Millions of people around the world use virtual private networks (VPNs) for a variety of different reasons. If you’ve never heard of a VPN or would just like to learn more about the truth behind them, here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions.
What is a VPN?
A VPN is a tool that allows you to connect to the internet via a server run by a VPN provider. Ultimately this means that you are using a remote server to access the internet rather than going through your internet service provider (ISP).
What are the advantages of using a VPN?
There are a number of reasons why you might want to use a VPN, but principally one of the main advantages is the purported privacy offered by VPN providers. A standard ISP provides you with access to the internet but also has a constant log of every site you visit and every search you make. Some people wish to stop their ISP from knowing what they are looking at.
Equally, you can use a VPN to get around censorship. Certain ISPs stop computers from getting access to banned sites and it may also be that you wish to get around an overzealous work or school network censor, which you can do with a VPN.
Some people also use VPNs to gain access to services that are not available in their current location. To do this they would connect to a VPN server located in the country that can access the services. This is known as geo-spoofing.
Am I safe if I use a VPN?
It all depends on your definition of the word safe. The main feature of using a VPN is that it provides privacy from your ISP by encrypting the data – so if you are looking to use the internet without allowing your ISP to know what you are doing, a VPN can do that. However, if you want safe to mean ‘complete anonymity on the internet’, this is something that a VPN cannot offer.
Ultimately a VPN provider will still have access to your internet history in the same way that an ISP does. Many VPN providers offer anonymity as a part of their service, but that depends entirely on whether you can trust them to protect your identity. When it comes to it, no VPN provider will compromise their legal position to protect you. So if the government or police really did wish to get your internet history, they could get it from your VPN provider.
Can you use internet banking on a VPN?
There is nothing to stop you, but this isn’t actually a particularly good idea. Online banks are some of the most carefully secured and protected websites – so if your computer is free from malware and your operating system is up-to-date, simply logging directly into your online banking is probably the safest way to do so.
Are VPNs legal?
Simply put: yes. In almost every country in the world VPNs are perfectly legal. There are restrictions in some repressive countries but even in places like China and Iran where some VPN providers have been shut down by the state, there are not specifics bans on all VPN services. In most jurisdictions VPN providers are required to keep a log of users’ activity (just as ISPs do) and those that don’t are not working legally.
Will it slow down my internet?
It should be noted that it is inevitable that using a VPN will mean your internet speeds will be slower than if you simply connected with an ISP. This is because there is an additional step in the process. Different VPN providers make specific promises about speed but this purely comes down to your personal choice of provider.