If you love to explore the internet and technology in general, then you probably know that you are never private, anonymous, or secure when you are online. This is because your ISP monitors and logs your activities, marketers track you to personalize ads, and hackers are always waiting to pounce on any data they can get about you. Not to mention the secret government surveillance programs!
To restore some privacy and freedom, millions of internet users have resulted in using VPNs, and rightly so. However, most people do not really understand what a VPN does and doesn’t offer. In this article, we’ll look at VPNs in more detail.
What’s a VPN?
A virtual private network (VPN) is a service that facilitates a private connection between a user and the internet. A VPN reroutes your internet traffic through a specific server such that it appears you’re accessing the internet from the server’s geographical location.
When a user connects to a VPN server, their internet traffic is encrypted as it is transmitted. This keeps the data secure from any snooping eyes. The VPN also changes your IP address by masking it with the said server’s IP, making it hard for a person to determine your actual location or identity.
However, most people misunderstand the capabilities of a VPN in terms of privacy and anonymity. Although a VPN can protect your online privacy, it doesn’t necessarily make your location or identity completely anonymous. To clear up the confusion around this subject, let’s look at what a VPN can actually do and what it can’t do.
How does a VPN protect you?
Once you’ve set up a VPN app and connect to a server, all the traffic forwarded from the web to your PC will be encrypted. Since it is basically a secure tunnel, prying eyes won’t be able to tap into this traffic. Only the VPN company and the site you’re requesting traffic can see your transmitted data.
To boost your privacy and security, most premium VPN service providers have, or at least claim to have, a zero-log policy, which means they don’t store logs of a user’s activity. However, different providers offer varied services, and so you need to that you sign up with a reputable VPN service for maximum privacy.
A VPN doesn’t necessarily make you anonymous
When it comes to VPNs and anonymity, most people get it wrong. And to be fair, one can’t be blamed for thinking a VPN makes them anonymous. After all, some VPNs do claim to make their users completely anonymous on the internet. This claim is however not true as VPNs aren’t foolproof tools.
Some VPNs still keep connection or usage logs, data that can be used to trace your activities back to you. And in such a case, law enforcement agencies can get subpoenas to collect your data from the VPN provider.
This means that a VPN doesn’t guarantee you complete anonymity on the internet. Instead, it provides you with pseudo-anonymity. This kind of anonymity is however enough to let you visit websites and torrent anonymously.
The other side of using a VPN
When you connect to a VPN server, you may notice a drop in download and upload speeds. This is expected as you’re technically introducing a ‘middle’ station making data travel a little further.
Apart from that, some untrustworthy VPNs may keep your logs and even share them with third parties. For others, you also can’t be 100% sure of their claims of a no-logs policy. To be on the safe side, use a reputable VPN with RAM-based servers that permanently delete logs every time they are rebooted.
VPNs are great tools that can be used to restore internet privacy, anonymity, and security. The services can also do more than that as they can help access more libraries on Netflix and evade censorship, among other things. However, they are not magic wands that can offer everything without a downside, and so you need to understand the other side of the story to protect yourself better!