Common Misunderstandings About VPNs
A VPN is a powerful security tool, but there are many misunderstandings and misconceptions about them. What a lot of people don’t realize with VPNs is that they are not a complete fix for every security issue that you might have, and when you use them recreationally you could run into problems.
VPNs are ideal for work scenarios where you need end-to-end encryption. Simply connect to your work VPN from your laptop and use that to access websites and the work network even when you’re working outside and remotely.
The issue comes with trying to use a VPN to make yourself untraceable – firstly, while all the traffic going through the VPN is encrypted and secure than any website SSL, it may be possible for law enforcement to demand a list of who is using a VPN, and if they keep records of who was using the VPN at any given time (which most will) then you are not truly untraceable while using the VPN.
Another issue is that you are using a Virtual Private Network at the same time as many other people – so, if you use a VPN with certain online services that forbid multiple accounts from the same household, you could end up facing punishment for that, because the service providers won’t know that you’re on a VPN – they’ll simply assume you’re running multiple accounts. Many online services simply ban VPNs instead of trying to keep track of who is on a VPN or a proxy service, who is living in student residences, and who is simply account sharing and actually breaking the rules.
That’s not to say that VPNs aren’t worth using. The end-to-end encryption can be invaluable – but if you want anonymity then you should look elsewhere.
You’re highly unlikely to have account details stolen while using a VPN – unless the provider of it is someone that is unscrupulous themselves – but you should be mindful of the possibility when signing up to a new provider. Pick one that is up to date, and try to make sure that you know exactly where they are and what they’re logging into. It would be frustrating to get a Virtual Private Network in Europe and then find out that when you’re on it you’re locked out of all your favorite Netflix shows because of issues with region locking, for example!
Understand what a VPN is supposed to do, and use it just for that purpose, and you won’t go far wrong. Accept that VPNs can sometimes be a little slow or sluggish, and that you will be better off if you use them for the reasons that they were intended. Know that they are just one tool in the whole security arsenal, and that in the long run you should really be looking to have a setup that includes local encryption, secure passwords, a VPN, antivirus, firewalls, and lots of backups, as well as locks on your machine, to ensure that everything is OK and that your data is kept safe.