5 things you should use a VPN for
VPN providers make a lot of promises. They tend to describe their product as a magic bullet for all your privacy needs. To reduce the noise, we’ve rounded up the five most important things you should use a VPN for.
When should you use a VPN?
VPNs forward your traffic, making you appear as if you are browsing from somewhere you are not. They do this while creating an encrypted tunnel that hides your browsing habits from local network providers and your internet service provider.
This makes VPNs great for bypassing regional restrictions, as well as partially hiding your online identity, but note that we say “partially,” something we’ll cover in more detail below.
This makes VPNs rather special-purpose tools, they are not a panacea for all your online ills. That said, when used correctly, VPNs will allow you to do all sorts of things that you otherwise couldn’t, or at least not without getting you into trouble.
Probably the healthiest reason to use a VPN is the ability to avoid government censorship. Internet is restricted in several countries, including China, Iran, and Russia, and a VPN is the best tool to bypass these restrictions. The reason is that most of these blocks operate on the idea of closing access to a certain IP address. It’s no surprise that VPNs are illegal in some countries.
For example, when China banned Facebook from its borders, it made sure that any Chinese server trying to access Facebook’s IP address was blocked. To bypass this block, you must first connect to another server outside of China, one with an unblocked IP address, and then from there go to facebook.com. We explain in more detail in our guide how to use the Internet from China.
It’s a relatively simple solution to a complicated problem, and VPNs are arguably one of the most important tools for people in certain countries who want unlimited media access, or even just people who want to game. games deemed “evil” by the authorities for any reason.
The same technology that allows you to bypass blocks put in place by authoritarian governments is also very effective in avoiding surveillance, whether by governments or companies. Whether you want to make sure your ISP doesn’t see what you’re doing online or you’re worried about secret police watching you, a VPN can give you some anonymity.
However, this is also where reality clashes the most with the promises made by VPN providers. Your IP address is just one of many ways you can be tracked online. Browser fingerprinting is another effective method. If you are logged into a service like Facebook or Google in your browser, they can also track you, even with a VPN enabled.
While VPNs are definitely part of any strategy to stay anonymous online, they’re far from a one-size-fits-all solution. For one, you’ll have to get used to using incognito mode with a VPN if you want to be harder to track while browsing.
Another form of surveillance VPNs will help you avoid are copyright watchdogs, who usually stand sentinel on torrent sites like The Pirate Bay and threaten anyone who downloads material with fines and lawsuits. copyrighted via peer-to-peer connections. While not a global hurdle, in most countries in North America and Europe using Bittorrent can lead to serious legal issues.
As such, a VPN is an absolute must for torrenting in most countries. Without one, you can expect nasty reviews on your doormat, while with one, you can torrent without worry, except of course accidentally downloading the wrong torrent.
The ability to make it seem like you’re somewhere other than where you are is useful in many cases, but its most obvious use for most people is in streaming. As you may have noticed, many streaming sites (Netflix being the best example, but Hulu and Amazon Prime Video have the same system) limit what you can see based on your physical location.
For example, Netflix’s library in the United States is several times larger than that of any European or Asian country. Without a VPN, you’d be forced to look at what’s on offer in your own country. Using a VPN allows you to unlock all of Netflix. It’s good.
Or rather, we should say “allowed” because Netflix has cracked down on VPNs pretty hard. Currently, it is becoming more and more difficult to break through the blocks put in place by Netflix and other streaming sites. Accordingly, we placed this reason to get a VPN a little lower on the list, as the days of easy penetration into libraries in other regions may be over.
Finally, there is always a good reason to use a VPN, which is to protect yourself from hackers, especially those using a so-called man-in-the-middle attack. Essentially, these attacks will hijack a public Wi-Fi signal and track everything you do online. They have the potential to be quite dangerous, but using a VPN on a public network means that all the hacker can see is encrypted gibberish, which is fine for you.
That said, public Wi-Fi is more secure than ever thanks to the advent of HTTPS, an encrypted protocol that has made communication on any network, not just public networks, much more secure. While there’s still a small case for using a VPN over public Wi-Fi, it’s not the absolute necessity that it used to be.
While there are other reasons to use a VPN, these five are probably the most common and important. Check out our top VPN picks to see which services are best for which task.