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Should you use a VPN?

by Cyberguy | Last Updated | July 3, 2022
CyberSecurity - Consumer|CyberSecurity Insights

The Internet can be a treacherous place. It’s easy to get caught up in a cyber accident, from companies gathering data to hackers stealing personal information. The results can be disastrous. 

One of the most important measures you can take while online is to use a virtual private network (VPN), whether you’re at your workplace, on the go, or at home.

 VPN Definition

You may well have heard about VPNs, presumably even knowing what they are.  You might have even asked yourself “why use one when it could slow down your computer and give you additional bills?”

While one of the common uses of a VPN is to keep your online activities secure and private, especially on public Wi-Fi, they can do so much more.

A Brief Definition of VPN

The term VPN refers to a virtual private network. It’s your own safe, private, and hidden channel to the Internet. Before they sail through the air and over the wires, all of the information you send and receive online is scrambled and encrypted, keeping them safe from prying eyes.

This means that everything you do online is kept private. Nobody will know what you’re doing on the Internet, with the possible exception of the VPN provider.

How does a VPN work?

VPN establishes a protected network connection. When using a VPN, your Internet-connected devices will connect to a remote server provided by your VPN provider. The VPN server could be in your country or in any other country that allows VPNs.

Your online traffic is subsequently routed through that server rather than directly to the Internet. When it comes to websites, you’re browsing from that server’s location, not your computer’s.

This means that all of your online activity will appear to originate from the VPN server and its location.

How a VPN works

Once you’ve connected to the VPN and are inside the “secret” channel, spying on your web surfing activities becomes extremely tough. Only you, your VPN provider, and the website you’re visiting will be aware of your activities.

Hackers will have a tougher time obtaining your login credentials or redirecting your computer to a fake site if you’re using public Wi-Fi, such as at a café. Anyone trying to spy on you, even your Internet service provider, will have a difficult time determining which websites you’re accessing.

Plus, you get the added benefit of spoofing your location. If you’re in New York and your VPN server is in Australia, for example, it will look like you’re browsing from Australia.

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Are connections encrypted?

Encryption is a key element of most excellent VPNs. They also have a no-logs policy, which means they don’t track what you do, where you go, or what information you share.

VPN Encryption

Some VPNs, on the other hand, log data, but they collect as little information as possible. Some providers delete logs in a couple of hours or days, while others keep them for months.

Can you use a VPN with multiple devices?

Top VPNs allow you to connect from several devices, including your laptop, smartphone, tablet, and more. Some even provide unrestricted access.

You can also link various devices to different servers. When you connect your VPN to these devices, each one can connect to its own server, allowing you to choose from a variety of countries.

Main Benefits of a VPN

At its most basic level, using a VPN when you browse online can provide two major advantages: privacy and security.

It lets you remain anonymous by masking information such as your IP address, location, and search history. This prevents websites, Internet browsers, cable companies, Internet service providers, and others from tracking you.

It improves your security by using an encrypted connection, protecting your personal information and other data while in transit or at rest.

However, a VPN is capable of much more.

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Specific Benefits of a VPN

What are the specific benefits of using a virtual private network and how crucial is it to have one? Using a VPN has the potential to greatly improve the security of your home or business network if correctly configured.

Safeguard your identity

Your data may be at risk anywhere between your device and your destination. You can eliminate this risk by encrypting your data and streaming your Internet connection through a VPN server. 

A VPN‘s most important feature is strong encryption, which is usually AES-256 paired with a secure protocol. This means that anyone intercepting traffic sent through the VPN will be unable to read it. It may be your ISP attempting to log your surfing history, or it could be a malicious human or program attempting to steal your information.

A VPN hides your IP address and any other personally identifiable information. You should be able to trust your VPN server more than your Internet service provider if you’ve chosen a good, zero-logging provider.

Avoid being tracked

It’s reasonable that many people object to ISPs and governments collecting and using consumers’ data for their own gain. So your data should be yours and yours alone.

Some ISPs may use your data for less noble purposes. While they already profit from your Internet subscription, some may supplement their income by selling personal information to advertisers. If you want to avoid targeted advertising so you can be more free to look for what you want without worrying about being tracked, a VPN can help.

Benefits of a VPN

While governments may have valid reasons in tracking illegal activity, if you’re an individual doing what is right and wanting to protect your data from prying eyes you need to consider using a VPN.

Protect your mobile devices

You can protect yourself both at home and while out and about by using a VPN on your mobile devices. Given that you’ll be connecting your phone to public Wi-Fi in case of an emergency, a VPN is a wise choice.

For people who are always on the go, smartphones and tablets are their staple companions. The need to protect data and online activity on them is all the more important. Trusted VPN services offer apps for Android and iOS. All you need to do is install the app on each device and set it for automatic connection. 

Many reputable VPNs allow up to 10 simultaneous connections, and in exceptional situations, unlimited connections. So, if you have many devices to protect, ensure your provider can offer secure connections to all your mobile devices at the same time.    

Fake (in a good way) your geographic location

Why would you want to spoof your GPS location? Certainly not for malicious purposes, but for streaming content that may not be available in places you’re traveling to. 

Videos or other media content available on your preferred streaming service may differ by region. As a result, if you’re traveling abroad, you might discover that your favorite Netflix show has disappeared.

With a VPN, you can connect to a server in the United States or in the country where you wish to watch. Your streaming provider will recognize you as being in that location and allow you to stream your favorite shows.

Another benefit of spoofing your geographic location is to shop for cheaper prices. Prices of similar products may vary from country to country. Using a VPN allows you to check prices from around the world. You’ll be able to see true prices that can save you a wad of cash.

Avoid data and bandwidth throttling

ISPs might limit data usage to improve Internet speed for select consumers. Data throttling occurs when you’ve used a specific amount of data and your Internet service provider slows it down as a response. Not only will your data be safe from prying eyes like ISPs and others, but you won’t be limited by a data cap if you use a VPN.

When traffic is heavy, ISPs may also slow down your Internet speed. A VPN can help. By encrypting your device’s internet traffic, it can prevent sluggishness. This hides the destination of your web traffic and prevents others on the same network from viewing it.

Be safe when connecting to public Wi-Fi

Another unsafe activity that may be avoided by using a VPN is using insecure Wi-Fi networks.

There’s a good chance your data is at risk if you use public Wi-Fi at cafés, supermarkets, public transportation, or bars.

If the connection you’re using is unencrypted and unsecured, there’s a good possibility that cyber thieves may notice your activity and use it to steal your personal data.

Criminals may intercept your connection via a man in the middle attack. This might include your social media and email logins, credit card information, and even your online banking login information.

If you wish to protect yourself against this, you should use a VPN, which encrypts all traffic to and from your device. Even if your connection is intercepted, the details will be completely unreadable by criminals.

Have secure access to home, workplace, school, and social media networks

VPNs are especially beneficial to travelers if they want to check on the networks they have left at home. 

When you’re traveling, your access to your company or workplace’s network may be limited geographically. Many organizations use VPNs, either formally or informally, to allow employees to access intranets and other data repositories.

Students also benefit from VPNs, particularly those moving home from their college campuses. For example, if you’re a student studying in the U.K. and coming home to Canada for the summer, you could use a VPN to access school work details you’ve left. Indeed, VPNs are enablers of secure remote learning

When you’re feeling homesick abroad, you’ll want to check on family and friends. A VPN keeps your online chats and voice calls private.

Free VPN vs Paid VPN

Which is right for you? It all depends on your level of need for privacy, security, and convenience.

It may be tempting to use a free VPN to avoid paying for a subscription, but doing so may compromise your security and privacy. Are there any situations in which you should use a free VPN? Is it always better to pay for a VPN? Is a paid VPN better?

VPNs - Free vs Paid

Let’s dive into what services each can or can’t offer.

Free VPN

A free VPN is one that does not charge you a monthly or annual subscription cost. But how could that be?

A VPN service relies on a massive network of servers that must be maintained on a regular basis. VPN companies need thousands of people and a substantial amount of money to operate this type of infrastructure.

Even though free VPN services do not charge for subscriptions, they must nonetheless generate revenue to sustain their operations. 

And how do they do this? Here are some of the ways:

  1. They track and may sell your browsing data

You may believe that no one is interested in what you do online. But you would be shocked at how valuable your information is to some data buyers. Users’ data is purchased by data brokers. They subsequently sell it to third-party advertisers for a commission. A database storing data on your browsing activities could be in high demand.

Free VPN providers can monitor which websites you visit, things you buy, time you spend online, and even the type of device you use. They can then raise money from selling your data without your permission.

  1. They launch an advertising blitz

Displaying advertising in the app is a popular way to monetize free VPN services. The service provider gets a cut each time a user clicks on the ad. Millions of clicks may be enough to sustain their operation.  

However, being constantly barraged with advertisements can be irritating, and closing them might be difficult at times. Worse, some advertisements may be harmful, infecting your device with malware.

  1. They egg you on to upgrade to a paid version

To entice clients, several free VPN providers limit users’ access to certain functions and impose data restrictions. They employ this technique to attract paying customers.

It’s suggested that you keep your VPN on all the time to stay safe. With a free VPN, you can run out of “free” data in a matter of days. As a result, you’ll either have to upgrade to a paid service or use your free VPN just on important occasions.

Downside of a free VPN

The limited features of a free VPN can result in:

Paid VPN

A paid VPN is a VPN service that requires subscription. The cost depends on the range of capabilities you need. Why is a paid version worth your money?

1. It guarantees strong privacy

Your session data should disappear when you disconnect from the Internet. And it will if you use a paid VPN. While some of the best VPN services store partial connection logs for troubleshooting purposes, none of them ever monitor or share your information.

2. It offers excellent security

The finest VPNs offer end-to-end AES 256-bit encryption. They also support a number of tunneling protocols, including OpenVPN, which is extremely secure.

Other extra capabilities that many VPNs provide are Split tunneling, Double VPN, kill switches, and DNS and IPv6 leak protection. Even if you lose connection to your VPN server, your data will not be compromised.

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3. You’re given various choices from an extensive server network 

Paid VPNs offer unrestricted access to their entire server networks, which are frequently massive and span the globe. They run their networks with meticulous management to sustain the trust of their customers.

As a result, you’ll have more geo-restricted services and websites available to you. The more servers, the better for unblocking sites and improving connection speed. 

4. It provides unlimited bandwidth and speed

You can use a premium VPN to watch online videos, participate in peer-to-peer activities, or play games. The more established providers also provide optimized servers for each of these activities, allowing you to avoid buffering and frustratingly slow downloads.

5. It allows you to enjoy other excellent features not found in a free VPN

Paid VPNs come with extra features that enhance your browsing experience while providing security.

For instance, NordVPN’s Dark Web Monitor will alert you if your credentials are leaked to the dark web. Threat Protection is another unique feature that protects your privacy and security by blocking third-party trackers and dangerous ads. It also blocks you from visiting malware-infected websites and checks your downloaded files for infection.

There are instances when you may be unable to access some websites and media in some countries. China, Iran, and Russia are among the countries that block social networking platforms, Western news sites, and numerous web pages and apps.

With a premium VPN, you can change your IP address and unrestricted access to any service you choose. It effectively enables you to unblock those restricted sites and use the Internet freely.

Our final thoughts. So, is it necessary to use a VPN? Definitely, yes. But which is right for you – a free VPN or a paid VPN?

A free VPN may well suit the bill if you’re looking for a VPN that can give brief protection for casual use — say checking your emails while on public Wi-Fi.

A premium solution is the way to go if you want solid privacy and security safeguards, powerful streaming performance, flexibility, and more features.

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