The Advantages Of Using A VPN 

By now we’ve all heard about virtual private networks (VPNs). The big providers are taking up ad space on everything from modest YouTube channels to major sporting events. If you want privacy online, they seem to be the ideal solution. 

However, to help you determine whether these services are worth the investment, let’s cut through the hype and take a closer look at how they work. What do they do, what don’t they do, and what are their real advantages?

Encryption

A VPN’s main advantage is encryption, which helps protect your privacy on several levels. A VPN connection can:

  • Prevent data being intercepted on unsecured networks.
  • Hide your browsing history from ISPs and network admins.
  • Change your IP address and visible location.
  • Limit web tracking.

Most people usually connect to the internet via an ISP with a direct line between their device and the sites and apps they visit. Data is openly sent back and forth, and the user’s internet activity is recognized by a unique IP address tied to their geographic location.

A VPN introduces a remote server into the mix, which acts as an intermediary between your device and the web. First, an encrypted connection to the server is established, which is often described as a tunnel. Then, anything you send out to the wider internet passes through the tunnel before reaching its destination. Similarly, all data received from the internet goes through the server, then back to you.

This is all handled in the background by a convenient app that you turn on and off. 

The encryption is such that it prevents ISPs and network admins from accessing your browsing history. When you use an unsecured and/or public Wi-Fi spot, your data is also protected from hackers and other malicious actors from interception. Meanwhile, the sites and apps you access only see the VPN server’s IP as the originator of the traffic, not your real IP. 

On its own, this does not hide info such as the type of device or browser you are using. However, since your IP address is the unique identifier, it does hide the immediate link between you and said info. It’s the ability to change your visible IP that has become one of the biggest advantages to consumers. By connecting to a VPN server in a specific location, streaming platforms, regional news sites, and other services are fooled into granting you access to geo-restricted content. E.g., the US version of Netflix when you are in Europe. 

Improved Privacy, Not Complete Anonymity

Despite these benefits, a VPN does not make you completely safe or anonymous online and it’s important to understand the limitations. Unless the service itself has a no-logs policy and lets you pay in crypto, there’s a paper trail of your purchase from the beginning. Moreover, your social media and other online accounts still know who you are.

Advertisers can track you through cookies and browser fingerprinting, even if your location and personal identity is unknown. 

While your internet provider can no longer block sites or throttle speeds based on what you access because it can’t see it, your personal details are on record and the amount of bandwidth you use can still be logged. In fact, savvy ISPs and governments can make an educated guess that you are using a VPN and act accordingly if it’s against the rules. In countries where the internet is heavily censored, it is not uncommon for standard VPN connections to fail.

Bypass Censorship 

This is where some of the more advanced settings offered by consumer VPNs prove their worth. Special stealth protocols and obfuscated servers can make it appear like all your traffic is regular web traffic, hiding that you are using a VPN. Additionally, features like multi-hop or double VPN route traffic through more than one server. Onion over VPN combines a single VPN connection with the Tor network, consisting of thousands of other servers run by volunteers.

This is useful for activists, journalists, and citizens trying to bypass strict government censorship, as well as those trying to get around the content filtering on an overbearing network. The trade-off is reduced speed, which makes these features less practical for the average user.  

Conclusion

VPNs are not the silver bullet that will make you invincible on the internet, but they’re a helpful addition to a broader security and privacy approach. This might include separate antivirus software, phishing prevention, and advanced ad-blocking. Find a good VPN for your specific need, such as bypassing region-blocking or censors, and they’re unbeatable. 

Milos Djordjevic is a privacy and security expert at VPNCentral

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