If you're considering getting a VPN, here's what you should know about some of the most common misconceptions.
The internet can be a really confusing place. As simple as it is to surf the web, it's the technology behind how it works that can sometimes be perplexing. And this technology changes quickly – often without warning. If you're not caught up, it's easy to get left behind.
So it would make sense that you may not know much about VPNs, or virtual private networks, which are pivotal to protecting your privacy online.
A VPN can provide you with a secure and private connection over the internet, by creating a virtual tunnel between your device and a remote server, so that your IP address is masked and your internet traffic is encrypted.
That's easy enough to understand, but how much do you really know about VPNs, and how they can protect you? Does a VPN make you completely anonymous? Does it protect you from viruses and malware? Is it really only for illegal activity?
In this story, we'll take a look at 7 common VPN myths you should know the truth about. Here's what you need to know.
Myth No. 1. VPNs are mostly for illegal activity
A VPN can definitely be used to aid in illegal activities, like downloading copyrighted material, but that's not its primary purpose. The primary use of a VPN is to enhance your online privacy, which is legitimate and legal. By encrypting your internet traffic, you actually protect yourself from cybercriminals or hackers or even prying governments.
VPNs, as a service, are illegal in certain countries that have strict censorship laws, like North Korea and Iraq. In China and Russia, only government-approved VPNs are allowed.
Myth No. 2. VPNs make you completely anonymous
A VPN works by encrypting your internet traffic and masking your IP address, and while that makes it much more challenging for websites, advertisers and ISPs to track your online activities, it doesn't mean you're completely anonymous.
Whichever VPN you use, the company behind the service may have access to your real IP address and all the websites you visit, which means they could potentially trace all your activities back to you. This is why it's important to choose a reputable VPN provider that has a strict no-logs policy to ensure that they don't keep records of what you do online.
In addition, law enforcement or other legal authorities could potentially request data from a VPN provider for a criminal investigation, which could lead to your private information being disclosed unless your VPN service has a strict no-logs policy.
Complete anonymity isn't realistic or necessary, which is perfectly fine for most people who use VPNs to protect their privacy.
Myth No. 3. Free VPNs are just as good as paid VPNs
You may be inclined to skip out on another monthly paid subscription, but if you're adamant about getting a VPN for your privacy, think twice about using a free VPN.
Free VPNs typically don't have the same commitment to privacy as paid VPNs, because well, if you're not paying the VPN, the service still needs to find a way to make money. And that may include sharing your user data with third parties, which can compromise your privacy and security.
A free VPN may also have limited server options, and so you might experience slower speeds, especially during peak usage times. Paid VPNs are typically faster and provide more reliable connections, thanks to a larger number of servers in locations across the world.
If you decide to use a free VPN instead of a paid one, you may also not get much customer support, have to deal with bandwidth and data limits, get bombarded with advertisements and not have access to features you may need..
The only free VPN we recommend is Proton VPN, because it has unlimited bandwidth and data.
Myth No. 4. VPNs speed up your internet
Network latency is the time that it takes your online data to go from one place to the other. If you're using a VPN, your data goes through an encrypted tunnel, which is a private route to the internet via third-party servers.
Encryption takes time, and if VPN servers are far away from you, then your latency and speeds may be slower than you're used to when you're not using a VPN.
Still, even if a VPN does slow down your data speed, it may not be noticeable if you're simply surfing the web or performing other low-intensity tasks. If you're streaming or playing video games, you may notice lag, in which case you may want to connect to a VPN server near you or try other techniques to help improve your speeds.
The only exception is if your ISP is throttling your internet connection, in which case a VPN could actually speed up your connection.
Myth No. 5. VPNs can bypass any geo-restrictions
By using a VPN server in a different country than where you live, you can spoof your IP address and access content or services that are typically restricted to those that live in that region. For example, if you pay for a US-based streaming account, and you're traveling abroad, you may not be able to access that content, unless you use a VPN to change your IP address back to your home country.
However, this doesn't always work. Some websites and streaming services use VPN detection mechanisms that can recognize if you're using a VPN and block you from accessing any of their content unless you turn your VPN off.
Myth No. 6. VPNs are too complex to use
A VPN may sound complicated to use, but that's not always the case. VPN services provide user-friendly applications, available on your computer, phone and tablet, with intuitive interfaces and straightforward guides you can follow to quickly and easily enable set up your VPN.
Typically, after installing a VPN, it really only takes a few clicks or taps to create an account, select a server and connect to the VPN service. After you use your VPN for the first time, and configure your settings, you may only need to tap or click once to connect to the VPN from then on.
If the VPN offers it, you may have the option to allow the VPN to choose a server for you based on best connection speeds at the moment, and to automatically connect to the server as well, to ensure you're always protected without having to manually enable the VPN.
And paid VPNs typically come with customer support, in case you have any trouble. You may find FAQs, online guides, live chat or email support options to guide you through any issues.
Myth No. 7. VPNs protect against malware and viruses
VPNs may encrypt your data and mask your IP address, but that doesn't mean they are a one-stop-shop for all things privacy -- they're just a part of the equation. A VPN does provide indirect benefits related to cybersecurity, like securing your connection when you're on public Wi-Fi, but they do not replace antivirus, antimalware and password tools.
To protect your devices against viruses and malware, you need dedicated software that is specifically designed to identify and remove malicious software, so that your computer or phone is protected.
The best thing you can do to maintain comprehensive cybersecurity is to have both a VPN, for safeguarding your online privacy and security, and antivirus/antimalware software, to get rid of anything malicious on your device.