VPNs have become a very popular service over the last decade. With many people waking up to the importance of privacy and data protection, we’ve been seeing more and more VPN providers springing up and offering attractive deals to those who want to keep their connections secure.

Many of those companies make some very bold promises about what they offer too. It’s not rare to see VPNs promising “complete anonymity”, “no logs”, and various other statements that can be enticing to those looking to conceal their tracks.

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But how secure is a VPN exactly, and should you trust these companies with your data? Let’s have a look at the current situation and some viable alternatives.

How a VPN Works

A VPN is basically a virtual “tunnel” for your internet connection. Instead of connecting directly to the sites and services you want to access, your connection first goes through an intermediate point, provided and controlled by the VPN service, which then connects to the actual target site. That way, your origin is concealed to the end party.

When you open a site, their logs are going to show the IP address of the VPN, and not your own. It’s important to understand the differences between a proxy server vs VPN – though some people use the terms interchangeably, they are not the same thing at all. A VPN is a more advanced type of tunnel, whereas a proxy typically relies on simpler forwarding features.

Reasons to Use a VPN

Because of their simplicity and affordability, VPNs have become popular among people for various reasons. Some use them to circumvent geographical restrictions on sites like Netflix, enjoying their full catalogs with ease. Others want to evade the watchful eyes of media companies when they download pirated content.

Some have much more serious reasons to stay concealed – such as those using the internet under restrictive governments that could punish them for posting the “wrong” thing. And then, some just enjoy the idea of having an extra layer of privacy on top of their regular activities.

What Does a VPN Protect from?

A VPN is a great way to avoid your real identity from leaking, provided that you combine it with other measures, like anonymized browsing (which is a step above just opening a private tab), separate devices, and other masking features. However, it’s not the universal protection against malicious actors on the internet that some people see it as.

A VPN will not stop you from downloading viruses or other harmful content. It also won’t keep your identity secret if you’re leaking it in other ways (such as the obvious example of posting under a name that can be easily traced back to you).

It’s important to understand that a VPN is just one tool in your arsenal when it comes to staying concealed, and it alone often doesn’t offer enough protection. With cybercrime on the rise, it’s crucial to pay attention to how you’re using your devices.

Risks When Using a VPN

It’s also worth remembering that some VPNs aren’t as secure as their providers claim. It’s possible that the company itself might be monitoring your activities for their own benefit, or leaking your credentials to authorities behind the scenes, despite making claims of the opposite. A VPN will also not help you if you have a keylogger or other malware on your computer which allows someone to track your activities remotely.

Last but not least, remember that most VPNs are not free. And paying for those services means leaving some kind of paper trail. Some providers support semi-anonymous payment methods like cryptocurrencies, but not all of them. In the event that the VPN provider gets raided by authorities, or their databases get stolen or leaked, you might get compromised by showing up in their payment history.

Known Incidents

There have already been incidents where VPN providers have broken their promise to clients, making it obvious that their claims of complete privacy are not entirely true. PureVPN, a company which explicitly stated that they did not monitor any activity or kept any logs, still managed to provide authorities with logs leading to the arrest of one of their users. UFO VPN suffered a similar incident a year ago as well.

And while not a VPN provider, famous secure e-mail provider ProtonMail recently landed in hot water after information provided by them led to the arrest of activists. The company has since then edited their privacy policy, no longer stating that they don’t keep any logs.

Alternatives

If you’re looking into an alternative with some extra security benefits, look into the benefits of a proxy server compared to a VPN. Proxies can have some notable advantages in these kinds of situations, making them a more attractive option to those with security as their primary concern. At the same time, VPNs still offer some advantages that are not to be ignored, and it’s important to familiarize yourself with both sides if you want to ensure you’re getting the best solution for your needs.

Keep your eyes open for new developments on the internet as well. A lot is happening on the VPN market on a regular basis, and it’s important to know when services you think you can rely on are no longer a viable option.

About the author:

Daan Smit is a Dutch-born writer who lives in Asia developing feature articles, global news & and opinion pieces. His work explores issues related to culture, business psychology, history, and language.

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