It seems counter-intuitive, but it’s true: The best way to speed up your overall internet experience, increase your safety and privacy, and gain access to the kinds of websites and streaming media that you most want to see, is to use a platform that may typically reduce your base connection speed by 20-50%.
By providing an encrypted private channel of communication between the user and the internet at large, the Virtual Private Network or VPN has fast become a preferred method for protecting people’s privacy and data online – especially over unsecured wireless networks.
But with the option of transferring a user’s IP address to a new location by using dedicated servers in other parts of the globe (a process which can consume that 20-50% of bandwidth), VPN providers are also enabling their subscribers to have access to information and content which might be otherwise unavailable to them.
This includes video, television, and audio, as delivered through streaming channels like Netflix or Hulu – and in this article, we’ll be looking at streaming content using a VPN and some of the ways in which Virtual Private Networks can empower us to gain access to more of the streaming media and data that we want.
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Streaming Content Using a VPN – IP Switching To Tune In
When you connect to the internet using a VPN application or service, your pipeline to the web takes a route via the servers put in place by your VPN provider – which may be located at the other side of the world. Whatever their location, these machines will have a different IP address to your home machine (the one used by your local Internet Service Provider), and using a VPN can effectively mask your home location.
This enables VPN providers to manipulate IP addresses to your advantage, making your connection to a web resource appear to originate from a different machine, region, or country.
Due to copyright laws and other agreements, streaming media services like Hulu and Netflix (which are based primarily in the US) cannot broadcast all of their output to regions outside the USA. So internet users in Europe, the UK, and other continents don’t have immediate access to many popular films or TV shows.
But by using a VPN to mask your IP address, it’s possible to appear to the IP address and user login location filters employed by these services that you’re actually accessing them from the USA – and thus gain access to all sorts of new material.
Privacy for Sharing Media Files
Though the use of platforms like BitTorrent for downloading and exchanging software and media files has gained participants a reputation for piracy and intellectual property theft, peer-to-peer or P2P file sharing remains a popular exercise.
Ethics aside, a VPN connection can assist P2P enthusiasts in avoiding civil lawsuits or prosecutions for copyright infringement by music and film associations such as the MPAA (Motion Picture Arts Association), which have been known to eavesdrop on ISP signals or even pose as fellow file sharers on a network, to catch offenders in the act.
The VPN encrypts not only your file transfers (uploads and downloads) but also your IP address, making it extremely difficult for media watchdog authorities to extract your location or identity.
Streaming Content Using a VPN – Preventing Others from Looking Over Your Shoulder
If you’re streaming digital content (or indeed, performing any other personal activity on the internet) via unsecured public Wi-Fi, not wanting to look like a slacker during office hours could be the least of your concerns. The dangers of free or low-cost, all-access Wi-Fi have been repeatedly stressed – along with the availability of cheap hacking tools enabling cyber-criminals to create fake hotspots and/or intercept wireless signals to eavesdrop on the activities of internet users.
By using a VPN app or service each time you log into a public Wi-Fi venue, you’ll ensure that your entire session is encrypted and safe from being observed by intruders. Finjan Mobile has actually developed InvinciBull™, a first-of-its-kind mobile app which integrates a VPN with a secure and fully featured web browser – and it’s this kind of tool that you should be using, to protect yourself online.
Streaming Content Using a VPN – Stretching Acceptable Use Policies
In places of work or institutions of learning, there’s usually an “Acceptable Use” policy in place, with guidelines for use of the internet while on the organization’s premises or while using its network infrastructure. And it’s probably fair to say that “Unrestricted access to Netflix” won’t feature in most such documents. Instead, these policies will tend to restrict your online activity to work or school-related matters, only.
Some regimes are especially strict, even prohibiting access to personal email accounts. And the technology press has recently featured instances of intrusive policies whereby employers use extreme measures such as keylogging, webcams, and document-opening records to keep a closer watch on the people in their organizations.
In environments like these, a VPN connection would enable you to break free of the restrictions, and gain access to the sites and resources you choose. In addition, its encryption will render your data streams unreadable to management and network administrators. How responsibly you use that freedom is of course up to you.
Bypassing National or Regional Censorship Restrictions
Likewise, an encrypted VPN service can to some extent relieve users from the burden of intrusive scrutiny and the strict censorship of internet access and content, which may be imposed at a regional or national level. For the citizens of certain countries (China, Cuba, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Belarus, to name a few) this is a relevant and daily issue.
Here, a VPN connection can enable users to bypass locally imposed restrictions on content, and gain access to the information and streaming media sources which they’d otherwise be denied. VPN encryption will also shield user activity from government surveillance – but only up to a point, if the regime is sophisticated enough to have taken precautions such as installing spyware on computer hardware and mobile devices sold within its borders.
This cross-border release of internet access also works in reverse. So if for example, you were traveling in a foreign country, setting your VPN’s IP server to your home region would enable you to catch up on news, current events, and entertainment streams from your native land.
Unfortunately, VPN providers now have to contend with an increasing number of external bodies which are actively working to block VPN data transmission, or prohibit the use of VPNs entirely. These range from state actors such as the governments of China and Russia, to individual organizations like Netflix.
Methods range from legislation and blanket bans (in the case of government policies) to a combination of monitoring and filtering techniques such as customer behavior patterns, or the blocking of network ranges which have shown a specific connection pattern.
As the demand for VPN services and applications grows, providers and app developers will need to take such factors into account in order to continue assuring their users of unfettered access to information and streaming media, within a veil of encryption and privacy.
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