VPNs, or Virtual Private Networks, are services which allow individuals to connect to websites and other online services anonymously. By using encryption systems and networks of servers located around the world, VPNs manage to route traffic wherever it needs to go, without leaving data vulnerable to outside eyes.
This makes VPNs incredibly useful – increasingly so in a world of authoritarian governments, all-powerful corporations, and smart cyber-criminals. If you’ve never explored the benefits of VPN services, now is a great time to do so. We will introduce the reasons why you should give it a try – along with some downsides that everyone should know.
Why did people start using a VPN?
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of VPN advantages and disadvantages, some background is probably handy. After all, a few years ago few of us automatically sought protection when browsing the web. So how has this market for VPNs come about?
One major reason was technical. As internet connections became more powerful, users could stream videos and other data-intensive files. Some of the means used to share these files were on the edges of legality, leading to fears that the authorities would track users, so VPNs stepped in to help file sharers and torrenters.
Then there are political reasons. We all know about the intrusive activities of the NSA that were exposed by Edward Snowden. Concerns about surveillance haven’t gone away, and are shared (even more so) in countries like China or Iran, where governments constantly seek to monitor web traffic.
Crime is another factor. These days, we make huge amounts of payments via online portals. We don’t necessarily want external actors to know what we buy, and we definitely don’t want them to know our payment details. VPNs emerged as a response, providing peace of mind.
For all of these reasons, Virtual Private Networks have become a common feature of daily online activity. But if you’re still new to the idea, here’s a quick rundown of the most important VPN advantages and disadvantages.
The main benefits of VPN services
There are plenty of reasons why a huge market for VPNs has developed. For instance, with a VPN, individuals can:
Get around annoying geo-blockers which restrict those in certain parts of the world accessing online services. For example, Netflix offers different rosters of movies and TV shows in different countries. With a VPN you can pose as a French user and access the French service, accessing shows that aren’t available in the USA.
Enjoy total personal security. VPNs (should) act as a protective shield, preventing outsiders inspecting data packets from the moment they leave your computer or smartphone. This is vital for those worried about surveillance or hacking, but it’s just good practice for all of us in a world of mounting digital threats.
Avoid censorship. One of the most hopeful aspects of the rise in a VPN use is the ability to circumvent government-imposed restrictions. Across the world, free speech is routinely blocked by preventing access to websites deemed dangerous or offensive. VPNs are designed to render that kind of censorship obsolete, at least in theory.
Make use of p2p services securely. Most of the best VPN services accommodate heavy data users like torrenters, allowing them to download music, software or movies without fear of prosecution. At the same time, VPNs also make it easier to work around download restrictions of “throttling” by ISPs.
Are there any VPN advantages for business users?
Those are just the benefits of VPN services for individuals. However, the technology behind Virtual Private Network wasn’t created for home use. It actually came about to meet the demand of businesses, who often find plenty of advantages in implementing VPN-based solutions. For example:
VPNs allow companies to make cost savings. Before Virtual Private Networks came about, if companies wanted to create secure remote networks knitting together numerous locations, they often had to lease phone lines and bandwidth and spend a lot of resources on maintaining their own servers. With VPNs, the servers are outsourced to specialist network providers, and bespoke connections are replaced by access to a secure publicly accessible VPN.
Make remote working much more viable. Many companies intend to allow workers to work from home or on the road, but mixing this kind of flexibility with security doesn’t always work. With VPNs, you can create protected information sources that are accessible from anywhere, and do so in a cost-effective way.
Protect IP and other information. Corporate piracy and espionage are real concerns for many businesses, and protecting intellectual property or financial information is one of the major VPN advantages.
What about VPN disadvantages?
So there are definitely major VPN advantages for both individuals and businesses, and these benefits of VPN services are propelling the technology to prominence across the world. But before you sign up for an eye-catching service, it pays to consider a few VPN disadvantages as well. No tech is perfect, after all, so here are some potential downsides:
Transparency is a problem. It has to be said that some VPN operators aren’t the most transparent businesses in the world, and rogue networks are in prime position to harvest valuable information from their logs. SO pick wisely from reputable brands.
Privacy may not be as total as you think. Although they tend to make people much more secure online, VPNs aren’t always watertight. In fact, IP address leakage plagues low-quality VPNs, and can give away your identity in seconds.
Speed. Not all VPNs have Usain Bolt-like speeds. Actually, some can resemble snails at times, despite making big promises up front. So compare speeds before signing up for anything. It’s still the internet superhighway, not a traffic-blocked side road.
Working across devices can be risky. Unless you are careful, using VPNs with laptops and smartphones together can cause problems. Choose a VPN which handles numerous devices, not separate VPNs for each way to access the web.
Finding the best VPN for your needs
That’s pretty much. As you can see, there are plenty of VPN benefits for business and individual users. But, on the flip side, you’ll need to exercise caution when picking the best VPN. Assess your needs and do your research: compare speeds, look for secure protocols, make sure it doesn’t keep traffic logs, etc. With plenty of excellent providers right now, and more coming online as you read this, it’s not hard to protect your online privacy, and with so many digital threats, can we afford not to?