A VPN, or Virtual Private Network, can assist you in protecting your anonymity online. Plus, this tool shields you from spies, snoops, and anyone who wants to monetize or steal your data. But is VPN safe to use? The short answer is yes. Let’s dig deeper.
How does a VPN work?
A VPN forms a virtual encrypted tunnel between your PC and a remote server run by the VPN service provider. All external web traffic is routed via this tunnel; thus, your data is safe from snooping eyes. The greatest thing about it is that your PC has the IP address of the VPN server covering your identity.
When the data arrives at the VPN server, it departs into the public Internet. If the website you are heading to employs HTTPS to shield the connection, you are still safe. However, even if it was interrupted, it is tricky to trace the data back to your computer because it seems to be coming from a VPN server.
What makes a VPN safe
Well, is using a VPN safe? Yes, as long as the chosen VPN provider takes the proper measures to ensure your security and anonymity. A trusted and robust VPN must include the following:
- Reliable protocols. Currently, the most secure protocols include IKEv2/IPSec, OpenVPN, and WireGuard, with the latter being the latest and the best in the industry. PPTP is considered obsolete, and you should avoid using it.
- A kill switch. If the VPN service fails, your web traffic loses its encryption. And this exposes your IP address, browsing habits, personal info, etc. The best way to prevent it is with a kill switch, which disconnects your internet connection altogether if the VPN stops working.
- Leak protection. Due to specific errors, a VPN might leak your IP address, DNS requests, or even WebRTC communications. Thus, it’s crucial for a service to avert this by including essential leak protection measures.
- A no-logs policy. A no-logs VPN doesn’t collect identifiable information about you, such as your IP address, browsing history, connection timestamps, device information, etc. It ensures no data can fall into the wrong hands, whether the government demands it or cybercriminals gain access to the VPN servers.
- Multi-factor authentication (MFA). This way, only you can access your VPN account and no one else.
The benefits of using a VPN
A VPN is recommended for many things, especially if you’re wary about online data privacy. Here’s but a fraction of where you’ll find this tool handy:
- Remotely accessing company networks from anywhere
- Enhancing security when connected to public Wi-Fi
- Circumventing government censorship
- Hiding your online activities from your ISP and preventing bandwidth throttling
- Saving money while shopping online
- Avoiding geo-blocks on streaming platforms, sports events, and region-specific services
- Securing your torrenting efforts and unblocking various P2P websites
- Ensuring low ping while playing online games
Some VPN services do more than this, though. Depending on the provider, you may also benefit from:
- Advertisement, malicious website, or user tracker blockers
- VPN traffic obfuscation, which is helpful if you’re using this software in a country where they are blocked or heavily restricted
- Monitoring tools that alert you about potential data leaks
- Dedicated IPs, which are particular VPN addresses only one person can use
- Password managers for secure password creation, storage, and sharing
VPN software was created to shield users from online snoopers, ensuring privacy on the internet. Keeping this in mind, these tools have certain limitations.
- Malware protection. While services like NordVPN and Surfshark offer malware blocker tools, your device can still get infected if you’re not careful. Trojans, bots, spyware, and viruses remain a threat without proper antivirus software to scan, detect, and contain them.
- Complete anonymity. Being completely invisible online isn’t possible, and VPNs can only achieve so much. Browser fingerprinting and other tracking methods still exist, especially if you log into websites using your regular accounts.
- Internet speeds. ISP bandwidth throttling affects many users, and VPN services help prevent it. But don’t expect your internet to magically become faster if, unfortunately, you have spotty connectivity or a lousy internet setup.
Private browsing isn’t safe
Many people falsely assume that Incognito or Private modes ensure no one can see what you’re doing online. In truth, it doesn’t do more than clear your browsing history and cookies whenever you close the window.
During this “private” session, your IP address is still visible to everyone with the right tools. Yes, your ISP, advertisement companies, cybercriminals, and even the government can continue tracking your online activities. Furthermore, private mode doesn’t unblock restricted websites and services.
Thus, you have to rely on other tools to protect your browsing efforts. And the best one for the job is a VPN.
Are free VPNs safe?
No, most free VPNs aren’t safe. A VPN is an incredible solution to secure your information. However, these services aren’t always low-priced, leading numerous individuals to opt for free VPNs. And while there are some great costless options, most will put you in danger rather than ensure your privacy.
Free VPN providers are notorious for extensive data logging and even injecting malware into their apps. They are more likely to embed third-party tracking tools that collect data for advertisement companies which usually help stay such VPN services afloat. Furthermore, most come with subpar or outdated security tools, meaning you won’t be hidden online.
Of course, there are some free VPNs that are safe. These are primarily freemium services – the paid tier covers all operational costs, while the free tier gets to use the limited version of the premium app. While it’s not ideal if you want to do more than browse, it’s still better than entrusting your privacy to a completely costless provider.
Our recommended free VPNs that are safe are:
- Atlas VPN. Comes with a 5 GB/month data cap, 2 simultaneous connections, and 3 server location choices. Free-tier users can also freely torrent and enable SafeBrowse, an ad & malware blocker. Plus, you don’t need to create an account to use it.
- Proton VPN. Includes unlimited bandwidth, 1 simultaneous connection, and 3 server location choices. Torrenting and streaming are disabled. You can use the Stealth protocol to hide all traces of VPN usage and the VPN Accelerator to boost connectivity.
Can I be tracked if I use a VPN?
Here we are answering one of the most demanding questions. And here is the reality: you are not unidentified when you go online, even when using a secure VPN service. How is that, you may ask?
- Each service has at least a single piece of information that can be employed to differentiate various users.
- This information alone might not divulge any private data about the users; however, it can be linked with other comparable information to identify a person finally.
Even though a VPN does not make you completely unknown, it significantly increases your online security and privacy. A Virtual Private Network is akin to the curtains of your house windows. The curtains will only be able to offer privacy for the activities that are taking place inside your home – although your home address is public.
Is there a downside to using a VPN?
Yes, there are some downsides. Some VPNs substantially slow down your internet, disrupting the browsing experience. In other cases, services and platforms block VPN software. If you’re caught using this tool, your account might get suspended.
Do VPNs track you?
Reliable VPN services don’t track you or your browsing activities. At most, they could log information about how much bandwidth was used, VPN session timestamps, etc. Not data that could be easily traced back to you.
Are VPNs safe and legal?
Yes, VPNs are safe to use, but not legal everywhere. Furthermore, illegal activities conducted while using a VPN still remain illegal.
Can a VPN be hacked?
A VPN can be hacked, but it’s very unlikely to happen due to sheer difficulty. Most premium services utilize AES-256 encryption, the strongest one in the industry. It’s virtually uncrackable and can only be exploited if it was somehow implemented incorrectly (which is highly unlikely).