There is no such thing as perfect internet security or anonymity. A VPN helps, but if you are logging into accounts, carrying around cookies, and posting publicly you can still be tracked online.
Let’s put it this way. A VPN will stop your ISP from tracking you, but if the FBI or NSA is after you, a VPN won’t stop them kicking down the door.
Even advertisers have sneaky ways around VPNs.
So how does a VPN help with internet security and privacy?
- A VPN hides your IP address from the public internet
- A VPN hides your traffic and its content from your ISP
- A VPN prevents the site you are visiting from identifying you
- A VPN protects you on public WiFi
First What Information Can Your ISP Really See About You
When a website address starts with http:// it means your traffic is unencrypted.
Your ISP can see where it’s going, and all the data you’re sending. Everything is visible to your ISP and to any hacker that manages to intercept that traffic. What’s concerning is that intercepting traffic isn’t hard to do, especially if you’re on public WiFi. There are free tools that anyone can download and use to do it.
With https traffic, your ISP can only see what sites you are visiting. The content is hidden.
How Does a VPN Hide What You Do Online?
A VPN is sort of like a mail forwarding service. You send your traffic to the mail-in address and it’s rerouted on to its final destination.
Your ISP dropped the mail off with the ISP but can’t know what they will do with it. All the final recipient knows is it’s receiving traffic addressed from the VPN.
By using a VPN you break the chain that links you, your ISP, and the final destination.
Will your ISP and the destination website know that you are using a VPN? Probably, but so what?
Watching Geo-Blocked Content and Streaming Services
The world is locked into archaic broadcasting laws reminiscent of another age of TVs in living rooms. Besides waiting for legislation to catch up there’s no real reason not to use a VPN to access streaming services in other geographies, especially if you’re willing to pay for these streaming services.
Despite what’s clearly common sense, the US Netflix store has titles that are not available in the UK and vice versa. If you’re travelling, it’s nice to watch TV shows from home. But without a VPN it can be difficult to do that. Streaming services like SkySports, Hulu, SlingTV, Amazon Prime, HBO Max, Disney Plus, Crackle and more are all region locked or restricted in various countries around the world. Most of these services a banned in more areas than they’re allowed
If you’re overseas you get served the local version of sites. The internet is different. It’s Chinese or Arabic or Thai. You don’t get recommended news from home anymore, it’s harder to log into all your accounts. With a VPN you won’t need to type in as many SMS codes into 2-FAs.
If you suddenly show up in a region other than where you created the account that’s a red flag for your banks, and they respond by locking accounts. To unlock you need access to a computer or to call them. Getting locked out of your internet banking the day you arrive in a country or even 2 months into a trip is very frustrating. A VPN is a way to fix that problem.
Unblocking Websites at Work
For whatever reason companies choose to block websites on computers. Sometimes these blocks are at a network level you can’t get around them even on your own phone or laptop.
By using a VPN you change the destination of your traffic. The IP address you’re now travelling to isn’t on the blacklist. There is of course the problem of work computers prohibiting you from installing VPN software.
If you encounter this problem try the SurfShark Chrome extension. You can download here. School and work computers normally cannot detect when you add Chrome extensions to the browser.
Let’s Wrap This Up
VPNs aren’t the perfect solution to internet security, but they are a step in the right direction. The real reasons to use a VPN are: To hide what you’re doing from your ISP. Unblock geo-blocked content. Get around blocking at work. See the internet in your language while overseas. Avoid getting locked out of your accounts.