Does a VPN Really Protect Your Privacy?

Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) allow you to communicate over a network in a private, secure, encrypted way. Different VPNs use different methods and levels of encryption. Some may be stronger than others and do a better job of encrypting your data.

What Does A VPN Do?

A VPN can encrypt your data to make your session secure from anyone wishing to know what your activities on the web might be. A VPN can compress traffic on the server, giving you greater access to the data you are trying to download or stream. It can mask your computer address (IP) to protect your identity from being tracked while performing activities on the web. For example, if you’re in Denmark and you want to access US Netflix in Denmark you have to use a VPN. So, a VPN will allow you to access the American version of Netflix and content by allowing you to use a US IP address. A VPN allows for unrestricted and secure access to anything on the internet. It protects your personal information from hackers on the open internet.

Do You Really Need a VPN?

If you are on the internet, there is someone who would like your information. It ranges from advertisers who want to sell you things, to people who would love to lift your bank account information for much more malicious activities.

If you are connecting to the public internet or through anything such as a hotspot at an airport, it’s imperative that you use a VPN on your devices. Bad actors like to hang out at these locations and snoop into unsecured devices.

Read: 10 Reasons Why You Should Use a VPN

Public WiFi Dos and Don’ts

When using public hotspots and WiFi without you should consider the following dos and don’ts and make sure to keep your devices secure.

Do

  • Assume any link is suspicious. Check the addresses closely.
  • Ask an employee to confirm the network name. Hackers like to use similarly named network to the actual network. For example, CoffeeWiFiFree and CoffeeFreeWiFi. How do you know which one is the real one?
  • Only browse sites you don’t have to enter any personal info into.
  • Save other website logins like banks or those requiring logins for a secured network.

Don’t

  • Do not turn on file sharing when on WiFi.
  • Do not leave WiFi connected when you no longer need the connection.
  • Do not leave your device unattended, even to go to the bathroom.
  • Do not do any banking or work on anything with sensitive data when on public WiFi.
  • Do not email anything of a sensitive nature.

Considering the above scenarios, it’s probably best to use a VPN for your mobile devices and laptops if you rely on public WiFi connections. Hackers cannot break into these connections, and even if they did they would only get pieces of encrypted data that they couldn’t do anything with.

With a VPN you would be able to send sensitive email, bank, and perform any activity you needed to safely on your device, and you would be protected from anyone on the WiFi wishing to do you harm. You just need to look out for real-life thieves and those who would physically access your device.

Free Versus Paid VPNs

There are some free VPN services out there, but they tend to be inferior to the paid services. Here are the differences between a free and a paid VPN:

Internet speed

Free VPNs push advertisements to your devices, slowing down your connection. If you plan to stream content your stream will be slow with a free VPN. If you want solid fast streaming or gaming capability, you need a fast connection. Those connections come with paid services.

Privacy

A free VPN may deliver your personal information on to third-parties. Almost all paid VPNs have a no-log policy meaning that your online activities are safe and anonymous.

Server locations

Free VPNs have a small amount of server locations. Connections to these servers become difficult. With good paid VPNs there are many servers and many countries to choose from.

Data encryption

Free VPNs use basic encryption tools. These tools often fail and leak your location and data. Paid VPNs use more advanced tools and protocols that protect your identity and your data online.

Simultaneous connections

If you have many mobile devices plus a desktop in your household, you may need to have several connections. Paid VPNs offer multiple simultaneous connections, while free VPNs are only for one connection.

How to Choose the Best VPN

You are convinced that you need to have a VPN to protect your identity and your activities online, but there are so many providers. How do you possibly choose? There are some features you should look for when you are evaluating a VPN provider:

  • Reliable data encryption

Currently, the best protocols are OpenVPN, PPTP, L2TP/IPSec protocols. If you want to stay safe while streaming, gaming, or torrenting, make sure your VPN uses one of these protocols.

  • No log policy

Make sure your VPN service does not log your activities. Many free VPNs share your information with third parties. And some paid VPNs log your traffic.

  • Multiple VPN server choices

You want to have the choice of connecting to multiple servers across the world in order to see content from those countries. This is another feature to look out for. While you still need to have a Hulu etc., account, the content that they offer switches when you unlock the geo-restriction by changing your IP address.

  • Multiple connections

If you have multiple devices or are connecting your household, it’s is cheaper for you to use a VPN that has multiple simultaneous connections. This way you do not have to purchase multiple accounts.

  • Trial period

For first time VPN users, an offer of a free trial or a money back guarantee is a good feature to have. Make sure you read the details of the offer before you sign up.

Make sure you read reviews and independent assessments like ThatOnePrivacySite.net to see if the VPN that you are choosing has the features that are most important to you.

Does a VPN Really Protect My Privacy?

A VPN with something called a “kill-switch” instantly disconnects you and kills all processes that are pre-selected. So if you have something strange going on with your connection and you feel your computer may be in danger, you can deploy this option.

Another helpful tool is IPLeak.net which will tell you if your VPN is up and running and if it is leaking your IP address, or using the IP address you chose.

A VPN makes it impossible for your internet service provider to tell what you are doing and where. Therefore, it cannot log or track this information in order to keep it if this is the custom or law where you live (looking at you United States). Some of the US-based VPNs seem to feel they are obligated to keep logs, while the EU VPNs are stating that the retention legislation does not apply to them. When and if EU VPNs are asked for data with a subpoena, they will be obliged to comply, only there will be no data to give.

Another problem is this, you are sending your data to the VPN, and you might choose one that keeps logs and doesn’t have great data security. You need to ensure you have a reputable service that won’t sell your data either. This is why you should stay away from free services… they need to make money somehow.

Conclusion

A VPN can protect your privacy. The best advice is to select a VPN service provider with no logs not based in the US where some of the most strict laws are regarding tracking and retaining data. Do your research and make sure that you have all of the features you need and want in a VPN. Keep an eye on the changing legal landscape of the EU as they are also considering laws that may affect how VPNs work.

Bram Jansen is an online privacy expert. He’s been helping businesses secure their information online. He offers tips and advises to protect companies from common problems and to guarantee they are protecting their online and social media privacy. When not working, Bram indulges in kayaking and mountain climbing.
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