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3 myths about VPNs: why you need one, how they work, and their pros

In this article, we’ll explore 3 myths you may have heard about VPNs — and provide you with a better understanding of this technology.

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Image: KnowTechie

Our lives are becoming ever so digitized: We’re communicating via messengers and email, organizing our work in browsers, and managing our finances in mobile apps. The amount of data that we broadcast to the web, therefore, grows accordingly: By doing anything online, we’re leaving a digital footprint of our personal data.

One of the best tools that you can use to enhance your privacy is a VPN, or a Virtual Private Network. Despite its complex-sounding name, it is actually an easy-to-use tool that offers several benefits to its user. In this article, we’ll explore 3 myths you may have heard about VPNs — and provide you with a better understanding of this technology.

Myth 1: I don’t need a VPN

Although your personal data may seem insignificant to you (“Why would anyone be interested in what I’m doing online?”), it actually contains a lot of valuable information: Your (email) addresses, logins, passwords, phone numbers, credit card, and social security details — basically, all the data you need for organizing both your personal and professional lives.

Said data is interesting for all kinds of malicious third parties, i.e. those who try to intercept your communication with digital services. Upon acquiring this data, committing online identity theft becomes ever so easy: Hackers can steal funds from your bank accounts, defraud your family members, and more.

The highest risk of leaking your personal data arises when using a public Wi-Fi network: Its accessibility means that anyone can join it to try to attack local users. The most obvious examples are public places: cafes, airports, shopping centers, and so on; the most common forms of attack include snooping (essentially, eavesdropping) and malware distribution. However, even your home network, which may seem sufficiently secure, can be compromised.

VPNs address this problem by encrypting your traffic: This way, the data you exchange with online services is secure, so intercepting it is of no practical use to the hackers as only the VPN provider can “unlock” said data. Therefore, VPNs provide real security even to ordinary users.

Myth 2: VPNs are difficult to install and configure

Most networking tools aren’t too user-friendly: Traditionally, network administrators have been installing them as command-line utilities through terminals — suffice to say, ordinary people wouldn’t be comfortable with using them.

As the internet user base grew, the improvements in user experience followed in its wake: Nowadays, VPNs are often packaged in user-friendly apps that allow for easy set up process. Naturally, all settings are available for fine-tuning if the user wants to tinker with them.

For desktops, VPNs are available via standalone apps (e.g. Mullvad) and browser extensions (e.g. iNinja Chrome VPN extension), while mobile devices only support apps. Both options are as easy as installing any other desktop program (or adding a browser extension) — in most cases, the user will only click on “Next” and “I agree to the terms and conditions” buttons. Upon installation, the VPN runs in the background silently without bothering the user with popups. Therefore, VPNs are easy to install and configure.

Myth 3: VPNs have a lot of downsides

As an extra layer between you and the web, VPNs are thought to have more cons than pros. Let’s bust some of those sub-myths:

Does internet speed decrease significantly? VPNs do require some of your device’s resources — this is just how they work. However, the changes in internet speed aren’t drastic: In my case, enabling the VPN produces a 20% speed decrease (from roughly 100 Mbps to 80.) Although VPNs vary by the provider and the type (app or browser extension), you’ll probably see similar results.

Are there any bandwidth or download limits? Some VPN providers (offering free VPNs, mostly) set up these limits when they’re unsure if their server infrastructure can support a large number of users. For established providers, this isn’t the issue, so both internet speed and downloads aren’t limited in any way.

Are there only paid VPNs? No — there are also free VPNs, which pursue different monetization models.

Will I have to fix connectivity issues by myself? Most VPNs (even free ones) also offer 24/7 support, so you’ll always receive help if you need it.

What about accessing restricted content? Indeed, VPNs also offer anonymity: They use servers in countries all across the globe, allowing a user from Country A to pretend that they’re from Country B. This feature comes in useful in a variety of cases, from streaming unavailable Netflix shows to shopping cheaper.

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