A VPN (or virtual private network) is one of the most powerful digital tools to be safe online. Any third party (a government, hackers, your ISP, or other corporations) will not e able to invade your privacy by looking at what you do online.
When you are online through a VPN, your traffic is encrypted, your IP address is hidden, and everything travels in a safe tunnel to a remote server in your VPN’s network. In addition, the VPN will show the world an IP address based on the country in which your server is located. Thus, you are virtually in that country, allowing you to get around censorship and geographical blocks.
The undeniable advantages that top-notch VPNs give their users, which range from enhanced security to expanded options for entertainment, have made this tool increasingly popular in recent years. Again, China is a good example. The censorship is a big deal, and the legendary Great Firewall of China severely limits the freedom of domestic internet users.
Yet, there’s a question for many VPN users. Do they need to have their VPN online all the time? The answer depends on the usage you are giving your service.
We have written this article as a questionnaire so you can find the situations closer to yours and then decide if having your VPN on is crucial for you. So let’s get started.
Scenarios where you should keep your VPN on
Are you circumventing geo-blocks with your VPN?
Suppose you are using your VPN to get around the blocks many websites impose on users depending on their geographic location. In that case, the answer is more or less evident: you need to have your VPN functioning as long as you access the geo-blocked material, be it websites, videos, or anything else. If you turn your VPN off while browsing a blocked website or watching a video, your actual IP will show, and you will lose access.
If your VPN has a bandwidth cap, there’s something you can try to save it. First, load the video you want to watch and start while your VPN is on. Then, you can turn the VPN off after a few seconds and continue watching the content without using any VPN bandwidth.
However, there are two limitations to this hack. First, it won’t work on every video streaming service. For instance, it fails with Netflix unblocking. Second, if your bandwidth is limited in your VPN, then the chances are that you picked the wrong vendor. Instead, consider moving to a top-notch VPN like ExpressVPN or NordVPN, whose users have as much bandwidth as they can consume.
Do you care about your digital privacy?
VPNs are the best protective tools for online privacy, security, and anonymity. If these are things you value in your online experience, then your VPN should be on whenever you want to have them fully protected.
The protection your VPN affords you comes from encrypting all your traffic. This ensures that any third party intercepting your data stream will see nothing but noise.
If security and privacy are a priority, you must ensure your VPN has robust encryption technology (AES-256 is the industry standard). Also, pick a service with a kill switch. The kill switch makes your device go offline whenever your link to the VPN breaks down, thus ensuring that everything you send away to the internet is always encrypted and that your IP address never leaves the secure tunnel.
Are your internet speeds low?
Good VPNs encrypt all your traffic (in and out) and channel it through a server in their network. Unfortunately, the calculations involved in the encryption process and the traffic routing take time, which is why your internet speeds will always slow down when you’re online through a VPN.
However, fast VPNs exist, and you will barely notice any speed change unless you measure it carefully.
Other issues can be at the root of your low internet speeds. For example, if your ISP is throttling your account, then connecting to your VPN will give you back all your bandwidth because your ISP won’t know what you’re doing.
If your VPN is giving you noticeably slower speeds than usual, then change your server and pick one that is physically near you. This usually helps to speed things up again.