VPN is an acronym for Virtual Private Network.
A VPN is used to essentially create a network across the internet. Instead of having to create your own network between two locations by running cable or whatever, you just use the cabling of the internet. For this reason, it is a virtual network, it works likes a network, but it is not physically a different network there.
This can be used to connect securely between two locations. Using a VPN, you have basically set up a tunnel through the internet to the other location and just are using Internet equipment. As part of the VPN, you will set encryption on the traffic sent. This will prevent hackers from stealing your data as it is in transit, or at least make it difficult, depending on the level of encryption you use. Now it is a private network, as only your machine and the machine at the other end know what you have sent, or they sent. This is taking it a step further than just encrypting the actual data (what http protocol does) and encrypt while it is in motion. The source and destination address are not encrypted so the machines can get it to the receiver, but the rest is.
There are lots of ways to set up a VPN. Some security software, including paid antivirus products, include the software to setup a VPN. They are also VPN programs for sale and there is free VPN software you can get and use.
As time progresses, I expect you will see more and more VPNs used and some sites mandating.
I have had one reader report their version of Chrome now includes a VPN icon beside the lock icon by the URL box that apparently tells if you are using a VPN. At this point I have found no information on that, but it makes sense to do that. I am running the latest Chrome and it is not there on mine. It would be a good way, just like the lock, to tell us our data is secure in transit by it being encrypted and using a VPN.
Dwight Watt does computer work for businesses, individuals and organizations and teaches about computers at a college in Northwest Georgia. His website is www.dwightwatt.com. His email address is [email protected].