Almost every online activity is tracked nowadays. Whether you’re browsing digital storefronts, engaging with others on social media platforms, playing video games, or simply minding your own business, the need for greater online safety has become more prevalent than ever before.
It’s fairly common for mac and pc security tips to cite VPN services as effective tools for online privacy protection. But how much of a difference do these services make in reality? Are there any notable drawbacks to using them?
In order to understand the advantages and disadvantages of using a VPN, let’s take a brief look at what defines a VPN service, why it’s beneficial for your security, and any potential issues that are worth keeping in mind.
What is a VPN?
A virtual private network (VPN) allows internet users to send and receive data on public networks through the use of a private connection. It does so by extending a private network across a public network, creating a login-based system that adds an additional layer of anonymity.
By using tunneling protocols, dedicated circuits, and remote resource access, a VPN service creates virtual connections that mask your IP address from prying eyes and data harvesters. Every internet user has a unique IP address, which means that all of your activity on unsecured networks can be traced back to this address.
Without a VPN disguising your IP, your Internet Service Provider (ISP) and other online trackers will have all the access they need to ‘farm’ your information, including critical data like passwords, identity details, and credit card information.
ISPs and third-party trackers can make a tidy profit by selling your data to the highest bidder. Whether it’s sold to marketing companies, private analysts, or government agencies, your personal information allows unsolicited insight into your browsing habits and purchase history.
Many web users assume that private browser windows perform the same function as a VPN, but the truth is that ISPs are still able to track your activity in a private browser. Evidently, using a VPN is the only way to significantly reduce the risk of your online security being compromised.
Benefits of using a VPN
Because VPNs provide an additional layer of data encryption, it’s a lot harder for hackers and other cybercriminals to access your data. On the off chance that they do find a way to gain access, your data will be unreadable without an encryption key.
Deciphering encrypted data without a key can take an incredibly long time. In the case of a brute force attack, for example, properly encrypted data can take years to decipher, even with the aid of advanced decryption software.
Besides being a complete log of your browsing habits, your true IP can also be used to identify your physical location. Much like the geolocation of your smartphone, ISPs and other network trackers use your IP to pinpoint your location.
With your geographical information at their disposal, data farmers can obtain a complete profile of any public network user. A VPN bypasses this threat by creating a virtual IP address for every user, which makes it impossible for trackers to see where you are in the world at any given point in time.
The aforementioned ‘fake’ IP provides the additional benefit of allowing you to access data and services that are restricted to certain countries and regions. For instance, if you’re in the US and want to access local content in the UK, the only way it’s possible is to sign up with a VPN that can switch your IP’s country of origin.
Most VPN services provide a feature known as ”location spoofing”, which affords users the ability to switch to any supported servers from other countries. No single VPN service provides access to all international regions, so it’s important to check which regional servers your chosen VPN supports.
Gaps in VPN threat protection
At this point, it’s clear that a VPN makes your data more secure and hides your activities effectively. However, that doesn’t mean you can ignore the need for other forms of online security, such as antivirus and antimalware software. Ensure that you have comprehensive security by installing both a VPN and a comprehensive antivirus.
Viruses and malware can target any network, and VPNs are no exception. It’s imperative that you choose a reliable VPN provider that has a history of maintaining its security impeccably. If your VPN provider is compromised, your data could potentially be at risk.
There’s more than one reason why you need to choose your VPN provider carefully. Most VPN services don’t track your online activities, but there are some providers out there that have no issue with exploiting your data for profit.
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