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What Is a VPN And why do you need one?

VPN: a quick definition

The term VPN is being thrown around a lot lately, and unless you know about online security, you're probably unsure of what it is. The answer may be technical, but it’s pretty easy to understand, and it’s important that you do. Not only your online security is at stake, but without a VPN you're at risk of identity theft, which can affect every aspect of your life.

So, what is a VPN? The acronym stands for virtual private network. It is basically a way to send your internet connection through an external server. This makes it look to the rest of the world like you're using someone else’s internet. The IP address is different. Your location is different too. Furthermore, a VPN encrypts your data. This means that what you're doing on the internet cannot be tracked.

Why you need one

You need a VPN because online security has become increasingly important. Since we use the internet all the time, putting a lot of personal information out there, hackers can take advantage of that. They can get hold of your identification details, your credit cards, your addresses, and your current location. This way, they can commit all sorts of crimes against you.

The scariest is identity theft, which is surprisingly common. At best, identity theft will cost you money. At worst, it will leave you with bad credit, a bad reputation, and difficulty in getting your identity back!

A VPN stops your data and location from being put on display every time you use the internet. This is especially important when you're using unsecured public wifi, but secure wifi is not foolproof either.

As you are using a different IP address, would-be-hackers or government bodies cannot track you using your static IP address assigned to your home address, monitoring the traffic, going in and out of your computer. This will ensure privacy and security to your internet activity.

Another reason you may need a VPN is to gain access to content that is geo-restricted when you are travelling outside the country. Due to copyright issues, people in other countries don’t always have access to local streaming services. This affects people who try to use streaming services when they're travelling. By using a VPN to make it look like you're still “home”, you can get past these restrictions. And in other countries such as China, consumers will bypass censorship of sites by the Great Firewall of China through the use of VPN services.

How to find the right one

There are many VPN providers online, some free while some are available via paid subscription but not all of them are effective. If you are looking for an Android app, for example, you cannot trust the options available for download as most don’t work as one would expect it to be.

A dependable VPN can be identified by a few factors. A VPN with a good reputation both through reviews by professional reviewers and paying customers. The VPN provider should also offer a number of servers, both close to your home country and in other countries. You will have to pay a monthly subscription (there are free options but they're limited), but most services shouldn't cost you more than 10 US$ a month especially if you are paying via an annual plan.

Using the internet without a VPN is simply irresponsible these days. There are predators who can easily take advantage of unsecured internet users or by spying governments on activities by activists and politicians. By using a VPN, you immediately make yourself harder to hack than most of the population.

Legality of VPN in Singapore

Currently the use of VPN is still legal in Singapore, however, it was reported last year that the Ministry of Law (MinLaw) had proposed to review the legality of Virtual Private Network (VPN) under the Copyright Act as part of a number of wide-ranging revisions it is suggesting to be made to the Copyright Act, which was last updated in 2004.

Speaking at the opening of the 5th annual IP [email protected] 2016 event which was held at Marina Bay Sands, Senior Minister of State for Law and Finance Indranee Rajah said, "These reviews will further strength our IP (intellectual property) regime and allow it to keep current with technological advances, business needs and societal developments."

Adding that high-value jobs could come out of this sector, she added, "IP is not just about law. IP is also about business and innovation."

Ms Indrani stated that the public consultation is a wide ranging review which aims to help creators gain more recognition and practical protection for their works, while providing users with reasonable and easier access to those works.

The aim of the consultation was particularly to see individuals and small businesses come forward and provide their views in this public consultation. Thus it would help the Government take into account all stakeholders’ views so as to improve our copyright regime to better support the creative economy.

However, it is to note that the Ministry did not clearly request for feedback on the use of VPN in its consultation paper. It instead references to VPN using the below wordings,

".Whether the current list of allowable circumventions of technological protection measures should be retained, and what new allowable circumventions of technological protection measures should be put in place."

The Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS), on the other hand, recognised that the use of VPN here is somewhat complicated.

Chief Executive of IPOS Mr Daren Tang was quoted saying, "There are some concerns that bypassing geo-blocks could infringe copyright. Neverthless, Singapore remains a strong supporter of parallel import, which is essentially what VPN allows in the digital world."