Understanding VPNs – 6 Important Questions About Virtual Private Networks, Answered

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If you are here now, you probably already know a thing or two about virtual private networks (VPNs) and what they can do. And if you don’t, we’ll gladly explain. 

Put simply, VPNs are tools people can use to protect their privacy and maintain their anonymity online. What they do is mask your IP address so that your online activity is, for the most part, untraceable. Perhaps the most important aspect to keep in mind is that VPNs create an encrypted connection, allowing you to browse safely online even when using public network connections, such as the Wi-Fi from your favorite coffee shop. 

VPNs have been around for quite some time now, and even though they provide great protection against cyberthreats, people have this belief that you need to be a tech-savvy person to learn how to use them. In reality, most VPN providers have worked to make their tools easy to use for anyone, and if you don’t plan on tweaking with the most advanced settings, you should have no trouble setting up your VPN

Learning a bit more about what these services can do will help you understand the benefits they can bring to your online safety.

I have nothing to hide; why would I need a VPN?

Many people believe if they don’t conduct any illegal activity, they have no reason to hide their online activity. While a VPN is a great way to maintain online anonymity, the primary use of these services is to protect your online data from unwanted eyes. 

For example, when you make an online purchase, you enter a bunch of personal information that needs to stay hidden, such as your name, address, and banking details. If these details were to end up in the wrong hands, they could be used for illegal purposes, or you can be left with no money in your bank account. By using a VPN, you can protect your online activity and ensure your data stays personal.

What’s more, some internet service providers can sell their clients’ browsing history to marketing agencies, and while this is not exactly a safety concern, it still violates personal privacy. 

Are VPNs legal to use?

Even though there are plenty of VPN providers out there and their services have become more and more popular, people still wonder if these services are legal. The short answer is yes, as the internet is a free space and is not controlled by one single entity. However, each country can impose its own rules when it comes to what its residents can or cannot do on the internet, so there may be instances when VPNs are illegal to use. Some examples include the United Arab Emirates, India, and China, which have stringent rules in place. 

Another essential thing to keep in mind is that, even though VPNs may be legal in your country, you may end up in trouble if you use one to bypass the firewall in your school or office. Stick to using it for personal purposes and, if VPNs are legal in your country, you should have nothing to worry about. 

Can I roam the internet undetected if I use a VPN?

While VPNs do offer improved privacy when using the internet and encrypt your traffic, this is not enough to actually make you untraceable. It will, however, make it more difficult for someone to trace you, as it hides your IP address, but experts can find ways around it. That’s because your IP address is not the only method of online identification available. Hackers can use malware, doxing, or take advantage of human carelessness to track someone. 

If you want to lower your chances of being tracked, you can use an anonymous browser in addition to a VPN, as well as install an internet security program. 

How do VPNs keep my data safe?

VPNs safeguard your private data through two methods: encryption and no-log policies. Let’s explore both:

  • Encryption

To encrypt your traffic, VPNs use many protocols, including IPsec, L2TP, and PPTP, which have various security levels. The most commonly used one is Point-to-Point Tunnelling Protocol (PPTP), which is supported on a bunch of operating systems, including Windows and macOS. 

  • No-log Policy

A VPN no-log policy should mean the VPN won’t log the things you do online, but that’s not always the case. Some VPN providers, despite advertising a no-log policy, still keep a bunch of user logs. Some do so because they are legally required to by the state they operate in, but others do this to sell your data, so be very careful with the provider you choose. 

Are VPNs expensive? What about free options?

Most VPN services cost between $2 and $10 a month, but this can vary based on the subscription plan you choose. The majority of providers offer discounts if you purchase a subscription for a longer period of time (6 months or more), so make sure to check this out as well.

Free VPNs may sound like a good option at first, but they are nowhere near as reliable and safe as paid ones are. Think of it this way: these providers need money to support their operations, and if you are not paying for the product, chances are the product won’t be that good or the company is making money some other ways. In most cases, it is through your data, which they sell to third-parties. 

Can I use a VPN on any device?

Depending on your service provider, there are three types of devices VPNs can be liked to. These are computers (desktops and laptops), mobile devices (phones and tablets), and routers. While setting a VPN on a computer or smartphone can be really easy, setting up one on your router may require some additional tech skills. 

Keep in mind that not all routers are compatible with VPN services due to the operating system they use. Most VPNs are built to work with the main operating systems out there, including Windows, Android, iOS and macOS, and Linux. The majority of routers, especially those that come from popular brands, use Linux as their main operating system, so they are compatible with VPNs. Others, however, are not, so you should do some research to see if your router supports the use of a VPN or not before purchasing one.

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