Pros and cons of VPNs. Is a VPN worth it?
Amidst the rising cybersecurity incidents that even target individuals globally, the single common security tip that you would hear from every privacy advocate (including us) is using a VPN. But before jumping on the bandwagon, knowing about the pros and cons of using a VPN service is essential.
Certainly, this doesn’t mean you should be skeptical about the benefits of VPNs.
Today when your online details always remain at stake, you inevitably need something like VPNs to defend yourself against common digital threats.
Besides, VPNs undeniably remain the best workaround to evade content restrictions and censorship.
However, as a responsible internet user, you deserve the right to know all about this service and opt to use a VPN by choice instead of merely following others’ advice.
Also, given the plethora of free and premium VPN services available today, choosing the right one is difficult. Here, it’s important to realize that not all providers offer the same feature and services. In fact, every VPN service available today has its own pros and cons.
Therefore, the more you learn the benefits and problems of virtual private networks, the better you can decide about which service you should use, how to find one, and above all, whether you really need it or not.
So, without further ado, let’s start with the pros and cons that you’ll likely experience as a VPN user. By the end of this guide, you’ll be clear about how to protect your online security.
What to expect when using a VPN – quick look at pros and cons
Short on time to read the details? This table will help you quickly understand the benefits you get and the problems you might face when using VPNs.
|Ensures privacy and anonymity as your online data and internet traffic gets encrypted||The underlying encryption technology may reduce the connection speed|
|Unblock all types of restricted and censored content||Unrestricted access to content may require some physical monitoring, such as parental monitoring for kids and teens|
|Change your online location to any specific region to get access to local content||Many VPNs may fail to work against anti-VPN technology|
|Improved online security as VPNs mask your real IP address||Rerouting traffic through different servers may cause connection drops, especially on unstable internet connections|
|Protect yourself from ISP throttling and government surveillance||Some governments ban VPN use or label VPNs illegal|
|Enjoy safe and smooth gaming and torrenting||Torrenting files that infringe copyrights may cause legal troubles if caught|
|Eliminate price discrimination while making purchases||Free VPNs may not offer better online anonymity, hence leaking your real location online|
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. It hides or masks your actual IP address with the VPN server’s IP address from a different geographical location than yours.
For example, if you choose a VPN server located in the US while you’re in the UK, it would appear as if you’re using the internet from the US.
All data communicated between you and the VPN server through the encrypted tunnel remains inaccessible to anyone. VPN systems contain numerous elements that secure the VPN’s private network and the external network by which a user connects.
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.
To better understand how this works, 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 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 remains potentially exposed to the prying eyes.
Now, if you connect to the same public network, this time with the protection of a VPN, you should no longer worry about anyone intercepting your data. Neither users who are prying around for unprotected victims nor the network operator can access your data.
You must always bear in mind that you can’t 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 using private Wi-Fi at home, you don’t have to worry about anyone spying because you own the Wi-Fi network. But still, a VPN has benefits here too.
For instance, your ISP (internet service provider) can always see what you do online. ISPs can even sell your data to other online advertisers to make money. Since you’re already paying the firm, you can prevent monetization of your data by protecting it all with a VPN.
VPN advantages and disadvantages
A VPN is a handy tool. But, given the costs incurred in subscribing to one, you might be skeptical about whether you should invest in a VPN service or not.
So below are the key pros and cons of using VPNs. Knowing these will help you determine what benefits you should expect from this tool and the drawbacks of using one.
Some benefits may fully convince you to buy a VPN now. On the other hand, some disadvantages may make you conclude you should not get one as it does not suit your browsing habits. So, don’t be quick to jump to a conclusion; read along, think over, and then decide your next move. If you’re concerned about online privacy, you’ll definitely choose to use the service.
Advantages of VPN
1. Protects your information
No software 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. But, honestly, this cost is nothing compared to the benefits you accrue.
Industry leaders in the VPN market, including NordVPN and ExpressVPN, 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 by transmitting it through its encrypted tunnel. This way, no one can intercept and decrypt your data. Hence, you 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.
Undoubtedly, marketing companies, tech giants like Google, Facebook, Instagram, and third-party apps and services hunt user data. The more data they’ve got on you, the higher the chances of data theft or misuse by a hacker.
A VPN is your one-stop solution. When a VPN protects you, it detaches you from the data you generate and encrypts it to remains safe even if someone manages to trace your traffic.
2. Secures your online identity
Identity theft is now getting increasingly widespread. You can have your identity stolen unknowingly, only to realize it after getting penalized for a crime you didn’t commit. Otherwise, a cybercriminal might sell fake gold jewelry under your name on Facebook or eBay while you’re asleep.
With an unsecured internet connection, anyone can steal your social media details, such as Facebook credentials or banking details, in a jiffy. And people can do all sorts of crimes using your identity as a mask. While you may remain content after logging out of your social media accounts, 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 also falls in the category of fraud, there is some overlap between the two stats.
A VPN is the most effective way to secure your identity from hackers and other online trackers. Unfortunately, both government agencies and marketing agencies remain in a rush 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 theft in a variety of ways. For instance, by avoiding using social media, 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 and enjoy the pros of online security while forgetting the cons of information exposure online.
3. Hides your location
As more aspects of our daily lives transition from offline to online, businesses and websites want to know more about us to boost their services.
An important part of this information is our location. Marketing companies use our location to bring us personalized content common among people who live in the same area as we do.
Some would deem websites recording a user’s location completely fine, as this brings them the appropriate content, discounts, offers, and events nearby.
However, the problem here is that such websites or apps prioritize their profits over the users. The benefit that we users get is not their primary purpose when recording our location and tailoring content.
Let’s do a short experiment. Go to websites like www.theguardian.com or www.youtube.com with and without a VPN. You will notice a clear difference between the content and offers you see when switching your location using a VPN.
Many educational and entertainment content on YouTube is unavailable in Asia, Africa, or the Middle East. In the same way, several other topics aren’t accessible to audiences in the West. This difference in the content you see is because services and apps trace your location and change the content accessibility accordingly.
On the contrary, with a VPN, you can access your desired version of the web from anywhere you want. For instance, you can use your VPN to connect to a server in France. Then, you’ll see the content and ads available to people in France.
Similarly, several websites, mainly news sites and search engines specialize their content to the geographical location of their audience. As a result, it is common for news outlets to report a story differently, depending on the area where it will be published.
So, it’s improbable that you see the same news or search results from two different locations. When a VPN hides your actual area, you see the default content from the specified location on sites like Google or YouTube.
Secondly, by hiding your country IP, a VPN adds to your security as hackers cannot target you. Hackers often identify their targets by tracking users’ locations.
For example, hackers know that people living in a posh area will likely have more money in their bank accounts and use online payment methods. Hence, 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 by using a location not targeted by hackers.
4. Unblock streaming sites
When your location is exposed, social media sites and streaming services 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 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 sites, websites containing propaganda against a country, religious websites, adult sites, and more.
While blocking these sites may seem the best decision to 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.
Many people spend more time streaming, despite the social distancing measures imposed worldwide due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, due to geo-restrictions, someone in Asia might miss watching a famous TV series because it isn’t available there. 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 without worrying about the pros and cons of such geo-restriction bypass. For example, you can access US Netflix while being outside of the country. And, if you’re already in the US, you can access the Netflix movies and shows only available in the UK, 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 often boast of having 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 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 it can nullify internet throttling easily. And if you choose the right VPN, it can even increase the internet speed.
6. Bypass firewalls
Most content censorship comes from firewall rules that the authorities apply to websites. Hence, even if a service is available to you, you can’t access it on your network within the premises. That’s how your employer or your school blocks social media and streaming sites on their network. The same procedure often helps the government authorities to censor certain content for the public.
While this censorship might have its own pros, its cons become notable when it hinders your activities, triggering the need to use a VPN.
Precisely, with a VPN, you can bypass these firewall restrictions as the tool hides your IP address and your device from the network provider. Hence, the firewall can’t restrict you from accessing the desired website otherwise blocked to you.
(Nonetheless, be sure to use this feature ethically and responsibly.)
7. Shop at better prices
Price discrimination is a common issue in online businesses. From airlines to eCommerce platforms, every service tends to charge more from the users in high-income countries. In contrast, they often offer better deals and discounts to users in low-income regions.
While that’s useful for the people in low-income regions, it certainly burdens the average earning persons from otherwise high-income regions.
That’s where a VPN comes to the rescue. Using this service, you can change your online location to a low-income region or a country where you can find better deals. Then, when you make purchases, you won’t have to pay more.
For instance, you can get cheaper airline tickets online when connected with a VPN server from another country.
Nonetheless, be careful about other means through which the service might track your device, such as cookies. As a precaution, clear your device cache and browsing history before connecting to a VPN. Once done, proceed to visit the website you wish to purchase with. Ideally, you should browse in your browser’s incognito or private mode to further avoid web tracking.
8. Secure gaming and torrenting
VPNs are certainly a must-have for avid gamers and torrentors. That’s because these two activities keep the users on the verge of hacking and cyber threats, such as DDoS and malware attacks.
With VPNs, you can not only bypass internet throttling but also enjoy anonymous gaming and torrenting.
For instance, your IP address remains hidden from fellow gamers who might want to ruin your game with DDoS.
Likewise, your government might have a harsh stance towards torrentors, whom it would spy on via the ISPs. However, with a VPN, your IP address and online activities get veiled. Hence, you can torrent safely without troubling about legal issues.
However, make sure to torrent legal files only. A VPN won’t save you for long if your ISP catches you violating copyright or licensing policies.
9. Safe and anonymous file-sharing
While online file sharing sounds a helpful activity, it can leave traces behind that an adversary might exploit. VPNs make your file-sharing activities safe from snoopers and web trackers as they mask your online existence.
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.
Go through these cons of VPNs to know 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. This is why you might experience a slightly slow internet connection.
So, if you are conscious about the internet speed, you should go for a VPN that has little to no impact on it. (You can check out these top 10 best VPN services to choose the one that suits you best despite all its pros and cons.)
Although, most users won’t even notice the difference in the internet speed. But while doing activities requiring a high-speed connection, you will face problems if you don’t choose the right VPN. For example, gamers playing multi-player games online should look for the best VPNs for gaming to avoid experiencing any lag.
2. Don’t take your VPN as an all-in-one solution.
While a VPN hides your online activities to save you from several threats, it can’t protect you amidst unsafe web surfing practices.
For instance, a VPN can’t prevent your online accounts from hacking attacks if you use weak passwords.
Similarly, you also need to beware of suspicious websites that can infect you with malware. Ideally, always use robust anti-virus software to remain safe from malware and viruses.
3. Some VPNs may not be able to access particular websites.
Some streaming services and entertainment sites ban tools that evade content restrictions, such as proxies and VPNs.
For example, Netflix bans traffic coming through proxies and VPN servers, rendering VPN users unable to bypass content 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 look at these specialized VPNs for entertainment websites such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu.
A little about Site-to-Site VPN for businesses
While individuals users can easily download and install any VPN app on their devices(s), things work a bit differently in a corporate environment. Certainly, given the higher and diversified cybersecurity risks posed to them, companies need different security solutions. That’s where a site-to-site VPN comes into play.
Precisely, 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 bearing firewall capabilities).
These VPNs are generally used in organizations with multiple offices in different locations. Connecting to these private networks lets the staff securely communicate across the globe. This is particularly useful for those firms that manage in-house data storage instead of clouds.
Pros and cons of site-to-site VPN
Like regular VPN services, a site-to-site VPN also comes with its own pros and cons for business users. So here we quickly list some obvious points.
- It offloads all the encryption and processing overhead from your device to the security device or router. This service 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
- You can’t choose when and where to 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 some 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 constantly increasing. Especially after the Facebook information leak went viral, many users now realize that privacy comes at a cost.
Also, the National Security has been using mass surveillance on citizens. While many argue that recording is necessary to combat terrorism, some consider it a way to halt the spread of ideas potentially threatening the state’s official stance.
Anyhow, as people realize the importance of using a VPN and the subsequent pros and cons, the VPN market grows by scores every day. Here are some obvious reasons that have orchestrated this influx.
Public networks are everywhere
Despite the abundance, public Wi-Fi and internet hotspots are seldom secure. From the many connections on the WiFi, you can never identify a potential hacker on the network. Hence, people want to ensure their security while they enjoy the free internet.
Increased personal use
Previously, VPNs were considered necessary for professional business uses only. However, recently, this notion has changed as people begin to see the reality. Today, VPNs are as necessary for personal use as for business purposes.
Media coverage about the lack of online privacy
Recently, the idea of maintaining net neutrality has come into the limelight. And the only way to achieve this is through a VPN.
Net neutrality means that ISP’s should treat all the users equally with no online tracking of activities to trace individual users.
However, 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. Hence, flipping on VPN grants you peace of mind regarding data privacy. A VPN connection is essential as it places a curtain on your internet endeavors, even hiding them from your ISP.
After knowing all the pros and cons, you must have realized that a VPN is essential for active internet users.
From protecting your personal information online to bypassing content censorship, VPN services improve your online experience in many ways. But before you continue to buy a VPN, you should compare the top VPN services in the market and choose the one that suits you the 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.