It depends. Nobody in my household uses VPN except me. And I can not do my job without VPN. To understand why, you need to understand what VPN is, and why people would use it. This post is going to be more technical than most. Here’s the foundation information you need to know in order to understand VPN.

What is an IP?

All computer devices that talk on the Internet have an IP address. IP is short for Internet Protocol. People usually leave off the “address” part because “IP” isn’t really used in any other context. So if someone says what’s your IP, they mean your IP address.

The IP address is just like a house address. An IP address allows one computer to find another computer. Every IP is different. If 2 devices try to use the same IP address then network communications won’t work right. Usually, the IP is assigned by a DHCP server. In most people’s homes, the DHCP server is part of the router or modem in their home.

IP addresses are assigned to different companies and institutions. Most people and small to medium businesses are not assigned IP addresses. Their intenet service provider (ISP) is assigned IP addresses and they assign them to households or small to medium businesses. Most people have no idea that IP addresses even exist.

Every time your computer sends a message to another computer, it includes the IP address so the other computer knows where to send the reply. It’s like a return address on an envelope. Anyone can look up who has what IP. This means it’s possible to guess the approximate physical location of each computer on the internet based on the location of the company that is assigned the IP.

If you want to see your IP, the location, and the ISP, just visit That is right, the internet is not anonymous.

What is a Firewall?

The internet is a connection of networks. Each network is like a neighborhood. Computers don’t travel on the internet, it’s messages that travel around. On the internet, most neighborhoods only have one way in or out. A firewall is when that entrance is guarded.

Messages move around the internet freely except when they meet a firewall. Many companies have firewalls between their network and the rest of the internet. Like a guard, the firewall stops each message and inspects and scrutinizes them. Many of those messages are not allowed past the firewall.

What is a VPN?

A VPN is a special entrance into a network. It bypasses the firewall completely. A computer on the outside sends a message to the VPN, and the VPN asks the computer for a username and password. If correct, the messages from the outside computer are then allowed past the VPN without inspecting each message.

But here’s where VPN’s are really special. The messages aren’t just allowed past, they are relayed, just like relay runners pass on a baton. What that means is that once the message is past the VPN, it looks like the message came from the VPN, not an outside computer.

VPN Enables Geolocation Spoofing

A VPN enables all sorts of things. Many VPN companies sell their services not to get past firewalls, but to make it look like the user lives in a different location. So if I connected to a VPN in Germany, all of my network traffic would be relayed through Germany. This would allow me to view the German version of Netflix, for example.

Phone connected to VPN
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

VPN Enables Privacy

A VPN also creates a layer of privacy. Believe it or not, one of the biggest spies on the internet is your ISP. They watch abd record everything you do on the internet.

When you connect to a VPN, all network messages that leave your computer are encrypted until they reach the VPN. This stops the ISP from seeing what you are doing. All the ISP sees is encrypted network traffic heading towards a VPN.

My old ISP, CenturyLink, would send my web browser to their search engine if I ever typed in an incorrect web address. This was the only time I’ve actually seen an ISP reveal their hand. My current ISP doesn’t do anything to my network traffic and so the only time I think about the ISP is when I pay my bill and delete their marketing emails.

As I said before, nobody in my household is using VPN except me. I only use VPN to get past my employer firewall. I guess I don’t believe enough in privacy to justify spending money on it.

And here’s the thing. If you pay for VPN service to hide your network traffic from your ISP, the VPN service can now see your network traffic. Free VPN services are probably free because they make money exclusively from spying on you! That’s worse than your ISP!

VPN Enables Encryption

ISP’s aren’t the only people who want to see what you are doing on the internet. If you ever use free wifi, like at a coffee shop, anyone on that same network can see your network traffic. If you frequently use free wifi, do not do anything that requires security, like log in to your bank account, unless you use VPN first.

The Answer

Is the VPN service free? No, they are probably malicious.

Do you need to get past your company firewall to work from home? Yes, you need a VPN and your company should provide the service, you shouldn’t have to pay for it.

Do you need to log in to websites or other services while on free wifi? Yes, you need a VPN.

Do you need to use the internet as if you lived in a different location? Yes, you need a VPN, and that VPN has to be located in the desired location.

Do you want to pay money to protect yourself from ISP spying and allow the VPN service to spy on you instead? Yes, you need a VPN.