VPN services have become more and more popular in recent years and so you may be thinking why should I use a VPN? At its core, a virtual private network (VPN) is the encrypted tunnel linking your device to the World Wide Web. It can play a huge part in your online safety, though the details of what they’re capable of can be daunting at first.
Two types of VPN exist: one is an online safety tool, and that’s what’ll be covered in this guide. The other sort of VPN is used by workers to access their company intranet, allowing them to work securely remotely or abroad, being able to use all the same files and programs as though they were in the main office.
The two share similarities, in that they both provide enhanced personal privacy, which is the main draw of a VPN.
And there are a host of other benefits, too! Besides encrypting the sensitive information you input online (addresses, passwords, details and more), VPNs come in handy when you’re out and about and having to rely on free WiFi.
VPNs are also a popular way to access geo-blocked content. By connecting to a server overseas, you can finally get stuck into those American shows you’ve been meaning to catch!
VPN Beginner's guide
If you are a beginner and want to learn more about VPNs and how they work, check out our what is a VPN guide.
Why use a VPN?
Using a VPN service will give you several advantages these include the following:
- Improve your internet privacy
- Improve your online security
- Access geo-restricted content
- Bypass internet restrictions
We cover each point in more detail below.
Improve your internet privacy
We tend to feel pretty secure when we’re browsing the web at home, but your internet service provider (ISP) can see and log your activity. Similarly, the government and various websites can track your activity by using your IP address, which can tell them a lot about you, including where you are and what pages you’re looking at.
We’re not implying that you’re getting up to anything shady, of course - it’s about your right to online privacy in an age where we’re sharing more data than ever.
A VPN excels in this. Instead of connecting directly through your ISP, a VPN allows you to browse the web through a secure VPN connection. The VPN handles your requests and deals with the response from the website, acting as a barrier between you and the site.
So, if you’re thinking a VPN sounds pretty good, you’d be right - but it is important to have a discerning eye when picking one. There are pages and pages of VPNs available with just a Google search - but don’t worry, we’ve compiled a list of the best VPN services, and would recommend going with one of these options.
Improve online security
WiFi hotspots can be as dangerous as they are convenient, as cybercriminals will prey on the fact that a lot of them lack security features.
If you’re connected to an HTTP site at a coffee shop, your activity is going to be visible to anyone who knows how to look. This means that details like your email, bank login, addresses, and more, are all potentially at risk.
There are several ways that hackers can dupe you, but the most prevalent method is by creating a fake WiFi network. This network will be named something just believable enough to get you to connect without a second thought.
Luckily, using a VPN on public WiFi will keep your data safe from these criminals. Though they might see your connection, they won’t be able to access any of the packets passed through it, as the VPN will be encrypting them.
Should I use a VPN at home?
The idea of being hacked at home might seem a bit far-fetched, but, unfortunately, it’s not.
A VPN will have your back if you suspect someone may have, or be after, your WiFi password - and your WiFi passwords is a precious thing, controlling who has access to your devices and home connections.
Remember those data packets that a VPN encrypts through the private tunnel? This feature protects you from cybercriminals attempting to dupe you with false connections, as you’re already connected to the secure VPN, and there’s no chance of your traffic being infiltrated and injected with malware that could steal your personal information.
Let’s also say that you weren’t using a VPN at the coffee shop and accidentally brought a malicious program back home: it’ll prey on your router… if you don’t have a VPN. With one, your router benefits from the encryption it provides, too, even if it becomes a target of attacks.
Access more content with a VPN
When you connect to a VPN server in another location, any sites you visit will see the IP address of that secure server - not yours. So, if you connect to a server in the USA, it’ll assume you’re physically in the USA, too.
This comes in handy when trying to access geo-blocked content on streaming sites, as the offerings can differ wildly from country to country - much like different Netflix libraries.
By simply selecting a VPN server in the location of your choice, you’ll be able to browse Netflix, hulu, Spotify, BBC iPlayer and a host of sports streaming services with unimpeded freedom.
Bypass internet censorship
Similarly, a VPN can help people with more than just blocked streaming services. Some countries find themselves with reduced internet access as a result of government-mandated censorship, particularly in China, where citizens are unable to use Google, YouTube, Facebook, and more.
The sites we take for granted can provide important lifelines for others who need them to stay in touch with friends, family and the wider world.
This is a big problem for journalists, too. There’s never been more news to report on and more ways to do it, through print, social media, and digital publications, and many journalists are facing virtual blockades as they try to access these pivotal news sites.
Using a VPN can enable a journalist to conduct quality research into sensitive topics, whilst staying safe and secure. The selection of different VPN servers provides access to global resources. The nature of the industry means journalists often rely on public networks when on the move, and, as mentioned earlier, a VPN is a great tool for keeping safe in public - no reporter wants their story leaked or stolen from under them.
If you are using a VPN in a country with strict internet censorship and bypassing these blocks can lead to punishment, it is vital that you use a VPN with obfuscated servers to ensure your activity is kept private and secure.
The disadvantages of using a VPN
Whilst the downsides of a VPN are relatively few, it is still important to consider them in conjunction with your specific circumstances. Know what your priority is - are you after heightened security or a tool to unblock content?
A VPN has an effect on your internet speed, and unfortunately, this is inevitable. The good news is that there’s an important reason for it. Your VPN takes extra steps to create encryption protocols that secure your data packets, and whilst you should expect a dip in speed due to this, it should never exceed 10-20% loss.
The downsides of VPNs:
- Slightly slower speeds because of the encryption process (no more than 10-20%).
- Some record activity logs if you don't use a zero logs service.
- Cost is a factor for premium features and reliable security features.
Some VPNs log your activity, which isn't ideal if your goal is to protect your privacy. Activity logs can be relinquished to intrusive governments with a simple warrant. Fortunately, we have seen a rise in "no logs" services, which keep your browsing history, IP address, and other personally identifiable details off the record. However, some logging can be beneficial in order to enforce necessary restrictions, like bandwidth monitoring or keeping an eye on how many devices you have connected, but sticking with a true zero logs provider will keep you safe.
Additionally, depending on your budget, a VPN can take up a slice of your outgoings. This is a personal factor, and only you know what’s reasonable and what’s not - but as with everything in life, you generally get what you pay for. A high-end, more expensive VPN will offer a buffet of services; allowing you to connect multiple devices, enhanced connection speed, and customer support to name a few.
There are a bevy of options for all price ranges with money-back guarantees, however, and even a number of free VPNs available. So regardless of your situation, it’s never totally impossible to keep yourself safe online.