The Internet is getting bigger and bigger. The same applies to the list of things you can and need to do online. How do we protect our identity and actions in the digital world? The reality of privacy on the Internet is that there is no 100% ideal and perfect solution.
Are VPNs Necessary?
Even though Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) claim to be able to offer you protection, there are limits to what each can or cannot do. However, using a VPN is still a solid way to start securing your time online and protecting your data.
The Internet is a huge and wild frontier that puts you at risk and a VPN will significantly lower this risk. As long as you go online, using a VPN service is a really good idea.
Let’s weight the pros and cons of using a VPN while you’re surfing the web.
Pros of Using a VPN
Safeguard Your Data
Your personal information is personal and should be just that, personal. You should be the one deciding if and who you want to share it with. You definitely do not want to be spied upon, neither do you want your data stolen by strangers.
This is where a VPN comes in. It encrypts your traffic, safeguarding your transactions and securing your sensitive data from prying eyes. All data from your device to the VPN server is unreadable in transit. This security portion of the VPN is what ensures that your Internet activity and private data cannot easily be intercepted and viewed by others.
You may think that the data being transmitted doesn’t mean much but remember – it can include your browsing history, passwords, online banking details, and any other personal information.
If you perform digital transactions that involve money and sensitive data, using VPN is essential. Without a VPN, all your hard-earned money, your employees’ salaries, your clients’ payments, sensitive information like your bank account details might be accessed by hackers.
Increased Privacy Online
One of the biggest problems with getting online is that your IP address typically gets exposed. This is similar to broadcasting your physical location to anyone who cares to track it.
With a VPN, your real IP is masked and hidden. Nobody, even the ISPs, government agencies, or hackers can see where your connection is really originating from. You gain anonymity and become virtually untraceable online.
Each time you log on to a VPN server, your IP will change and your original will always be masked.
Bypass Geo Blocks
Have you ever traveled and wanted to watch a digital channel from home, yet find you’re locked out by the service because you’re not in the country? Have you ever gotten upset knowing the same service you’re using isn’t giving you the same access to movies simply because you’re not from a certain location?
What helps them do this is location-based restriction. It’s a relatively simple concept that works on (as I discussed above) IP tracking. As long as your IP tells the service you’re not where they want you to be, they will block your access.
However, if you use a VPN, you can access Geo-Blocked websites. This means that no matter where you are in the world, you can do all the above. VPN allows you to bypass geographic restrictions on websites, online gaming, even streaming video and audio.
Using a VPN means you can choose to virtually appear almost anywhere in the world.
Prevent Bandwidth Throttling
Bandwidth throttling happens when your ISP deliberately slows down your Internet connection speed. The reason for this can vary, from you abusing your line and hogging all the bandwidth to the ISP not having enough bandwidth to handle all the traffic it is getting.
The good news is that in some cases, you can use a VPN to hide your online activities, therefore preventing throttling. Your ISP will typically target specific activities that users carry out to perform bandwidth throttling. Those it doesn’t know, it will simply let through.
Bandwidth throttling can be downright frustrating. Imagine if you’re trying to download some urgent work documents and find your line speed crawling.
However, it is important to note that if the throttling is a result of you meeting your bandwidth quota, then a VPN will not be helpful. Ins cenarios like this, all of your data will simply be throttled based on your account usage.
Make Torrenting Safer
Torrenting is always risky. You will never be sure if your downloaded files are truly safe and you run the risk of getting into trouble with the authorities if you torrent something you shouldn’t. To avoid any legal ramifications, it is best not to torrent.
However, if you need to, you’ll need to take measures to make your torrenting safer. To torrent safely, you need to use a VPN. It hides your real IP making you anonymous and encrypts all your traffic. Because all your traffic heads to the VPN server first, ISPs cannot track and will not know what you have been doing.
Keep You Safer on Public WiFi
Public WiFi networks are very easy to be broken into and data transmitted on it is very susceptible to man-in-the-middle attacks. Cybercriminals can intercept the data you’re sending and make use of it for their own purposes.
With a VPN installed, your communication to its server is encrypted, so anyone trying to eavesdrop will see gibberish and not make sense of it. Therefore, having a VPN installed on your device allows you to use public WiFi securely.
Avoid Online Price Discrimination
Online price discrimination happens when different prices are offered to different people based on location or sometimes even browsing activities. Some online stores or eCommerce websites track your search history and use this information to change the prices they offer.
A VPN connection can help by blocking websites from using tracking cookies on your device. It also helps that you can use it to change your virtual location to regions where the product might be offered at a better price.
No More Blocks or Censorship
Not everyone is fortunate to live in a country that embraces freedom of information. For example, China imposes strict sanctions and censorship on Internet usage. Many services are blocked or otherwise restricted, such as Google, Facebook and Twitter.
Blocks and censorship can happen at any time. In fact, many students often encounter this as devices belonging to schools are often heavily regulated and monitored.
A VPN can get you around these censorship and access blocks by simply routing you to their own private servers. You can use a VPN to bypass firewalls in the office or on school networks.
Disadvantages of Using a VPN
There are always two sides to every coin. As with the many advantages to the use of VPN, so too come a few downsides as well.
Possibly Slower Connection Speeds
Your data needs to be encrypted and routed through a VPN server. It then heads off to whatever destination it was originally intended for. This could extend the distance it normally would have travelled. Longer distances normally result in slower speeds and increased latency.
Stronger Anti-VPN Technology
There are some sites and services such as Netflix that have installed VPN blockers. These attempt to stop users from connecting if they are using a VPN service. Anti-VPN technology is constantly evolving, which may result in erratic VPN behaviour from time to time.
Not All VPNs are Reliable
There are hundreds of VPNs service providers in the market today. Knowing which one to sign up with cna be a challenge. Some VPN service providers offer limited numbers of servers and locations to connect to, while others may offer sub-standard connection quality and performance.
Configuration May be Required
With so many VPN providers available, not all may offer a seamless user experience. Personally, I’ve struggled with some even after many years of experience using VPN services. If you sign up with the wrong providers, even getting a VPN to work can be a nightmare.
Logging and Potential Abuse of Data
The best VPNs typically offer users a “No Logging” service. This means that they will not keep records of any of your activities online. However, some do break their word. If you happen to be relying on your VPN to keep you anonymous, this can be a major issue.
Even worse are some VPN service providers who offer free services. Establishing a VPN network isn’t cheap, so they have to earn an income somehow. The usual way is either via advertising (which uses trackers) or selling your data.
Always be aware of your VPN service provider policies and be careful to choose one which is not based in a country where it is a requirement for them to share data with the local authorities.
Not All Devices May be Supported
If you’re using a less popular platform, you may find yourself in a situation where your VPN simply doesn’t support it. Of course, this will differ widely between service providers. Some may only support mainstream devices, while others support everything from smartphones to routers and smart televisions.
Always be aware of limitations a VPN service provider has before you sign up for an extended contract. At the very least, ensure the devices you currently use are supported.
Not Easy for Users to Check Encryption Quality
It may be tough to check and confirm if VPN providers really do what they promise to do. Most often, you’ll only know when something goes wrong and by that time it may be too late. Any average computer user may not be technology savvy enough to realize ongoing issues.
Unwarranted Sense of Online Impunity
There is a tendency for people to believe that having a VPN connection makes them completely anonymous and therefore immune to all ill-effects of the Internet. This is entirely a fallacy and there are many ways VPN users can still encounter problems.
For example, if you’re using a browser-based VPN, only your browser data may be secure. Most devices run a huge range of applications which communicate with online servers – and your data may leak through those sources.
When Should You Not Use a VPN?
Despite being so powerful, VPNs aren’t suitable for all usage scenarios and needs. To understand this, let’s try to answer a series of questions fitting various situations.
How well a VPN might fit your usage can depend heavily on why you need to use a VPN in the first place.
Is It Illegal to Use VPN in Your Country?
If the answer is yes, then you should not use any VPN service in your country as you may end up paying a huge fine or even going to jail if caught. The world is large and each country has very specific regulations about personal privacy, various technologies and other factors. Be aware of where you are when you’re using a VPN service.
How Important is Your Digital Privacy?
Some VPN providers allow you to use their servers for free but may sell your data or use it in other ways which may benefit them. If your privacy is important, this kind of defeats the purpose of using a VPN in the first place.
Yes, you may be able to bypass Internet restrictions and hide your IP Address – but at what cost?
Do You Need to Bypass Geo Blocking?
Geo-blocking happens when some websites or services want to restrict services to certain locations. If this is what you’re looking to bypass, you need to make sure your VPN service will be able to do that.
For example, not all VPNs are able to overcome the anti-VPN blocks put in place by Netflix or the BBC iPlayer.
Is Your Internet Slow?
In some cases, using a VPN may actually result in slower Internet connections. For high speed lines, this may not be much of an issue. For those with slower connections, you may find yourself having to disconnect your VPN to get usable speeds sometimes.
Of course, much of this also depends on other factors such as the server you’re connecting to, but it’s another issue to be wary of.
Do I Really Need a VPN?
This is a legitimate question. It is undeniable that a VPN protects your online identity and activities; having one benefits you more than not having at all. For example – your device can work without antivirus protection, but is it worth the risk?
The fact that a VPN ranks the same with an Antivirus Client in terms of being protected online from data breach or unethical hacking speaks much for itself.
In general, it is neither complicated nor expensive to set up a VPN service. But be aware that your security is only as good as the actual service you use. The ‘you get what you pay for’ is true to a certain extent as there are also legitimate and high-quality free VPN services that can get you started safely.
VPNs are popular today as they have uses that go past merely privacy and security. As a product, it offers more benefits than can be imagined for what can essentially amount to the price of a cup of coffee each month.
If you’re serious about your digital security and protecting your identity online, a VPN is a wise choice to opt for.