Many security blogs and experts around the web are encouraging the use of virtual private networks these days. While their ability to improve people’s digital privacy and security is lauded, VPNs also provide many other benefits. But does everyone really need to have a VPN on hand every time they go online?
Here’s a look at why people use VPNs and what advantages they offer for those who are considering getting one.
What is a VPN, and How Does It Work?
Imagine a VPN as a secure tunnel that network traffic travels through. This tunnel encloses the connection from a device and diverts it to a secure server in a different location. Users choose which server location they want to connect to. Then, for all intents and purposes, websites and other third-parties will think the person is browsing from that location.
In addition to hiding a user’s IP address, VPNs secure their connections in that tunnel through encryption. This means that no one else will be able to intercept the information their web traffic is sending or receiving through the tunnel. Not even their ISP.
What a VPN Cannot Do
When it comes to privacy, VPNs are great against passive surveillance from ISPs, websites, and hackers. But the concept of online anonymity is extremely complicated, more so than can be comfortably unpacked here.
This technology might only be marginally helpful to those who live in countries where they censor the internet. There’s no guarantee that it will work or that their government won’t notice.
Similarly, someone who wants to evade active detection would need to take additional steps. A journalist uploading files from random cafes might be fine with just a VPN, but an active protester won’t be.
5 Reasons to Install a VPN
1. Better Security
All of a person’s online data is encrypted when they use a VPN. That goes for whether they’re browsing on Chrome or using a banking app. Many freelancers or remote workers also need to use a VPN to protect confidential work or client data in transit.
It keeps the snoopers out on more than one device, depending on where it’s installed. For instance, people who have smart cameras in their homes can prevent hackers from seeing everything by installing a VPN on the router.
2. Protection From Public WiFi
Connecting to any public WiFi hotspot is risky. Hackers can intercept people’s connections and steal anything they type into a website or send over the internet. They can also redirect people to fake websites. Some even go as far as to set up their fake WiFi spots.
VPNs protect against this with their strong encryption algorithms. That protective tunnel keeps hackers from seizing and redirecting the connection. The encryption means that, even if they find information to steal, it will be a scrambled mess that they can’t decipher.
3. Increased Privacy
Note how this does not mean complete online privacy. VPN technology makes it easy to avoid surface surveillance from companies, governments, and malicious parties. Browsers, websites, and social media are set up to gather information – hence the need for more regulation like the GDPR.
While it isn’t illegal, it is extremely invasive. Big data is a valuable currency, and the information these corporations gather is sold and shared around. That data could be used to hurt people – i.e., to drive up their insurance. It can also be stolen through data breaches.
Thus more control over personal privacy and what gets shared online is a good thing – which is where VPNs come in. Companies will still gather data, but they won’t be linked to a person’s IP address or their identity. So long as they don’t log in anywhere during that session, of course.
4. Access to Geo-Blocked Content
This is one of the biggest reasons why the search term “how to hide my IP address” has become so popular. People usually want to find a way to access blocked videos, streaming libraries, or music. The resulting answers are always some variation on how to get a VPN.
That’s because VPNs let people change their “location” through their IP address by selecting a new one. As explained above, this is achieved by connecting to a VPN server in a different country.
5. Cheaper Deals When Shopping or Booking Online
Because VPNs allow IP address changes, people can pretend they’re shopping from anywhere. This prevents a phenomenon called digital profiling, which some companies use to determine how much to charge someone.
For instance, airfare websites will charge more depending on where someone is from and what they’re interested in (more expensive stuff/hobbies). Some will even charge more depending on how often a person has searched a flight route (how badly they supposedly want it).
When someone changes their IP address to a VPN server, companies have little pre-existing information to go on and charge lower prices.
Anyone who recognizes a need for any or all of these advantages VPNs offer has a good enough reason to get one. VPN subscriptions are generally inexpensive enough that the decision shouldn’t be a hard one. Just stick with the paid options, though, as free VPNs aren’t considered trustworthy or stable.