Cybercrime has seen a terrifying upsurge since the pandemic broke out and this trend has continued into 2022. As more and more businesses discover the cost of ignoring good cyber security practices, individuals too are increasingly becoming aware of the dangers to their online privacy.
But unless you’re a large company or an organization working in a sensitive industry, you don’t have to make a choice between zero-trust networks, SDPs and VPNs. The latter is more than enough if you want a safety net while browsing the web, making online payments, downloading (legal) content through torrents, accessing Internet banking services, hopping onto a public Wi-Fi hotspot safely and so on.
VPNs encrypt your Internet traffic and hide your IP address — and by extension, your physical location — from spying eyes. This is great when you want to access region-restricted content or websites, escape bandwidth throttling by your Internet Service Provider (ISP), get better deals on certain things like hotel reservations or flight tickets, and prevent anyone from viewing your online activities in general.
But before you decide whether you want to download VPN software and install it on your device, here are certain oft-repeated misconceptions about virtual networks you should know:
Table of Contents
1. There’s No Need To Pay For A VPN
This one is a biggie. There are many free VPNs out there that claim to be perfectly safe to use. However, every business needs to turn a profit somehow. If you’re not paying for the service, assume you have something more valuable that the provider needs from you. In this case, your data.
When free VPNs are not selling your information to third parties, they’ve been found to indulge in ecommerce traffic redirection to partner sites, inject malware or adware on users’ devices, perform TLS interceptions and so on. Thus, it’s always better to try out a VPN which offers a free trial period instead of a completely free service.
2. VPNs Are For Those Who Indulge In Illegal Online Activities
Many businesses use VPNs to allow employees and partners secure remote access to their internal infrastructure and data, or put multiple official locations on a shared network. Individuals who are concerned about online security while using net banking services, or their right to privacy in general, may also have need of a VPN.
Some companies offer products and services at differential rates, depending on the geographical location of the user. While we do not condone skirting such pricing tiers by location-spoofing since it may violate a business’ T&Cs, folks do indeed utilize VPNs to get nicer deals on stuff.
ISPs often collect and sell your online data to advertisers, marketing companies and others who are willing to pay for it. Trying to prevent this from happening is not illegal. Lastly, for those who frequent public Wi-Fi hotspots, a VPN is one of the best bets to disappoint anyone who wants to see your web activity (mostly, if you’re still visiting HTTP sites).
3. You Don’t Need A VPN For Your Mobile Phone
If you are concerned about online privacy and personal data security, any device you use to browse the Internet should be protected from bad actors. Just like ISPs, cell phone operators can also view and collate your browsing activities. So yes, you do need a VPN on your Android or iPhone handset, especially if you connect to public hotspots.
Just downloading and installing a VPN on your phone isn’t enough. You also have to periodically check that all the Internet-connected apps on your device are up to date and install the latest version of the mobile OS it’s running.
4. All Region-Restricted Content Can Be Viewed Using VPNs
First off, it may be illegal to view restricted online content or even use a VPN in the country you live in. So check the facts before indulging in either activity. Secondly, even though most people think all VPNs will let them watch streaming content that’s not available in their area, many companies like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video are becoming adept at blocking VPN users from accessing region-locked content.
In the latter case, look up Reddit or other popular forums to see what your choices are before signing up for a service that’ll let you go incognito. Depending on where you’re from, the available servers and the VPN provider, you may or may not be allowed unfettered access to a streaming network’s global library.
5. VPNs Protect You From Malware And Viruses
Even though the Internet and computers have been around for years, it’s been proven again and again that humans are still the weakest link when it comes to cybersecurity. From using feeble passwords to ignoring multi-factor authentication to falling for email phishing to clicking on shady links, most people are generally not very good at protecting themselves from potential attacks.
VPNs will encrypt your Internet traffic, spoof your location and mask your IP address. But the majority of them cannot prevent you from inadvertently downloading malware or viruses. This is where an antivirus (AV) tool comes in handy. Although iOS is pretty good at shielding users from such dangers, Android phone owners definitely need to have AV software on their devices since Google Play Protect is not that great at detecting malware.
6. A VPN Can Make You Completely Invisible Online
Any VPN company that promises 100% online anonymity and safety from cyber criminals as well as opportunistic corporations, is worthy of your distrust. Apart from the points we raised above on malware and hackers, there are several other threats VPNs are not equipped to deal with. For one, apps are perfectly capable of snitching on your location, online doings, health, everyday transactions and more.
IPv6 addresses which are replacing the older IPv4 format (the type VPNs can effectively mask) are linked to your device’s network-hardware information. “Browser fingerprinting” not only gives away your machine’s specifications, it also reveals data such as your operating system, active plugins, location, browser name and version, device settings, geographical location and more.
7. Proxy Servers Are As Good As VPNs
Proxy servers mask your identity online by routing your requests through them. But unlike VPNs, they do not offer the additional service of encrypting your web traffic and data. So if you’re worried about security with regards to online banking, torrenting and similar activities, a VPN will serve you better.
8. VPNs Slow Down Your Connection
A VPN might cause a slight dip in your Internet speed. But you’ll barely notice the difference if it’s one of the better providers with servers in your region. That’s why you should try before you buy. Additionally, if your ISP is throttling your bandwidth because you’re a data-hungry customer, having a VPN installed can help hide the IP address from your ISP and thus positively impact your connection speed.
9. 256-bit Is Better Than 128-bit Encryption
The majority of VPNs today use AES encryption with either a 128-bit or 256-bit key length. Some offer both, with the option to toggle either one on or off depending on the speed you require. But 128-bit AES is perfectly secure in spite of the advances in computing technology. Don’t get taken by the “bigger is better” marketing gimmick if you’re trying to choose between VPNs and it’s merely down to 256-bit vs 128-bit encryption.
You can check if the VPN you select works on OpenVPN and IKev2/IPSec protocols, the length of the RSA key it utilizes for server authentication, its logging policies and so on. Even if you don’t feel the need to dive into these complicated details, you do need to pick a service that offers a “kill switch” feature to prevent exposing you to your ISP in case your connection to the VPN gets shut off suddenly.
So there you have it — we’ve just gone through the most common myths you may have come across while reading about or discussing VPNs. Did any of them surprise you?