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Do You Always Need a VPN?

Do You Always Need a VPN?

Updated: 08-16-2021

A Virtual Private Network (VPN) establishes a secure connection between your device and the internet. It sends all your online traffic through a secure tunnel to a remote server located in a country of your choice. When the remote server receives your web requests, it sends the traffic to the destination website and waits for a response.

The remote server receives the response, encrypts it, and forwards it to you. This prevents your Internet Service Provider (ISP), the government, or hackers from knowing the kind of websites you access online.

A VPN also masks your original IP address and assigns you the remote server's IP address, preventing websites from tracking your physical location and sending you personalized ads.

Those are some of the few reasons people who want to browse the internet anonymously connect to a VPN service. It is an easy and efficient way to maintain your online privacy and freedom. But if you're not familiar with how VPNs work, the whole concept can be quite overwhelming.

This article explains the reasons for using a VPN service and its advantages.

But first things first, here's a preview of what is to come:

  • Why do you need a VPN?
  • Are you using a VPN to bypass geo-blocking?
  • Do you worry about online privacy and safety?
  • Is your internet connection not fast enough?
  • Are you doing online shopping regularly?
  • Are you using public Wi-Fi regularly?
  • Are you torrenting regularly?
  • Are you connecting to a business network?

Why Do You Need a VPN?

When you're connected to the internet, you constantly exchange data with other parties. For this reason, you probably wouldn't want other parties to observe what you do online and the websites you interact with. But this happens most of the time when you connect to the internet via a regular network.

When that happens, ISPs, hackers, and even the government can easily find out what you're doing on the internet. This can be particularly dangerous in countries with internet censorship, and you may land in trouble if found accessing banned websites. But if you want to protect your online privacy, there's no better way of doing it than connecting to a VPN service.

Without a VPN service, it is possible to track all your online activities back to you. But when you connect to a VPN, your online activities will be traced back to the VPN remote server and not you. In addition, a reputable VPN service won't disclose your original IP address and the websites you visit. On the contrary, it enforces a strict no-log policy.

The no-log policy requires a VPN provider not to record your data when connecting to a VPN server. Instead, such a service can only collect minimal information about how customers interact with its products but won't save any personal information. This makes it difficult for anyone to trace the user's online activity.

This is also the reason you should opt for premium VPN services instead of free VPNs. In most cases, free VPNs enforce the no-log policy, and may sell your data to the highest bidder. For this reason, it's advisable to opt for a premium VPN service with the following features if you want to stay secure online:

  • A kill switch.
  • Strongest encryption standards
  • Strict no-log policy
  • Servers in many locations
  • Best encryption protocols

Are You Using a VPN To Bypass Geo-Blocking?

Geoblocking restricts access to specific content on the internet based on a user's physical location. As a result, it acts as a barrier and prevents people from other regions from accessing websites or content available in a certain region.

For instance, the BBC iPlayer only works in the United Kingdom, meaning you can't access it if you're outside the UK.

Other popular geo-restricted streaming services include:

Pandora: A music streaming service only available in the United States.

Sling: A live TV streaming service only available in the US.

HBO NOW:  A streaming service that only works in the US and certain US territories.

DAZN: A live sports and on-demand TV streaming service only available in select locations.

Assuming you live in the US but you're on holiday or have immigrated to another country, you won't be able to access content from some of your favorite streaming services because of geo-blocks. However, the best way to bypass geo-blocking is by using a VPN.

A VPN enables you to view your favorite streams by connecting to a server in your home country. The streaming services then counter-checks your IP address to confirms it's from an allowed location.

Also, if you want to gain access to websites or streaming services in another region, let's say you want to watch Netflix in Italy, you can do so by connecting to a VPN remote server in Italy.

To consistently ensure you have access to geo-blocked content, your device should always stay connected to the VPN. Otherwise, the streaming services will detect your original IP address and block you from accessing content. If you're on limited bandwidth, you can wait for the content to load and then access it after you've switched off your VPN service to save on data usage.

Note that this doesn't work on all websites or streaming services with geo-restrictions. Some streaming services will immediately detect your actual location when you switch off the VPN and block you from accessing their content.

For this reason, always opt for premium VPN services with unlimited bandwidth and exceptionally high speeds. This is also another reason to avoid free VPNs because they have limited bandwidth and are prone to IP leaks. An IP leak occurs when your original IP address leaks, even when connected to a VPN service.

Do You Worry About Online Privacy and Safety?

Many VPN users are concerned about online privacy and safety. Therefore, if you wish to stay anonymous online, you should keep the VPN connection active at all times.

Also, when selecting a VPN service, ensure it has an automatic kill switch. A kill switch is a VPN feature that shuts down the internet connection on your device whenever the VPN connection drops. There are two types of kill switches:

An application-level kill switch is triggered for specific apps if VPN connection drops while other apps remain connected to the internet.

On the other hand, a system-level kill switch disables internet connection on the whole device if you're disconnected from a VPN server.

Not all VPN providers have both types of kill switches, some only incorporate the system level kill switch on their software, but it is an important feature if you value your online privacy.

Another factor you should consider is the type of encryption utilized by the VPN service. The military-grade AES 256-bit encryption is the most advanced encryption protocol, which is considered virtually impossible to break. Actually, it would take supercomputers billions of years to break this type of encryption.

For this reason, it is best to opt for a VPN service with that type of encryption. Some VPN services use the 128-bit or 192-bit version of AES, but they are technically less secure than 256-bit AES encryption. For advanced security, go for 256-bit encryption, which is safe against any brute force attacks.

If you're not concerned about your online security and privacy that much, then you can choose to browse on your regular unencrypted network and turn off the VPN service.

Is Your Internet Connection Not Fast Enough?

Have you ever experienced a drop in internet connection when you're about to stream a High Definition (HD) or 4K movie online? Or your downloads just take too long to be completed. Well, there are several reasons you might be experiencing slow internet connections.

The most common reason is due to network congestion or ISP throttling. ISP bandwidth throttling is when your ISP intentionally slows down your connection when they detect certain types of traffic, such as torrenting or streaming.

Bandwidth throttling stops you from consuming too much of your ISP's bandwidth. In most cases, bandwidth throttling occurs without the customer's knowledge or permission, making it difficult to stream content such as movies or TV shows online.

You may experience constant buffering and lagging when loading streams online. It's time to check if your ISP is throttling your connection if you frequently experience speed issues.

The easiest way to do this is by running a speed test when connected to a regular network and another when connected to a VPN. If you find out that your connection is significantly faster when using a VPN, then your ISP might be throttling your bandwidth.

Well, that's not all a VPN does. You can use a VPN to bypass ISP bandwidth throttling and maintain high internet speeds, given that a VPN service encrypts your online traffic to prevent other third parties from monitoring your activities.

For example, your ISP won't be able to distinguish whether you're streaming content or simply browsing the internet. They also won't inspect your data packets because they'll be encrypted. For this reason, you can't be flagged by your ISP if you are involved in bandwidth-consuming activities such as streaming, torrenting, or downloading.

But this won't prevent the ISP from knowing how much bandwidth you consume because all your traffic still travels through their servers before reaching the remote VPN server. On some occasions, you might conduct a speed test and find out that your connection is significantly slower when you're connected to a VPN than when not. In such a case, it would be best if you turn off your VPN for some time, especially if you're on limited bandwidth.

Of course, there may be other reasons why you're experiencing slow connections, and using a VPN may not be helpful in all situations. For instance, if you notice that your internet connection has slowed down toward the end of the month, you might have reached your monthly data cap. Data caps are restrictions set by your ISP, limiting the amount of bandwidth you can use for a stipulated period.

Unfortunately, connecting to a VPN service won't help if your slow connection is caused by data cap overages or network congestion. Worse still, connecting to a VPN service may increase your overall data usage. This is because VPNs provide an extra layer of security and your traffic has to travel for a longer distance before reaching the destination.

How To Increase Your VPN Speed

It is possible to increase your connection speeds, even when using a VPN. Below are some minor tweaks that can help you achieve maximum speeds with a VPN:

Change Your Server

The reason your VPN connection is slow might be because you're connected to a congested VPN server. The best thing to do is switch to another server and see if the speed improves. Some VPN providers display the status of their servers, including those offering the best speeds.

If connecting to a less congested server does not work, try connecting to a server near your physical location. Reducing the distance your traffic travels might significantly improve your connection speed.

Change the VPN Protocol

A VPN protocol contains instructions that determine how data is routed between your device and the VPN server. Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) and User Datagram Protocol (UDP) are the main protocols for connecting a client to a remote server.

TCP is more reliable, has data checking mechanisms, and guarantees the delivery of data packets, but it is usually slow and consumes more bandwidth than UDP. On the other hand, UDP is a connectionless protocol that offers faster connection speeds. Therefore, if your connection speed is slow, you can switch to UDP from TCP.

Are You Doing Online Shopping Regularly?

A VPN can be a useful tool if you shop online regularly and want to save some money. For example, when you want to book flights or hotel rooms online, prices usually vary depending on your location.

Such travel websites track your search history, obtain information from cookies on your browser, and then use this information to decide the best deals and prices for you.

Some travel websites hike air ticket prices when they notice that you've searched for a particular location repeatedly. That's why it's advisable to clear cookies or use the private browsing mode when buying plane tickets, but this may not work at all times. The best way to save money while booking flights is by using alternate location ticketing.

Alternate location ticketing simply instructs an airline website to search for flights as if you're located somewhere else instead of your physical location. This is where a VPN comes in handy. With a VPN connection, you can select a server located in a country of your choice and trick an airline into charging you less for your flight.

Alternate location ticketing isn't always a guaranteed way to save money, but it's worth trying. Also, it works best when you're booking domestic flights in a country you intend to visit. For instance, if you plan to visit Chile, booking a domestic flight while still in the US might be a bit expensive than booking a domestic flight while in Chile. 

Another example of how a VPN can help you save money is when you shop online. The product you want to buy might be much cheaper in another country. For instance, if you want to shop for friends and family overseas, you can use a remote VPN server located in their home country to access the online store and receive the best deals.

Are You Using Public Wi-Fi Regularly?

You've probably sat at a coffee shop, airport, or hotel and connected to the free Wi-Fi. While it may seem normal for travelers, connecting to public Wi-Fi comes with huge risks.

For instance, hackers can easily take over your connection if you're connected to public Wi-Fi and execute several attacks—the most common one being the Man-In-The-Middle (MITM) attack. In a MITM attack, an attacker can secretly relay and alter communication between parties communicating with each other over the internet.

Another variation of the MITM attack is the 'evil twin' attack. An attacker sets up a fake Wi-Fi network or a replica of a legitimate network to steal their victims' sensitive details. The fake Wi-Fi network is then used to eavesdrop on users and steal their login credentials and other sensitive data.

How To Protect Yourself While on Public Wi-Fi

There are several ways to protect yourself while on public Wi-Fi, as discussed below.

Always Use a VPN

Connecting to a VPN is the best way to protect yourself while on public Wi-Fi. A VPN encrypts all your traffic and makes it virtually impossible for a hacker to see what you're doing online. In addition, it protects you against packet sniffing, meaning a hacker can't read any of the data sent over the network.

 

Avoid Logging Into Your Accounts on Public Wi-Fi

You can use public Wi-Fi to browse the internet and do basic research but avoid accessing your accounts because hackers can steal the login credentials. Upon stealing your login credentials, you may become a victim of identity theft, fraud, among other cybercrimes.

Do Not Connect to Wi-Fi Hotspots Labeled ‘Unsecure’

Avoid connecting to a Wi-Fi network that looks familiar but is labeled 'Unsecure'. This is because such a network may be a fraudulent Wi-Fi access point set up to eavesdrop on victims.

Important: To protect your data while using public Wi-Fi, always ensure that you're connected to a VPN. Connecting to a public Wi-Fi network without a VPN puts your device at risk of being hacked.

Are You Torrenting Regularly?

Sharing or downloading copyrighted material using torrents or Peer-to-Peer (P2P) could land you in trouble with the authorities. In addition, ISPs and the government may track down torrent users who access illegal material and impose huge fines on them, which is why you should always connect to a VPN service when torrenting.

Are You Connecting to a Business Network?

Some businesses use VPNs to protect their sensitive data. That's the reason large and medium organizations set up secure connections for their employees. Also, remote employees can use a VPN to connect to their organizations' network securely.

VPNs come in different versions, especially when businesses are involved. For example, small businesses can use the remote access VPN to connect all their users to the corporate network. For this type of VPN, employees will need to install dedicated VPN software on their devices.

On the other hand, large organizations with branches across the globe can use the site-to-site VPN to connect their main office with the branch offices securely. However, this type of VPN requires specialized equipment to maintain and could be expensive to set up, depending on the organization's needs.

This article has discussed various situations where VPN use is critical. But do you need to have your VPN on at all times? Well, this depends on what you do on the internet. If you're concerned about online security and want to stay anonymous while browsing the web, it is advisable to ensure you're connected to a VPN service at all times.

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