While watching YouTube, I kept coming across sponsored advertisements for VPNs, so I asked myself is a VPN really necessary? As someone who spends a lot of time online, I decided to look into it, test some VPNs, and report back with my findings.
VPN companies like to make it seem that hackers are constantly trying to break into your network and steal your data. And while it does make sense to take some precautions when it comes to online safety, it’s not always necessary to buy a VPN.
If you’re confused about VPNs and feel like you might need one, continue reading this post.
Is a VPN Necessary?
In my opinion, a VPN is only necessary when you need to access certain websites that are blocked in your country or you frequently use public Wi-fi networks. At home, a VPN adds another layer of protection, but it’s not super important.
For the most part, Google Chrome and other web browsers will automatically detect when a website is unsafe, and they’ll prompt you with a warning before loading the website. When a website uses a security certificate (like mine!) your data is encrypted.
On the other hand, there are some uses for a VPN, and they can especially come in handy when traveling and your network options are limited. Stay on this page to learn more about how VPNs work, if they’re worth it, possible uses, and some recommended companies to check out.
How Does a VPN Work?
A VPN network will redirect your internet traffic through their servers, which will encrypt the data to make it impossible to read. What this means is that when you visit a website, your ISP company won’t see your browsing activity, so a VPN helps you stay anonymous.
A VPN basically changes your IP and makes it seem like you’re in a different location. Most VPNs also allow you to easily switch between countries which can be helpful for bypassing website restrictions.
You might be wondering:
If my website traffic is redirected through a VPN, won’t that VPN have records of my online activity? Isn’t that simply transferring my data to someone else? And that’s a valid concern.
Most VPNs have a “no logs” policy, which means they do not record user’s online activity or immediately purge it. For that reason, you should never use free VPNs because chances are they do not purge your data, worse, there’s a good chance they collect and sell it to advertisers.
If you feel that a VPN is necessary, buy one, they’re usually not very expensive, and I’ll talk about some later on.
Tip: Remember to pick a “no logs” VPN to keep your data safe.
Recommended VPNs & Prices:
Without going into too much detailed, here’s a quick list of recommended VPNs and their starting prices:
- Nord VPN (Promo: $83 for 2 years)
- Express VPN (Special: 12 Months for $99.95)
- Private Internet Access (Promo: $69.95 for 2 years)
Those three are the most popular, at the moment, and they all don’t record sessions, so your information is kept secure.
What’s my favorite? I think Private Internet Access is more appealing because it’s cheaper and does a decent job.
Some VPN companies advertise all over the place, but their service isn’t necessarily the best. In fact, there are lots of sketchy VPN companies out there, especially the free ones. Never download a free VPN on your phone!
Will a VPN Slow Down My Internet Speed?
In most cases, a VPN will slow down your internet speed, but not by a lot. There are a lot of factors to consider, such as the VPN company might not have servers near you, there could be a high load on your selected node, and the level of encryption.
In short, your internet packets have to be redirected a few times until they reach the destination, so a VPN will almost always slow down your internet speed.
I Get Faster Internet Speed with a VPN:
In some rare situations, a VPN will actually speed up your internet. When that happens, it’s usually either because your ISP is not redirecting traffic properly (IP Routing) or it’s throttling your connection.
A VPN can sometimes create a more direct route, a more efficient one than your internet company, at least to specific servers and locations.
For this reason, some gamers recommend using a VPN because it actually can lower your Ping to certain game servers. On that note, certain websites might load faster on a VPN too.
The takeaway? A VPN will almost always slow down your internet speed.
Online Banking with a VPN:
Regarding banks, most banks use end to end encryption, sufficiently encrypting your data, so it’s not vulnerable to hackers, even when on public Wi-fi networks. And most online banks use advanced security certificates on their websites too.
To top that off, banks don’t usually like VPNs, and they might trigger fraud prevention systems. I mean, it makes sense, it’s kind of suspicious to see account activity from random countries. My advice? Save the online banking for home, without a VPN, and on a secure network.
Note that, usually using some sort of biometric data is more secure than the plain login information, such as logging in via fingerprint scanner on your phone. One of the most common types of online banking fraud occurs via email phishing attempts. Basically, you’ll see an email that looks like an official email from your bank, asking you to verify information, but it’s actually a dummy website used to collect login information.
To avoid that, always double-check the website link in the email, or better yet, open your banks website directly through your browser (type it in!).
Uses for a VPN:
Here are some practical uses for a VPN, besides general internet privacy and security:
Traveling & Public Wifi Networks
Hopefully, we’ll be able to start traveling again soon!
Wifi networks can be used for all kinds of fraud, especially if the network doesn’t use proper encryption.
Some companies are simply lazy and don’t remember to upgrade their routers or networks, so that can leave them vulnerable to hackers. For example, a hacker could use a hotel’s free Wifi to steal data from hotel guests.
In some cases, Wifi networks won’t use WPA (or a very weak version of it) and your data can be read in plain text, making it very vulnerable. Unless, of course, you use a VPN.
Common public Wifi networks:
- Coffee Shops
- Public Hotspots
Wifi networks that are marked as public and don’t require a password are the most dangerous. Unless you absolutely need access to the internet, I would avoid using public networks altogether.
While hotel and Airbnb Wifi networks are usually secure and require a password, it’s still a good idea to use a VPN with them just to be safe. Some hotels aren’t big on their IT security, and like to cut corners, so better safe than sorry. A VPN, when activated on your device, should keep you safe on public Wifi networks.
Accessing Restricted Websites & Bypassing Censorship
We’re talking about websites that the government of the country you’re visiting blocks for one reason or another. For example, in China, if you want to access Facebook or YouTube, you’ll need to use a VPN because those websites are blocked in China.
China is well known for limiting access to the internet. It’s not only China, but every country bans certain websites, even if they might not appear harmful. India is also known for censoring websites, not to mention North Korea
But maybe you simply want to access a website that is not available in your country. I have found VPNs quite useful for accessing U.S websites from overseas, sometimes you can even get the U.S version of Netflix working from abroad (although it’s not very reliable).
So, if you’re trying to visit a website, and you get hit with, “This website is not available in your location” power-up that VPN and change your location, it should work with no problems.
The Bottom Line:
Long story short, a VPN is necessary for certain tasks, but for everyday browsing it’s not that important. If you are planning to travel and need to use public Wifi networks, I suggest looking into Private Internet Access, it has some decent budget-friendly options.
Do you use a VPN? What do you think?