VPNs were a hot topic in 2020 and even more of a hot topic in 2021. They are quickly becoming indispensable for everybody who is on the net, which is practically the whole world these days.
This naturally raises the question: why are VPNs so essential, and what are they used for?
VPN is short for “Virtual Private Network” and it can create a virtual private tunnel that serves the purpose of protecting your data with encryption. The VPN will encrypt your traffic and make your activity hidden from third-party services and hackers.
This article will list 20 of the main things VPNs can be used for. A list of 20 things sounds like it may be too long, but the case is actually the opposite. While putting this article together, I ended up having to combine some things to get the list down to 20 items.
So, without further ado, here are the 20 main ways in which you can use a VPN:
1. Connect to Wi-Fi or use phone data in a secure manner
All leading cybersecurity experts will agree with us on this point: using Wi-Fi or phone data on the internet is much riskier than most people think.
Honestly, most people will recommend that you do your online banking and other financially related transactions using a computer plugged into your router with a physical cable. However, if you need to use a Wi-Fi connection or your phone’s data connection for such tasks, getting a VPN is an absolute must.
A VPN will encrypt the data both ways, which goes a long way to keeping things safe and secure in these cases.
2. Keep your research a secret
This point is made, in particular, with certain people in mind. These are people who have to send and receive sensitive business data over the internet all the time. These people benefit greatly from what a VPN offers them.
The VPN’s encryption is just the ticket to keep sensitive business information away from inappropriate prying eyes. Indeed, whatever the nature of your sensitive information, VPNs help you laser-focus it on just the person or people that information is intended for.
3. Get around throttled connection speeds, aka “traffic shaping”
Internet service providers often engage in what is called “traffic shaping”. This is a subtle and nefarious practice where they strategically slow your internet traffic down. This could be because they are short of total bandwidth at peak times. It could also be because they simply believe you have been using too much data lately, and they don’t want you getting such a good deal for your money!
With a VPN, it “confuses” your internet provider, and renders them incapable of enacting such measures as this on your internet connection. Of course, VPNs slow you down by nature, but, in many cases, this benefit can make up for that loss of connection speed. This is one of the reasons many people say that they don’t notice much of a speed difference when using a VPN.
4. Keep your communications secure and safe
Apps like WhatsApp, Skype, and others claim that their connections are encrypted, and, to an extent, this is true. However, experts have often called into question the strength of that encryption. Also, it’s hard to be sure how much of your communications could be logged by these companies. Furthermore, if they do log data this means there is a vastly increased possibility that it could wind up in the wrong hands somewhere down the line.
Once again, a VPN puts a stop to all of these potential bad outcomes. Assuming that your computer is free of viruses and other malware, it will be almost impossible for any of your sensitive communications to be leaked in such a manner.
5. Send and receive files securely
Indeed, a VPN will actually help you with any type of data you want to send, including documents, audio, video, and any other files you want to share.
A VPN’s encryption is valid for absolutely everything you send and receive back and forth and provides the same security as in all the above cases.
6. Access the Usenet
This is probably the most overlooked point on the whole list.
The Usenet has actually been around from way back in the 1980s, way before the days of the web, which started over a decade later. It’s a place that was used to post files for downloading, and it was also a precursor to today’s internet forums.
Many internet service providers these days are banning Usenet, however. Of course, with a good VPN, you are pretty much-guaranteed access to the Usenet.
7. Upload and download torrents
Another particular problem area for many internet service providers is torrents. Once again, a good VPN comes to the rescue here. With the VPN on, you can upload and download torrents with ease, privacy, and discretion.
In fact, many of the better VPNs out there have made special provisions for people who upload (seed) and download (leech) torrents. These take the form of special servers, or special protocols designed to make the download speeds higher.
8. Get around internet censorship abroad
People are often unprepared for how severely censored the internet can be when they land in a new country. China, of course, is the biggest and most famous example of this, but it’s hardly the only country where this can be a problem.
VPNs excel at getting around this problem. By virtue of their available servers all over the world, you can have truly unfettered access to the whole internet with a VPN. This is very important, because many countries, for example, block all of Google’s services. Something as simple as accessing your Gmail can be impossible in many places without a good VPN.
9. Get around internet censorship within your own country
In fact, almost every country on earth has some sort of censorship as far as the internet is concerned. People often find that, without even traveling, they are cut off from some part of the internet that’s important to them.
VPNs work just as well at breaking through internet restrictions in one place as they do in any other. You simply have to select the right server to solve your problem.
10. Find better deals on plane tickets, hotels, and car rentals
Many websites offer different pricing for consumers depending on where they are on the globe. Travel websites are especially famous for sliding prices around for plane tickets, hotels, car rentals, and anything else to do with tourism.
Smart VPN users can use their VPNs with different servers for the purpose of comparative shopping. Usually, the best way to do this is to set the server to your destination. In this way, websites will tend to give local prices, which may often be cheaper for locals.
11. Digitally compare prices based on location
Of course, travel websites are hardly the only websites that tend to price things on a sliding scale, based on geographical location. Many other e-commerce sites do the same thing, charging what they think customers can afford based on where they are.
A VPN allows you to make websites think you are from literally almost anywhere. Therefore, once again, a world of comparative shopping is at your fingertips with a VPN.
12. Unlock other countries’ streaming libraries
This is probably one of the main uses of VPNs worldwide. Also, this is another feature of VPNs that works both ways.
You can use it while in your home country to get access to another country’s Netflix libraries, or you can also use it to access your home country’s library when traveling. Digital nomads, for example, can make it seem that they have never even left home with the proper use of a VPN.
13. Watch live sports worldwide
A corollary to the above point in the list is that you can also vastly expand your available options for live sports by the clever use of a VPN. This is another area where the whole world opens up to you in a way you might not have thought possible.
Not just that, though. You can also use a VPN to get around local delays and blackouts for sporting events. This means that you can watch the event in real-time from the comfort of your own home, despite local blackouts.
Considering the way the internet is today, you can have access to literally any sporting event anywhere in the world that you would ever care about. All you need is a good VPN.
14. Hide your physical location
Since VPNs can make it look like you are connected from anywhere on the planet, they have this use built-in by their very nature.
We have already mentioned several instances of why you would want to look like you are logging in from somewhere else, but there are many more reasons. For example, you may be shopping on an e-commerce site, and planning to use a re-shipper to get the goods to your final destination. A VPN is necessary for many of these instances.
15. Stay off of hackers’ radar
This point needs a little more explanation. When we say that a VPN helps you to stay off a hacker’s radar, it’s important to bear in mind one thing: Hackers often don’t actively try to hack you. This hasn’t been true for a long time now.
Typically, a hacker will have bots roaming the internet, flagging potential victims. This is actually good news in some ways because it means that a VPN will be very effective against these types of bots.
It’s true that a high-level hacker can, in some circumstances, get around even the best security measures people may take, and this can even include VPNs. But in the vast majority of cases, you are trying to protect against bots or people who aren’t really that high-level. This is why VPNs are so effective against hacking in general.
16. Avoid advertising tracking
Much more common on the internet today than hacking is tracking. By tracking, we refer to the instances, for example, when sites collect data on you as a consumer and then use that to show you targeted ads.
Privacy-conscious and savvy individuals can easily use VPNs to confuse ad tracking, or even shut it down altogether.
17. Access your home network
This is a more advanced option, but it’s still very valid. You can actually set up your own computer with a VPN server, allowing you and others you deem worthy to “tunnel in”.
This means that your home computer can be accessed from anywhere on Earth with an internet connection. For example, you can set up your own private media library for worldwide access. The best thing about this is that you can avoid all the problems associated with keeping your data on a cloud somewhere while keeping all the benefits.
18. Keep your personal data away from your internet provider
VPNs can also be used to keep your personal information away from your internet provider. That means that they won’t have access to anything but your, or your agent’s, most basic information, necessary for billing purposes and the like.
This of course only applies to people who use a VPN most or all of the time, whenever they are connected. It’s also probably not necessary for your average internet user to be this stringent about their privacy.
However, in certain cases, the extra precaution can be worth it. And in these cases, a VPN is what makes it happen.
19. Use financial apps from abroad
Money apps like CashApp and Zelle have recently stopped working for customers who aren’t physically located within US territory. This, of course, is no longer true if you use a good VPN to get around this.
This can also apply to many different financial apps from all over the world that, for whatever reason, decide to restrict access to customers who choose to travel.
20. Access academic or similar networks from abroad
Similar to the above, a matching problem exists for academic and sometimes business networks all over the world. People have been finding this out especially in 2020 since the pandemic made online working and studying so much more common.
A VPN, once again, can solve this problem.
- Looking for the best value VPNs? Check out Per-Erik Eriksson’s recommendations.
- In 2021 speed is the name of the game, see the results of our recent speed tests to find the fastest VPNs of 2021!
- Read our article where Per-Erik answers the question: What does a VPN hide?
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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.