Do I Really Need a VPN?
VPN or Virtual Private Network provides you with a personalized and secure connection to ensure your online activity is kept private.
A VPN encrypts your internet connection by changing your IP address. It also hides the data you send over, including bank details when you’re shopping online and other private information.
Why using a VPN is a good idea
You may think that a VPN is just a fancy add-on to your existing internet security tools. You already have antivirus protection so you should be safe, right?
In today’s browsing landscape, a VPN is a ‘must-have’, not just a ‘nice-to-have’. Here are some of the key benefits of having a VPN:
- It protects your data. Information you send online will be encrypted by a VPN. When a VPN does this, it turns your personal information, such as online shopping payment details, into a secret message or code. Any hackers attempting to spy on you will only see this code and won’t be able to interpret it. The only other entity capable of reading the secret message is the business you’re transacting with - only they have the code breaker.
- It makes your IP address anonymous. One of the primary functions of a VPN is to mask your IP address. This is like your home address on the World Wide Web and an important element in your online privacy. If cybercriminals know your IP address, they can start to connect other data to you, such as your personal information, online browsing activity, and more.
- It protects you from identity theft and other cybercrimes. Identity theft and other online scams continue to loom over us like cybercrime bogeymen that just won’t go away. In fact, in 2018, almost 30% of all US internet users tried to avoid conducting financial transactions online because of this fear. However, this worry shouldn’t stop us from living our best online life. By masking your private information and encrypting your data, a VPN is effective in protecting you from identity theft and other crimes.
Now that we have a top-level understanding, let’s dive a bit deeper into some specific situations where you might want to call on the services of a VPN provider.
Why should I use a VPN while on public Wi-Fi?
- Public Wi-Fi is not safe. Do you believe that free Wi-Fi is safe? If you see a trusted brand or a seemingly logical hotspot name like “Airport Wi-FI”, that should be fine, right? The answer is, not always. Did you know that hackers can trick people into connecting to their hotspot by copying the names of well-known hotspot providers like Boingo? Yup, the same Boingo used by millions of people in major airports like JFK, Beijing, and Dubai. Once you’re in, scammers can snoop on you and intercept your data.
- Secure your files when working remotely. Have you ever accessed or sent work files using free Wi-Fi in a coffee shop or co-working space? How can you know for sure that your company data is secure? A VPN encrypts whatever you send online so you can be confident that sensitive company information and files remain safe.
- Bypass geo-restrictions. If you want to watch videos or visit websites unavailable in your region, since having a VPN masks your IP address, you can now freely access them!
- Avoid being targeted by advertisements. Have you ever read the Terms & Conditions of the public Wi-Fi you’re connecting to? Many state that any information you send online can be used for marketing purposes by the company providing access. Some people might be okay with that, but if you want to avoid those pesky ads, then a VPN can hide your preferences online.
Why should I use a VPN when I’m traveling
A VPN is a traveler’s best friend with multiple benefits including:
- Booking cheaper tickets. Believe it or not but some airline websites jack up seat prices if they see that you’re booking from an economically rich country. So if you’re from the US, UK, Canada, Japan, or other developed nations, chances are you’ll be facing a bit of price discrimination. Luckily, VPNs mask your location so you can buy your plane tickets fair and square.
- Accessing services and websites restricted in other countries. Some regions have strict government policies and censorship. If you want to travel in countries like China, say goodbye to Google and Facebook. If you need to access them, you’ll definitely need a VPN.
- Using the streaming services you normally have at home. Traveling messes up the geo-restrictions of our favorite websites and apps, like Netflix. If you’re a sports fan, you may also have issues logging into your usual streaming apps when you change regions. With a VPN, you can rest easy that you will get the same access you have back home.
Surely I don’t really need to use a VPN at home, though?
We know what you’re thinking. If you don’t have anything to hide, why use a VPN? You see, encrypting the information you send online is not just for political dissidents and privacy activists. Online privacy is your right and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
The truth is, even if you’re the type of person who is really careful, avoids suspicious websites, and consistently updates their software, nothing is really 100% safe on the internet.
Ideally, the internet should be free and open. This is the principle of net neutrality. It has been around since 2015 and it prohibits internet service providers like AT&T and Verizon from speeding up or slowing down traffic in favor of a business. Under net neutrality, they are also not allowed to block apps, websites, or content you may want to access.
Can you imagine if your internet was blatantly discriminating against one streaming service over another? That would mean that even if you prefer Streaming Service A, you may be tempted to switch to Streaming Service B because it’s loading faster, (no) thanks to your internet provider.
And that’s not even the worst bit. There’s also a possibility that your internet provider is reselling your browsing history, albeit anonymized, to advertisers.
So unless you don’t mind your internet service provider taking advantage of your data or influencing your decisions online, then you could definitely use a VPN.
Yikes! Do I need a VPN on my phone, too?
Do you know how many times you use your phone a day? Can you think of how many personal files you keep on your phone? Photos? Videos?
And would you say that you usually connect to public Wi-Fi more frequently on your phone than on your desktop? Can you now see why you may need a VPN for your phone too?
Other reasons to use a VPN
Students can bypass university restrictions. A student living on campus may feel constricted by school rules that only allow them to visit educational sites. With a VPN, school-life balance is back and they don’t need to go outside the school to access other websites.
Gamers get unrestricted access. If you enjoy online gaming, there are some websites that limit your scope of play, based on your IP address. For example, you may not be allowed to access some content or connect to a multiplayer game. With a VPN, you can bypass these restrictions and play to your heart’s content.
The limitations of using a VPN
At this stage, you may be thinking a VPN sounds like a wonder product. But let’s be realistic. Like all other cybersecurity software, VPNs will always be a work in progress. The current limitations may not be deal-breakers, but are always good to be aware of:
- You can still be tracked using cookies. Can website cookies track you when you use a VPN? The answer is yes, because your browsing activity prior to using a VPN can still be connected to you. Security experts recommend using different browsers in incognito mode on top of your VPN. A high-quality VPN can minimize your exposure to threats and security vulnerabilities but it has to be compatible with different browsers.
- They don’t protect you from viruses. A VPN’s main job is not to shield you from viruses. That’s an antivirus’ job. If you’re recklessly downloading attachments or even - gasp! - illegal torrents, then you shouldn’t blame your VPN for any resulting infection.
- You are still liable for illegal transactions you make when using a VPN. So if you have a VPN, you get to hide your activities, right? Well, that’s correct but if you’re involved in illegal activity, that doesn’t mean you won’t be liable for it. (And the cyber police are getting pretty good these days too.) A VPN may encrypt your activities but this doesn’t give you the immunity nor the right to make illegal transactions online. It’s similar to how the uncle of a famous superhero we all know and love once said: “With great power comes great responsibility!”
- Most streaming services have become more savvy and will block most VPNs. Yes, Netflix and other streaming websites can see if you’re using a VPN. This is because streaming services have different licensing agreements with studios and content distributors from different parts of the world.
- Reduced speed. Because VPNs encrypt the data you send online, imagine your data going through several tunnels so it remains hidden. This may reduce your internet speed.
- Not all VPNs are truly “private”. Is free VPN really free? In some cases, maybe not. We don’t want to name names but there are VPN providers out there who can spy on your data, then sell it back to third parties. This is especially true of “free” VPNs, so do your due diligence and check the terms of service carefully.
What to look for in your VPN service
How do you know if you’re getting the most out of your VPN? Here are several pointers:
- Be vigilant when it comes to using free VPNs. If you’re using a free VPN, what you must know about them is that they use open networks. This simply means that while they are rerouting your traffic, it’s not completely secure. Your privacy can still be compromised and you may continue to receive ads based on your browsing history.
- Find out the number of servers for your provider and the geographic diversity of the server locations. A good indication of a reliable VPN service is that the provider has many servers scattered across the globe. This means there are more locations able to hide your IP address. Having only a few servers also impacts the VPN’s quality, especially its speed.
- Does your provider have reliable customer support? The point of having an additional layer of protection like a VPN is to put your mind at ease. So it only follows that your provider should be freely available to provide you with support should you encounter any issues or need help to set up.
- Make sure your VPN supports your devices. Not all VPNs work on all types of laptops and phones. It’s important to do your research and find one that is compatible with your devices.
- Check if your VPN logs your online activity. We’re sure that one of the reasons you want to use a VPN is so no one can track your activities. Unfortunately, some VPN providers store details of your online history. That’s why it’s very important to read the fine print before signing up.
- Does your VPN come with add-ons? Some VPN services like Clario bundle their offering with anti-malware scanners to protect you from viruses. The best part about this is how it offers you all-round protection so you can sit down, relax, and surf the web with the peace of mind you deserve!