Everyone uses a VPN these days. Well, not quite. But everyone should. So maybe you’re looking to cave in and explore the benefits that making use of a VPN in 2021 will provide you. Well, you’ve come to the right page. Together, we’ll explore not only the advantages but also the disadvantages (yes, there are those) of using a VPN.
When you’re done reading this, you would have come to a full understanding of the benefits and drawbacks of having a VPN. And you’ll be able to decide whether or not subscribing to a VPN will be right for you. Spoiler: it will.
What is a VPN?
Let’s get this out of the way first. While the term is no longer hush-hush as it used to be years ago, not everyone has a clear understanding of what a VPN is, and what it does.
A Virtual Private Network, or VPN, is a private network that allows you to create a secure connection between your device and the internet. VPNs are services that create a secure encrypted tunnel through which your data is then routed, keeping it safe from interference, snooping, theft, and internet censorship. They help users to secure their internet traffic and keep their online activities entirely private.
That aside, VPNs help their users bypass geo-blocks to access locked content. A geo-block is a technology employed by content providers to limit access to their content, depending on the geographical location of a user. Streaming platforms like Netflix, Prime Video, and Hulu employ geo-blocks to restrict their libraries in different regions.
My recommendation for a VPN that ticks all the boxes, offering tons of extra features and great value for your money is NordVPN.
Advantages of Using a VPN Service
Down to business. VPNs are touted for their immense benefits these days. What are those pros?
1. VPNs Keep You Safe and Private
The most essential reason there is to hop on a VPN is the fact that it will protect your personal data and your online activity. Internet users give out a lot of important and sensitive information online. Email and bank information, passwords, physical addresses, and phone numbers are some of them.
The internet is a nest for so many different cyber threats that there is always a chance that this information can be detected and intercepted by hackers, ISPs, and the Government. Unless you make use of a VPN.
Additionally, your data constantly gets intercepted by trackers. ISPs and big tech companies like Facebook and Google, websites, and various websites gather your data, which is then sold to third parties for profit. This helps them to push product and service ads to you, which are tailored to your online behavior.
To prevent all these from happening, a VPN encrypts your data and masks your IP address. They offer an arsenal of security features that work together to keep you private and secure. This includes an automatic kill switch, data leak protection, and ad blocks. Strict no-log policies ensure that none of your data is stored which can be traced back to you.
2. VPNs Secure Your Public Wi-Fi Connections
Now, everyone knows that public Wi-Fi connections are rarely secure. Most times they are not correctly set up, and there is always a chance of sensitive information getting leaked. There is a long history of hackers stealing data through public Wi-Fi connections. Nevertheless, there may be times you need to make use of public Wi-Fi anyway.
You can do this completely secure that you are insulated from the risks involved if you use a good premium VPN service. The encrypted tunnel it creates means that hackers will find any data they can snoop on intelligible.
3. VPNs Help You Bypass Geo-Blocks
Websites and other content providers employ geo-blocks to enforce geographical restrictions to access their content. These restrictions are in place largely to protect copyright licensing agreements between content distributors and the creators.
These restrictions mean that content is generally more readily available in some regions than they are in others. Usually, countries like the US and the UK get to enjoy the bulk of these contents that users living in many other regions are restricted to. For example, Netflix has just under 40% of its 13,500+ titles available to US users. Users in South Africa by contrast are restricted to less than 5%.
But even if you live in the US, these statistics imply that you cannot access over 60% of Netflix’s library without a VPN. A VPN will help you bypass this restriction by masking your IP address, and hence your actual location. When you are connected to a VPN server, you are assigned an IP address based on the server’s location. This tricks the platform’s geo-block technology into believing that you live there.
4. They Help You Bypass Firewalls
Firewalls can be annoying and frustrating. You can come across them in different places like schools, airports, hotels, and in your office or organization. They are used to restrict access to certain internet content or websites. In places like schools and workplaces, firewalls help raise concentration and productivity by preventing students and workers from accessing certain websites.
Governments also make use of firewalls to enforce internet censorship. China for example uses the so-called Great Firewall of China to block or slow down connections to a ton of internet content like social media platforms, websites, and applications. Other countries like Iran, Cuba, North Korea, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia also employ firewalls for censorship purposes.
VPNs bypass these firewall restrictions by masking your IP address and tunneling through them.
5. VPNS Help Save You Money
E-Commerce platforms, airlines, and travel and hospitality agents sometimes set their prices depending on the regions their visitors are based. This is called price discrimination. So, an airline ticket may cost significantly higher if you try to purchase it from the US than say, Ghana. This may sound unfair, but it is a common practice that is used to help them maximize profits.
With a VPN, there’s no need for you to be a victim of this policy. Because a VPN shields your IP address, your actual location cannot be detected by these companies. When you need to purchase a product or service, simply switching to a server-based in developing countries will likely end up saving you some money.
6. VPNs Prevent Bandwidth Throttling
Bandwidth throttling happens when your Internet Service Provider (ISP) deliberately slows down the speed of your internet connection. It is a measure to limit the flow of data to and from your device. ISPs slow down your speed for a number of reasons. A few major ones are:
- Data cap
- Network congestion
- Data heavy tasks like streaming or torrenting
Imagine settling into a session of bingeing your favorite TV show or a football game, only to be hit by frustratingly slow internet speed. That is what throttling does.
VPNs make sure that you don’t have to endure that. Your internet traffic is encrypted, so your ISP will be unable to detect the nature of your internet activity. Since they cannot detect that you are carrying out bandwidth-intensive tasks, your connection speed will not be throttled.
7. They Secure Your Torrenting and File Sharing
Torrenting without the protection a VPN provides is playing with fire. Basically, anyone looking can see your IP address, and so may be able to trace your real location. In addition, your traffic is vulnerable, with the chance that your downloads can be intercepted, your data stolen, and your device infected with malware.
Likewise, your ISP can detect your torrenting activity, and you may be throttled as a result. Finally, torrenting is a legal grey area, and it is banned in some countries. Even in countries where it is legal, there is always a risk of falling foul of copyright laws if you download protected content.
Using a VPN while you torrent is a sensible way to insulate yourself from these risks.
Disadvantages of Using a VPN
VPNs are great, and after reading the benefits they offer above, I hope you agree. Yet there are still a few drawbacks that you should keep in mind before you make a VPN purchase. It is important to understand that while these are real issues, the advantages of using a VPN far outweigh the disadvantages.
1. They May Slow Down Your Internet Speed
This may look weird, especially after I informed you that VPNs save you from bandwidth throttling. But yes, VPNs can slow down your connection speed. As you now know, when you are connected to the internet through a VPN, your traffic is routed through an encrypted tunnel. This and other factors like the server location and the VPN protocol can combine to cause your speed to decrease.
The good news is that this is not always perceptible, especially if you are on a quality premium VPN like ExpressVPN or NordVPN. For online activities that require speedy internet connections like gaming or streaming, you should ensure that you use a VPN known for its speed.
2. They May Be Illegal in Your Country
Using a VPN in the US and most other countries is currently legal. Making use of a VPN to carry out illegal activities is a crime of course, and if caught, you will be prosecuted.
But that cannot be said for some other countries. In countries like China, Iraq, Russia, Belarus, Turkey, and Uganda, VPNs are either restricted or outrightly banned. While it may not be completely illegal to use VPNs in some of these countries, they are frowned upon. VPN-blocking technology is sometimes used to enforce compliance and internet censorship.
3. Risk of Data Leaks When Connection Drops
VPNs exist to keep you and your data safe and your online activities private. But this is not always guaranteed. While connected to the internet through a VPN, your connection may experience an interruption. In these situations, there is a risk that your IP address gets exposed and so your privacy and security are compromised.
The good news is that most premium VPNs have established features that help to ensure that this is mitigated. A VPN kill switch for instance automatically disconnects you from the internet until your connection is reestablished.
4. Premium VPNs Are Not Always Pocket-Friendly
Operating a VPN costs a lot of money, and this may result in subscription fees that are not exactly cheap. This is especially true for quality VPN services.
Fortunately, this can be alleviated to a significant extent by subscribing to long term plans. Monthly packages may be expensive, but VPN services are usually heavily discounted if you decide to hop on a yearly or longer plan.
Additionally, some premium VPNs combine affordable pricing with top of the line features and services. Surfshark especially stands out. Not only it is cheap, but it also does not scrimp on quality features. Pricing starts at $1.99/mo.
5. Some VPNs May Be Dangerous to Your Privacy
VPNs are supposed to keep your data and internet activities shielded from scrutiny, exposure, and an interception. Unfortunately, some VPNs do just the opposite of that. This is especially the case with free VPNs. Since they have to make money somehow, your data may be handed over to third parties for profit. That is why I do not recommend using free VPNs.
Even premium VPNs may be dangerous for your privacy. If a VPN does not operate a strict no-log policy, then there is a risk your data may be compromised. A strict no-logs policy means that VPN stores no user log on their servers, as this may potentially lead to exposure.
When picking a VPN, make sure that it keeps no logs. You can check out my list of the best strict zero-logs VPNs here.
So there you have it – the advantages and disadvantages of making use of a VPN. While it is not entirely sunny side up, the pros of using VPNs outweigh the cons significantly. Additionally, most of the drawbacks can be mitigated remarkably.
For everything VPN and internet security-related, be sure to browse through the categories. You’ll find tons of useful information to help protect your privacy.