In the past few years, internet users have come to realize the vast amount of data being harvested by companies and how they are being used.
Online security has become a household name, especially with famous online privacy incidents such as the Cambridge Analytica scandal and history’s largest data breach that occurred mid-December of 2018. Despite all the changes in legislation (GDPR and the California Privacy Act) and the increased awareness about this issue, people are still not convinced that their data has become more private.
In fact, according to a study conducted by the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI), 83% of Americans are concerned about how internet companies are collecting their data and how they can’t control what the companies do with it. Users don’t know who can access their data and companies are using it in ways we can’t even begin to imagine. This growing concern has driven the need for security apps and measures that give users the power to control which information to share and who to share it with.
The most effective security measure so far is using a virtual private network or a VPN. This guide will discuss what a VPN is, how it works, and the difference between free and paid VPNs.
What Is a VPN?
VPNs were originally designed to connect business networks together safely over the internet to allow secure transfer of files and to be able to access a business network from a different location. However, VPNs have clearly grown and developed into a reliable online security service with lots of different features. Aside from the original function, current VPNs can also be used to bypass internet censorship, access geo-restricted content, browse the internet anonymously, and download torrent files safely.
A VPN connects your computer, smartphone, tablet, or iPad to a VPN server located somewhere else, and then use that server to connect to your destination. So if you connect to a server located in a different country, it will seem as if you are browsing the internet from that country. Most VPN providers have multiple servers located in different countries, and all you need to do is choose which server to connect to.
Here are some of the benefits of using a VPN:
- Bypass geographic restrictions on websites or streaming sites.
- Protect your data when connecting to public or Wi-Fi hotspots.
- Browse anonymously by hiding your true location.
- Prevent monitoring by your ISP, government agencies, and hackers.
- Download and share files safely using torrent or P2P.
How Does a VPN Work?
To understand how VPNs work, it would be best to understand first what happens during a standard internet connection and its flaws. During a regular connection, your computer sends out a request to your ISP, who then, redirects you to your destination directly and openly. This means that anyone with a bit of ability can intercept the connection, spy on you, collect your data, or do something without you even knowing it. When you use your connection to access the internet, you are opening yourself up to a whole slew of vulnerabilities that you might not be aware of.
When you use a VPN, your internet traffic is redirected through a secure remote server so that your IP address and all your data are encrypted. Even if your encrypted data is intercepted, the attacker will not be able to make sense of it because it looks gibberish and impossible to read.
Since your internet connection is routed through the VPN server, it will look like your traffic is coming from that server instead of your actual location. This way, your identity is protected and your online activities will not be tracked by your ISP, the government monitoring bodies, network admins, or hackers.
Why Do I Need a VPN?
The number one purpose of a VPN is to protect the user’s online privacy. You can safely go about your online transactions without having to worry about someone snooping on you or attackers trying to steal your data.
A VPN also masks your IP address to hide your true location. This is useful if you want to browse the internet anonymously or access content restricted to another country. For example, if you want to access Netflix US, simply connect to a server located in the US to change your IP address. The Netflix server will then read your connection as coming from the US and give you access to their US-restricted content.
Using a VPN also lets you download large files through torrenting and stream videos without being monitored by your ISP. Since your internet connection is encrypted, your ISP won’t be able to see what you’re doing and monitor your data usage. ISPs automatically throttle data-heavy connection to ensure even distribution of bandwidth among its users. If your ISP can’t see what you’re doing, it won’t be able to throttle your connection.
Whether you are doing regular browsing, doing online banking, or video streaming, it is recommended to use a VPN. In this age when information is a high-demand commodity, protecting your data with a VPN is a must.
Free vs Paid VPN
There are hundreds of VPN services you can choose from. A quick search using Google Play Store or the App Store would bring up a lot of VPN options users can choose from — ranging from free, partly free to paid. Using a free VPN might seem like an attractive option, but is it as reliable and trustworthy as the paid option? Remember that you want to use a VPN to protect your online privacy, so you should consider first if the free option can do the job. Let’s look at the differences between free and paid CPNS, and why it makes sense to pay for a VPN instead of using a free VPN service.
The top-selling point of a free VPN is the price. You don’t have to pay anything to use the service. Sometimes, you don’t even have to make an account to use one. But is it totally free? Consider this: running a VPN requires setting up servers on different countries, maintaining those servers, buying equipment, and paying for people working to make the VPN work smoothly. If users are not paying for their VPN subscription, where does the company get money to pay for all of these and get revenue in return?
When you think about it, free VPN services are not actually totally free. While paid VPNs make their money from subscription fees, free VPN providers have to generate their income some other way. Some limits the features of their free service to force users to upgrade to the paid version. Others serve annoying ads or surveys that pop up whenever you use their service. And there are free VPN providers who sell your data to interested parties to make money. So the next time you want to get something free, think about what you’re giving in return for that supposedly “free” service.
When it comes to VPNs, you always get what you pay for. Free VPN services usually provide only one protocol, the oldest Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol, which is no longer secured. Some don’t even encrypt connections at all. PPTP is supported by most devices and it is fine to use if you’re just doing regular browsing or streaming. But if you’re doing online transactions involving sensitive information, you might want to invest in something that has stronger encryption, such as a paid VPN.
A paid VPN offers more protocols, including OpenVPN, Layer 2 Tunnel Protocol (L2TP), or the IPsec combination. A good quality VPN provider also uses the 256-bit data encryption, which is more secure than the 128-bit encryption that free VPNs are using.
Free VPN services resort to other means to pay for their overhead costs somehow. It could in the form of ads, monthly capped data usage, or by selling your data to third parties. This means that your data is not 100% private, which beats the purpose of using a VPN in the first place.
Free VPNs are also a lot slower compared to paid VPNs because their servers are usually crowded. With lots of users wanting to take advantage of the free service, the server gets congested, resulting in a slow, and often unstable connection. Some free VPN providers intentionally cap data usage to force users to upgrade to their paid version.
Paid VPNs, on the other hand, provide faster, more reliable, and more stable with unlimited data and hundreds of connection points. So if you’re looking for quality service, you need to be ready to pay for it.
Another main difference between free and paid VPNs lies in how good they are at their jobs. VPNs are supposed to protect user privacy, but most free VPNs are actually logging your online activities. They keep track of what you are doing when you are connected. So when choosing a VPN provider, make sure to check their logging policy first.
The idea of using a free VPN is very appealing because you don’t have to shell out money to get their service. But when you consider the true cost of using this free service, which means sacrificing your privacy and exposing yourself to cyber-attack, you’ll soon realize that a free VPN actually costs more than a paid VPN. A trusted VPN, on the other hand, provides far better security and performance, with a huge variety of user-focused features.