Enjoying life in the digital world comes at a cost: our privacy. Every web page we visit, where we are, how much we spend, and what cards we pay with are just some information that is tracked, collected, and monetized in the virtual world.
To end doubts about the security and use of virtual private networks (virtual private networks), ESET answers some of the most frequently asked questions about VPNs. Below, the company reviews how they work and how their use can add a layer of privacy protection to your online activities.
What is a VPN, and how does it work?
You can think of a VPN as an invisibility cloak for your IP address. Instead of displaying your IP address, your VPN will teleport your connection to a server in the country you choose to connect to and display an IP address originating from that location.
In this way, the VPN works as a layer of protection, encrypting all the data that travels through it and improving your privacy online. Your information, location, and browsing history will be unreadable to anyone trying to identify and track you. Not even your Internet Service Provider (ISP) can collect your information.
“For example, when you use a public Wi-Fi network, you are connecting to a less secure network, creating the perfect opportunity for cybercriminals to gain access to your devices. A VPN will ensure your connection is encrypted and protected against attackers who want to steal your personal information, passwords, or bank details. At home, however, you might assume your network is secure since you own it, but that’s not necessarily true. Unfortunately, you don’t know how secure your home network password is or whether it has been compromised.”, comments Josep Albors, Director of Research and Awareness at ESET Spain.
What are the advantages of using a VPN?
Using a VPN is a good option for the following:
Protect private information: The information you share is stored on the VPN servers in your chosen country, so it is not linked to you. Legitimate VPN services will not log your searches, and no one will know what sites you have visited. This is especially important if you live in a country with limited freedom of expression and the press.
Hide browsing information: A VPN will hide your IP address from your Internet service provider and the websites and apps you use. However, the social networks you use, for example, can detect that you are using them simply because you are connected to your account; in other words, a VPN cannot make you completely anonymous, especially on social networks.
Accessing websites blocked in your country: If a website is not accessible where you live, like the BBC is not accessible in Russia, you can bypass (some of) those limitations as your Internet connection behaves like you were elsewhere.
Access more content available on streaming platforms: Since your IP is in a different geographic location, you can also take advantage of different content from streaming platforms that offer different movies and shows in different regions.
Save money – as many e-commerce raise prices in specific higher-income regions.
Is a VPN enough to protect my privacy?
A VPN is not enough to protect privacy online. Josep Albors explains this: “There is no single solution for all your privacy and security concerns. However, using a VPN is a good start. It would help if you remember that many companies offer VPNs, and you have to choose one based on your needs”.
Some points that you should keep in mind if you consider using the VPN service:
- Due to rerouting your connection to a different server, your Internet speed may be slower. Different services are available in the market, offering servers with different maximum speeds.
- Different companies are based in different countries and observe different rules and laws depending on the data protection requirements in their respective jurisdictions.
- Some VPNs focus on data privacy, and others on more complex security features.
- Not all companies are as trustworthy as they seem.
- VPNs are illegal in some countries, especially those where you need a VPN to bypass media access limitations. In other countries, they are not illegal, but governments systematically try to block access to their services.
- Suppose you use a VPN while connected to, for example, one of your social media accounts. In that case, your account activity is not hidden on that platform.
- No VPN offers complete reliability, and companies, ISPs, and some governments can try to stop them.
- It costs money, but it is worth the investment. Free VPNs can cause numerous problems and will likely save your data and logs, and you may also sell them.
How can I use a VPN like a pro?
Installing a VPN on each device and turning it on and off is possible but can be annoying. Instead of connecting individually, you could turn on the VPN option on your router, as long as your provider offers it, but many do.
All devices connected to such a network would now have their traffic through the encrypted tunnel of the VPN, securing even those devices that do not support applications, such as a smart lamp, for example”, declares Josep Albors.
This may seem less user-friendly, but different vendors explain how to do it. However, it is much more secure and guarantees an additional layer of security.
Is it necessary to have a VPN service?
We generally live in a world where our online activities leave digital footprints. The search you did yesterday about your back pain is the ad for pain relievers you’ll see today. Searching for a new job offer as a journalist may result in a newspaper subscription ad. Our data is valuable to companies, and they want to get the most accurate information about our interests and location that algorithms give them.
“Virtual private networks are not a panacea, but the more Internet is present in our lives, the more we can benefit from its use. Just keep in mind that there are some limitations as well. In any case, beyond improving your privacy and helping to protect your private data, VPNs can also make the digital lives of those in conflict-ridden regions safer, like what we’re seeing in Russia and Ukraine.
VPNs can be a window to the outside world for those who live in areas where free access to that window is obstructed by politics or technology”, concludes Josep Albors.