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Credit card fraud. Identity theft. Covert surveillance. The internet of today is a dangerous place where you can find yourself victim of all these intrusions and many more. Some people think of it as a modern-day Wild West where anything goes.
Then there’s the more conservative side of the internet. Companies have found many ways to restrict what you can do online. They want to control what you can do depending on who you are.
So in some cases, the internet is a little too wild and risky. In others, it’s become too tightly controlled. A VPN can provide the solution to both problems. This post looks at some scenarios where a VPN can be useful, to help you decide if you need one.
Wait, what’s a VPN?
VPN stands for virtual private network. That can mean many things, but in this case it refers to online VPN services that encrypt all of the data you send and receive on the internet.
Why encrypt? Because when you transmit data over the internet, it’s impossible to know which route it has taken and who has made a copy. Every packet of data going to and from your computer carries metadata that identifies you and your activities. And criminals can use that data against you.
When using a VPN, your computer runs VPN client software that creates an authenticated connection with the VPN server. The VPN service usually uses a method called ‘data tunneling’ to make your data unreadable by third parties.
VPNs can also manipulate your IP address, so that you appear to be located in another country.
Scenario 1: “I don’t want Google logging all my searches”
It’s not just Google. Every search engine from Ask to Yahoo catalogs your searches and associates them with your IP address. If you’ve noticed web ads that seem surprisingly relevant to searches you made recently, that’s your favorite search engine logging your activity and using it to target you.
That might seem harmless enough, but let’s face it – we all search for embarrassing topics. Having that information stored by third parties, all of whom are prone to hacking, is far from desirable.
Scenario 2: “My government thinks it’s ok to snoop on me”
The NSA is still snooping on citizens in the US and abroad. It uses metadata from internet usage and elsewhere to track our activities. Internet service providers are legally obliged to pass data to the NSA.
Meanwhile, in some countries, web usage is censored and monitored by governments as a means of social control.
A VPN’s tunneled connection can protect your data from all this surveillance and censorship, to reinstate your privacy and freedom of expression.
Scenario 3: “The best videos are taking forever to load”
Are you suffering from buffering? Your Internet Service Provider (ISP) might be throttling your bandwidth. This means your ISP could be inspecting your data and restricting your download speeds based on what you’re doing online.
A VPN can let you watch what you want without your ISP interfering, so you can enjoy content with privacy, security, blazing fast speeds, and unlimited bandwidth.
Scenario 4: “I prefer to talk in private”
Voice-over-IP (VOIP) phone services like Skype or Google Talk are highly susceptible to eavesdropping, allowing hackers to listen in to your phone calls. The same goes for any online voice chat service.
With a VPN, the data is encrypted to keep eavesdroppers out and restore your privacy.
Scenario 5: “I sometimes use public Wi-Fi”
Sure, many of us have internet access on our phones now. But public Wi-Fi is really convenient when you’re in a foreign country or using your laptop in a coffee shop. Unfortunately, it’s also highly unsecure – you’re sharing the connection with countless other strangers, and the Wi-Fi provider itself is also party to data you send.
Using a VPN ensures that even on public Wi-Fi, everything you do is encrypted and secure.
Scenario 6: “I just want my privacy, thanks”
Maybe you just think privacy is a right you’re entitled to, and you don’t want all these online services and government agencies holding your information. In that case, a VPN can be an excellent solution.
One thing to remember is that a VPN adds an extra layer of complexity to your internet connection, and can slightly slow things down. So if you do decide a VPN is for you, make sure you choose the fastest and most reliable one you can find! (To help you decide, check out Comparitech’s ExpressVPN review.)