Are VPNs as Safe as We Think?


VPNs help protect your private information while you browse the web. However, just how safe are they?

VPNs Add a Layer of Security to your Connectivity

Browsing the web opens you up to a world of online threats. One of the most widespread threats is software geared towards invading your privacy. Your data is vulnerable when you’re surfing the internet. It really doesn’t take much for someone to monitor your location and online activity.

What is a VPN and how does it work?

A Virtual Private Network (VPN) adds a layer of online security to your private data. VPNs mask your internet protocol (IP) address and create encrypted ‘data tunnels’ for your data to pass through.

These tunnels provide a secure and encrypted connection from your local network to an exit node in another location. Nodes are spread across the globe serving as exit and entry points for your data. Ultimately, making your online activity and location virtually untraceable.

Why would I need a VPN?

VPNs hide your location and encrypt your browsing history. This is especially useful if you often connect to free public Wi-Fi networks. Other users on the same Wi-Fi network and your internet service provider could keep a record of your browsing history.

This might not seem like a big deal at first. However, having a record of your browsing history could also mean having records of your private emails; your e-banking information; or even credit card information you used to purchase something while you were outside.

A VPN encrypts your information and sends it off to a node in another location. This makes it significantly more difficult for anyone to monitor your browsing. Also, by placing nodes around the world, VPNs also allow you to mask your IP address as if you were in another location.

Being able to mask your IP address with one in another country has its own added benefits. Certain streaming services only allow access to some countries. By using an IP address of one of these countries, you can stream your favorite shows, too.

On a final note, VPNs are also great if you’re in a country like China or Saudi Arabia where the government limits internet usage. You shouldn’t be expected to live without the ease of searching on platforms like Google or YouTube. It’s better to use a VPN and mask your IP address as though you were browsing from Los Angeles or Singapore.

How are VPNs NOT safe?

Most paid VPNs are reliable and worth having to protect your privacy. Nevertheless, free VPNs often do the opposite of what you would want. It’s a good rule of thumb to remember that nothing is truly free.

If you choose a free VPN service because you’d like to have a VPN but can’t afford a paid one, you might be worse off than without one at all. Once you give access to your computer to an unknown VPN, they can use your IP address and have access to your browsing activity.

All the things you’re trying to avoid would now be possible for whoever owns that VPN. Not only could they keep track of your private information, but they can use your IP as a node for their own system. Therefore, if anyone on their services browses illegal things, it could potentially be traced back to your computer, not theirs.

Companies have to keep the lights on

You can’t be too upset at free VPNs for selling your data, Facebook does it too. Companies can’t actually operate for free. They have to sell something in order to pay their staff and equipment. That’s why a free VPN would have a high incentive to either sell your data to third parties or use your connection for their other clients.

According to an investigation by TOP10VPN, 59% of the VPNs studied were Chinese. This is likely because there is a high demand to get over the “Great Firewall of China.” However, they are still illegal in China. Meaning, if the government is allowing these to run, it’s likely they have access to a backdoor from which they can access client data.

Further, in the same investigation, it was found that 86% of the free VPNs had serious privacy policy flaws. This included sharing private client information with third parties. Most of these third parties are advertisers. Nevertheless, what’s to stop them from selling it to anyone willing to pay the right price?

At the end of the day, when you choose a free VPN service, you’ll still pay the price.

Should I use a VPN?

In spite of these potential flaws with free VPNs, it’s still advisable that you opt to use a VPN service to encrypt your data and remain anonymous. It’s just a matter of ensuring the VPN you choose to use is safe and reliable. In our modern day, privacy is a luxury.

Don’t be afraid to spend on a good quality VPN! Remember that paid-for services make money by keeping the highest standards of quality. If you’re paying for something, and it’s working fantastically, you’ll likely renew your subscription. If you’re not paying, then ask yourself, “how are they keeping the lights on?”

Still, before choosing the right VPN for you, you should do your research. A few things to keep in mind when finding a reliable VPN are:

  • Connection Speed – Make sure the VPN you choose doesn’t affect your speed. Some can make your internet run slower, and this will quickly become inconvenient.
  • Privacy Policy – First, make sure they have one! You’d be surprised how many don’t. Then, make sure they don’t log your data, that would really defeat the purpose.
  • Servers – Make sure they have a wide selection of locations. This way, you have more options for streaming services and for switching around.
  • Kill Switch – A kill switch automatically cuts access to the internet if your VPN is having trouble connecting. This way, you won’t accidentally give away any of your data while the VPN is disconnected.
  • Customer Service – Problems arise, and at the wrong time can be quite frustrating. Make sure the service you choose has a customer support team that can quickly get back to you and help resolve your issue.

There are a few other things you might want to look into like the type of encryption they use and some customer reviews. Thankfully there are countless resources online that can help you on your search.

Stay safe out there

Overall, safe cyber security practices are a long-term game, particularly as we shift more toward remote work and an overall online existence. In the same way we’re migrating more toward an online presence, you should be prepared. It’s not enough to “play it by ear.”

If you’re not occasionally researching the latest methods to keep your data private, you might already be leaking sensitive information about yourself. The internet is an ocean of information and threats. Play it safe, don’t fall victim to anyone’s scam or phishing page.

Finally, remember that having a VPN isn’t a “cure all.” It is not a replacement for a firewall or an anti-virus software, instead it can be used with them to enhance your security profile.

A VPN helps maintain your IP address masked and encrypts your data as best as it can, but it’s still not perfect. One wrong move, one wrong email opened, one wrong banner ad clicked. Even when you’re taking all the correct steps remember that vulnerabilities still exist. All it takes is one wrong move, so stay safe out there!

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