Virtual Private Networks, or VPNs, have been around for over 20 years. Traditionally, they have been used for secure connections into corporate networks, either to access file systems or work e-mail.

However, given the rise of internet use since their inception, many users are now using them to secure their presence in cyberspace, by masking their IP address to other users, making their activities invisible.

Here, we look at a number of applications for VPNs that are being used more frequently. The legality of some of these activities can be seen as questionable, so proceed at your own risk.

Using a VPN to stop hackers and government snooping

Recently, there has been more coverage in the press of governments and hackers looking in on individual's activity online. Whilst the majority of this is only performed in the interests of national security, you may wish to limit your visibility to organisations and individuals by using a VPN to cloak your activity from others.

For ultimate protection, ensure the VPN provider you choose doesn't store logs of its users' activities. Some do, so make sure you check.

Using a VPN to spoof your location

Many online services such as BBC iPlayer, Netflix and even the Apple Store are locked to a given geographical location. In the case of streaming services, this is usually due to licensing around programs. A broadcaster will often pay for the right to broadcast a given program in a given region and access to it is therefore limited to the particular region.

By utilising a VPN, it is possible to circumvent this limitation by, for example, accessing Netflix from the UK via a VPN server based in the US, thus allowing access to US-only programming. The same goes for accessing the BBC iPlayer from outside the UK, but via a UK VPN server.

Using a VPN to use the Kodi app

There has been a lot of chatter recently on the crackdown by companies on users accessing illegal movie and sports streams using add-ins for Kodi, accessed either by a Kodi Box, modified Amazon Fire Sticks or even Raspberry Pi computers.

Whilst we here at Pocket-lint cannot condone such activities, if you are going to look for illegal streams, it might be a good idea to do so via a VPN to mask your IP address and ISP.

Use a VPN to securely use public Wi-Fi

Often out and about? Want to access confidential business information via the Wi-Fi in your local coffee shop? We'd recommend utilising a VPN in this situation as it is usually impossible to know who else is on that network.

They may have the hardware and knowledge to sniff out data that is being shared over the publicly open Wi-Fi. This is certainly the case if you often do online banking whilst out and about.

Use a VPN to access sites blocked from your location

If you are at work or college and you need to check on that important eBay auction that you're bidding on, but eBay is blocked from your location then you could use a VPN to get around the issue.

Sometimes using a VPN will allow you to bypass this restriction and make sure you win that auction for the one missing Optimus Prime model from your collection.

Use a VPN to securely make VOIP calls

Conversations over VOIP services, such as Skype and Lync, can be relatively easily hacked into if you're on a public Wi-Fi network. Using a VPN makes it much harder for those who you may not want to know your personal details to listen in.