Besides the ever-present dangers of espionage, hacking, and data theft, users of the internet are now increasingly aware of the fact that their online activities and personal information are no longer necessarily their own. From the trade in purchasing habits and anonymized consumer data to the stockpiling of subscriber information by Internet Service Providers (ISPs), mobile carriers, and government agencies, online privacy faces a growing number of threats and complications.
Due diligence, anti-malware applications, and the use of “incognito” browsing modes can only go so far to prevent the possibility of intrusion and surveillance. So growing numbers of internet users are adopting the Virtual Private Network or VPN as a major line of defense for their online privacy and security. There are good reasons for this – and in this article, we’ll be looking at several of the most compelling reasons to use a VPN.
Top 6 Reasons to Use a VPN
1. Ensuring Privacy on Public Wi-Fi
Given the opportunity of free or very low-cost internet available from the Wi-Fi hotspots of airports, hotels, eating places, and other public venues, most mobile device users still jump at the chance to connect, without a thought for the potential consequences. Worse, they may indulge in activities online that even under office or domestic conditions might expose their usernames, passwords, credit card details, financial data, and other private information to thieves and prying eyes.
Using the end-to-end encryption provided by a VPN tunneling system, device owners connecting to public Wi-Fi networks may avoid the following threat scenarios:
- Unencrypted Wi-Fi transmissions being eavesdropped upon, or intercepted by hackers sniffing the signals.
- Hotspot routers being used as a transfer vehicle for malware from one infected device to another.
- Bogus hotspots which act as a legitimate-seeming front for fraudsters and cyber-criminals.
- Potential misuse of personal data entered in order to gain access even to legitimate public Wi-Fi networks.
2. Accessing Blocked Websites and Services
Several of the world’s governments actively block certain websites and online resources – often under the pretext of preventing acts of crime and terrorism or simply as a means of controlling the flow of information and contacts into and out of their borders.
Certain online resources such as streaming music and video, international news outlets, and peer-to-peer file sharing networks may also be barred to users in certain regions or consumer categories. Such acts of censorship may be justified on the basis of security, political stability, or the prevention of copyright infringements, piracy, and intellectual property theft.
Users in controlled environments such as schools, universities, and offices may also find themselves unable to gain access to sites and resources which have been blacklisted by their network administrators.
For all of these use cases, a Virtual Private Network can offer alternatives. With subscribers able to choose the location of their VPN server, geographical restrictions may be overcome by using IP addresses local to the sites and servers which were previously unavailable. And VPN encryption can mask the identities and activities of users, as they move from one site to another.
3. Beating Price Traps
Despite the expansion of markets to a global scale through online points of presence, the consumer landscape is still a far from democratic and universal place. Deals and prices in one part of the world may be vastly different than those for the equivalent goods and services in another region.
A VPN service offering a range of geographically dispersed servers enables consumers to shop carefully and systematically, comparing prices and merchandise available across a range of different regions. The increased overhead in time spent searching can easily be offset by the financial savings, which can run to hundreds or even thousands of dollars, depending on the commodity concerned.
4. Avoiding Surveillance
In several parts of the world, the online activities of citizens and organizations within the country are an open book to the authorities, who may maintain an active surveillance infrastructure and/or exert leverage on ISPs and network carriers to make their logs and user data available on demand.
For activists and political dissidents in more restrictive nations, masking their location and activities online can literally be a matter of life or death – and the virtualized location independence and secure encryption of a Virtual Private Network can provide the necessary medium for them to conduct their affairs in safety.
This level of anonymity also extends to internet users in less repressive regimes, who simply wish to avoid nuisance mechanisms such as location tracking, targeted advertising, and the harvesting of their personal data by commercial websites.
5. Confounding ISPs
With the U.S. government’s recent moves to rescind existing net neutrality practices, the way is now open for Internet Service Providers to trade more actively in the data gleaned from their subscribers (however “anonymized” it may be).
VPN encryption ensures that a user’s activity online and the websites that they visit are not clearly and immediately available to their ISP or network provider. And IP address selection keeps a user’s true location hidden from the websites that they browse.
6. Protecting Home Networks
Finally, users with smart home devices or other IoT (Internet of Things) hardware may benefit from Virtual Private Network protection by installing a VPN on their home router. This provides secure encryption for information that leaves the home network, bound for the public internet. Note that data sent within the home network remains unencrypted, but a secured connection is available to any smart devices which hook into it.
This solution also overcomes the VPN encryption problems experienced by certain streaming services such as Chromecast or AppleTV.
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