How effective are VPNs?
Privacy is a great privilege. It is a right of every individual to separate themselves from the greater society and dwell in their solitude; a need much older than society itself. This statement is true in all spheres of one’s life and its role is much more fitting in today’s digital world.
As each of us goes about our daily routines, we find ourselves consistently interacting with the World Wide Web, may it be for paying our bills, filing our tax returns, or even for something as minor as shopping for groceries. It has become as intricate a part of our lives as the need for a desirable and secure home. And just like you wouldn’t want your neighbor or that eccentric guy across the street spying into your humble abode using binoculars, you wouldn’t want anyone snooping around your online activity either.
Why use a VPN?
The major reason we require online privacy is that we simply do not want outsiders to get their hands on our personally identifiable information. But apart from that we also do not like our Internet Service Providers accumulating and selling our personal information to the highest bidder. That being said, the connections we establish to the World Wide Web through our Internet Service Provider (ISP) is always accessible to the ISP. In pursuit of mitigating this privacy intrusion, we have come across a solution known as a VPN (Virtual Private Network).
Another great benefit of your ISP not being able to locate you over the internet is the avoidance of bandwidth throttling. Bandwidth throttling is when your ISP deliberately slows down or speeds up your internet service in order to regulate the data traffic and avoid network congestion. This practice is more common among DSL internet providers like CenturyLink, Verizon, Frontier, etc. It usually isn’t much of a problem but can get annoying at times especially when you’re working on something important.
ALSO READ: When and why you should use a VPN
How does it work?
Circling back to our major issue, i.e. security, let’s suppose you want to visit your banking site, with a normal connection without the VPN. You would forward this request to your ISP by typing in the URL of your banking site, which would then be routed to the internet through your ISP, and finally would land you on the banking site you want to visit. Respectively this information would be relayed back to you in the same pattern. In this scenario, the ISP has complete access to your traffic and this could mean vulnerability to attacks.
On the other hand, if you use a reliable VPN you would forward the same request to your ISP as usual which would connect you to the internet through a VPN. The VPN would reroute your traffic through a secure location and lastly bring you to your banking site where you can conduct transactions with a little more security and privacy.
Let us consider the basic function of a VPN. It’s essentially a private, controlled network that enables you to connect to the internet at large without exposing your online activity to outsiders. Your connection with the VPN server is encrypted, which means you have the freedom to browse the internet without anyone eavesdropping on what you are doing.
How to select a VPN?
Selecting a Virtual Private Network (VPN) can be considered a medium for privacy protection against your Internet Service Provider (ISP). Simply getting online and picking the first one off the list can seem easy but it is not always the most effective way to go about it. You should always consider a variety of variables to make sure that a particular VPN does what you expect from it.
One of the most important variables to consider while selecting a VPN is the trustworthiness of the provider. A VPN would surely shield you from your ISP but it can also access and track all your online activity. Therefore, always make sure that your VPN has a no-log policy in place. This means that even if a VPN is legally approached to disclose customer records, it will not have the ability to do that. Always give the Terms of Service of any VPN a quick go through to learn more about their logging policies and scenarios in which they would or would not disclose user information.
It is important to acknowledge at this point that implementing the above precautionary measures would not necessarily provide you with a completely foolproof privacy solution. Reason being that most companies could misrepresent their policies and procedures along with the absence of features advertised.
A simple way to find a good and functional VPN is to purchase one. I am not suggesting that all free VPNs are unreliable, but I am barely mentioning the basic fundamental of any business; money. All ventures have to pay for expenses somehow and a free VPN might not be able to provide the most effective security you are looking for. These may include companies claiming to have certain security features that are not there.
Some experts suggest using VPN services offered by small to mid-sized companies who do not have a large sum of data to be targeted for. It is also suggested to use a VPN that is based in a different country. I must reiterate here that implementing a VPN does not provide a silver bullet to all of your privacy needs. It is more of an aggressive attempt at protecting yourself online.
Using a VPN may not provide you with absolute security but it does make you a harder target, making it difficult for third parties to track your online activity. Therefore, keep these insights handy and use them when shopping for a VPN. Moreover, just like you would think hard before confiding in the right friend with a personal story, use the same diligence when selecting a VPN, and choose wisely.
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