As more and more people get on the internet, leaving an abundance of data trail of their internet usage, data privacy is soon becoming a major concern around the world. And when it comes to data privacy and protection, one of the most popular tools to secure your internet activities is a virtual private network, commonly known as VPN.
If used correctly, a VPN can go a long way in protecting you, but it is important to know its limitations before using.
How Does A VPN Work?
A VPN creates an encrypted data tunnel, also known as a VPN tunnel, between your device and a remotely located VPN server (or a VPS), which acts as an exit node. The VPN server connects to the internet and transfers back data to your device using the encrypted tunnel.
The VPN will effectively hide your device's IP address along with your location, to the websites visited by you. To these websites, your location will reflect that of the VPN server.
To your internet service provider (ISP), your entire internet usage while connected to the VPN will appear as gibberish - owing to the connection being encrypted.
Why Should You Use A VPN?
There are various reasons for a user to resort to using VPNs for internet browsing - with security and privacy being the most common ones.
Many companies, who have employees working remotely, provide VPNs to perform sensitive company related tasks online. Since such employees work from unsecured networks, the VPN ensures encryption of all the data sent and received from the network provider of the internet connection used by the employee.
ISPs can also track the entirety of your browsing activities and provide such data to advertisers or the government. Your browsing data can also fall in the hands of malicious hackers, if your ISP's integrity is compromised. In such instances, you can be prone to microtargetting by companies, to surveillance by the authorities, or to myriad scams by bad actors. A VPN can mask out your internet activities from your ISP, and keep your privacy intact.
In case you are using a public WiFi, any sensitive data you send or receive can be potentially compromised by bad actors who have access to such internet. In such a case, using a VPN would be extremely useful.
Since a VPN also changes your location to that of the VPN server for the websites you visit, it can also be used to access location-specific website content. For example, if a user from India connects to an American server using a VPN to connect to streaming service Netflix, then he/she will be able to watch content available for United States users on the platform from India.
How To Choose A VPN Service?
There are many free and paid VPN services available currently, and it can sometimes be difficult to choose between them.
If privacy and security of your data is crucial, then it is highly advisable to avoid getting a free VPN service. Running and maintaining a VPN costs a good deal of money, and if the VPN provider is not charging you for such service, then it is probably your browsing data that is making up for it. Such VPN providers may sell your data to the highest bidder to make up for the cost of running the network.
Even for a paid VPN service, there is a high level of trust required to access the services, because it is not usually possible to look under the hood to see how your data travels. A good VPN service encrypts your IP address and internet usage, and does not keep logs of your activity. There are certain VPN services out there that have created good reputation of providing seamless internet transfer through highly encrypted services without keeping logs of your activities.
Synthesising the latest recommendations made by tech-publications PcMag, TechRadar and Tom's Guide, we have come up with the following VPN services that are well-known to fit the above requirements:
Setting Up A VPN Is Easy
Despite its perceived complexities, VPNs are quite easy to setup. For any Windows or Mac user, you have to carry out the following steps:
- Visit the website of the VPN provider of your choice and go to their subscriptions page.
- Choose and purchase a subscription, while creating an account with the VPN provider.
- Go to the 'downloads' page of the VPN provider's website, and download their VPN Client.
- Install the VPN Client and login using the account you created in Step 2.
- Choose a server at any available location - you're now connected to the VPN.
Are You Completely Secure Now? Not Likely
While VPNs are good for security, they cannot be relied on completely to keep your data protected at all times. As mentioned before, a certain level of trust on the VPN provider is required while using their services. There have been instances of VPN providing companies lying about their data logging habits. It is advisable to read the data policies of the VPN provider before opting for one.
To further ensure that your internet browsing activities are secured from your VPN provider, there is another option of running The Onion Router (TOR) over a VPN connection. Since TOR usage is frowned upon and blacklisted by ISPs, connecting to a VPN server will mask the TOR usage from your ISP, while TOR will hide your internet browsing activities from the VPN provider. However, using such a method has a vulnerability - the exit node for the TOR network can gain access to your browsing data, and can be harmful if compromised.
Furthermore, even if a user resorts to using VPN (and TOR), his/her data can still be compromised using highly advanced hacking and surveillance tools. If your home WiFi is compromised, or your computer itself, then most of your data can be potentially accessed remotely. Using strong passwords (with lower and upper case alphabets, digits and special characters) for WiFi is highly recommended.
For added security and privacy, users can also shift to open-source operating systems like Linux-based Ubuntu.
Updated On: 2021-02-16T21:45:38+05:30