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Before you use a Virtual Private Network (VPN), understand the potential benefits and significant downsides of encrypting your Internet traffic.

If you’re worried about hackers, the safety of public WiFi networks, and cybersecurity, you’ve probably looked into a Virtual Private Network (VPN). Most of the best VPN apps promise enhanced privacy, access to blocked online content, anonymous web use, and even keeping your sensitive data safe from cybercriminals.

However, you should also be aware of the disadvantages of a VPN. While they have a few niche uses, VPNs are not an all-in-one online security solution. Below, we’ll explore the ins and outs of VPNs, including pros, cons, and potential security risks a VPN connection might incur.

What is a VPN?

A VPN is like a cloak or disguise for your Internet activity. Normally, when you’re online your request goes from your device to your Internet Service Provider (ISP), then on to the intended destination. When you use a VPN, your Internet traffic gets rerouted and encrypted.

Then, it passes through the VPN provider's server that’s located somewhere else in the world. The hope is that this encrypted tunnel will totally mask your online activity, thus keeping you safe from cyberattacks, government snooping, and other types of data breaches.

What Does a VPN Do?

Before you use a free VPN service or pay for a premium VPN, it’s essential to know what security features it actually offers and whether it actually protects your personal data.

Generally, when you use a provider like NordVPN, ExpressVPN, SurfShark, and the like, you can expect them to:

  • Hide Your IP Address: Websites you visit will see the IP address of the VPN server, not the IP address of your actual home network, which can offer some basic location anonymity for VPN users.
  • Scrambles Your Data: The encrypted tunnel scrambles your data and online activities, at least from a casual onlooker's perspective.
  • Access Geo-Blocked Content: When you use a VPN server in a specific country, you can “trick” many streaming services (i.e., NetflixDisney+, etc.) into thinking you're actually located there. This gives you access to content that’s specific to that region, which may not be available in the U.S.

How Does a VPN Work?

When you sign up for a VPN, there are a lot of moving parts going on behind the scenes to mask your Internet connection. Generally, here’s how a VPN operates:

  1. Choose a VPN Provider: Download a free or paid VPN service and install the app on your computer or device.
  2. Connect to a Server: Once you’re logged into the app, select a server (often a specific city or country) you want to route your traffic through.
  3. Traffic Redirection: It establishes an encrypted connection with your chosen server, so most websites won’t be able to see your real IP address or location.

Pros and Cons of a VPN

Online privacy is important. However, you should be well aware of the potential benefits and drawbacks before you entrust your web security to an app.

Potential Benefits

While there are some important risks to consider, there are also potential benefits to VPN use. They include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Limited Privacy Boost on Risky Networks: In many cases, public WiFi hotspots lack adequate safety features. Generally, VPNs make it a bit harder (though not impossible) for cybercriminals to hijack your Internet connection on these networks.
  • Geo-Restriction Workarounds: Suppose you want to watch a Netflix movie that’s not available in your country. In that case, a VPN might do the trick. While doing this is technically legal, it may be against the terms and conditions of Netflix and other streaming providers.
  • Potentially Countering Bandwidth Throttling: In a very limited number of cases, when your ISP deliberately slows down your connection speed, a VPN might hide your activity and offer a way around restricted Internet access.

Significant Downsides

These virtual private networks certainly have uses for specific cases. However, from slower speeds to lack of trust, there are a few disadvantages to consider, including:

  • Misleading Security Promises: Here’s the truth — VPNs don't protect you from malware, online scams, or targeted DDos attacks.
  • Slowed Internet Speeds: Since your data is being encrypted and sent on, you can expect slower Internet speeds and frequent connection drops.
  • Cost: Most (if not all) good VPNs cost money. If you opt for a premium VPN subscription, it’s essential to consider the costs.
  • Trusting the VPN Company: Free VPNs are notorious for selling your browsing data. Even some paid options have logging policies that allow them to collect specific information. Further, they could have security vulnerabilities and little to no customer support.
  • Compatibility & Login Headaches: VPNs can interfere with your work-related tools, bandwidth, some websites, and specific online games. Further, they can make it difficult to log in to online bank accounts, financial accounts, and other sites that regard VPN users as security risks.

Depending on the type of Internet connection you have, where you’re located, and other factors, there are additional downsides VPN users should consider. Be sure to do your research and truly consider these benefits and drawbacks before taking a gamble with your online security.

Is a VPN Safe to Use?

Here’s the bottom line: Using a VPN doesn’t necessarily make your home Internet more secure. In many cases, they give a false sense of safety that can potentially leave you more vulnerable.

VPN Security Risks to Beware Of

For starters, not all VPN Providers are created equal. In fact, the industry is filled with shady companies that offer “free” VPNs, just to inundate you with ads or harvest your user data to make money. Additionally, VPNs don’t do much to protect you from phishing scams, clicking on dangerous links, or stopping harmful malware downloads.

If you live in a country with limited or highly restricted Internet access, you might think using a VPN will keep you hidden from government entities. However, on the contrary, it makes your Internet activity stand out more and attracts greater security risks from powerful entities.

Should I Use a VPN?

In most cases, we do not recommend relying on a VPN as your primary means of privacy and online security. Instead, it’s better to invest in robust security measures that provide actual protection for your household.

A few of the most effective ways to secure your Internet include:

  • Use a secure Internet connection at all times.
  • Invest in proven antivirus & anti-malware programs.
  • Be skeptical of shady websites and emails.
  • Be selective with the websites and apps you allow access to your devices.

Work With SmartMove to Find a Secure Connection

The most important step to protecting your home Internet is to work with a trusted provider. Get connected with a reliable home Internet provider in your area today to learn about the best deals and bundles available.

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