Recently there has been a huge rise in the popularity of VPN services, but why use a VPN? There are multiple reasons to use a VPN, but not everyone needs one. It seems quite common for the companies behind VPN services to be encouraging people to use a VPN for the wrong reasons. In this article, we will go into detail about why a VPN may be useful.
Firstly by using a VPN you are not automatically anonymous while online. Any VPN provider you use will be able to see your original IP address and can link your activity back to you. While many providers claim to keep no logs this is not always a certainty and therefore this is something you need to consider when choosing whether to purchase a VPN service.
Using Tor is much more suitable for this situation because you are not trusting a single provider, but multiple nodes on the Tor network instead. This still does not always mean you are totally anonymous, but it is better than just using a single VPN.
Using a VPN to hide or protect your online activity from your ISP (Internet service provider) is one of the most valid reasons for using a VPN.
In many countries ISPs are required to store data about your online activity (what domains you visit etc…), so using a VPN will certainly stop your ISP from keeping any logs on your activity – all they will see is that you are using a VPN.
It is worth noting that while using a VPN will stop your ISP from seeing what you do online, you are essentially shifting this data from your ISP to a VPN provider (who can see what you do online). Therefore, the information that your ISP would have about your online activity is now in the hands of the VPN provider. Some VPN providers do seem genuine about protecting your privacy and claim to not keep logs, but this can never be a certainty.
A very common understanding is that a VPN is needed to encrypt your traffic online. This is not always true, since most of the time your traffic is encrypted already. When you access any website that offers HTTPS your traffic is encrypted and a VPN would not make any difference.
Most top websites will now offer HTTPS (if a website address has HTTPS://), However, if a website only uses HTTP (which is not encrypted), a VPN will not necessarily help anyway, since the VPN will not encrypt the traffic between the website and the VPN server.
As mentioned above, HTTPS will encrypt your interaction with any website using it, which means even on an insecure public network you will be safe without a VPN. However, there are some exceptions to this:
Accessing HTTP websites: Your interactions with these websites will not be encrypted and it will allow potential bad actors on the network to see what you are doing on that website. Using a VPN will be useful here as it shifts the trust to the VPN provider instead of the insecure public network. Using extensions such as HTTPS everywhere will also be useful in reducing your exposure to HTTP websites.
Fake wifi networks: This is possibly the best reason to use a VPN on public wifi networks. It is possible for someone to create a network with the same name as a public wifi network and if you join (sometimes without even noticing) all your traffic will be visible to whoever controls it. By using a VPN, none of your traffic will be visible to them – it will only be visible to the VPN provider.
When downloading or uploading data via torrenting your IP address is exposed. Using a VPN can prevent this since others will only see the IP from your VPN provider (which in most cases is being used by many other users also). It is recommended that you do use a VPN before using any torrents since it can hide what you are doing from your ISP or anti-piracy organizations (we do not encourage the use of any piracy).
Some locations may limit access to certain websites; this is known as geo-blocking. Some countries have tighter restrictions than others (e.g. China, which completely block some social media sites) sometimes by using a VPN you can avoid these restrictions and make it appear you are connecting from a different location. Although, it could be difficult to even use a VPN in countries like China because they also attempt to block VPN’s.
Most countries have different libraries on streaming services such as Netflix. For example, if you are located in the UK but would like to watch something which is only on Netflix US, a VPN could help make this possible. A VPN can also be useful if you are travelling and would like to access content from back home.
However, not all VPN services work great with this and it’s never a reliable solution. This is because many services such as Netflix actively block VPN IP’s. Throughout our VPN reviews, we have covered which services work well with streaming services, but it is impossible to recommend a single VPN provider for streaming services because as mentioned above, IP’s get blocked on an ongoing basis.
While a VPN may be useful, it is important to understand if you actually need one. As detailed in this article there are some really good reasons for using a VPN, but it is not always necessary.
Many VPN providers spend lots of money on marketing (via sponsorships or affiliate marketing) and it leads to many sites promoting questionable VPN services or promoting the use of a VPN for the wrong reasons, just to earn extra money. It is very important to not only understand if you need a VPN but also to understand which VPN provider to use.