Most of what you hear about VPNs are positive; they provide online privacy, encryption and security – but they’re not always perfect. While using one can understandably give you a greater sense of security, there are some risks involved.
What to be Concerned About in VPN Use
Generally speaking, using a reliable and reputable VPN service is fine and you won’t have to worry about most common risks. However, if you choose the wrong service to sign up with, problems can crop up even without you knowing.
Free VPNs Can be Risky
If you choose the wrong VPN, that itself is a danger and poses a risk to you. Among the most dangerous VPN services in the market are those supposedly marketed as ‘free’.
Such free services can carry an unusually high proportion of risk. Why? The reasoning is pretty simple. To provide a VPN service is expenesive. Hardware, software, and expertise costs lots of money.
If a VPN service is given away for free – where do you think the company makes it’s money? One common income stream for free VPN service providers would be the sale of your data – the very thing the VPN promised to protect.
If you are not paying for the said service, you are not the customer. You become the product.
Of course, there are legitimate free VPN services in the market. These are the ones that typically offer a limited free service – and offer you the option to convert to a paying customer if you need more.
If a VPN collects and stores your information, your risk profile increases. There is a reason why top VPN service providers advertise their service as “No Logging”.
If there is no data about you or your activities kept by the VPN service provider, they cannot be compelled to hand it over – as happened before with IPVanish.
For those seeking a VPN to sign up with – make sure it includes a no-logging clause, spelled out in black and white!
Using a VPN that is registered in a country whose government has strict data retention laws can be dangerous for you. This is because the VPN may be forced to store some user information.
So, even though the VPN advertises a strict zero-logging policy, this becomes irrelevant, as your data can still be compromised. Take note that if your VPN provider is under a company registered in US or EU jurisdiction, they cannot claim to provide no-logging services.
Having said this, there are still legitimate zero-logs VPN service providers.
While VPN privacy is mostly good, loopholes tend to exist even in the best technology. Leak Protection is what separates the good from the great VPN brands. There are two main types of VPN Leak to consider – IP address leaks and DNS leaks.
What is Leak Protection?
Leak Protection is the actions the VPN takes to address IP address leaks and DNS leaks. While these leaks may not always be the VPN provider’s fault, it should take steps to address the issue.
One way a VPN service provider may implement Leak Protection is via something called a Kill Switch. This mechanism will prevent all data from being transmitted from your device the moment the VPN detects a connection loss to the server.
Part of how VPNs work is by helping mask your IP address. The IP is what helps others track you online. Unfortunately, even with a VPN, security flaws can reveal your real IP.
If you’re unaware that your VPN is experiencing an IP leak, this means that you’re going online with a false mindset of privacy and security. This is very dangerous.
There are several simple steps that you can take to confirm if your VPN is safe to use. Run them before you start using your VPN. Bear in mind that there are VPNs that are equipped to prevent such leaks. Go for these VPNs.
If you experience a DNS leak when using a VPN, your DNS requests are sent to an unsafe DNS server. Your true IP is exposed to this unsafe DNS server. This could lead to a DNS hijacking attack where you are purposefully routed to fake websites.
When this happens, there is this possibility of you handing your private information to criminals. So always go for a good VPN with built-in DNS leak protection.
When your VPN connection drops, your device typically switches back to your regular connection. When this happens, you may not be aware and continue to browse the internet believing that you’re still protected. In actual fact, your device and activities may be exposed.
Look for a VPN that comes with a Kill Switch that will automatically either terminate the connection or quit pre-selected programs to mitigate the chances of sensitive data leaking.
Is VPN Safe for Online Banking?
It is of no surprise that more and more are using their bank’s digital services given how much and convenient it is. However, there are concerns regarding possible identity theft and monetary loss. So how do we prevent this?
A VPN can help heaps here. In general, VPNs are safe for online banking. They are an important defense against hackers as a VPN creates a secured data tunnel to the VPN server that anonymizes all connections to the internet.
Using a VPN on a public Wi-Fi network for your online banking purposes is highly essential, especially since you’ll be sharing the connection with many.
Be aware though that bank systems are quite sensitive to technology like VPN and may block you if they think you’re using one. It’s simply part of their security profile.
Can You Trust a VPN?
Generally speaking, you can trust most reputable VPN providers. By signing up with them, you have to believe that your VPN service provider does have your best interests at heart.
Simply put, you have to put some trust in them. Having said this, you’ll still need to do some due diligence. After all, who can you trust most except yourself?
Bear in mind that although a VPN protects you and can make you feel invincible, they aren’t perfect. Using one is not an excuse to ignore best practices when it comes to digital privacy and security.
Can Authorities Track VPN Users?
In general, police and other authorities cannot track live, encrypted VPN traffic. They may be able to suspect you are using a VPN and take steps to pressure the VPN provider into providing them with information.
On the whole, VPNs are safe. They provide a host of features that can keep your data and identity secure, that is if you choose a reputable and reliable VPN. If you don’t, you could easily put your privacy and information at risk without even knowing it. So, always do your homework before committing to one.