A virtual private network – a VPN – is a way to connect to a private network hosted elsewhere over the internet. Traffic then gets routed through this virtual network. As such, VPNs are useful for privacy-conscious users who might be concerned that their network traffic is not secure. This is especially true, for example, when connecting on public networks (libraries, coffee shops) or regions where you think your internet traffic might be monitored. Essentially you're adding another layer of security.
VPNs work by connecting two computers securely and privately over the internet. When you open up a web browser and enter a URL on your device, the request is sent to the VPN server. The server then acts as an intermediary, requesting the web page from the site and sending it back to you. That means the website can only see the VPN server - not the client device requesting it.
This information is encrypted, meaning external parties can't see the information exchanged. VPNs also mask the location of the client, allowing you to access location-specific services in other countries.
However - be warned - some experts advise against using free VPNs. There are plenty of inexpensive versions out there and as ever, if you’re not the consumer, you could be the product – so read those T&Cs carefully. Other risks include slow loading, potential data limits or being bombarded by adverts.
But if you are comfortable with the risks, or really can’t afford to shell out – here are just a few of the best free VPNs available right now.