Peter Jobes is a tech & blockchain writer. Featured in VentureBeat.
Virtual Private Networks operate as connections that create private networks over a public network system. Since the emergence of COVID-19, VPN usage has grown exponentially with users utilising their connections to stream more content, work from home and privately browse the web. Due to the growth of remote work in the wake of the pandemic, more businesses are also turning to VPNs as a way of helping distributed workers to access office servers.
The anonymity that VPNs offer to users makes them a popular choice for individuals who are keen to make sure that their personal information isn’t being viewed by prying eyes from governmental bodies, internet service providers, or intrusive marketers. However, the level of encrypted connections means that it’s possible to also browse content that isn’t geo-restricted and handle sensitive data without the risk of it falling into the wrong hands.
As the chart above shows, high volumes of young adults use VPNs for personal use while more 45 to 60 year-olds utilise VPNs for business use, illustrating how adaptive the technology can be. However, while VPNs have plenty of useful functions, they aren’t without their limitations.
Let’s take a look at the three key issues associated with Virtual Private Networks while questioning whether they’re really as private as we’re led to believe:
Although virtually all VPNs are marketed as tools to protect your online data, it’s vital to make sure you conduct enough research before accepting that this is the case. Some cheap Virtual Private Networks may offer very little in the way of tangible privacy, and in actual fact could make your private information more exposed than through traditional networks.
Inexperienced VPN providers and free services may offer buggy products with little in the way of support or information regarding security. In the case of some free VPNs, the encryption may be poorly configured, leaving users more exposed to malware.
It’s also important to avoid accessing a VPN provider, whether it’s paid or free, that keeps logs surrounding your online activities, as this could significantly endanger your privacy also - whilst essentially defeating the whole objective of using a VPN.
However, this issue can be avoided by conducting a little research into your prospective VPN providers. While there are some suitable free VPN services out there, it’s important to conduct a heavy level of due diligence before picking a provider. There are many great premium services out there to choose from that appropriately prioritise privacy and anonymity without keeping logs of your activity - it’s all about studying your prospective providers and picking one that you trust.
One of the most significant drawbacks of using a VPN comes down to the issue of connection speeds. Since the connection to the internet via a VPN is rerouted and encrypted, this added layer of security can mean that information takes longer to send and receive online.
Once again, it’s vital to check the speed of a VPN when you’re looking to buy into a provider. Be sure to check review sites to monitor the impact that certain providers have on the speed of VPNs. While even the best providers on the market aren’t likely to impact the speed of your connections too much, it’s likely that your download and upload speeds will be marginally affected.
Most internet users won’t be able to notice the difference, and slowing speeds from VPN providers are unlikely to impact your internet quality to the point where you can’t access streaming services, for instance. However, if you’re a dedicated gamer, it may be important to find a VPN that specialises in optimising connections for gaming.
Some websites, particularly in the world of eCommerce, have discovered that the use of VPNs could be leading to revenue losses from customers accessing geo-restricted content or bypassing cookies that automatically generate dynamic pricing for items like plane tickets. In response to this, those companies have acted to combat VPN usage on their sites.
Some eCommerce websites have adopted software known as VPN blockers as a means of finding and banning users from accessing pages whilst using VPNs.
One common way these programs work is with websites that require users to register before accessing sites. The company that typically stores account information like usernames and emails will also store a list of common IP addresses. If the software sees that you’re using an IP address from a different location, they’ll restrict or block your access to the site. VPN blockers are sadly growing in popularity and have the potential to mitigate some of the most positive functions of Virtual Private Networks.
Although VPNs certainly have some drawbacks to contend with, they remain one of the most effective privacy tools online today. Fortunately, many of the shortcomings of VPNs in terms of privacy concerns and connection speeds can be beaten via due diligence from buyers. By bearing in mind that many VPN offerings that seem too good to be true usually are, it’s possible to find a service that suits your needs for a competitive price.
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