VPNs have become an essential online privacy and security app. With talk of company trackers, government surveillance, and hackers, how can a VPN protect us? And what exactly do we need protection from in this online world?
Online privacy has become a major concern, which is what initially made VPNs so attractive. Major companies like Google, Facebook, and Amazon have all been accused of abusing user data to enable mass surveillance, which means that parts of your identity are continuously being collected online.
Then there is the privacy issue with ISPs. You may not know this, but ISPs track your online behavior, like your searches and the websites you visit. They then sell it to advertisers and, if asked, to governments and authorities, in which case you could inadvertently end up on a government watchlist. Private browsing modes won’t help you much — those only erase your history from the device. So, your ISP can still see every single site you visit as well as everything you search for. This constant tracking also burdens you with more ads online, since your data is shared with advertisers, who are then able to target you more precisely.
This lack of personal privacy online also affects our security. Since internet connections are unencrypted by default, a hacker only has to intercept your home router to steal your information by infecting all of your connected devices.
Your personal information can also get stolen when you’re connected to public Wi-Fi since it’s often unencrypted. This means that the people who own that Wi-Fi, be it a hotel, airport, library, or coffee shop, can see everything you’re doing online. And so can the hackers sitting nearby, especially since they’re known to hang out near public Wi-Fi spots.
There are various ways hackers can steal your data while you’re connected to unsecured Wi-Fi:
- They could intercept the connection and take control of your devices while you’re online.
- If any of your apps aren’t secure or recently updated, they can exploit a bug to find a backdoor and enter your device that way.
- They can intercept your connection to send you a phishing message, which, when clicked on, downloads malware like spyware or trojans onto your device without you even knowing.
As you can see, it’s getting harder to dodge dangers online. Whether your concern is privacy or protecting yourself against hackers, a VPN could help with both.
How a VPN Protects Your Online Activities ?
A VPN (a virtual private network) works by encrypting all of your online traffic, making you invisible online. Your data is sent through the VPN’s encrypted servers instead of the unencrypted ones owned by your ISP. So, neither your ISP nor hackers (who often scour for unencrypted networks) will be able to see your activity online. And, because VPNs also hide your IP address (which is used to identify your device and its location), nothing can be traced back to you personally.
Since your traffic is encrypted with a VPN, you’re now also safe on public Wi-Fi. This is because your data can’t be intercepted by hackers, and, even if it was, it would be unreadable since encryption turns your traffic into gibberish. This is great news if you’re traveling and often find yourself connecting to airport or hotel Wi-Fi, or if you work from a cafe, the gym, or any other public place.
Other Uses for a VPN
VPNs are designed for the ultimate privacy and security, but there are also other benefits of using a VPN, like being able to change your virtual location and, in some cases, giving you a faster connection.
Unlock new shows
Changing your location helps unlock foreign content and get cheaper shopping deals. All you have to do is select a server to connect to from anywhere in the world. If you want to watch BBC iPlayer in Spain, simply connect to a server in Spain, or, if certain sites are banned where you live, connect to a server elsewhere, and you should be able to bypass the restriction.
Get cheaper flights
You can also change your location to get cheaper flights and shopping deals. For instance, if you’re traveling and need to book a flight ahead from Italy to France, connecting to a server in Italy should lower the price. This is because websites change their prices depending on where the customer is based. You can do the same to get cheaper shopping deals too. Websites often hike their prices up for returning customers, which is often the case for holiday sites. But, because a VPN stops trackers, websites won’t know how many times you’ve visited their site.
Speed up your internet
Theoretically, a VPN will give you some lag because the encryption process is complex. However, that doesn’t apply if your ISP is deliberately slowing down your internet. This is known as bandwidth throttling. Even if you pay extra for unlimited bandwidth, there comes a point where ISPs have no choice but to slow down users to offer everyone the same speeds. Bandwidth throttling usually happens during online rush hours — in the evenings, for instance, or during a pandemic, when the majority of the world are living their lives online.
To slow you down, your ISP has to know how much data you’re consuming, which they determine by looking at what you’re doing online. If you’re gaming or streaming a lot, for example, that consumes large amounts of data, which could mean you’re more likely to be bandwidth throttled. When you use a VPN, it hides your activity from your ISP, so they won’t be able to slow you down.
Most VPNs have apps for laptops, smartphones, PCs, and TVs, so you can experience all the benefits on each of your devices. Protecting your privacy used to be a matter of principle. But, with online surveillance scandals surfacing every day and over half of our most valuable assets being digital, using a VPN is a necessity for keeping yourself safe.