VPN can protect your privacy, if you use it properly. We explain what VPNs do, do not do, and how you can use a VPN to protect your online privacy.
Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) have shifted from the obscure concept of communication to big business. You’ve probably seen ads from your favorite YouTuber, podcasts, and even during Superbowl with claims about how a VPN can make you anonymous or allow you to access free video streaming. Are the products compatible with the hype? While VPNs can be useful tools for protecting your privacy, it is important to understand how these tools work in order to determine if they will really help you. We analyze what VPNs do and do not do to help you understand why you might want them and how to choose the one that is best for you.
Companies have long used VPN technology to allow employees access to digital services wherever they are, long before COVID-19 made homework a habit.
When you turn on a VPN, it creates an encrypted connection (sometimes called a “tunnel”) between your device and the remote server used by the VPN service. All your internet traffic is transferred through this tunnel, to the server, and then send the traffic to the public internet as usual. The data coming from your device makes the same journey: from the Internet, to the VPN server, through an encrypted connection, and back to your machine.
Remember you do not need another company to set up a VPN. There are a few options out there for setting up your own, like Outline. Doing so is straightforward, but you will need your own server or hire one. While some efforts have been made to make VPNs more accessible, it is best left to caretakers who are eager to get their hands on (digital) hands.
Do VPNs Make You Anonymous Online?
By encrypting your traffic and moving it through a VPN server, it is difficult but not impossible for viewers to identify and track your online movements. Your Internet Service Provider (ISP) has a great understanding of what you do online, and, thanks to Congress, your ISP may sell anonymous data about its customers. That means the company you pay for access to the Internet makes money from your data. The FTC released a report in 2021 that clearly states how much your ISP knows about what you are doing online, and more. If you do not want the company you are already paying to make a profit with your data or if you have concerns about ISPs collecting detailed information about your activities, a VPN will help you.
track you online
VPNs also make it difficult for advertisers and others to track you online. Typically, data is transferred from the Internet to your device using its IP address. When VPN is active, your real IP address is hidden and anyone viewing can only see the IP address of the VPN server. By encrypting your real IP address, VPNs obscure a single method used to identify and track you online.
Other than that, VPNs do not make you completely anonymous online. Advertisers, for example, have a number of ways to identify and track you as you navigate the web. Trackers and cookies on websites are trying to identify you personally, and then look at where you are coming from next. Sites and advertisers can also identify you by recognizing a few different features, such as browser version, screen size, and more. By themselves, this information is harmless, but when companies adequately integrate these identities, they create a unique signature — so much so that this process is called browser fingerprints.
That does not mean the privacy we give away in order to receive services. Amazon, Google, and Meta (formerly Facebook) have become pillars of modern internet infrastructure, and it is impossible to avoid it completely. Even if you delete all your accounts and don’t use them again, they may still be able to harvest data about you.
These privacy threats require tools other than VPNs. Advertising blockers and trackers. Such as those found in other browsers or as standalone tools such as the EFF’s Privacy Badger, address some of these concerns.
Using Tor can monitor your privacy even better than a VPN, and give you access to the Dark Web. Unlike a VPN, Tor rows your traffic through a few volunteer server locations, making it extremely difficult to track. It is also owned by a non-profit organization and is distributed free of charge. Some VPN services will connect to Tor via VPN, making this arcane program easily accessible. The cost of your internet connection is high, however, as using Tor will reduce your connection over the VPN. Tor is also imperfect, and it has its many weaknesses to consider.
Remember that law enforcement agencies and government agencies have access to highly developed and aggressive strategies. Given enough time, a determined, well-funded enemy can get the next one.
Are VPNs Safe From Malware?
Several VPNs claim to add some protection to malicious files. The idea is that a VPN company scans files that pass through its systems before they reach your machine.
I usually do not test the capabilities of a VPN computer program. As I view VPNs primarily as a private product. In order to deal with the threat of malware. I believe that standalone standalone software. Whether the one you buy or the one delivered by your computer — does a better job. And, as a private product, I believe VPNs should pay less attention to your web traffic as much as possible.
Do VPNs Keep You Safe Online?
A VPN will hide the content of your web traffic from other viewers. And may make it difficult for you to be tracked online. But a VPN, at best, can offer only limited protection from the threats you may encounter on the web. Malicious software, social engineering scams, and criminal sites to steal sensitive information.
There are better ways to deal with these threats. Your browser has built-in tools to detect criminal sites for stealing sensitive information. As well as many anti-virus software, so be careful when you see a warning. Use common sense when you see.