VPN: A Few Important Things To Know

It’s hard to surf or use the internet without coming across a recommendation to use a VPN. Digital ads promise VPNs with capabilities ranging from keeping you completely anonymous to absolute protection as you surf the internet. How much of these claims are fluff or real? Well, let’s start with understanding what is a VPN.

What is a VPN?

A virtual private network is a digital tool for recreating the security of a physical private network. It’s impractical to have your device connected with a cable straight to the bank server. That’s why VPNs do it via your regular internet. 

When you have a VPN running on your device, all the data you sent out is encrypted. This process turns all the information you’re transmitting into a mess that no modern computer can crack. That means that nobody – hackers, spies, or internet service providers – intercepting it can read it. That data then travels to the VPN server, which decrypts it and forwards it to your original destination. When the service sends something back, it all works the opposite way around.  

As such, typical use cases of VPNs include hiding your IP address, bypassing government restrictions, accessing geo-restricted content, hiding internet traffics, and connecting to a home or business network while you’re away.

Free vs Paid VPNs

As with many other technological products, VPNs come in free and paid tiers, knowing the risk associated with each tier can help you make a decision about which to use.

Something to keep in mind about Free VPNs is that the producers have to make money somehow. In the best-case scenario, you’ll have a slow, data-capped connection that may annoy you with ads. At worst, the app will track users and have malware as part of its code – research shows that 38% of free VPN apps contain malware. Some free VPN can steal your data also – they can even steal your credit card info. 

In contrast, the major advantage of Paid VPNs is that it provides decent speed. Using a VPN anyway slows down your Internet connection to some extent, so your aim should be to use a good, paid VPN that provides decent speed. Paid VPN providers invest a large percentage of their profits on bandwidth and servers, so even when hundreds of people use the service at the same time, the speed doesn’t slow down. This is a benefit only available with paid VPNs.

It is also important to note that even top-tier paid VPNs can provide little help if you yourself compromise your data. Here are few tips to help you stay safe online while using a VPN:

Do not visit untrustworthy or fake websites – These can be masquerading as legitimate websites you want to visit, but only exist to steal your data once you enter it.Do not login to your banking application or crypto wallet – If you’re suddenly trying to log in from an unrecognized IP address – and especially if it is from a foreign country – your connection might be blocked as a measure to prevent fraud. And truth be told, fraudsters do regularly use VPNs to cover their tracks. So rather than trying to keep tabs on patterns of IP address usage by legitimate users, some organizations simply don’t allow VPN connections.Make sure you have a robust anti-malware and password manager – An anti-malware package will help keep you safe as you surf the net while a password manager will help secure your passwords.

These and similar online hygiene practices are necessary to overcome these passive measures of data theft. Our other resources found on our website www.nogofallmaga.org address staying safe online.

If you decide to go the free route, here are some great options:

MysteriumWindscribeFree VPNProton VPN (free version)Nord VPN (free version)1.1.1.1VPNTunnel BearOpenVPN

The above-listed VPNs also have paid versions which are great, and it is important to note that some other security tools have VPN embedded as a feature. E.g antivirus and password manager apps.

Other things to keep in mind

VPN protocols determine how the data is routed from your computer to the VPN server. Some protocols are faster and more secure, while others are slow and have vulnerabilities. Some of the different types of secure VPN protocols include OpenVPN, IPSec, Layer 2 Tunnel Protocol, and Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol.

If you’re concerned about privacy make sure you read the VPN provider’s privacy policy to know if they keep logs (record of user’s activities) and what type. A good privacy-focused VPN provider should have no traffic logs, no source IP logs, DNS leak protection, not share an IP address and accept payment via bitcoin.

Finally, as in most things, a paid solution trumps a free version.

Contributors:

Wale Osoba

Hassanat Kehinde Obanla

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