Pros and cons of VPNs. Is a VPN worth it?
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Using a VPN is the obvious choice when you want to access a site that has been blocked by your internet service provider, your employer, or the government.
But what about being protected by a VPN throughout your time on the internet? What we’re saying is, why not use a VPN even when you’re surfing the web as you usually do? A single line answer would be: If you’re privacy-conscious, you’ve got all the reasons to have a VPN.
The internet can prove dangerous if you don’t follow safe web surfing practices; managing to hide your IP address is one. Before we hop in to discuss the pros and cons of a VPN, you should first know what exactly is a VPN and how does it work.
What is a VPN?
A Virtual Private Network, abbreviated to VPN, establishes an encrypted tunnel for data transfer between you and a remote VPN server. A VPN hides or masks your actual IP address with the VPN server’s IP address located at a different geographical location than you.
All the data traveling between the internet and your device now travels through the encrypted tunnel and is virtually untraceable.
For example, if you choose a VPN server located in the U.S. while you’re in the U.K., it would appear as if you’re using the internet from the U.S.
All data communicated between you and the VPN server through the encrypted tunnel is not accessible to anyone. That is because VPN systems contain numerous elements that secure the VPN’s private network and the external network by which a user is connected.
Using a VPN adds a strong layer of privacy and security to private and public networks alike, such as home Wi-Fi networks or public Wi-Fi hotspots. All thanks to the advanced encryption VPNs use.
The working of a VPN can be understood better by using a particular real-life scenario where a VPN might be needed. Consider a public Wi-Fi network, like the Wi-Fi at a coffee shop or the airport’s passenger lounge. You would typically join the Wi-Fi network and use free internet without giving it a second thought.
However, you are not aware of who may be watching your traffic through that network. You can’t even be confident whether a public Wi-Fi network is a real deal, or it’s a fake network set up by a hacker?
For a moment, think about all the passwords, credit card numbers, banking data, and private information transferred between you and the web; all this information is potentially exposed to prying eyes.
Now, if you connect to the same public network, this time with the protection of a VPN, you should no longer worry as no one can intercept your data. Neither users who are prying around for unprotected victims nor the network operator can access your data.
Bear in mind as this last point is crucial: It’s almost impossible to tell whether a Wi-Fi network is legit or not. Just because it’s named Airport_WiFi doesn’t mean it’s the real Wi-Fi operated by the airport.
When you’re using your private Wi-Fi at home, you don’t have to stress about anyone spying because you own the Wi-Fi network. But still, a VPN has benefits has here too.
Your ISP (internet service provider) can always see what you do online, and now ISP’s can sell your data to online advertisers. This means the company you are paying for internet access is also making money by selling your data.
VPN advantages and disadvantages
A VPN is a handy tool to have generally. But you still might not be convinced whether you should invest in a VPN service or not.
The key pros and cons of using VPNs are listed below; these will help you determine what benefits you should expect from a VPN and what are the drawbacks of using one.
Some benefits may fully convince you to buy a VPN, or on the other hand, some disadvantages may help conclude why you should not get one as the use of a VPN does not suit the way you surf the web.
Advantages of VPN
1. VPN protects your information:
No better software service can protect your private data as efficiently and affordably as a good VPN. The standard VPN service costs around $5-10 per month if you sign up for a long-term plan. Honestly, this cost is nothing compared to the benefits that you accrue.
Industry leaders in the VPN market offer frequent discounts for new subscribers. If you can avail of a discount, you can test-run a VPN for a modest monthly fee and see for yourself whether the benefits are worth your money.
A VPN service secures your data and transmits it through its encrypted tunnel; this way, no one can intercept and decrypt your data, and you can get a stress-free internet experience for only a meager amount of money.
The majority of elite VPN services use robust encryption standards to ensure that all of your data stays secure at any cost. In these modern times, internet user’s data is as lucrative as gold.
Undoubtedly, marketing companies, tech giants like Google, Facebook and Instagram, and third-party apps and services are on the hunt for more and more user data. The more data they’ve got on you, the higher the chances are that this data can get stolen, or a hacker may misuse it.
A VPN is your one-stop solution. When a VPN protects you, it detaches you from the data you generate and encrypts it in a manner that it remains safe even if someone manages to trace your traffic.
2. A VPN service hides your identity:
Identity theft is now getting increasingly widespread. You can have your identity stolen, and you will only realize when you find yourself getting penalized for a crime you didn’t do. A cybercriminal can be selling fake gold jewelry using your name and details on Facebook or eBay while you sleep peacefully at night.
When your internet connection is not secured, Facebook and other social media account information alongside banking details can be stolen in a jiffy. And people can do all sorts of crimes using your identity as a mask. While you derive peace from the fact that all your social media accounts had been logged out, someone may use your stolen credentials to log in and carry out illegal activities.
In 2019 alone, the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) received 3.1 million+ consumer reports regarding online scams and fraud. Out of those, some 650,500 were directly related to identity theft, and 1.7 million reports were linked to fraud. Because identity theft is considered a type of fraud, there is some overlap between the two stats.
A VPN is the most straightforward and effective way to secure your identity from hackers and other scammers. Both government agencies and marketing agencies are also partaking in the race to gather as much user data as they can. A VPN is your shield from all the data predators you want to hide your identity from.
You can, of course, shield your identity from getting stolen in a variety of ways, such as not using any social media, not using any internet banking services, and not saving any of your information on the web. But who can live like that? So, why not just get a VPN service and forget all your data security woes.
3. Hides your location:
As more and more aspects of our daily lives have transitioned from offline to online, businesses, websites, and services to want to know more about us so they can boost their business.
Part of this information is our location; marketing companies use our location to bring us personalized content that is common among people who live in the same area as we do.
Some would say that websites recording a user’s location is completely fine, as it is used to bring them the appropriate content, discounts, offers, and events nearby.
However, the more important issue is that such websites or apps prioritize their profits over the users. The benefit that we as users get is not their primary purpose when recording our location and tailoring content for us.
Let’s do a short experiment. Go to websites like www.theguardian.com or www.youtube.com, you will notice the clear difference between the content and offers you see when you switch your location using a VPN.
A lot of educational and entertainment content on YouTube is not available in Asia, Africa, or the Middle East. In the same way, several other topics aren’t accessible to audiences in the West as well. The difference between the content you see is because services and apps can trace your location, and they change the content that is accessible to you depending on which country you are in.
On the contrary, with a VPN in your arsenal, you can access the version of the web that you want, from anywhere you want. All you have to do is use your VPN to connect to a server in France, and you’ll see content and advertising as if you were actually in France.
A lot of websites, mainly news sites and search engines, specialize their content to the geographical location of their audience. It is common for news outlets to report a story differently, depending on the area where it is going to be published.
So, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll be able to see the same news or search results from two different locations. When a VPN hides your actual area, you’ll be able to see the default content from a specific location of your choice on various sites like Google, YouTube, the Washington Post, or the New York Times.
Secondly, by hiding your country IP, a VPN adds to your security as hackers cannot target you. Hackers identify easy targets and carry out hacking attempts against the target audience as much as possible.
For example, hackers know that people living in a posh area are likely to have a lot of money in their bank accounts and are also likely to have online means of payment. They will target internet users in this area by phishing attacks, ransomware attacks, and spyware attacks to attain confidential data. With a VPN, you can significantly reduce this risk and use a location that is not targeted by hackers.
4. Unlock streaming sites:
When your location is exposed, social media sites and streaming services can block access to certain content. These are also called geo-restrictions. VPN services can bypass geo-restrictions as they can mask your location with one from where the content that you want to view is available.
Governments may also want to block specific content for users to prevent exposure to illegal or disturbing content. Common examples of websites blocked by governments are terrorist websites, websites that contain propaganda against a country, religious websites, adult sites, and so on.
While blocking these sites is the best decision in the eyes of government authorities, it deprives citizens of their freedom on the internet. Furthermore, professionals such as researchers and writers need to access such websites to carry out professional tasks.
As social distancing measures are imposed around the world due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many people spend their time on streaming services to fulfill their entertainment needs. Due to geo-restrictions, someone in Asia might not be able to watch a famous TV series because it is not available in their area. The only way to access such media is to use a VPN.
With the right VPN service provider, you can unblock any Netflix version you want. For example, access U.S. Netflix while being outside of it in real. And, if you’re already in the U.S, you can access the Netflix movies and shows that are only available in the U.K., which is an entirely new range of TV shows and movies you never knew about.
Other entertainment sites like Amazon Prime Video and Hulu also use geo-restrictions; a VPN will help you circumvent it all.
5. Stop internet throttling:
ISPs or Internet Service Providers often boast that they have unlimited bandwidth while they actually don’t. This is a common ploy used by ISPs to get you signed up for an “unlimited data” deal.
After you have used up a set amount of bandwidth in a month, your ISP will control your connection and reduce your internet speeds so that you use the internet at a pace that is convenient for them.
When your internet provider lowers your download speed, it is called internet throttling. It is a nightmare for gamers and people who mostly stream or download files through torrents. One of the various benefits of using a VPN is that they can nullify the effects of internet throttling easily. And if you choose the right VPN, it can even increase the internet speed.
Disadvantages of VPN
VPNs from different providers have different features. While a VPN may offer it all, one potential drawback might render it completely useless for your personal use. Go through these cons of VPNs, and this will help you decide which specific drawback you really don’t want to have in the VPN you choose.
1. A VPN may lower your internet speed:
The connection between you and the internet through a VPN is rerouted and encrypted via a VPN server, and this is why you might experience a slightly slow internet connection.
So, if you are conscious about your internet speed, you should go for a VPN that has little or no impact on it. Check out the top 10 best VPN services so you can choose the one that suits you best.
While most users won’t even notice the difference in the internet speed, but if you are involved in things that need a high-speed connection, you will have some problems if you don’t choose the right VPN. For example, gamers who want to play multi-player games online should look for the best VPNs for gaming to ensure they don’t experience any lag.
2. Don’t take your VPN as an all-in-one solution:
While a VPN can keep your online activity hidden, and keeps you safe from a lot of threats online, it won’t keep you safe if you don’t give up on unsafe web surfing practices.
For instance, a VPN can’t prevent your online accounts from being hacked if you use weak passwords. In the same way, you also need to beware of suspicious websites that can give you malware. You are recommended to use anti-virus software if you want to keep safe from malware and viruses.
3. Some VPNs may not be able to access particular websites:
Some streaming services and entertainment sites have placed a ban on some VPNs. For example, Netlfix placed a ban on traffic coming through VPN servers, hence, rendering VPN users unable to bypass geo-restrictions set by Netflix.
If you try to use Netflix with a VPN, you’ll get a proxy error message telling you to switch the VPN off. However, if you want to buy a VPN specifically for watching Netflix, you should take a look at specialized VPNs for entertainment websites such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu.
A site-to-site VPN, also known as router-to-router VPN establishes a network-to-network VPN and not a PC-to-server one.
For instance, if you have a VPN service installed on your PC, the tunnel created by the VPN terminates at these two points: your device and the VPN server.
On the other hand, a site-to-site VPN tunnel is between two networking devices (generally routers that have firewall capabilities for users).
Pros and cons of VPN router
- One significant advantage of using a site-to-site VPN is that it offloads all the encryption and processing overhead from your device to the security device or router. It frees up local resources such as processor speed and RAM usage.
- You won’t have to log in out of a VPN continually.
Disadvantages of Site-to-Site VPN
- The biggest drawback to a site-to-site VPN is that you don’t have the choice to decide when and where you can send your encrypted traffic.
- Site-to-site VPNs are static and can only exist between two remote termination points. You won’t be able to establish an encryption tunnel from anywhere you have an internet connection.
- You also need a little technical background knowledge or a reliable how-to guide to set up a site-to-site VPN successfully.
The need for a VPN is rising every day
The use of VPNs is rising every day, and several reasons have orchestrated this influx.
Especially after the Facebook information leak went viral, many users now realize that privacy comes at a cost. The National Security has been using mass surveillance on citizens; many argue that recording is necessary to combat terrorism, and some say this is to halt the spread of ideas that may threaten the state’s official stance. As people realize the importance of using a VPN, the VPN market grows by scores every day.
Public networks are everywhere:
Public Wi-Fi and internet hotspots are not always the most secure as several users are connected, and you can never guess if anyone is out to steal your information or in a pursuit to comprise your data. With Wi-Fi hotspots almost ubiquitous, people want to ensure their security while they enjoy the free internet.
Increased personal use:
Previously, the use of a VPN was thought to be limited to professional businesses, and individuals thought of it as unnecessary for personal use. Recently this notion is being changed as people are beginning to see reality.
Media coverage of lack of online privacy:
Recently, considerable emphasis has been placed on maintaining net neutrality, and the only way to obtain this is through a VPN. Net neutrality is the phenomenon that ISP’s should treat all of their users equally, and no single user should be traced for their online activity.
You can never be confident whether an ISP is trustworthy or not as all the traffic comes through their servers; they may be tempted to sell information to marketers, flipping on a VPN will grant you a peace of mind that your data will be kept private. A VPN connection is essential as it places a curtain on your internet endeavors, even hiding them from your ISP.
If you’ve read this article through its entirety, you should be convinced that a VPN is an essential tool to have for people who actively surf the web. But before you continue to buy a VPN, you should compare the best VPN services in the market and choose the one that suits you best.
Images courtesy of Pixabay.
About the author
Douglas is a freelance writer with over six years of experience in article and blog writing who has written in almost every industry with cybersecurity being his primary interest. Mabiria is an advocate for internet privacy, sustainable development, and a green environment. He is very social and enjoys trying new sports as well as implementing new ideas.