As the world grows increasingly more connected thanks to the internet, the issue of privacy gets into the spotlight. We are constantly exchanging information over the internet, and our personal information is out there for the taking. Imagine everyone having access to your private life, how would that make you feel?
There are forces arrayed against our privacy, both companies and hackers trying to gather our personal information for their uses, and our privacy is being invaded. A good way to stay secure is to use a Virtual Private Network, also known as VPN. Apart from keeping you safe while browsing, it also has a few other useful uses that we will explore in this article.
What Does a VPN do?
A VPN, or Virtual Private Network, allows you to securely connect to another network over the internet. It creates a secure connection that keeps your personal information safe. Simply put, it connects your PC/Tablet/Phone to another computer (server) somewhere in the world and allows you to browse the internet using that PC’s connection. Your network traffic is sent over a secure connection using the VPN, which enables you to access its resources.
In short, a VPN forwards your requests to the internet, and then forwards the website’s response back to you through the secure connection. Your information will appear as if you’re browsing from that server instead of your own device. VPNs have multiple benefits that we will discuss in-depth shortly.
VPNs are used to shield your browsing activity, access region-restricted websites, protect you while torrenting, or allow you to watch streaming media such as Netflix.
Benefits of Using a VPN
Users who decide to use VPN can enjoy various features allowing them to browse freely & more securely. Using a Virtual Private Network gives you a certain level of freedom that can only be achieved using a VPN. Benefits of using a VPN include:
- Protection on untrustworthy Wi-Fi hotspots
- Hiding your browser activity from your local network & ISP
- Accessing geo-blocked websites
- Bypassing internet censorship
- Download files from the internet
- Access to business or home networks while traveling
Protection on untrustworthy Wi-Fi hotspots
When your device connects to a Wi-Fi hotspot, the hotspot admins can get access to some of your personal information. Connecting to public networks is never completely safe, and you never know who might be trying to steal your information. Most public networks, such as the ones you may find at Starbucks, are deemed safe. However, you never know what’s happening behind the scenes. Hackers often use public Wi-Fi hotspots to steal information, and a good way to stay protected is to connect using a VPN.
It’s getting harder to stay anonymous with each day, as websites trying to gather your personal information such as your location. Having anonymity should be your choice, and only yours. If you prefer not to have your personal information (like your location) known, consider using a VPN to change your location and gain at least anonymity in a world that’s getting increasingly more centered against an individual.
Hiding your browser activity from your ISP
Government spying on its people is such a cliche thing to say, but it’s happening. There are two groups that are often labeled as enemies of free speech and privacy — your ISP & the NSA. Multiple reports showed that national surveillance agencies had direct access to your activities on the internet, so you might want to consider encrypting your data.
The battle for net neutrality is lost, and now we know for sure that your ISP is using your information to make money. While it’s true that most major companies like Facebook & Google are already using your information, you still have a choice to quit using those services. However, it’s a different story with your internet service provider, and there’s not much you can do here. A VPN can offer some protection to help encrypt your online activity and data.
Accessing geo-restricted websites
If you are living in the US, you probably didn’t cross paths with a geo-restricted website unless you were traveling. However, some users from countries such as China, Iran, Russia, and many others certainly have. In short, geo-restricted websites are sites that are blocked for certain countries for many reasons, including a lack of service, international laws, and more. Changing your location with a VPN can help you get access to these geo-restricted websites, whether you’re traveling away from the US, or living in one of those geo-blocked countries.
Bypassing internet censorship
Internet censorship is a huge deal for some countries. You might have heard of the infamous Great Firewall of China, which blocks many popular international websites for its users. There’s a lot of internet censorship going around in countries all around the world, and you can bypass it with a decent VPN provider.
Download files from the internet
It’s no secret that most of us have at least once tried to download specific files from the internet. Every day, thousands of people are downloading their favorite movies, tv shows, video games, software, without paying for any of it. Of course, this is not how it’s supposed to work — after all, they want you to spend money on these things.
Some people are torrenting to download legal files quickly, and that’s okay. However, your ISP might be interfering with this, slowing down your download speed, which can be fixed using a VPN. You may also get in trouble for downloading certain files from the internet. While we do not encourage illegal file downloading, VPNs can be used to hide your tracks, and also speed up the process if necessary.
Access to business or home networks while traveling
The original use for VPNs was actually to have access to business networks while you’re away. So, it’s not surprising that you can still use VPN to get access to your files while away from your home or business, and all it takes is a quick set up.
Do You Need a VPN?
If you are someone who values privacy, using a VPN is a no-brainer choice. Truth be told, you don’t necessarily need a VPN for your daily online operations, however, with all of the things we’ve discussed so far, you can see how VPN could keep your safe and protected. Using a VPN will get rid of your anxieties, and you won’t have to worry about protection.
There are many reasons why you might consider using a VPN:
- You want to stay anonymous and protect your private information
- You want to stay safe on public Wi-Fi
- You want to download files faster & safer
- When you’re traveling to geo-restricted locations
- When you want to access internal networks from a remote location
- When you’re a political dissident
As we can see, there are many reasons to use a VPN, so just pick one and get started.
Disadvantages of Using a VPN
We’ve talked about the many benefits that VPNs offer, but it’s also worth mentioning some of the disadvantages. Switching to a decent VPN will cost money, as the free versions usually don’t offer enough protection. As for the costs, most providers offer monthly plans for around $10/month, yearly plans hovering between $3 to $5/month, and some even offer lifetime access for a one-time payment of $150.
Apart from the costs, a significant disadvantage with most VPNs seems to be the reduction in browsing speeds. VPNs are known to cause latency, and some users are reporting significant drops in streaming speeds. However, this can be somewhat mitigated by choosing a server closer to your location, which creates less lag. A decrease in speed is not that big of a deal with premium providers, and it usually works just fine for day-to-day operations.
Some providers also got caught keeping logs and spying on their users, and you don’t want that to happen. Make sure you carefully explore the company’s Terms of Service to prevent this from happening. Lastly, it’s a good idea to choose a VPN that offers private networks that allow users to browse anonymously. VPNs do have a few disadvantages, but these can easily be mitigated or avoided.
All things considered, VPN is a great product, and everyone should consider using one.