VPN: The Myth and the Facts
VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. You can learn more about what a VPN is from this article.
VPNs are becoming more and more mainstream especially now that a VPN service has spending millions of dollars to reach the masses via television advertising. The company is NordVPN.
NordVPN is now using TV advertising to promote its VPN services. In its ads it makes claims that are misleading. These claims have led to a lot of people, most of which had never heard of VPN, signing up for NordVPN’s services.
Now, first of all, we’re not picking on NordVPN specifically here, but since NordVPN’s TV advertising campaign has brought VPN services to the attention of millions, they are in the crosshairs.
First we’ll look at a couple of NordVPN’s claims:
“Keep your browsing history to yourself: NordVPN protects your IP address, so your online activity is out of sight of your Internet service provider and any creepy snoopers.”
While it’s true that NordVPN and other VPNs do change your IP address, that’s not the same as protecting your IP address. Your ISP still knows your IP address. Your ISP still knows you’re connected to a VPN service, and which VPN service you’re connected to. And NORD VPN becomes your proxy ISP and they can see your online activity.
NordVPN says: “Security: Online security is the biggest challenge in today’s interconnected world, so it’s important to take it seriously. With NordVPN, you can choose from several Double VPN combinations to encrypt your Internet traffic, protect yourself from snoopy advertisers with the CyberSec technology, and do it with the most advanced security technologies available today.”
Well “snoopy” advertisers are certainly annoying, but I’m not sure how hiding from snoopy advertisers helps me be more secure online. The number one way people’s privacy is breached is not “snoopy advertisers” or even “creepy snoopers” – it’s by tricking people into giving personal information – and no VPN is going to stop someone from being tricked.
It’s a fact, that a large percentage of Identity theft begins with a person clicking a link in a phishing email. And whether you’re using a VPN service or not, if you’re tricked into clicking that link that leads to a fake credit card site, banking site, shopping site, etc. and you are tricked into giving up your username and password, you’re in a world of trouble. It does not matter if the IP address that is visible to the site is your real IP address or a VPN-assigned IP address. The counterfeit site could not care less. The criminals who run the site could not care less what your real IP address is.
It’s a fact, that a large percentage of Identity theft begins with a persona clicking a link in a phishing email. And whether you’re using a VPN service or not, if you’re tricked into clicking that link that leads to a fake credit card site, banking site, shopping site, etc. and you are tricked into giving up your username and password, you’re in a world of trouble. It does not matter if the IP address that is visible to the site is your real IP address or a VPN-assigned IP address. The counterfeit site could not care less. The criminals who run the site could not care less what your real IP address is. They got what you gave them: Your username and password.
Additionally, your IP address largely irrelevant with the new marketing tracking metrics. You can be sure that marketing companies are well aware of VPNs and other user-employed obfuscation tactics. When combined with the adoption of CGNAT and an ever-increasing number of internet-connected devices per household, VPNs claiming to protect you from snoopy advertisers just by hiding your real IP address are not telling you the whole truth. Advertisers are moving passed tracking by IP addresses and beginning to use other methods to track you. Three are no VPN services that can prevent you from being tracked 100% of the time.
And here’s something else to think about. In the past several years, over 1.2 billion Yahoo Mail users lost personal information in two highly-publicized data breaches. Whether any of them used a VPN or not is irrelevant. A VPN would not have prevented a single person from having their data stolen from Yahoo’s servers.
Security means many things, but to us it means protecting your identity, your personal information, and your money. No matter how hard VPN services try to convince you that your IP address is “personal information”it’s not. No one can legally track you down or find out your name or your address from your IP address… without a court order. VPNs don’t provide any additional security. They operate as an enhanced proxies.
Also, keep in mind that, like your ISP, a VPN provider can see all your traffic. So when you connect through a VPN service, you are trading your trust in your ISP for your trust in your VPN service. ISPs are still someone regulated. VPNs are located all over the world in dozens of different countries with widely disparate regulations and laws.
VPNs can promise you complete privacy and still track you and do whatever they want with your online history and data. They can sell your browsing history just like your ISP can. Some VPNs are headquartered in countries where privacy laws are lax or non-existent. VPNs can tell you whatever they want and you have no way of proving otherwise. You have only the VPN providers’ word that they are not tracking you or keeping logs of your online activities.
So, there is no way for you to verify that your VPN provider is not keeping logs, tracking your online activity, and/or selling data collected from you to third-parties or global marketing organizations. The only smart assumption you can make is: It’s all about the money. If a VPN provider can make more money by selling data it has collected from its users then you have to assume they are going to do that – if it can get away with it.
A VPN service, just like your ISP, can see everything you do online. Why then would you automatically trust a VPN service more than you trust your ISP? Would you trust a VPN service just because they make claims that your data is secure and private? How can you ever be sure? Just because a VPN service promises something, certainly doesn’t make it true.
It’s all about the money.It’s in a VPN service provider’s best interest to track and log their users’ online activity. If someone is using a VPN service in an attempt to hide illegal activity – for example selling drugs online – do you really think that the VPN service is going to protect that person from the authorities and face losing their business or going to jail just rather than turn over the customer to the authorities?
The $7 to $15 a month you’re paying a VPN service won’t even pay for a lawyer’s lunch let alone the cost of defending a customer who used the VPN service to conduct illegal activities online. You can be sure that the VPN provider will turn that customer over to the authorities before it will allow itself to face criminal charges or risk having their business shut down.
Need more food for thought? If you think that a VPN service can totally secure and encrypt your Internet traffic read this.
But there are some cases where you may need a VPN.
1. You work from home and your employer has set up a VPN so you can to your work computer. A VPN encrypts the traffic between the office and your home. In this case your employer would provide the VPN. In this case your employer will provide you with instructions .
2 You’re using open WiFi in a public place – restaurant, hotel, airport, etc. You can use a free VPN service for this. And remember: DO NOT DO ANY ONLINE BANKING, SHOPPING while your connected to a public WiFi – VPN or not.
2. You live outside the USA and you want to appear to be from the USA to access some U.S.-Only services. You can connect to a VPN server in the U.S. to make it appear you’re connecting from the United States. Likewise if you’re living in the USA and you want to connect to a site in Britain, Australia, New Zealand, France etc. that limits access to users living in those countries. You can make it appear that you’re connected from any country that the VPN offers.
If you want to appear to be from a different country other than the country you’re actually in, any free VPN service can do this for you. You don’t need to pay for a VPN for this purpose. There are many free ones that would not pass muster as the best VPN services – but since all you want to do is access sites that are normally restricted to certain countries, it only matters that they work.
What Free VPN Service?
There are a few decent, free VPN services. We have not checked them all. We have tested a few and Windscribe is the best in our opinion. We are only recommending the free Windscribe browser extensions for Chrome and Firefox. This way, it won’t mess with your Internet connection and you can easily turn it off and on right from your browser. when it’s needed. Windscribe is also an ad-blocker.
Windscribe offers a paid VPN too – so be prepared to be frequently coaxed into buying the full service. You can resist. Windscribe claims that don’t keep logs – however don’t bet your life on it. They a generous 10 GB monthly limit when you provide an email address. The email address really doesn’t even need to be your real email address. Use a service like Throwaway Email or Maildrop to create a temporary email address to sign up. Gee – I didn’t say that, did I?. Unless you plan on watching movies or a lot of videos while on public WiFi, 10 GB a month should be more than plenty.
OK. There are hundreds of VPN services out there. They must be useful and necessary. If they don’t protect you, why there are so many of them?
VPN MD says:
“Because it’s easy money. You just set up OpenVPN on a few servers, and essentially start reselling bandwidth with a markup. You can make every promise in the world, because nobody can verify them. You don’t even have to know what you’re doing, because again, nobody can verify what you say. It is 100% snake-oil.”‘
So yes, VPN services do serve a purpose – it’s just one that benefits the provider, not you.”
Our take: Most people do not need a VPN service. There are much better ways to stay safe online. Instead of wondering what VPN service to use, worry about the real threats that you face every day when you’re online… the ones a VPN service cannot protect you from. Worry about all the scams and trickery online and always be wary. Aways think before you click; always use good common sense.
Don’t waste your time worrying about the inconsequential. Worry less about advertisers “tracking you”, and more avoiding scams that are everywhere online. Be careful when installing software, be careful you don’t install software bundles contain software that’s harmful to your privacy or your computer. Think before you click. NEVER click links in phishing emails that lead to counterfeit web sites that look exactly like your credit card company’s or bank’s web site where you may be tricked into giving up your usernames and passwords – and put yourself in a position where identity theft is possible. There’s not a VPN service in the world that can prevent you from doing this.
And always use good security software right along with your good common sense.
Believing that a VPN is going to keep your safe or keep your online activities safe or private, or that obfuscating your IP address is going to make you more secure or more safe, might only lull you into a false and unwarranted sense of security.
Unless you must use a VPN for a very specific purpose, you don’t need a VPN.