Virtual private networks (VPNs) can unblock restricted content, save money while shopping online, and protect your logins and sensitive data from hackers and snoopers. There are also several other important benefits, such as a general increase in internet privacy.
But a VPN can’t solve all your security and privacy concerns. Indeed, the opposite may happen if you pick the wrong VPN provider. In this article, we’ll look at the two main misconceptions about VPNs, and summarise the dangers and pitfalls that you need to know about before you choose a VPN.
We’ll start with a short definition of a VPN to allow us to point out what a VPN can or cannot do.
What is a VPN and what does it do?
VPN is a service that encrypts your internet connection and masks your Internet Protocol (IP) address. They encrypt your connection by building an impregnable tunnel between your device, the VPN server, and the internet. No one can see what you’re up to while you’re connected via this private tunnel, including your ISP.
Misconceptions about VPNs and Internet Privacy
It’s important to look at the role of VPNs in anonymity on the internet and why free VPNs may be your worst enemy.
Can a VPN provide complete anonymity on the internet?
A VPN can give you some immediate relief from tracking because trackers usually link your browsing data to your IP address. VPNs hide your real IP address so your browsing trail is associated with the VPN instead of you.
However, a VPN cannot guarantee complete anonymity because advertisers use a vast, mature network of interlocked web trackers that gives them uninterrupted access to spy on what you are doing across the internet.
For example, while you’re logged in to services like Google or your Meta/Facebook account, they can track everything you do on other websites. You can’t stop the tracking by clearing your cookies because they can instantly regenerate their tracking technology. And besides, they use other techniques like device fingerprinting or UID smuggling to track you even if you change your IP address.
That means that every time you log into social media or other accounts, that site knows precisely who you are, even if you’re using a VPN.
Some browsers like Firefox or Brave use partitioned storage for third-party cookies, which isolates cookies and stops them from being used for cross-site tracking. But, in practice, you also need to block web tracking technology (web trackers) to combat tracking.
Use a combination of a privacy-first browser with a tracker blocker, plus a browser ad-blocker that can also block trackers, plus a VPN with a tracker blocker. The best way to remove the association between you and your internet browsing is to use the TOR web browser in tandem with a VPN. Just remember never to log into any of your accounts during your browsing session, because you’ll blow your cover instantly!
A free VPN may be your worst enemy
Another misconception is that free VPNs offer the same protection as paid VPs. But it costs millions to set up, secure, and maintain a VPN infrastructure, so why would anyone start a business just to give their millions of dollars away in the form of a free VPN service?
When you dig a little deeper, you’ll soon discover that fake, free VPNs actually make their money from collecting all the data you were trying to keep private and selling it to advertisers. To make things worse, some free VPNs are conduits for malware.
Free VPNs are simply traps to collect and sell your personal data. For example, a quick search of Google Play will bring up over 200 free VPN apps. But Google can’t check each developer’s background and can’t even tell you who runs them. There’s no guarantee that they use safe technologies or good encryption.
You’ll be paying for your free app with constant ads because they’ll be logging your online activities and selling the information to the highest bidder.
Instead, stick to a VPN company with a good reputation for security and privacy. If you’re cash-strapped but need a VPN, pick one of the free (albeit severely limited) plans from a well-established VPN provider, not a completely free app by one of the fly-by-nights.
The best features to look for in a VPN
With all the VPN offerings on the market, several factors play a role in selecting the best VPN for you.
● You’ll need to look at the security levels and encryption technology.
● Eliminate any company that is unwilling to publicly state a no-logs policy.
● Compare the reliability, speed, and locations of their servers.
● Do they impose any bandwidth restrictions or restrictions on the number of simultaneous connections?
● You must also consider the price and whether their software can be used on all your devices (Windows, Android, Linux, etc.).
● You’ll need threat protection from malware-ridden websites and files and proactive ad- and tracker blockers.
● A password manager can be a huge asset, especially if it also has a data breach scanner that checks if your passwords, email addresses, or credit card details have been compromised in a data breach.
● And, unless you enjoy scattering all your documents around several different free cloud storage accounts, you could consider adding secure cloud storage to the mix.
Increase your protection layers by choosing the correct VPN provider
Some advanced VPN packages offer password protection and threat protection and link scanning, storage, and other benefits. To untangle some of the marketing speak, you could have a look at the NordVPN bundle deals to make sure your VPN subscription can guarantee these minimum benefits:
● Data encryption that allows you to access your organization’s network and work securely from anywhere in the world
● Protection against WiFi vulnerabilities: criminals can infiltrate public Wi-Fi networks to infect people’s computers with malware. Your VPN should prevent this by using excellent encryption.
● Protection against cyber-attacks: gamers know how vulnerable they can be to DDoS attacks by vindictive competitors. Your VPN hides your real IP address, so they can’t target you.
● Save money: prevent websites from tracking your spending habits and changing prices based on your location, gender, and interests. As a general rule, people from affluent countries pay more for flights, subscriptions, hotels, and even books.
● Bypass internet censorship: some ISPs, employers, schools, or governments may decide to block certain websites. However, if you encounter the issue of a VPN not changing location, it is important to troubleshoot and resolve this problem to ensure uninterrupted access to blocked content. Changing your location with a VPN can bypass such blocks.
● Access geo-restricted content: VPNs allow you to access content that would otherwise be blocked because of your IP address.
Conclusion: Who is watching the watchers?
Are you looking for a VPN because you want to protect your passwords and personal information? Few people trust their ISP with their data, and you know that websites track everything you do. But are you sure you can trust your VPN? If your VPN provider allows industry experts to audit them and explicitly guarantees your privacy, you’ve got a winner!