The founder and CEO of a KeepSolid, a company that builds modern security and productivity solutions
A VPN, or Virtual Private Network, is a service that protects your online privacy by connecting your device to the Internet through an “encrypted tunnel. While this may sound simple, in reality encryption is notoriously difficult--and misunderstood. As a result, many misconceptions have sprung up about VPNs, leading to faulty and distorted ideas about what they are--and aren’t.In this article, we’ll address the five top myths about VPNs, explain why they’re wrong, and highlight how VPNs can make your online life safer and easier.
Since VPNs obscure your identity, they often conjure up images of hackers, online pirates stealing new blockbuster movies, and the “dark web.” Over time, this has created some speculation about their legitimacy.
Reality: Certain countries do restrict the use of VPNs, or consider them illegal. Currently, this list includes Belarus, China, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Oman, Russia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, and the UAE. Depending on the country, governments may impose fines on both the VPN user and the VPN service provider for using an unsanctioned VPN. For example, in the UAE, a VPN is legal--but if it’s used to commit a crime, the penalties for that crime may be increased as a result.
There are numerous reasons why companies large and small--and even governments--use VPNs, such as creating a protected corporate network for remote work. As a result, most countries accept VPNs as a legal service.
It’s always a good idea to check the regulations of the specific country where you intend to use a VPN before trying to connect. And, most importantly: While a VPN may be legal, cybercrime is not!
In the late 1950s, five countries joined efforts to share their intelligence data in the Five Eyes Alliance. Over the course of time, the alliance’s role has extended to the surveillance of citizens’ online activity and has grown to nine, and later to fourteen, countries:
Five Eyes: US, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand
Nine Eyes: Five Eyes + Denmark, France, Holland, Norway
Fourteen Eyes: Nine Eyes + Germany, Belgium, Italy, Sweden, Spain
A common myth about choosing a VPN provider is that it’s best to avoid one that’s based in a Fourteen Eyes member state, because the provider may be forced to disclose your information to the government. Another common myth is that VPN providers with “offshore” servers can refuse to comply with governments’ requests for information.
Reality: Though these concerns about surveillance can be valid, the link between where your VPN provider is located and your chances of being under surveillance isn’t straightforward. First of all, the number of countries that have been caught or suspected of exchanging intelligence information goes far beyond the “Fourteen Eyes” list of members. There’s ultimately no way to verify which countries disclose information to meet the requests of other, usually more powerful, states.
Second, VPN providers may need to comply with the laws of multiple countries: The country where they’re registered, the country where their servers are located, and also the country where they operate. This doesn’t necessarily mean that a provider must comply with every request for information from a government--but it’s important to check the regulations that apply to your country, so you have a clear picture of what can be expected.
Regulations can also be a double-edged sword, which can help VPN users: Human rights groups have been known to successfully push back on unconstitutional information gathering, protecting VPN use.
VPN providers have access to a vast pool of sensitive data, and as a result many people have come to fear that the providers may sell it to the highest bidder. This information can include the websites you visit, your shopping habits, your voting preferences, and even your internet connection logs, which can show your location.
Reality: While certain VPN providers--usually those who offer services for free--collect user data for their own gain, most VPN providers abide by a “no-log policy”. They collect only basic user details, like source IP addresses, VPN IP addresses, and connection start and stop timestamps, so they can offer a stable connection. These details are logged for a limited time and are
removed immediately upon disconnection from the VPN. Connection logs are stored for a certain period of time, according to specific legal requirements, and then are erased from the database.
This is probably the most dangerous misconception about how a VPN works: Users assume that anonymity makes you unrecognizable by hackers, and safe from attacks as a result.
Reality: It’s true that the 256-bit encryption grants you near-total anonymity and hides you from most hackers. In this sense, a VPN offers solid protection for your privacy and security online. But no matter how powerful that encryption is, it does not protect you from cyberattackss if you willfully share your data by, for example, clicking a dubious link. A VPN also isn’t a substitute for antivirus software.
For this reason, advanced VPN services are delivered as a package that includes additional malware protection options, such as a DNS firewall to block known malware websites, or IPv6 leak protection to prevent the routing of your traffic outside the VPN.
Whatever kind of Internet connection you use--whether it’s open or VPN-protected--you should stay vigilant so you don’t fall victim to hacking, phishing or viruses.
This myth comes from the fact that VPNs rely on data encryption, and transmit protected data through a “VPN tunnel.” In this process, each data packet is enclosed in a separate encrypted outer packet, transmitted to the server, and decrypted so that the data inside can be accessed. This can be quite time-consuming and may slow down the internet connection.
Reality: A slower connection may be the case if the server is located on the other side of the world. The best option is to choose a server that’s located near the place where you’re using the VPN--unless you specifically want to use a VPN to mask your location (for example, to access content that’s blocked in your own country). Another solution is to opt for a paid VPN, which gives you priority server access over non-paying users. By taking these steps, you can find a VPN that maintains speeds similar to the open Internet. If you use careful switching and avoidISP throttling, you can even increase your VPN’s speed.
When you’re using a VPN, you may notice a lower speed on some sites (as compared to an open connection) and a much faster speed on other sites or services. This discrepancy happens when Internet Service Providers reduce the speed of some traffic types, like peer-to-peer traffic. But a VPN can usually solve this problem by hiding the type of data transmitted inside an encrypted signal--and preventing the Internet Service Provider from slowing the traffic down.
This article is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to VPNs: The more research you do, the more myths – and facts – you’ll discover. By sharing these top five myths here, and the reasons why they’re untrue, we’ve shown how a VPN is a legal, safe and powerful tool--provided that you take precautions and use it only for legal purposes.
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