Search By Topic:

Popular Topics:



Thought Leadership | Jan 3rd, 2011

What Is a VPN?: Ask the Expert

Kent Lawson

Q: I keep seeing the term VPN. What is it and how does it work?

A: This is a very good question. Not because it is difficult to answer – VPNs are pretty simple, really – but because they will be increasingly important to all of us as individuals.


Here’s why. We all know that our lives have become more mobile. Whether it is laptops, untethered from our desk, or smartphones untethered from landlines, we expect our communications to be ubiquitous and portable. But do we also expect them to be private?

Look at what’s changed. When we cut the cord of our phone or our desktop’s broadband service, we are replacing the hard-wired connections we had been using with radio waves.

Like any radio waves, all it takes is another radio receiver tuned to the right channel to listen in. Further, it is two-way radio, so anything that you send or receive is vulnerable. VPNs, as I will explain below, are needed to protect your wireless Internet communications from being intercepted by others.

A Little History

Early on, companies leased point-to-point lines from telephone companies to provide communication between their offices. These were called “private networks” and the lines were reasonably secure, since it would take a significant amount of knowledge and effort to break into them.

When the Internet began to develop, it became much cheaper to give up dedicated, physical lines and move corporate communications to the public network. The only problem is, that made communications much more vulnerable to being intercepted by others. The solution was to encrypt it. That way, no one could read, or, worse, modify, the information being transmitted. This became known as a Virtual Private Network, or VPN, and companies have been using them for at least fifteen years.

A VPN simply uses a public network to communicate securely between two points. The security is provided by encryption, and the two sides must both use the same encryption algorithm and key for it to work. This means that no one else can understand, or more importantly, modify the information being communicated.

But it takes a major corporate IT department, or at least a fifteen year old geek, to maintain a VPN.

At least until recently. Now there are companies offering personal, subscription-based VPN services. For a small monthly fee ($9.95/month, in the case of the PRIVATE WiFi™ product), you can be assured that your private communications will stay private.

That is important because you have no control over those radio waves that are bouncing around Starbucks or the airport lounge. At the same time they are being sent from the WiFi router to your PC, iPad, or smart phone, they can be listened to by anyone else in the room. It is frighteningly easy to do.

When you use a personal VPN like PRIVATE WiFi, it installs a small piece of software on your PC, which does the encrypting and decrypting. It connects automatically to a remote server which decrypts your communication and sends it on to the ultimate destination – whether that is an email account, a SMS user, or a shopping site.

We all now know that we need firewalls and antivirus software to protect our computer from being hacked. Similarly, I believe that everyone who uses a laptop, iPad, or smartphone needs a VPN to protect their communications from hackers in wifi hotspots. It is the last major unprotected risk.

Editor's note: Have a question for Kent? Send in your question about wifi, Internet privacy, or any similar topic and we may feature that topic in an upcoming "Ask the Expert" column as part of our new, ongoing monthly series. Email your question to

Associated Topics:

Associated Topics:


Related Posts

Protecting Your Identity with the Internet of Things

Thought Leadership
Eva Velasquez | May 21st, 2015

The internet of things—or IOT, as it’s commonly known—was once the stuff of science fiction, a newfangled “wave of the future” concept only experienced at futuristic demonstrations like the World’s Fair. But now many of these devices are already in use in millions of households around the world. They’ve become an interesting yet somehow still unknown entity in the world of technology, and industry experts have stated these products will be the norm just a handful of years from now. Read More

Avira Offers PRIVATE WiFi’s VPN As Part of New Bundle

News & Features
Jared Howe | May 14th, 2015

Germany-based security company, Avira, just announced the release of a new bundled product which includes both their Antivirus Pro and PRIVATE WiFi.  This bundle protects users from both malware infection and data theft. Read More

Online Dating and Pubic WiFi: How Secure Is It?

Thought Leadership
Nikki Junker | May 5th, 2015

You never want to share sensitive information like online banking accounts or credit card portals over unsecured public web connections, but the truth is online dating profiles can often contain just as much data as either of those. In fact, your online dating profile—if falling into the hands of a hacker—can cause far more personal safety problems than your banking data. After all, with online banking a thief just gains access to your checking account; with online dating data, a criminal could gain access to your home address, your workplace, any children’s or family members’ names, and more. Read More

Why I Started Private Communications Corporation

Thought Leadership
Kent Lawson | Apr 28th, 2015

Kent Lawson, Founder and CEO of Private WiFi, talks about what inspired him to start the company. This is the first in a series of weekly CEO blog posts on this and other topics. Read More


Thank you for subscribing to our newsletters

Your email has been added to our system. You will be e-mailed shortly with a request to confirm your membership. Please make sure to click the link in that message to confirm your subscription.