A lot of people understand that VPNs are essential for many activities on the internet these days. However, many don’t understand exactly why. This article and the information contained in it will rectify that for anybody who reads it all the way through.
We are going to explain exactly what information a VPN keeps away from prying eyes, be they from bots or from bad actors. This includes keeping your data away from ad trackers, or from any other undesirable source.
Here are the things a VPN specifically hides from the rest of the internet, and the rest of the world, from seeing when they “look” at your presence online.
Your physical location
The first and most common reason for using a VPN is to hide your physical location on planet Earth. The idea is to look like you are connected to the internet from somewhere else. The main use for this is, of course, to be able to access streaming libraries that are blocked in certain countries. Conversely, they are often specific to certain territories, and not available anywhere else.
VPNs are constantly playing a game of cat and mouse with companies, such as Netflix and Hulu. Many people around the globe use VPNs precisely to access video content on such platforms. And as they are usually geolocated, the use of a VPN is a must for those who stealthy want to watch their favorite shows and movies.
Naturally, there are other uses for going stealth with your physical location. This also allows you to reach sites that are censored by some countries, such as China, for example. If you are in mainland China, you can’t access more than 80 percent of the internet unless you use a VPN.
Also, there is another use for being able to change your apparent physical location, or “geo-spoofing”. Often, commercial websites price their goods and services according to where you are in the world.
This is especially true of major airlines’ websites, for example, although it can be true for any type of commercial website. By logging into the same website from different VPN servers, one can often find surprisingly different prices.
Your IP address
Your IP address is a corollary to your physical location, but it carries much more than just geolocation information with it. It lets people know which internet provider you connect to the internet with, for example. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
A lot of personal information ties in with an IP you are using at any given moment. This can include, just from an IP address, your name, your address where you live and/or work, your phone numbers, and even possibly things like credit card numbers.
This brings us to the next relevant point.
Your confidential information
As well as things like your addresses and phone numbers, you could also be exposing sensitive financial and even medical information to the rest of the world. With neither the institutions nor you even being aware of it!
Supposedly there are standards in place for individual privacy to be protected and respected. However, many higher-level studies have shown that this is not enough and that it is relatively easy to intercept this information.
This is doubly true if you are using a Wi-Fi or phone data connection, as opposed to plugging in a computer from home. VPNs can help stop this from happening, often completely protecting you in almost all circumstances.
The information used to qualify you for marketing purposes
Have you ever been talking about something and literally minutes later, an ad for that same thing pops up on social media? By now, this has probably happened at least once to anybody who has ever used the internet. In many cases, people have experienced this particular phenomenon multiple times.
Commercial interests are spying on users more and more. VPNs are an important part of the solution to avoiding overreach on their part. In many cases, careful users can even confuse advertising trackers and avoid it altogether by taking active steps, along with clever VPN use.
Most VPNs include tracking blocker software, and it is recommendable that you turn this option on, or get an independent tracker blocker, like Trocker or similar. This will prevent undue amounts of data harvesting, with you as the crop.
The files you upload and download
Most people know by now that governments and major media companies are aggressively going after those who download things, like movies. People have often received nasty cease and desist letters, or even been fined or faced other legal action for this.
We cannot condone illegal actions of any kind, but it’s important for privacy purposes to know that VPNs will go as far as to even block this kind of action. One legal and appropriate example would be the case of people who work for companies where sensitive documents need to be sent back and forth across the internet.
In such cases, corporate spies may often act as hackers and try to intercept said documents, in order to steal the secrets of that company. In cases like this, a VPN can be the most important single thing you can do to keep your secrets secure, no matter what.
Your internet traffic itself
Part of the problem of living in such a digital world, as we are now, is that privacy is beginning to become a premium commodity. For this reason, people now need to take active steps to guard and keep that precious privacy.
A VPN is a key component of any serious strategy to keep things private on the internet. This is because a VPN does more than just add an element of stealth in hiding your IP address and geolocation. VPNs, in almost all cases, also use strong two-way encryption, which helps to keep all of your data safe from all, but the people it was originally intended for.
It could be said that there is a trifecta of keeping things private on the internet, of which the VPN is the first and most important part. It’s a good idea to combine a good VPN with a good anti-virus regimen (not just a piece of software you expect to do all the work). Finally, look into programs like Signal, which provide much better privacy for all types of communications.
Online security is serious business. Also, online security is not just for the rich, the famous, or the controversial anymore. It’s now something that even average internet users have to take seriously by now. In fact, the single thing an average internet user can do is to start using a reliable and good quality VPN, if they are not already doing so.
Even people who have been regularly using VPNs should do some research to make sure that their VPN is still a good choice. The longer you have been using a VPN, the more you should make sure you are up on your research, as the market is changing rapidly.
The above point goes double for people who are using free VPNs. Not all free VPNs are created equal, and many of them may be missing important functionality these days. Especially important is to verify that your VPN still checks out and is doing everything we’ve said a VPN will do.
Correct use of a good VPN will pay for itself thousands of times over. It will pay for itself in increased security, increased privacy, and, perhaps most importantly, peace of mind.
- Cybersecurity expert Per-Erik Eriksson’s Android VPN recommendations for 2021.
- Find the best VPN for watching Netflix here!
- Cheap VPNs have a lot of flaws, make sure you pick the best one with the help of our guide.
SUP46, Start-Up People of Sweden, Regeringsgatan 6th floor, Stockholm
Author Per-Erik Eriksson
Per-Erik-Eriksson is the main author of VPNetic. Everything you read here has been written by him or one of his colleagues. Per-Erik has 10 years of experience within cybersecurity and has previously worked at Microsoft as a software engineer.