Do I Need a VPN to Protect My Privacy?
First… What the Heck Is a VPN?
What is a VPN, you ask? “VPN” is an acronym for Virtual Private Network. A VPN helps protect your data by creating encryption between your connection and sites you visit. This encryption keeps prying eyes away from your private data, can help you avoid ISP throttling, and even can keep you from being fired. (Really!)
For anyone who is security minded (and that should be all of us), a VPN can enhance your privacy. Just remember that no VPN is 100% secure.
Here’s how a VPN works.
VPNs Create An Encrypted Tunnel to Protect Your Data
Imagine if you were driving a car into a tunnel. Once you enter the tunnel, no one can see that you were inside.
Instead of hiding your data in a physical tunnel, a VPN uses encryption to hide your data. Once you’ve connected to a VPN, your ISP provider can’t see your data on the internet. This is because your activity appears to come from the IP address of your VPN service, so (theoretically at least) it can’t be traced back to you. In other words, this encryption protects your data against interception.
When you’re away from home, it’s even more important to use a VPN service to protect sensitive data.
VPNs: A Travel Necessity
When you connect to an unsecured public network, such you’d find in a hotel, coffee shop, library, or airport, your data is at great risk of being intercepted by sketchy individuals. What is particularly dangerous is that it’s easy for bad actors to spoof the location of the network you think you’re connecting through.
Hackers often name networks after hotels and businesses to lull customers into a sense of false security. Just because a network is named “XYZ_Hotel” doesn’t mean that you are connecting to the hotel’s real WiFi network! If you make an online purchase or sign into your banking when you’re connected to one of these unsecured networks, thieves can steal your credit card information, or hack your bank account.
What Kind of Information Are You Revealing?
And even if you don’t sign into a bank account or use a credit card in a session, you never know what kind of personal data you might be revealing. You might think you’re you’re safe because you’re alone in that coffee shop. The reality is some creep could be sitting out in the parking lot just waiting to intercept sensitive data.
Here’s something else to think about. You put your employer’s data at risk by working on an unsecured network (and that usually ends up badly. As in FIRED.)
As important as it is to use a VPN when you’re away from home, there is another great benefit of a VPN as well.
Avoid ISP Throttling With a VPN
Many ISPs throttle upload and download speeds after users reach data thresholds. Connecting to the internet through a VPN hides your IP address so your data isn’t throttled. And here’s another reason to use a VPN. Have you ever tried to watch a video and received the annoying message, “Video not available in your country?”
Most VPN services allow you to choose servers based in different countries to connect through. This makes it look like you’re viewing from a permitted country. This can also be handy if you’re travelling in a country that restricts internet access, like Cuba.
So it’s clear there are massive benefits from using a VPN connection, both in terms of data protection and avoiding throttling. But is it worth paying for a VPN, or is a free service good enough?
Are Free VPNs as Good as Paid VPN Services?
The old saying “You get what you pay for” certainly applies to free VPNs. Many have slow connections, show ads before you can connect, and may log and sell your user data. Even worse? Going through free VPNs can expose your machine to Trojans and malware.
Malwarebytes.com features a horrific tale of a fake VPN service that served up a keylogger (a program that records your keystrokes as you type to steal your passwords.) Keyloggers are only the tip of the iceberg of what you could be exposing yourself to with free VPNs. Recently, ZDNet.com reported that researchers at Kaspersky Lab have uncovered “multiple malicious cryptocurrency-mining applications distributed via the Google Play store, with the miners posing as games, sports streaming apps, and VPNs.” Yikes!
A Free VPN is Better Than Nothing
However, if you’re travelling and have no other alternative to protect your data on a public network, a free VPN is better than nothing. But there is a free VPN you definitely want to think twice about using.
A VPN to Avoid Like The Plague
We’ve all heard the recent horror stories about Cambridge Analytica using Facebook to unethically collect user data. (Just in case you’ve been living under a rock, read The Guardian’s expose of the tech giant here.)So that’s there’s even more reason to avoid Facebook’s new VPN service, Onavo Protect.
Gizmodo.com wrote that security researcher Will Strafach discovered that Onavo’s iOS app is “collecting various types of device data separate from server-side connection and usage logs. Even with VPN turned off, Onavo collects information about daily wi-fi usage and daily cellular data. Even if a user’s device screen is turned on and off too.”
Always Read the Terms of Service for a VPN
Onvao’s terms of service state that the app collects data related to user’s online activities, including “information about your mobile applications and data usage, including the applications stored on your device, the use of those applications, the websites you visit and the amount of data you use.”
So what’s the best VPN to use? An app rated by a 3rd party with nothing to gain. Many VPN reviews are nothing but thinly disguised affiliate offers. That’s why I’m recommending anyone interested in signing up with a VPN service check out “That One Privacy Site.”
Unbiased VPN Review: That One Privacy Site
If you’re looking for an unbiased VPN review, visit That One Privacy Site.
The site’s anonymous author and privacy advocate compiled a list of what to look for in a VPN, a helpful VPN glossary, and a detailed side-by-side comparison of various VPN services. As I mentioned earlier, most VPN review sites are looking out for a quick buck.
Do You Currently Use a VPN?
Do you subscribe to VPN service – or have you considered signing up for one? Let us know in the Comments below.
About the Author
NormaR is our WeBananas tech blogger. She came to us as a crusty copywriter from the Far North who lives and breathes conversions. In her spare time, she's a diehard Edmonton Oilers fan (sadly), a foodie and a passionate landscape photographer.