Our dependence on the internet for everyday tasks at work and home makes us vulnerable—and with an estimated 800,944 cyberattacks and even more data breaches in the US in 2022, the need to stay safe online has never been more pressing.
VPNs have grown increasingly popular in response to our need to improve online security while we shop, bank, and enjoy entertainment online. As such, many cyber experts now claim that using a VPN should become the new norm—but is it truly necessary? Keep reading to find out.
What Is a VPN?
A virtual private network, or VPN for short, allows users to connect to the internet via a secure channel rather than directly. This works by routing your web traffic from your device through a remote server operated by a VPN provider.
Once your traffic reaches the server, it is forwarded to whatever website or content you requested. When the website responds with what you’re looking for, this data is again sent through the remote VPN server before being forwarded back to you.
This process ensures you do not connect to a website or content directly and that the traffic you send and receive from a website is processed through multiple security filters along the way.
Benefits of a VPN
Aside from routing your traffic through remote servers, there are several additional advantages to using a VPN when surfing the web.
One of the most sought-after features of a VPN is anonymity. Because your traffic is diverted through a VPN server, any website you connect to cannot see your IP address. Instead, the IP these websites register is the one belonging to the server you connected through.
Because of this, your IP address is never flagged on a website, and any personal or other information that can be gained about you through your IP address is hidden. As such, many people use a VPN to hide their personal and device information.
Alongside anonymity, VPNs help mask your geolocation. Many websites, particularly those that offer services in certain regions—such as streaming services or online gambling sites—use geolocation to ensure that whoever accesses the site’s content is logging in from a region permitted to do so.
Because VPN servers can be physically located anywhere in the world, and the website you connect to will see your chosen server’s IP address, geolocation can easily be fooled by running your traffic through a VPN in another location. This makes it possible to access content that would otherwise be prohibited.
When your traffic is sent through a remote VPN server, all data transmitted is encrypted by the VPN provider. The remote VPN server you connect to has the cryptographic key needed to unlock and make sense of this data before sending it where it needs to go.
When traffic is returned, the VPN server also encrypts this data, and then your local device’s VPN service decrypts it to give you usable information. This encryption provides an additional layer of security when surfing, as any information intercepted during transfer will be unreadable without your unique cryptographic key.
Certain internet service providers may throttle the speed of high-use online activities, such as downloading large files or streaming video content. While this ensures line integrity and provides the best speed for all users on a network, it could be detrimental to your overall internet speed.
Because a VPN routes through a secure server, your ISP cannot see what tasks you are performing online. This means it won’t know if you are engaging in activities that it would generally throttle, thus allowing you to surf at the highest speed your plan allows. However, it should be noted that a VPN only helps bypass selective throttling, and it won’t be able to help if your primary line is throttled.
Disadvantages of a VPN
Despite the many pros of VPN use, there are a few disadvantages.
In instances where your line is not throttled, using a VPN could have an adverse effect on your network speed, slowing it down rather than speeding it up. This is because routing your information through a VPN server takes a longer route to reach its final destination.
This is most prominent when accessing a VPN server located far from you or if the server receives a lot of traffic from other users.
There are many free VPN services available online. However, these come with the catch that they only allow a set amount of traffic before you’ll need to upgrade to a paid plan. Of course, accessing the premium features of a VPN, streaming site, or even one of the best casino apps on mobile will always cost something. However, the benefits gained from the relatively low price tag are often worth it for the peace of mind.
Despite VPNs offering more security and privacy, some countries, like Vietnam, China, and Turkey, have outlawed their use. In these cases, the government prefers to see what citizens are doing online—and getting caught using a VPN can result in a hefty fine or punishment.
Should Using a VPN Become the Norm?
As governments, organizations, and individuals have become more reliant on the internet, cybercrime has grown by leaps and bounds internationally. Given this reality, it seems inevitable that using a VPN will become commonplace.
While the price of a VPN or the hassle of connecting to a VPN server each time you want to browse the web may take some getting used to, the potential upsides of using a VPN make it a low-risk technology to try for anyone who uses the internet regularly.