Skip to main content
Microsoft 365
July 15, 2022

What is a VPN?

A VPN is a tool that can help you protect your privacy and secure your personal data while you’re online. See how you can put a VPN—virtual private network—to work to keep yourself and your family safer while on the Internet.

What is a VPN?

VPN, an acronym for virtual private network, allows you to access the public internet via a secure and private network connection. A VPN can hide your IP address and protect your personal data. A virtual private network hides information about your physical location while securing your digital data through encryption.

VPNs are an incredible tool for maintaining privacy while traveling or using public WiFi, or even while using the Internet at home. A VPN hides your online activity from prying eyes and is more secure than a private WiFi hotspot.

“VPN, an acronym for virtual private network, allows you to access the public internet via a secure and private network connection.”

How Does a VPN Work?

Think of a VPN as a secret tunnel that bypasses a busy highway: it allows you to skip all the bad drivers and speed traps and arrive at your destination unscathed. A VPN hides your IP address by redirecting your internet traffic through a server owned by the VPN host. This traffic is encrypted and then sent off to the public Internet. Any incoming data follows the same route and passes through an encrypted connection before arriving at your Internet-connected device.

When you connect to the Internet via your home network, your device connects via your router and modem and then through your Internet service provider (ISP). When using a virtual private network, the VPN intercepts your data and encrypts it before it reaches the Internet.

If you go online without a VPN, all your Internet activity is linked to your IP address and accessible by your Internet service provider, advertisers and marketers, other people on your network, and government entities. The act of hiding your IP address and encrypting your data means that your data cannot be intercepted and others will not be able to learn your physical location.

A VPN is considered an essential security tool for remote work and using a public Internet connect. On an unsecured public network in a hotel or café, for example, a hacker might be able to spy on the information you send across the network, like passwords and financial information. Some cybercriminals may even be able to monitor your keystrokes or install malware over a public network. Some public WiFi networks may require a password for use, but if the same password is readily available to everyone, it’s not as secure as it could be.

Microsoft Defender Banner
Microsoft 365 Logo

Microsoft Defender

Stay safer online with one easy-to-use app1

1Microsoft 365 Personal or Family subscription required; app available as separate download

Learn More

Is a VPN Private?

Security is obviously important for anyone who uses the Internet. A VPN can provide peace of mind, but they don’t make you completely anonymous while you’re online. The only online experience that can truly offer anonymity is through a Tor browser. Some of the ways using a VPN enhances your privacy while online include:

  • Obscuring your Internet activity.
    If you’re concerned about someone tracking you while you’re online, or you’ve accidentally stumbled upon an unsavory website, a VPN can keep your ISP from having access to your browsing history and internet activity. Without a VPN, your internet activity can be sold to advertisers by your ISP, which can influence the ads you see when you’re online.
  • Protecting access to personal devices.
    Whether you’re online with your smartphone, tablet, laptop, or personal computer, they’re all vulnerable to cybercrime without a VPN. A VPN can safeguard your personal data and keeps prying eyes out of your devices.
  • Protecting your identity.
    If you do any financial transactions online, you’ll want to take special care to protect this information. Cybercriminals have the potential to access your passwords on an unsecured network, using that information to wreak havoc on your bank, social media, and other accounts.
  • Hiding your location.
    Your IP address is tied to your ISP and your physical location. Since a VPN blocks your IP address, you can use it to log into services that might be blocked in your area, like streaming services if you’re out of the country. It can also help you to maintain privacy and anonymity while using the internet.

Do I Need a VPN?

If you think you need an additional layer of protection when you’re online, a VPN might be right for you. If you’re shopping, banking, or entering sensitive personal data or medical data, a VPN will keep out anyone who might be trying to spy on you.

If you work from home, your employer might already use VPN that you’re required to log into to keep your work secure. However, if you travel for work or frequently use public WiFi, you may want to look into your own VPN for additional security.

While these virtual private networks make it harder for ISPs and hackers to trace your activity and access your data, they’re not foolproof. Be mindful of the information you’re putting online and talk to your kids about online safety.

Get started with Microsoft 365

It’s the Office you know, plus the tools to help you work better together, so you can get more done—anytime, anywhere.

Buy Now

Topics in this article

Microsoft 365 Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, OneDrive, and Family Safety Apps
Microsoft 365 Logo

Everything you need to achieve more in less time

Get powerful productivity and security apps with Microsoft 365

Buy Now

Explore Other Categories