Last Updated: September 9, 2021
You can count on a quality VPN to watch your back in the wild, wild west of the internet. Still, when getting a VPN you need to weigh your options carefully based on your own needs.
Need help with that? Sure!
Let’s have a look at the benefits of VPN services as well as their potential downsides.
What Is a VPN?
For starters, we’re going to unriddle the VPN acronym — it stands for Virtual Private Network. As the name suggests, this service provides you with your very own private and secure internet tunnel. It’s a powerfully encrypted network connection that ensures your data’s safe passage without any interception, eavesdropping, and censorship.
Why is VPN important?
The short answer is: security.
VPN services obscure your traffic data and spoof your location. Say you’re streaming from the US. A VPN service will disguise your IP address as one in an overseas location. We’ll get into more detail later on.
But why use a VPN if you don’t want to hide anything?
Let me tell you something.
You may feel surfing the Web with little or no protection isn’t a big deal. If this is the case, you’re inhabiting perhaps a happy yet dangerous digital la-la land.
Simply because when you use a non-VPN-protected network, you make yourself vulnerable to potential data abuse. This is because your ISP (Internet Service Provider) and other parties, including skilled hackers, can easily get access to important information. More particularly, they may obtain your browsing history or password accounts. Scary, right?
Now that you know more about the importance of VPN protection, you might ask:
”How exactly does this VPN thing help me shield my stuff?”
Read on to find out.
How Does a VPN Work?
To answer this question, first, we need to zoom in on what is called “open” connections (ones that don’t use a VPN). In a connection that has no VPN enabled, your ISP (Internet Service Provider) is in charge of assigning you an IP address.
Your IP (Internet Protocol) address is a key part of your digital fingerprint. When unprotected, it can be seen by many, which can lead to dire consequences.
Your ISP may be required or choose to share your browsing history with the government and other third parties. In addition, if your Internet Service Provider suffers a cyberattack, hackers will be able to see your data and use it for their malicious purposes.
So, one of the top reasons to use VPN protection is to decrease the vulnerability of your online activity.
Let’s dig a bit deeper.
What Does a VPN Actually Do?
With a VPN enabled, you connect with a server of your choice. Depending on the service, you can pick from many VPN servers distributed around the globe. This allows you to switch your IP address to a completely different location.
So, if you select an Australian server based in Sydney, the websites you’re connecting to will see your Australian IP and not your real one.
Keep reading to learn why.
Now, back to the working mechanism. The connection between your device and the chosen VPN server is secured with encryption protocols that make your data practically undecipherable. Encryption strength is one of the most critical VPN features to keep in mind.
You can think of it as a military escort to your precious data. As you surf online, you need protection from prying eyes. Encryption does this with the help of various VPN servers that help spoof your location. It doesn’t allow websites or even your ISP to read your data or figure out its destination.
Types of Encryption
When choosing a VPN service, make sure it supports a variety of protocols. The strongest ones being Wireguard and 256-bit AES encryption, to name a few. These are super powerful cryptographic algorithms that bear the name “military-grade encryption.” Guess why.
Some VPN services offer various encryption protocols. You can choose to keep all your traffic secret or hide only parts of it. This way, you can decide which apps to go into the secured tunnel. The feature is called split tunneling and allows for additional versatility in terms of internet protection.
Why should I use a VPN and not another type of protection?
Finally, you might ask yourself: “Why should I use a VPN when there’s HTTPS security?” Here’s the thing: HTTPS secures the content of a connection, yet the source and IP address destination remain out in the open. Luckily, a VPN fills in those security holes nicely.
We’ve answered the question: “How does a VPN work?”
Let’s explore the advantages of using the service.
Benefits of Using a VPN
I bet you’ve figured out the most essential benefits of using a VPN by now.
However, we’ll go over them more systematically and also add to the list.
Here we go.
Increased Security on Public Wi-Fi Networks
No doubt, public Wi-Fi hotspots can often be a lifesaver.
However, they could also cause a lot of trouble.
When using public networks, you can never be sure who is there and what they are doing. This makes you very likely to suffer various forms of data abuse like man-in-the-middle attacks, for example. Puzzled with the term?
Let me explain.
“Man-in-the-middle attacks” (MITM) refers to a type of theft where cybercriminals intercept your data to treat it at their discretion.
One common type of middle-of-man attack is when the evil-doers create free, malicious Wi-Fi hotspots to hijack your data. However, as you connect to one of them, the attacker sneaks in between you and your server. As a result, they start intercepting your traffic and get access to your payment details, personal info, and more.
Thanks to encryption, VPNs can help you avoid MITMs. So, if you’re still asking: “Why should I use a VPN?” here’s the truth: if you choose a reliable VPN service, your private activity does stay private. In fact, this is one of the main reasons why VPNs come in so handy when you’re out and about and have to use public Wi-Fi.
ISP Tracking Prevention
Unsafe public hotspots aside, you might also be thinking: “Do I need a VPN at home?”
A great question!
Too true, when using a home network, the risk of having your data compromised drops significantly… Still, don’t forget your ISP!
You’d be surprised at how much leverage they have over your data. Yeah, I’m sure you’ve done some protection against tracking cookies and similar tech-pests. However, despite all measures taken, your entire browsing history is still at your ISP’s fingertips.
The question you should now be asking is:
“Why would they use my traffic data?”
Here’s the thing:
Your data is a potential source of revenue for your ISP provider — something to sell to marketing companies. In addition, under legal pressure, they might need to hand over your personal information to the authorities.
And this is where VPN protection comes into play. It shields you from such types of privacy invasion. What’s more, you can install a VPN on your router and protect all of your smart devices!
So, no doubt the answer to the question “Do I need a VPN at home?” is: “You do!”
Free Access to Blocked Websites
For a number of reasons, sometimes you may get barred from visiting certain corners of the internet. Again, everything ties back to your IP address, which signals to websites whether they should grant you access to their content or not. Generally, website blocking is due to various website and governmental policies. One thing is sure —whatever the reason, it is always annoying.
That’s why fighting against multiple types of website blocks is one of the most crucial VPN advantages. Here are some access issues a good VPN helps you resolve:
- Local blocks, like work or school restrictions, where employers or students can’t access Snapchat or YouTube.
- Region-based content blocks, such as geo-restrictions of streaming services.
- Mass censorship — when governments limit the flow of information by blocking sites like Twitter and Facebook.
Another benefit of using a VNP coming from its geo-location-shifting feature.
Let’s say you are currently residing in Europe and you want to watch your favorite show. You have no chance of accessing some of the US Netflix content… Unless you employ a VPN to change your server and trick the platform into thinking you’re streaming from the US.
The good news is that you can do the same thing if you are a subscriber to a Netflix rival. Some VPNs even offer special servers for all the popular streaming services, like Disney+, BBC iPlayer, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, HBO, etc.
Definitely one of the sweetest benefits of using a VPN.
However, keep in mind that some platforms like BBC iPlayer and Netflix have been cracking down on VPN users, making it difficult to access their content.
This is mainly because of licensing rights.
So, if you travel often but are into binge-watching, look for a VPN that is good at unblocking streaming services. In other words, choose a VPN offering reliable access to many streaming sites, numerous server options, and high speed.
Torrenting has the infamous reputation for being a pirate’s favorite pastime. This is why the use of BitTorrent is often legally frowned upon. Even so, it’s hard to deny the usefulness of a decentralized approach to file-sharing. When torrenting or engaging in P2P sharing, you will definitely need a VPN. Whatever your torrenting habits are like, VPNs will keep them private.
A word of advice:
If you’re a gamer, more benefits of using a VPN are waiting for you!
Just like in the case of streaming services, we’re talking about getting around geo-blocks here.
By wrapping your IP address in a VPN cloak, you can access game servers in otherwise unavailable locations. You also get protection from DDoS (distributed denial of service) attacks — a real danger in competitive gaming.
Based on the bombastic heading alone, you’d be right to feel skeptical about this particular benefit of VPN services. However, there is no doubt that you can save money with a VPN.
Eager to learn the details? Let’s have a closer look.
To begin with, we live in a globalized and imperfect economy where certain types of price discrimination exist. They may be unfair yet perfectly legal. One example is getting a different bill for the same service based on the country you’re shopping from.
A great advantage of using a VPN is that it deals with location-based online price discrimination pretty successfully.
So, besides the security feature, saving money is one of the greatest reasons to use a VPN.
Save when Travelling
Airline companies often adjust prices according to the location you’re booking your flight from. For instance, if you’re using an American IP to buy a plane ticket to China, you might end up paying way more than if you used a European IP.
Believe it or not, airline websites can up ticket prices for returning visitors. Since they monitor your log-in behavior, you might come across a fare increase if you appear too curious about a particular route (review it often).
So, next time you’re flying, try playing with different VPN servers. Choose a foreign IP address. You might get pleasantly surprised at getting a lower-priced offer.
Saving on a plane ticket is but one of the reasons to use a VPN for deals.
Save on Bookings
Sometimes switching to a different IP location when booking a hotel room can spare you like up to several hundred bucks! Use the saved money to extend your vacation or put it in the piggy bank – it’s up to you!
Get Numerous Other Discounts
You can also use the VPN different-location feature to buy a laptop or a smartphone or subscribe to your favorite streaming platform. Many a time, you can get a great deal for a software purchase.
How awesome is that?
Disadvantages of VPN
So far, we’ve been discussing the benefits of using a VPN. Each of them is amazing enough and has worthed due attention.
To get the full picture, though, we need to look at both the pros and cons of VPN.
So, let’s look at the downsides of using a VPN.
Slower Connection Speed
This blatantly annoying issue happens because of:
- The nature of encryption — encryption protocols need to secure your data packets. The process takes time, though. So, the stronger the encryption, the more time-consuming it is.
- The distance of VPN servers — it should be a no-brainer that connecting to servers farther away makes data passage take longer. This happens because of the increased travel time for requests and responses.
- The VPN server workload — using VPNs with a more limited server load capacity results in slower speed. Not surprising, right?
A slower connection tops the VPN cons list.
However, occasionally a VPN could actually make your internet faster. Under certain conditions, though. If your ISP is prone to throttling your internet (limiting your speed), you can enjoy some speed boost with a VPN.
Yet in most cases, you can expect a slight speed drop whenever you enable your VPN service.
Clearly, reduced connection speed is one of the gravest VPN disadvantages. However, rest assured that you will barely feel the difference using a high-quality service. On the other hand, free VPNs can affect speed tangibly.
Connection drops qualify not only as a huge nuisance but also as one of the most severe VPN risks. The moment your encrypted connection fails, so do your defenses. That means your IP address gets exposed to prying eyes.
Fortunately, a reliable VPN is usually equipped with a kill switch preventive feature, which automatically cuts your internet connection in case your VPN connection drops.
Read on. We need to go over a few more VPN weaknesses.
Unreliable Logging Policies
One of the sneakiest disadvantages of VPN, for sure. Many VPN services claim to have a “zero-log” or “no-log” policy, which is supposed to guarantee that they don’t save any information about your personal details, browsing and downloading history, and so on.
Some providers are true to their word. However, others stretch the definition of a no-log service too much.
How to overcome a hitch of this kind?
When choosing a VPN service provider, it is worth combing through privacy policies, fact-checking with customer service, or consulting dedicated VPN reviews and user reviews.
But before taking any of these actions, find out the location of your VPN service provider. If it’s based in a country that’s part of the Five Eyes or Fourteen Eyes Alliance, be extra cautious! Odds are your data could be forfeited to surveillance agencies at any time.
VPNs Can’t Guarantee 100% Protection
Nothing in life is perfect, right? This holds true for the subject at hand. Getting to the limitations of VPN services now.
Even though VPNs are often marketed as the solution to all your internet security needs, the reality is much more complex.
Although close, a VPN alone isn’t an almighty magical shield. Sadly, it can’t protect you from insecure HTTP connections, tracking cookies, and malware (unless it has special anti-malware security features).
VPN limitations vary depending on the quality of service you opt for. A lousy VPN choice often comes with loose protection. Moreover, some free VPN services have a history of collecting and selling user information, so you might want to pay extra attention to those (pun intended).
How do you recognize low protection?
Simply look out for connection drops, IP and DNS leaks, and suspicious logging habits.
There are legal limits to VPN use as well. Here’s a list of countries where this kind of service is completely or partially banned:
- Saudi Arabia
- North Korea
- the United Arab Emirates
Pros and Cons of VPN — Summary
Indeed, the benefits far outweigh the disadvantages of VPN services. As you get higher levels of internet privacy and protection, you can surf over geo-blocks, enhancing your gaming experience or getting better pricing deals! These are all substantial reasons to use a VPN.
However, there is one necessary condition that goes with the blessings promised. Each of them comes true only if you pick a reputable service. Otherwise, instead of watching your back, your VPN might just stab it. IP and DNS leaks, malware, and suspicious logging policies are the hidden threats of VPN services.
The bottom line is:
When it comes to the pros and cons of using a VPN, the strengths do outnumber the weaknesses — but there is a limit to them! You have a lot to gain from a VPN, as long as you keep your eyes peeled for anything suspicious.
It depends on your specific needs and the particular service you opt for. Always compare the pros and cons. Some VPNs could be a better fit for you and your budget. Others (most free VPNs included) aren’t worth it, though as they are plagued with security oversights and malpractices. We’ve already covered some of the best VPN services, so why not check them out and find something worthwhile?
Some of the pros of using a VPN are increased security on public Wi-Fi hotspots, ISP tracking and throttling prevention, and free access to blocked websites. In addition, when using a VPN, you can get unlimited streaming, additional torrenting protection, and much more.
VPN cons include slower internet speed, connection drops, unreliable logging policies, IP and DNS leaks, etc. This is only the TL;DR version — scroll up for a more in-depth answer.
Actually, there isn’t only one but several downsides. For starters, your internet connection is almost sure to get slower. Moreover, sometimes the connection you’ve encrypted via VPN may fail and leave you visible to unwanted eyes. Some VPN services keep extensive logs on user activity and may share your data traffic history with third parties.
For a more detailed exploration of the gravest VPN disadvantages, consult our article.
Let’s not forget, though, that the benefits of using a VPN still reign supreme.
A better question would be: “Why are free VPNs bad?”
The answer is, most free VPN services provide low protection and can trade with your data traffic history. Sometimes, when you set up a non-paid VPN service, you don’t get a free product. Instead, your data gets treated as a product to profit from.
A gentle warning to this effect: steer clear of free VPNs.