a secret dimension that interacts with the internet in parallel has more uses besides watching the BBC from abroad or logging into your company’s digital domain, just like there are more possibilities than robbing banks if you had an invisibility cloak!

VPNs can be essential for privacy, freedom, censorship resistance, and internet performance! Let’s have a look at some of the main uses of VPNs for everyday layman people like us:


First and foremost, a VPN guarantees you some privacy while browsing. Your true internet identity (i.e., your IP address, which is like your passport/driver’s license showing where you are connecting from) is hidden, and your internet activities are masked from prying eyes, whoever this may be.

You can browse, shop, chat, work or stream without worrying about someone snooping on you, which has become a prime worry in the coming age of hackers and online scammers.

💡 The more bad actors know about you or your business, the more elaborate and believable the scams can become.

Some say that only people with “something to hide” want privacy, but this is clearly a gross misunderstanding. It’s the rhetoric of any dystopian Orwellian authority who wants to survey everything you do. We’d go as far as arguing that privacy should be a human right.

Working from censored countries

Part of the role of governments is to “protect” their citizens from exposure to certain content. Unfortunately, remote workers doing business in these countries are also bound by these limits, forcing them to look for other ways to access their usual internet domains.

This is the reason why you may have been annoyed by a “This content is not available in your region” message in countries like China, Iran, Russia, Myanmar, Vietnam, Cuba and Thailand. Clearly, not all countries have the same internet penetration.

Because a VPN allows you to connect to friendly or your own business’s servers in different countries, it enables you to access content from that region. You’re given a ‘virtual’ IP address to interact with this content as if you were a local. It’s like having a teleportation device: one moment, you’re on a beach in Vietnam, and the next you’re in London accessing your company’s databases and reading the BBC.

Connect from anywhere (safely)

Public, free Wi-Fi networks can be very convenient, especially if you want to work while travelling away from your trusted broadband connection and only have limited mobile data. However, these enticing networks are a minefield– it could be an honest, humble provider or a malign entity farming for fools’ data.

It’s very easy to create a Wi-Fi connection that looks legit but, in fact, is gathering all of your data. Not only can this data be sold for large sums of money in black markets, but the black hat actor could be patiently waiting for you to insert your credit card details, your social security number, or any of your data that could put your own identity in jeopardy.

People have had their identities cloned and used to open bank accounts, issue fake documents, steal business secrets, etc.

A VPN encrypts all of your data into illegible gibberish, allowing you to connect to the internet via any potentially harmful WiFi network without any trouble. They may notice that you are using their door to enter the internet high street, but they won’t be able to know anything about you.

Bypassing throttling (don’t let them interrupt your scripts)

Your broadband internet provider is giving internet not only to yourself but also to thousands of other people. These entities have to ensure that everyone is getting the internet that they paid for, and when there are gridlocks in internet traffic, they have to distribute artificial slowdowns across the network.

This practice is called ISP throttling, and if you’re doing things like web scraping for your business, you may have already noticed your internet speed slowing down when you’re doing so at peak hours.

The thing is, your provider is likely doing the throttling on an IP basis, meaning it is limiting internet speeds for those users in a certain geographical area or under a certain contract.

In comes VPN, which in this case is like a fast pass at an amusement park, helping you bypass this throttling by giving you a different IP and even masking your internet traffic, so your ISP doesn’t know what sites you’re visiting.

How to choose a VPN?

When it comes to VPNs, there are generally three camps: Free-to-use VPNs, Paid VPNs and In-house VPNs hosted by your own business’s headquarters. Before we dive into each of them, bear in mind that “there is no such thing as a free lunch”.

Free-to-use VPNs

These will almost certainly use your data and sell it to third parties, making them vulnerable to sensitive businesses. Remember that when you access a VPN, you trust the provider with all your data, as only they have the keys to decipher all your encryptions.

Most of the time, these free-to-use VPN providers will not be bad actors; they will just be regular businesses trying to make money. As the old adage says: “If you don’t pay for the product, you are the product!”.

These services will likely have very limited speeds, advertisements, and a small selection of countries to connect from, so unless your business doesn’t have a digital presence at all, it’s not worth penny-pinching for a far inferior service.

We would certainly NOT recommend these services– we have to bear in mind that the internet is still a highly unregulated Wild West, and you are essentially giving them free access to all of your data (personal and business). A seemingly small deal, with potentially bad consequences.

Paid VPNs

These providers will charge you a fee to use their services in return for what should be higher quality, more selection and improved security and privacy.

Make sure that whoever you select offers robust encryption and preferably a kill switch to cut off your internet if the VPN connection drops and prevent your data from being exposed. Both of these are only available for paid services!

Something else to bear in mind if real privacy is your priority is to opt for a ‘no logs’ VPN that doesn’t keep a record of your activity. This is required in most countries by authorities, but some countries like Switzerland allow for this high level of privacy.

💡 On your own time: If you want to watch a specific show during your breaks, ensure your chosen VPN has a server at that specific location. There is no point paying if you can’t watch the Korean soap operas that you’ve been missing!

And if performance is at the forefront of your mind, make sure to choose a VPN provider that guarantees a certain speed for long enough. Remember that some VPNs may allow for super-fast connections but only for a limited amount of data! Oh, and if this is to bypass ISP throttling, make sure your VPN speed is faster than the minimum internet speed guaranteed by your provider!

And last but not least, check out for trial periods! Most paid VPN plans will let you trial their services before a permanent sign-up. This is useful to guarantee that it fulfils its desired role or if you just need a VPN for a specific event!

💡 Small businesses: This will be the preferred option for most small businesses without an IT department.

In-house business VPNs

We won’t delve much on these as this is exclusively for tech-savvy business owners and businesses with IT departments. If you are in any of these camps, you’re probably not reading this article!

Why are VPNs becoming increasingly important?

There are two global tendencies that are growing the importance of VPNs: internet censorship and cybersecurity.

Being able to bypass any roadblocks is an essential way for uninterrupted remote work. VPNs are essential for this– allowing you to access all the websites you need without permission from the local government.

On a parallel tangent, our personal and business data has become as valuable as currency, and unfortunately, cybercriminals are all too aware of this. Cyber threats are escalating at an alarming rate, with data breaches, identity theft, and online fraud becoming more prevalent and very underreported.

In this regard, VPNs are like digital bodyguards, shielding us from many of the threats that exist. By encrypting your data, VPNs protect your personal information, online activities, and digital transactions, adding a crucial layer of security to your business’s online interactions. No one goes out into the world naked!

Some interesting VPN statistics

Before we close this VPN guide, let’s let the statistics do some talking:

  • The first version of the modern VPN was known as swIPe (Software IP encryption protocol) and was created in 1993 in the US. Only a decade later, as broadband internet exploded, did the first VPNs become widespread, but their use remained constant for private companies.
  • The use of VPNs has grown substantially over the years. Between 2016 and 2018, the number of VPN users worldwide increased by at least 4x, with the biggest driver being an increasing demand for geographically restricted content on video streaming services like Netflix or YouTube.

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