do you need a VPN?
VPNs are becoming ever more popular and advertisements for their services are appearing everywhere. Where once, they were confined to the pages of tech magazines, now they're in mainstream newspapers & magazines, on TV and radio as well as all over the Internet.
So what's going on? Do you really need a VPN now?
Below we'll look at what you could use a VPN for. What they can actually do for you. And then answer a few of the most commonly asked questions about VPNs.
If you'd like to know just how a VPN works, click How a VPN Works
do you really need a VPN?
Do you need a VPN (Virtual Private Network)? What can you use a VPN for?
There are 3 main reasons why you might want or need a VPN.
- Public WiFi Security
We'll go through each in turn, what they mean and how a VPN service can help.
Whenever you use the Internet, everyone is watching and recording. Everything that you do over the 'net is logged somewhere by someone. Every article you read, every video you watch or picture you see, it's all logged somewhere.
And if you're thinking, well why should you care, let me give you a couple of reasons to at least think about it.
Firstly, companies, businesses and other agencies are spending huge amounts of money collecting all this data. All this information about you & me. And do you know what? I don't think it's for our benefit.
Secondly, parliaments and senates around the world are looking into what information is actually being collected and what is being done with it all. The people in power are actually getting concerned as to where all this is going.
A VPN will make collecting data about you personally much more difficult to do.
Not impossible, but difficult.
If you're at all concerned about your online privacy, then yes, you could use a VPN.
Every computer that's connected to the Internet has an IP address. It's very much like a phone number. And just like a phone number, it can be traced back to your PC.
But when you're using a VPN, that doesn't happen because it's the VPN company IP address that is used How a VPN hides your IP address.
public WiFi - you need a VPN.
Do you use the free WiFi option in cafes, restaurants, hotels and other places you can rest your weary self?
I do occasionally, nothing better than sorting a few emails whilst demolishing a Big Mac.
The problem is that they have very little security built into them.
That's deliberate, because the more security you have, the more difficult it is for people to use.
A lot of them also advertise the fact that they have free WiFi, so any hacker in the area actually knows where to go.
And that's where your troubles can begin. Public WiFi hotspots are very popular but intrinsically unsafe to use. Sorry but there it is.
That guy or gal sat across the room catching up with some work during their dinner hour, could just as easily be scanning all the data your sending and receiving on your laptop. And if that includes a login here, a card number there?
A VPN can protect you when using public WiFi.
It encrypts every piece of data that leaves your device, and every piece of data that your device receives will also be encrypted.
On public WiFi, you can't stop hackers from seeing data travelling to and from your computer, but you can make that data unusable to them.
If like me, you use public WiFi, then I'd say a VPN is must have.
VPN - geo location.
Many companies have different websites for different countries. Take Netflix as an example. Shows that are available to watch on the US website aren't always available over here in the UK.
Youtube is the same. Sometimes you'll try to watch a video only to get the dreaded "Blocked in your country" placard.
I don't think it's either companies fault, it's more to do with copyrights and stuff like that.
But the fact remains that it's darned annoying.
These websites stop you from viewing the blocked content because they can tell, or detect, which country your computer is connecting from.
They can tell your geological location.
A VPN service can get around this issue though.
When you start most, if not all, VPNs, you get a choice of which server (computer), in which country, you'd like to connect to.
Yes, that's right, if you'd like to appear as if you're connecting to the Internet in the US, France, Germany or anywhere else, your VPN service can make it so.
Using a VPN service you can open up the whole world by pretending to be in just about any country you'd like to in. At least as far as online content is concerned.
So if that's something that would interest you, then yes, you really could use a VPN.
some considerations about virtual private networks.
While there are many more reasons to use a VPN service, the ones we've looked at above are by far the biggest.
And by now you should have an idea as to whether or not you need or want a VPN.
So before you dash out and sign on the dotted line, here are a few things you should consider or check out.
does a VPN slow your internet down?
Yes. While you're using the Internet and connected via a VPN service, your Internet speed will slow down.
When you connect to the 'net without the VPN service running, you'll have your normal speed, whatever that is. But once you fire up the VPN, things will slow down.
So the next question is, by how much? And I'm afraid that I can't answer that for you. So much will depend on what your usual broadband speed is, on your computer, on how far away the VPN server is that your connecting to, and on the VPN company themselves.
If you've got a pretty fast Internet connection, then you'll probably not notice much slow down at all, but if you're already in the slow lane, then slowing down even a little can have a big impact.
The best advice that I can give you here is, take advantage of the free trials.
Most VPN services free trials, usually around a month, so take them up on their offer. Try them, use them for whatever you plan to use them for, and see if they work.
You'll often find that one service will be better than another at one thing, but not as good at something else. So try it out first.
And obviously, if you're interested because of the geo-location capabilities of VPNs, make sure that they have servers in the country/countries that you want access to.
are they easy to use?
Most of them are incredibly easy to use. There really isn't that much for you to do except sign up, download and install the software.
At the moment I'm using a VPN service called NordVPN, but they're all pretty similar.
Once the software is installed, it usually drops an icon on your Desktop.
Whenever you want to use the VPN service, you'll double left-click the icon to start the service.
The software will start-up.
Choose which country you're going to connect through in the left-hand panel.
Then click the CONNECT button.
After a few seconds. you're connected.
Now you simply start your web browser (Chrome, Edge, Firefox or whatever) and surf the 'net just as you normally do.
Use Google, Youtube, Netflix, Facebook or any website you like.
When you've finished, click the DISCONNECT button.
I'm showing you NordVPN simply because that's the one I've got, but most VPNs are similar. The interface will look a little different, but you will have the same functionality.
can you use them on other devices?
Can you use a VPN service on your phone or tablet as well as on your PC? Yes. Most VPN services have apps for both Android and IOS.
Also, they'll allow several devices to be used with the same account. Meaning you only pay once to cover a number of devices.
Exactly how many devices, you'd have to check with whichever service your thinking of signing up with, but 5 to 10 devices is pretty common.
do you need a VPN - summary.
There are many other reasons why you might want or need a VPN service other than the 3 we've talked about here. These are just the most common reasons why, we at home, might want one.
Other reasons include protecting login details, avoiding ISP traffic shaping and simply shopping for the best deals online.
So to answer the question, do you need a VPN? Yes, if you've got a use for one. They do work.
If you're thinking about signing up for one, which one should you go for? I'd say, at least to start with, stick with the bigger names, such as Cyberghost, ExpressVPN or NordVPN, but there are plenty of others worth a look.
So could you use a free VPN service? I'm going to lean towards a no on that question, but only because I've never used one myself. And therefore I don't have any real experience of them.