On this site, we are always reminding readers that they should have access to a good VPN service when using their Android TV box (or any device connected to the internet). But we still get a lot of questions about what exactly VPNs are and how they work to protect us online.
In this article, we will explain exactly how VPNs work, the benefits of having a VPN, and why you should be using one with your Android TV box.
Virtual Private Networks
VPN stands for virtual private networks, and these are networks of servers provided by VPN hosts. When you sign up to a VPN and activate their service, you send all of your internet traffic to their server via a tunnel before it goes on to its final destination. The returning data from the sites that you want to access also come via the VPN service before they reach your computer.
This means that when your digital inquiries arrive at their destination, it does not appear like the data packages are coming from you and your uniquely identifiable IP address but rather from the address of the VPN.
This also makes it possible for you to appear like you are accessing the internet from a geographic location other than where you are. This is useful for many businesses, which have documents that can only be accessed on their network. They can also provide VPNs for remote workers to log onto that network. Similarly, it can provide access to geofenced content, such as U.S. government websites that are only accessible within the country.
The VPN servers are also designed to scramble your data so that anyone trying to monitor the activity on the servers will see only gibberish. The kind of encryption used means that without the right encryption key, it would take millions of years for a computer to unscramble the data and see what information was passed. Most VPNs use AES-256 encryption, which is the standard used and approved worldwide.
Benefits Of A VPN Service
Why exactly should you be using a VPN service, especially when connecting with Android TV box?
Encrypts Your Data
VPNs encrypt your data. This makes it incredibly difficult for hackers to access your data. While it is theoretically possible that they could get their hands on the encryption key and decipher the gibberish, they are more likely to target other “low-hanging fruit.”
Many people think that their Android TV box is low-risk when it comes to sensitive data since they don’t do banking or other sensitive activities on the device, but they would be wise to think again. You transmit your payment details regularly when signing into services such as Netflix and Prime Video.
Also, remember that if your TV box is connected to the rest of your network, it can act as a gateway to other devices for hackers.
Disguises Your Identity
Whenever you go online (without a VPN), your IP address is visible to all the websites that you visit. This is the address for your internet connection. This helps websites collect data on who is visiting their site, usually on a general level such as general geographic location and basic demographics about your household. But in the right circumstances, your IP address can be used to identify you specifically, such as in legal investigations.
When you go online with a VPN, wherever you arrive, it is not your VPN that is being displayed but rather that of the VPN service. This protects your anonymity online. This can be important if you choose to do anything that might be considered legally dubious when online, such as torrenting media content through P2P sites.
But it also means that advertisers, government agents, and others cannot monitor your online activity.
Grants Access To Regional Content
Most VPN services have servers all around the world, and you can choose where in the world you would like to appear that you are coming from. If you are in Germany, you can appear like you are in the United States, and if you are in the United States, you can appear as though you are in South Korea.
The obvious benefit for this to streamers is unlocking content that is restricted to certain geographic locations due to licensing issues. You can access BBC iPlayer UK from the U.S. or Netflix USA from Brazil.
But this is not the only benefit! Many websites have restricted access. For example, many U.S. government websites are only accessible within the country. Other websites will also show you a certain version of their website automatically depending on your geographic location, which can influence the information and prices given. VPNs can help with online shopping. For example, flights can vary greatly in price depending on where you are when making a purchase.
Disadvantages Of VPNs
There are a few disadvantages to using a VPN that users should be aware of, but they can be avoided by choosing the right VPN rather than not using one at all.
Bouncing your data around far-flung servers does slow down your internet. You can expect to lose 10-20% of your internet speed with a good VPN and more with a less well-tuned VPN service.
Many people invest in a VPN service thinking that they will be able to access whatever geofenced content they like but then find themselves locked out. This is because companies that have contractual obligations such as streaming services work hard to identify and block VPNs. Good VPN services have to work hard to update their servers to ensure continued access to major services.
And it is not just streaming services that do this — banks, financial institutions, and other secure services will also block VPNs to stop fraud.
The whole point of a VPN service is to keep your data private, but the sad truth is that some providers gather the data of their clients and sell it to third parties. This problem is most common with free VPN services, and we generally advise users to steer clear.
It costs money to maintain a network of servicers, so if a VPN host is not making money from its clients, it must be making money elsewhere. Be wary.
Qualities Of A Good VPN Service
So what are the criteria for a good VPN service?
- A large network of servers distributed across various geographic locations
- Servers specifically optimized for activities such as streaming and P2P data transfers
- Minimal drag on your internet speed (as confirmed by existing users)
- No logs policy, which is a promise from the provider that they are not making records of any of your online activities. You should consider a service based on a location with strong personal data protection laws — read why here.
- Additional security features such as a kill switch, which breaks your internet connection if your VPN connection drops off for some reason
- Applications for the specific devices that you want to connect, such as an Android app, Chrome application, or router protection
- Simultaneous connections — Most VPNs let you cover various devices with one subscription, which is important since you know you are using your Android TV, smartphone, and laptop at the same time
- Split tunneling, which lets you choose which traffic you run via the VPN and which you don’t. For example, you can run your bank connection outside the VPN network.
- Many VPNs will also offer malware and ad blockers as part of their service.
Want our recommendations for the best VPN services? We are currently loving:
You can find our full reviews of each of these services here.
Can VPN services be trusted?
You do place a lot of trust in your VPN service when you use one, and there are many good ones that are excellent and reliable. But there are also some dubious services out there. You should be able to determine whether a service is reliable with a quick online search. There are plenty of forums where superusers share reviews.
Which server locations are best for VPN?
Where you should choose to appear when going online with a VPN depends on what you want to do, such as access geofenced content. But if you just want VPN protection and a fast connection, choose the closest servers to minimize the amount of bouncing of your traffic.
Is using a VPN legal?
Using a VPN service is legal in most countries, including the United States, but not all countries (for example, they are banned in China). But the legality of your online activities depends on where you are physically based and not where you appear to be based on your VPN choices.
VPN services can keep you secure every time you go online by protecting your identity and encrypting your data. If you weren’t sure how VPN services work, hopefully this article has answered some of your questions and will help you find a great VPN service to start using.
What VPN service do you use? Share your recommendations with the community in the comments section below.