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Why Should I Use a VPN?

Why Should I Use a VPN?

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You've probably heard of VPNs by now. After all, they've been featured almost everywhere: in podcasts, social media posts, YouTube videos — even TV ads. But knowing about VPNs is one thing; understanding them is another.

There are several other aspects to learn about: What is a VPN, what are VPNs used for, and do you need a VPN at home? Read on to find out.

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What is a VPN used for?

A virtual private network, or VPN, lets you establish a secure connection to a remote network. When connected, any traffic your computer receives is sent through this network and encrypted, shielding your data from outside observers while hiding your geographic location and IP address.

Remote workers often use an employer-provided VPN to access a network on their company's server, but this is far from the only reason why you should use one. VPNs can also help increase your online privacy, get around geo-restrictions, bypass censorship and provide an extra layer of security to your activities on the web.

Why use a VPN?

Not everyone needs to use a VPN. However, before you decide whether you want to use one at home or on your mobile device, let's take a look at everything a VPN can do to discover why they are relevant.

1. Enhancing your online privacy

The world is getting more and more data-hungry. Governments and businesses can track nearly anything you do on the internet partly because your internet traffic is easily tied back to you (and your household).

Not everybody is okay playing by these rules. A VPN service lets you take advantage of location masking and data encryption to make it difficult — if not impossible — for third parties other than the VPN service to figure out what you've been up to.

2. Encrypting your data

Chances are there's something you do online that you don't want others to know about. You might not want people to know what websites you visit, which social media handles you go by or what businesses you do for work.

Keeping your online activity concealed is one of the most popular uses for VPN services. A VPN can encrypt all the data you send or receive from your devices, protecting you from identity theft, doxxing and other unwanted snooping.

3. Protecting yourself when using public Wi-Fi

If you're using public Wi-Fi, there's not much stopping the owner or unscrupulous hackers from tracking every bit of data sent to and fro your computer. Encrypted websites have become more common, which means much of this data will be worthless, but it's better to be safe than sorry.

A good VPN adds an extra layer of security while using public Wi-Fi networks. By encrypting every single byte of data that passes through a network, the VPN ensures others cannot view any personal or sensitive information.

4. Browsing anonymously

Your browser might have incognito mode, but using it doesn't turn you anonymous. Websites will still be able to see your IP address, which makes it fairly easy to tell that you're the person visiting a site.

When a VPN connection is active, these sites will see the VPN's IP address, not yours. This won't make you anonymous, but it will give them one less bit of information they can use to track you. If you also use an extension or a privacy-friendly browser to disable third-party tracking cookies, tracking you becomes extremely difficult as you surf the web.

5. Accessing geo-restricted content

Licensing agreements are complicated, but the bottom line is this: Streaming services don't let users view all their content.

Let's say you have a Netflix subscription and want to watch Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. If you live in the United States, you won't be able to. Netflix has the movie on its servers, but it doesn't have the right to show it to people in America, so it won't show up in your library.

When using a VPN, your web traffic can look like it's coming from a different city, state or country. This can unlock content that is usually unavailable in your current region.

Keep in mind that streaming services are starting to get wise to VPN usage, meaning a VPN service won't always get you access to the content you're looking for. In some cases, you won't even be able to connect to your streaming platform if it can tell that your traffic is coming from a VPN server.

As always, remember to consult your user agreement and terms of service before doing anything that could breach them.

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6. Overcoming censorship

Sometimes, using a VPN can serve a purpose more noble than undermining international distribution agreements.

Not every country wants its citizens to have access to the whole internet. Some governments censor the internet by blocking websites for everyone within the country's boundaries. This may be done to prevent citizens from viewing allegedly immoral content, or to shield the public's eyes from information that undermines their totalitarian regime.

A secure, location-masking VPN connection will let you see all the content your government doesn't want you to see. However, be mindful of your country's laws: It's possible that VPN use is illegal in the very countries you might want to use them to bypass censorship.

7. Doing online banking safely

If you've never been the victim of identity theft, count yourself lucky. Even if you avoid losing money, the process of reporting the crime, getting new cards, opening new bank accounts, changing your passwords and setting up credit monitoring might make you wish the crook had just stolen cash from your wallet and gone on their merry way.

While most banks can provide safe online banking, a VPN can make your experience even safer. A good VPN service will let you rest easy knowing that any transactions you make online stay between you and your bank.

8. Masking your IP address

Even if you don't want to look like you live in a different country, there are reasons to mask your IP address via a VPN connection. For example, some sites have soft paywalls, which only let you read a certain number of pages or articles before forcing you to subscribe. Many of these sites track you by your IP address.

Masking your IP address may allow you to read a few more articles without paying for a subscription. It can also help you troubleshoot internet issues, create multiple accounts on IP-restricted websites and get around sitewide bans.

Just keep in mind that, sometimes, getting around IP-based restrictions can violate your end-user license agreement. Tread lightly when using a VPN with services and sites that have a good reason to restrict VPN usage.

9. Avoiding ISP throttling

In the early days of the web, internet service providers treated every site equally. It didn't matter if you were visiting an industry-dominating search engine like Yahoo or a kid's gif-infested Geocities page, data was data. As long as the server could handle traffic, your ISP would send the site your way as fast as your 56k modem could download it.

Those glorious days are behind us. ISPs can, and often do, throttle some sites' connection speeds. They usually do this for high-bandwidth streaming sites like Netflix and Hulu, but in many places, there are no limitations behind what sites and services an ISP can limit.

A VPN connection prevents your ISP from seeing what sites you're visiting — one of the most popular uses for VPN services. This, in turn, stops them from slowing down your connection speed when you visit a site they intentionally throttle.

10. Maintaining privacy while traveling

Some places have more secure access to the internet than others. However, when you travel abroad, you often can't get picky. If you're traveling through parts unknown, sometimes the only way to get an internet connection is from a rundown cafe or a 5G signal from a service you've never heard of.

You have no idea how secure these connections are. However, you do know how secure your VPN connection is. Even if someone is skimming every last byte of data from your online activity, a secure connection to a VPN will keep you safe.

11. Protection against tracking cookies

Most VPNs don't stop a site from using tracking cookies, but there are exceptions. Some VPN services, such as CyberGhost, have features that block all attempts to track you and store your behavior online.

Even if you don't have a cookie-blocking VPN, there still are some reasons to use a VPN as a cookie-thwarting tool. If you're connected to a remote server, the offending site will assume your virtual location is your real location and that your VPN's IP is your real IP. If you clear your cookies regularly, then it'll be like you never visited the site at all.

12. Preserving your online freedom

If you're still asking, "Why do people use VPNs?" this is what it boils down to.

Online, there are those who would censor you, spy on you, track you and rob you. There are services that want to restrict your traffic and moderators who are salty about what you said on their forum. By masking your location, encrypting your data and hiding your IP, VPNs can raise an extra wall of defense against all of that.

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How do you use a VPN?

If you have decided to install a VPN on your iPhone, iPad, Android device or PC, you need to know how to use it. There are three common ways to use a VPN, both of which are fairly easy to follow.

  • Installing an app: Many top VPN services have applications readily available in app stores. First, you have to download and install the VPN app on your device. Then, after opening the app, find the option to connect to a VPN server.
  • Installing a browser extension: Most modern web browsers on your computer let you browse and download extensions that add extra capabilities. Unsurprisingly, there are plenty of VPN extensions. After adding an extension from your browser's web store or add-ons site, you can usually enable, disable and customize this VPN using your browser toolbar.
  • Installing a browser with a built-in VPN: Some browsers, like Brave and Opera, come with their own built-in VPN services. You can turn on these services as soon as you install and boot up the browser.

Is using a VPN illegal?

VPNs let you bypass a lot of restrictions, so you might wonder: is using a VPN illegal? It might come as a surprise but, in most countries, you're perfectly within your rights to use one.

More than 90% of countries have no laws against using a VPN, meaning you're free to sign up and use one to your heart's content. However, using a VPN doesn't mean the law no longer applies to you. If you use a VPN to commit an illegal act, you can still get caught and find yourself in a lot of trouble.

You've probably already heard about China's so-called "Great Firewall," which blocks thousands of websites that the CCP doesn't want its citizens to visit. It turns out China also doesn't want its citizens sneaking past this firewall. The country has blocked VPN websites and forced companies to remove VPNs from their app stores. In some cases, Chinese authorities have even arrested and sentenced people who host VPNs.

China's not alone in its quest to outlaw VPNs. Belarus, Iraq, Myanmar, North Korea, Russia and Turkmenistan have outlawed VPNs to varying degrees. Other countries, including Iran, Oman, India and Pakistan, either limit their use or only allow government-approved VPNs.

What VPN should I use?

Not every VPN service is reliable, effective or even trustworthy, so it pays to do your research. To get started, check out this list of the Best VPN services available. It looks at the most trusted services on the market and breaks down their strengths, weaknesses, features, capabilities and prices.

If you're not ready to pay for a premium service, free options exist. But proceed with caution: free VPNs aren't always to be trusted.

Summary of Digg's why should I use a VPN

If you want to browse the web securely and privately, a VPN is one of the biggest upgrades to your experience you can get. VPNs can help you protect your personal information and avoid location-based restrictions.

Whether through an app, a browser or an add-on, the benefits of VPN services are worth considering for anyone who frequents the internet.