Are you safeguarding your online privacy with a VPN yet? VPNs are increasingly seen as indispensable shields against cyber threats and gateways to unrestricted internet access. However, it’s not all rosy. Beyond the allure of accessing geo-blocked content and evading digital prying eyes, VPNs come with their own set of challenges. Drawing from comprehensive research and rigorous testing, we’ll discuss both the undeniable strengths of VPNs and the overlooked pitfalls you should be wary of.
Pros of using a VPN
First, let’s look at the many benefits of using a VPN:
A VPN encrypts your internet connection and routes it through an intermediary server in a location of your choice. This improves your privacy in a couple of ways:
First, your internet service provider can no longer see what you do online. Because all your data goes through the VPN server, it can’t tell which websites you visit or what apps you use. Additionally, the encryption prevents your ISP from seeing the contents of your data, so it can’t discriminate against specific types or sources of data. This combats bandwidth throttling and also stops surveillance by any other parties on your network.
Likewise, the websites and apps you use cannot identify you or your device by your IP address. Instead, they can only see the IP address of the VPN server. If you use the VPN in combination with your web browser’s private browsing mode, you will be very difficult to track (provided you don’t post any identifiable information yourself).
If you torrent, a VPN hides your IP address from other users in the same torrent swarm, and hides the contents of your downloads from your ISP.
A VPN’s encryption does more than just stop snoopers. It also protects your connection from attack.
Open wi-fi hotspots and public networks can be prime hunting grounds for hackers. A VPN encrypts your data before it ever leaves your device, so even if it gets intercepted on an unsecure network, it can’t be read by the attacker.
VPNs prevent many types of man-in-the-middle attacks, as well as attacks that target your IP address like DDoS attacks.
Many VPNs now come with features that can block malware, ads, and trackers automatically.
3. Bypass censorship
In countries like China, much of the web is censored. A VPN can bypass censorship by routing your web traffic through the VPN server. Censorship systems can only see that you’re connected to the VPN server, and not that you’re visiting a blocked website. This allows you to freely and privately access the open web.
In addition to nationwide censorship, VPNs can also be used to unblock specific websites from schools and offices.
4. Stream region-locked content while traveling
You can choose the location of the VPN server to which you want to connect. This routes your connection through that location and replaces your IP address with a local one. Websites and apps will see the VPN server’s location instead of your own, allowing you to bypass location restrictions while on vacation abroad.
Cons of using a VPN
Although the benefits of using a VPN are great, they do come with a few pitfalls:
1. Slower connection
All VPNs will slow down your internet speed to some degree. There are a couple of reasons for this.
First, VPN apps have to encrypt outgoing data and decrypt incoming data. The encryption process adds some overhead, which tacks on some extra time for data to get through. The delay due to encryption is more noticeable on low-powered devices, like smart TVs and streaming devices.
Secondly, all your data has to pass through a VPN server. This adds an extra hop to the path that your data must take to reach its destination, slowing down the connection. However, you can minimize the delay by selecting a VPN server close to you.
By choosing a fast VPN service you should be able to avoid slow internet as most premium VPN users don’t notice the slight drop in speed.
2. Your VPN provider can see your data
When you use a VPN, your internet service provider can no longer see what you do online. But the VPN provider can.
We only recommend VPNs that adhere to no-logs policies, which means they don’t store any information about their users’ activity or identities while they’re connected to the VPN. That includes websites visited, apps used, IP addresses, and timestamps, among other things.
But many VPNs are not so trustworthy. They may even harvest data about your online activity to sell to third parties like advertisers.
If you want a decent VPN, you’ll have to pay. Although there are many free VPNs out there, they lack the performance, privacy, and security of their paid counterparts. However, many VPNs offer a free trial or you can choose one of the many cheap VPNs that can still offer strong security features.
4. VPNs can be blocked
A lot of people use VPNs to securely access streaming services or bypass censorship in places like China. Sometimes, connections to and from VPN servers can get blocked by businesses or governments, leaving you with a VPN that doesn’t do what you purchased it for.
We only recommend VPNs with reliable track records for streaming and bypassing censorship.
5. Other inconveniences
Using a VPN can result in a few additional inconveniences when surfing the web or using apps. You might be required to enter your username and password more often, for instance. You might be barred from accessing your online bank account. Or you might have to decipher a lot more CAPTCHAs to access sites.
Your online banking portal might not be accessible if you’re accessing it from an IP address you haven’t used before.
Printers, security cameras, and other home IoT devices might not be accessible while the VPN is enabled, though this varies from one VPN to another.
Is using a VPN worth it?
Yes! The pros absolutely outweigh the cons. In fact, many of the cons are avoidable or insignificant if you choose the right provider and app.
NordVPN is our top recommendation. Surfshark and ExpressVPN make for great alternatives. All of these VPNs offer excellent speed, adhere to no-logs policies, and can reliably block most popular streaming services from abroad. Plus, they all come with 30-day money-back guarantees so you can try them out risk-free.
What about free VPNs?
Free VPNs can be tempting, but they come with a few drawbacks. Firstly, they may not offer top-notch security and encryption, leaving your data at risk. They also tend to offer limited features, which might not meet all your privacy needs.
- Speed is another issue. Free VPNs often have slower speeds due to overcrowded servers, which can affect your online activities like browsing, streaming, and gaming.
- Privacy concerns arise as many free VPNs make money by collecting and selling your data. They may also bombard you with intrusive ads and use poor encryption technology.
- Customer support is usually minimal with free VPNs, which can be problematic if you need help. Some free VPNs may even contain malware, posing a risk to your device.
- Lastly, you might face connection problems due to inefficient traffic handling.
In a nutshell, while free VPNs offer some basic protection, they have significant downsides. It might be worth considering a paid VPN if you need more features, faster speeds, or better security.