The Biggest VPN Misconceptions

You heard? ISPs want to sell your data, and a virtual private network (VPN) is the best way to tell them to leave . But there’s a problem. VPNs are notoriously dubious, harder than they look, unregulated, and can pose more security risks than they are worth if you don’t configure them correctly.

We’ve talked about what a VPN is many times already, but let’s recap for a second. A VPN encrypts your data before it leaves your device, and that data remains encrypted while it travels through your local network and your Internet Service Provider (ISP) until it reaches the VPN provider’s servers. This process is called “tunneling”. When traffic reaches VPN servers, it is decrypted and sent to the Internet as a whole. This is usually useful if you are using the Internet in a public place, such as a Wi-Fi network in a coffee shop, where someone might be trying to spy on your traffic. It’s also useful if you want to hide your traffic from your ISP or bypass government firewalls as they won’t be able to see which websites you visit.

“VPNs protect you from ad tracking”

VPNs will mask your IP address and make you relatively invisible to your ISP, but they won’t block millions of other ad trackers on the Internet. Advertising networks usually use cookies instead of IP address to identify you, so if you use a VPN to get away from ad tracking you will be sorely disappointed. Even worse, some VPN providers actually run their own ads or sell your browsing data. The most famous example is Hola Better Internet, users caught it pouring their own ads .

If you want to block ad trackers, you should use privacy-focused browser extensions such as uBlock Origin and Privacy Badger . This will prevent you from tracking ad trackers and slow down your web browsing like a VPN does.

“Using a VPN, you won’t even notice the difference.”

Security comes at the expense of speed, and using a VPN will almost always slow down your internet connection a little. Between security protocols and encryption, this cannot be avoided.

How important this is depends on what you are doing on the Internet, the speed of your VPN provider, and a number of other potential bottlenecks. For general viewing, it won’t matter much, but you will notice slowdowns in downloading or uploading large files and streaming videos.

Some services and websites block VPNs completely because they don’t want you to bypass regional restrictions. Netflix is ​​best known in this regard , but Hulu has tried too. This can have a different effect depending on which part of the world you are in.

“Using a VPN automatically keeps you safe and private.”

The whole purpose of a VPN is security, but if you’ve configured it incorrectly (or your ISP installed it incorrectly), you could lose that security. Likewise, your VPN provider can see all of your traffic, which means it can potentially log everything you do, or even modify that traffic.

A study published by High-Tech Bridge found that many VPNs use one of several legacy encryption methods, including the very outdated Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol (PPTP). Assuming they encrypt data at all, VPNs can do whatever they want until someone calls their BS. Don’t believe me? Earlier this year, security researchers discovered that 18 percent of VPN apps on Android don’t do the core function VPNs are designed to do: encrypt traffic. 84 percent also leaked user data. This is only on Android.

If the VPN is not configured properly, it can also leak your IP address, which links all of your data to you and is problematic if you are using a VPN for privacy. After setting up your VPN, test it to make sure your IP is not leaking . A leak can be due to an old web exploit or a security flaw when configured incorrectly .

Logs are also an important issue when it comes to privacy. Some VPN providers keep a log of all your traffic , making it impossible for you to use a VPN for privacy. If you are looking for a VPN provider and are “logging” on Google, you should read their privacy policy. There you will find out if they keep logs of all your traffic, access logs, or “whatever law enforcement requires,” which is a little tricky because it can cover a wide range of things. For true privacy and anonymity, Tor is better than a VPN because it makes it much more difficult to track any data to you.

“There is a better VPN”

It would be easier for everyone if someone could compile a list of the best VPNs, right? But it turns out that choosing a reliable and reliable VPN is almost impossible. At the most basic level, why you use a VPN affects your search for a reliable one. Some are more about security, some about bypassing regional blocks, and others more about privacy. Some are in the United States, many are not. All of these factors affect the performance of the service.

Unlike many of the services we all use, VPNs are not regulated or subject to security audits. A VPN can say anything about privacy and security, but no one is holding them accountable. The only public responsibility they bear comes from users exposing shady practices.

That’s all to say, you should do your research. Security is not only a quick Google search but also homework. We’ve been through this a bit earlier : you’ll need to find the VPN provider logging rules, look at the forum posts to see if anyone is talking about them, and test your VPN after you’ve set it up. If you can’t find anything about a VPN provider online, or if the deal sounds “too good to be true,” it probably is. Fortunately, the more popular a service is, the more people hold it accountable.

VPNs may be in the public eye today, but that doesn’t make them any more understandable than they were two weeks ago. These are tricky, boring things, and while setting them up is trivial, finding the right one takes the same effort as any other $ 50–100 a year purchase, so treat it like one.

For our part, we have long recommended Private Internet Access , SlickVPN , NordVPN, Hideman, and Tunnelbear because they have been respected over the years, but this is not a complete list and we cannot keep updating it. The privacy site tries to catalog VPNs based on their location, logging rules, and more, but even this is such a complex undertaking that it is never fully updated.

Whichever service you choose, make sure you do the necessary research ahead of time and then take a few extra minutes to make sure everything is up and running as expected.

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