Whether you’re perpetually online or just an occasional internet user, you’ve probably come across the term “virtual private network,” or VPN. Over the last few years, it seems VPNs have skyrocketed in popularity, partly thanks to countless major tech YouTubers recommending the services. And while VPNs aren’t required for everyone, there are some key reasons most people could reap benefits from using a VPN service.
In the most basic terms, a VPN works by encrypting the data transmitted over your computer’s network connection. This encryption prevents others from deciphering the data being transmitted. Your encrypted internet traffic will then be routed through a protected server before it’s sent to the website you’re attempting to access. But how does this translate to your real life?
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First and foremost, using a VPN will enhance your online privacy. Of course, there’s no foolproof way to completely shield all your activities and personal information from prying eyes online but installing a reliable VPN is a simple and effective step towards minimizing potential risks. Additionally, a VPN can expand the horizon of your internet usage, thanks to its ability to mask your location. Intrigued? Keep reading for the top five top reasons you should consider using a VPN.
Reasons you should consider using a VPN
As mentioned above, using a VPN will enhance your privacy while online. The VPN you choose will encrypt your internet traffic, which makes it unreadable to anyone trying to access it. This is especially beneficial for people who often connect to public Wi-Fi networks, as it offers an extra layer of security while browsing the internet.
Using a VPN will also prevent the websites you’re visiting from seeing your IP address and will instead show an IP address assigned to you by your VPN service. These websites also won’t be able to tell where in the world you’re actually located since they will only be able to see the location of the server used by the VPN (which you can set from your end). All this means, that while using a VPN, you’ll be able to mask your actual location, IP address and online activities to some extent from those looking to pry, like your ISP, government or network administrators.
That said, it’s important to note that a VPN doesn’t completely protect you from things like phishing attacks or malware downloads. Nor will VPNs protect you from having your information revealed if a company with your data has a breach. A VPN isn’t magic and won’t completely wipe your online activities, so you should still be mindful of the sites you’re visiting, especially while using public connections.
Prevent ISP tracking
In the same privacy vein, your internet service provider can track and log your browsing history using your device’s IP address. If not properly secured, this information could be accessed by unscrupulous individuals. This information may also end up being sold to third-party advertisers so they can provide more targeted ads or even be given to the government. When you use a VPN, you are using the VPN’s remote server instead of your ISP’s server and your masked IP address prevents your provider from tracking you.
Note that while the sites you’re visiting will be hidden, the ISP will know that you’re using a VPN. If you want to hide the fact that you’re using a VPN, then you can use obfuscation (if offered by the VPN) to disguise your VPN traffic as regular HTTPS traffic.
Streaming without geo-restriction
For the most part, streaming is amazing. Being able to access all the music, TV and movies you want without having to download or search for less-than-legal torrents has significantly improved the way we entertain ourselves. However, some streaming services are either not available or offer limited content in some parts of the world. Netflix, for example, offers a much different set of TV shows in the UK, Canada and Japan than it does in the US. Likewise, changing your virtual location opens a wider range of sports viewing options, too.
Since a VPN masks your IP address and exact location, essentially spoofing the location of your local server to make it appear elsewhere, you have the option to access streaming services that aren’t usually available in your country. Or if you’re a frequent traveler, you’ll benefit from using a VPN to keep your streaming experience the same no matter where you go.
It’s worth noting here that not all VPNs are created equally. Some VPNs may not be able to bypass all geo-restrictions, so you may need to do a bit of research. (CNET’s VPN reviews test how well VPNs work in this regard with the major video streaming services.)
It’s 2023 but believe it or not, there are still many countries where government officials can dictate the websites being visited by its citizens. The list includes countries like Russia, Iran and China, and these rules can restrict anything from popular social media sites to news websites. That means if you’re living in these countries or visiting there, you won’t be able to freely browse restricted sites from your devices without a good VPN.
The location spoofing offered by VPN services will come in handy here, offering access to restricted sites as well as communications options that might also be banned, such as WhatsApp, Instagram and more. Just be cognizant of the fact that using a VPN may be illegal in those locations.
Prevent data/bandwidth throttling
Sometimes while browsing the internet, you may experience an unexplainable drop in speeds. A sudden drop in your internet speed can lead to buffering of your favorite show or cause an interruption while in an important Zoom meeting. This usually happens when your ISP starts throttling your bandwidth to manage network congestion. Throttling is sometimes implemented for certain websites and services, so if your internet provider can’t see your online activities then it may pass over throttling your connection – though, again, obfuscation may be helpful here.
Long story short
A VPN is useful to add to your arsenal of internet tools, but it’s not a magical wand that’ll keep you from getting hacked or having your data leaked. If you’re looking for a good VPN, we’ve tested quite a few and compiled a list of the best VPNs available. It’s truly never been easier to get started with a VPN. And while most free VPNs should be avoided, most of the top brands offer a free trial period, so you can try before you commit to buying. It’s a small price to pay if you need that additional peace of mind — or just a broader set of streaming media options.