If you’re interested in protecting your privacy online, then you are sure to have come across the term VPNs, which is an abbreviation for Virtual Private Networks. These are services that offer their users security and privacy while browsing the internet. With the internet, user privacy has been impacted, and the laws that were meant to provide some protection have gradually disappeared or been eroded in power. Today your privacy could be impacted by many different parties.
These could be the good guys like governments monitoring the internet for suspicious activity like terrorism-related issues, or it could also be hackers out to steal your personal information. Your ISP could also want to know the sites you frequent, so they can send you geo-targeted ads. VPNs are always claiming in their adverts that they can guarantee your ultimate privacy protection, and research shows that close to 30% of internet users today are using VPNs at least once every month. The question is though, do they actually work?
Do VPNs Protect Your Privacy?
Parties willing to spy on your online activities use sniffers, which are computer programs capable of decoding your data and making it readable. Public spaces like airports and hotels are the most affected as they often provide unsecured public WIFI for their customers. Unsecured connections rarely use encryption, and as such, users of such networks are more at risk. Any of your information can be intercepted; your web history, passwords and login credentials, bank account details, and so on.
VPNs do offer some levels of privacy in such cases. Instead of sending a request from your device to your target website directly, the application first passes the request through the VPN servers. Then the VPN will make the request for you and send the results to your device. You can read more about how VPNs do this at privacyspark.com but basically, since the communication between you and your VPN is encrypted, hackers near you can’t access your data or know the servers you are communicating with. Your ISP will also have no idea about the websites you are visiting, as all they can decipher is communication between you and the VPN and not the target websites.
However, VPNs are not foolproof.
Free VPNs Do Not Protect You
Many reliable VPNs are paid options, and it is easy to understand why. They have to incur some costs to guarantee the services they provide, and it would, therefore, make little sense for them to be free. Many times you’ll find that such free VPNs will have lots of advertisements to subsidize their cost. This will inevitably affect your online experience. There is an even greater risk of using free VPNs. Some free VPNs will opt to sell your data or disclose your traffic to interested parties. This leads to more ads, and completely kills the purpose of using the service.
It is better to work with paid VPNs, but you need to be vigilant with those as well. Some of the most popular VPNs have been hacked in recent years and compromised their user’s privacy.
Does a VPN Protect you from the Government?
Like we said before when it comes to the question of whether your privacy is guaranteed, it depends on who is snooping. If you want to hide your online activity from companies that could use such information to know your traffic and send you ads, then VPNs do a pretty good job of guaranteeing your privacy protection.
However, when it comes to major government agencies with sophisticated technology, you may not be invisible for long. It is still possible for governments to monitor the activity of VPNs and so if they are accessing suspicious websites, then that will obviously be noted. Having noted the communication between the VPNs and risky sites, governments can eventually track it back. It is not a simple process and does require a significant amount of time and resource, but this is something that they have available.
So now, to get back to our original question – Do VPNs guarantee your online privacy? The answer to that question is both Yes and No. By using a reliable VPN, you are guaranteed some level of privacy, and you are not at risk of your online data being intercepted by third parties and used against you. However, if you are conducting illicit and illegal activities a VPN will not save you in the long run.
What most people are looking for in VPNs is that added security to keep your data safe from malicious hackers. In that sense, VPNs are effective, and I would highly recommend them. The world is, however changing, and with the technology that is available today, even the most secure VPNs have been penetrated on several occasions. You, therefore, need to be on high alert and conversant with the latest news to know the best ones to use.