Are VPNs Safe to Use? A Deep Dive into Online Security

KEY TAKEAWAYS

Are VPNs really safe to use? The answer is yes as long as you select reliable and reputable VPN providers that do everything in their power to ensure the privacy and security of their customers' networks and data.

Accessing the internet isn’t without risk, especially when using a public Wi-Fi provider, such as in a cafe or a shopping mall. Using a VPN (Virtual Private Network) can help to provide an additional layer of security, as it encrypts your online data and masks your real IP address. This not only makes it hard for third parties to get a hold of your information but also enables you to access geo-restricted content in particular regions. 

However, installing a VPN isn’t a silver bullet. Some providers have been involved in data leaks. Other VPN services have contained malware that could infect your devices with viruses. So, are VPNs safe to use? Read on to learn everything regarding VPN security.

What Is a Secure VPN? 

A secure VPN is a virtual private network that uses strong encryption protocols (such as AES-256) to protect your data from being intercepted by hackers or other third parties. It should also have an independently audited no-logging policy, meaning the service provider does not record your online activities. 

Additionally, a secure VPN should offer a ‘Kill Switch’, which automatically disconnects your internet connection if the VPN connection drops, as well as malware and leak protection to prevent your data from being exposed. We suggest to check out Surfshark, as it is one of the most secure VPNs in the market.

How Does a VPN Work? 

A VPN creates a private tunnel between your device (computer, iPad, or mobile device) and the internet. It works by routing your device’s internet connection through the VPN’s private server rather than through your Internet Service Provider (ISP). 

Traffic leaving the VPN server appears to come from the VPN server’s IP (Internet Protocol) address rather than your own, making it difficult for anyone to track your online activity. Internet traffic is then decrypted by your device, so you can access online services as usual.

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What Makes a VPN Secure?

A good VPN should offer reliable encryption, a no-log policy, a kill switch, and many more additional security features that make your online activities as well as personal data secure online. 

Here are some key features of a secure VPN:

Reliable Encryption

VPN encryption

When choosing a VPN provider, make sure that they use up-to-date encryption. Currently, AES 256-bit encryption is the most reliable one used by banks and any official bodies to keep the data safe. 

Essentially, AES 256-bit encryption is a symmetric encryption algorithm that codes any data exchanged between the user and the internet. This guarantees that your data will remain unintelligible to anyone who should not be reading it.

IP Address Masking

IP Address masking with a VPN

A good and secure VPN should allow you to mask your original IP address

When connected to a VPN provider, your ISP (Internet Service Provider) should not be able to see your original IP (Internet Protocol) address, which provides information about your geographic location. Instead, all the ISP should see is the IP address of the VPN server you have connected to. 

This helps to block third parties from accessing your online activities and offering personalized advertising. Additionally, by acquiring a new IP address in a different country, you can enjoy geo-restricted content. You can easily surf various Netflix libraries worldwide with a secure VPN for Netflix

Strict No-log Policy

VPN no-log data policy

A VPN no-log policy is a commitment by a VPN provider not to collect or store any data about your online activity. This means that the VPN provider will not record your personal data, login information, internet history, or any of your online activities. 

This helps to protect your anonymity and prevent your data from being shared with third parties. However, there are different privacy policies, and VPN providers aren’t always transparent about the data they collect. So, before committing to a VPN service, ensure their no-log policy is clear and has passed independent audits. 

Kill Switch

VPN kill switch

While a VPN will protect your IP and, hence, your location from being made public, there are times when the VPN connection will drop. If this happens, then your data, including your IP address, can suddenly become exposed to potential hackers and unauthorized parties. As a result, it’s important to choose a VPN that offers a kill switch feature

A kill switch will automatically detect when the VPN connection has dropped and immediately disconnect your device from the internet. This prevents your data from being exposed while the VPN connection is down. Then, once the VPN connection is reestablished, your device will automatically reconnect to the VPN remote server and resume your internet connection.

Two-factor Authentication

Two-factor authentication

If you wish to add an extra layer of protection to your account, it’s best to choose a VPN service that offers two-factor authentication (2FA)

Now widely used by many apps and websites, 2FA requires users to verify their identity with two methods: a password and a unique code sent to their phone or email. This makes it much more difficult for hackers to access user accounts, even if they have managed to get hold of the user’s password. 

VPNs Jurisdiction

VPN five-eyes alliance

Finally, the location where the VPN is legally based can also be a factor in determining the overall security of the service provided. 

Some countries have mandatory data retention laws that require VPN providers to store user data for a certain period of time. This means that law enforcement or government agencies can access your data without obtaining the user’s permission.

Generally speaking, VPN providers based in countries with strong freedom of information laws are more likely to have strong no-log policies in place. Ensure to avoid any VPNs based in either Five Eyes, Nine Eyes, or Fourteen Eyes Alliance countries. 

Why Do You Need a VPN?

There are many reasons why you might need a VPN. If you use public networks frequently, you may choose a VPN service to prevent hackers from accessing your data. Additionally, a VPN can help you access geographically restricted content that is not available in your region. 

Let’s take a look at how and why you should use a VPN:

VPN use at Home

  • Accessing geo-restricted content – A VPN service will allow you to change your IP address so that it appears you are based in a different region than your original location. This allows you to access entertainment content online and news websites that may be blocked in your region.
  • Working from home – If you’re working from home full-time or making use of the hybrid work model, a VPN can provide that extra layer of security alongside traditional antivirus software solutions. 
  • Parental control – Many VPNs come with parental controls to prevent any children in your household from accessing inappropriate websites and apps.
  • Data security – It’s very common these days to shop online from the comfort of your own home. A VPN can help you to keep your online transactions and your payment information safe. Additionally, it blocks third parties from collecting your personal data for advertising purposes, meaning you won’t be seeing an ad for a product you’ve already purchased.

VPN use When Traveling

Undoubtedly, one of the main benefits of having a VPN is when you are traveling. 

  • Secure public Wi-Fi connection – When traveling, you will most likely use public Wi-Fi rather than your device’s data allowance. However, public Wi-Fi poses a large cybersecurity risk. According to Statista, nearly 2 in 5 people (39%) know that using public Wi-Fi is either ‘somewhat unsafe’ (32%) or ‘very unsafe’ (7%). By encrypting all of your internet traffic, a VPN makes it unreadable to anyone who intercepts it. So you can use public Wi-Fi at the airport, cafe, or hotel room without worrying too much. 
  • Streaming – When in a different country, you might be unable to enjoy the same shows, movies, or sports events that you typically watch at home. With a streaming VPN, you can connect to a server in your home country and access all your favorite content.

Use VPN for Business 

For businesses, a VPN allows employees to access company resources securely from anywhere in the world. This can be particularly beneficial for organizations with employees who work remotely or travel frequently. 

Deploying a VPN on employee devices, such as laptop computers and web tablets, can help protect against malware infecting company servers. A VPN also means that businesses can protect sensitive data, such as customer and financial data. Such data is usually targeted by hackers who wish to harm the business or negotiate ransom.

Some industries and regulations require businesses to use VPNs to protect sensitive data. A VPN can help businesses comply with these regulations and avoid penalties from governing bodies, such as the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) or the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) in the UK.

How to Choose a Secure VPN

  • Examine security protocols – Look for a provider that employs robust encryption protocols, such as AES-256, and maintains a strict no-logs policy. This ensures the VPN provider does not store your online activity.
  • Consider customer supportChoose a provider that offers multiple support channels, such as live chat, email, or phone support.
  • Look at location – Some countries have stricter data retention laws than others, so choosing a provider based in a country with strong privacy laws can offer better protection.
  • Check compatibility – Ensure the VPN is compatible with your smartphones, tablets, and laptops. Also, check out how many simultaneous connections the VPN allows. We suggest you check out Surfshark, as it offers unlimited simultaneous connections.
  • Is router support provided?Rather than installing the VPN on individual devices, you may be able to install the VPN directly on the router of your home or business network, so every device is connected. Check your VPN service offers this and that your router is compatible.
  • Does it offer value for money? While free VPNs are not recommended, there are large variations between paid-for services. Look out for special offers, and if you aren’t sure about a particular VPN, maybe consider a month’s trial before committing for longer. 
  • What additional features are there? – Some VPNs offer features such as split tunneling. This allows you to route specific traffic through the VPN while other traffic remains unencrypted. Many VPNs also provide ad-blocking and malware protection for added security.

How To Use a VPN 

  1. Pick a secure VPN provider and download the app.

    Due to its many security features and independently audited no-log policy, our top suggestion is Surfshark.
     Pick a secure VPN provider and download the app.
  2. Create a new account with Surfshark.

    Create a new account and log in.
     Create a new account with Surfshark.
  3. Connect to a chosen a server location.

    Choose a server closest to your location for the best speed. If you wish to access any geo-restricted content, connect to a server where your desired content is accessible.
    Connect to a chosen a server location.
  4. Enjoy safe online browsing.

    Scroll, shop, or stream online securely.

Are Free VPNs Safe?

Understandably, free VPNs seem like an attractive option. After all, who doesn’t love a bargain, right? However, free VPNs come with significant security and privacy risks

Many free VPNs make money by collecting and selling user data, including browsing history, connection logs, and personal information. This seems to go against the very idea of using a VPN in the first place, which is to guarantee online security. 

Free VPNs often have weaker encryption protocols than paid VPN services, making your data more vulnerable to hackers. Many have also been found to contain malware or embed tracking cookies that monitor your online activity and target you with ads. 

Other issues with free VPNs include slow broadband speeds and data caps, which can significantly slow down your internet speed and severely limit your online activities. In summary, investing in a paid VPN service is highly recommended if you are serious about protecting your online privacy and security. 

If you’re still unsure whether to invest in a paid VPN, try Surfshark with its 30-day money-back guarantee. If you’re unhappy with your service, you can cancel it within a month and get your money back.

Conclusion 

Using a secure and reliable VPN can increase your online security. That’s because the technology encrypts your data, preventing it from being intercepted and read by hackers or third parties. 

Because a VPN masks your IP address (and hence location), it can also be a good way to access content, such as websites and TV services, that are restricted in your region. However, using a VPN isn’t without risks. Some providers have been involved in data breaches or have been known to contain malware that can infect your devices. 

Generally speaking, it’s always best to opt for paid services where the risk tends to be much lower and the overall performance much better. 

Are VPNs Safe FAQ

What does a VPN do?

How secure is a VPN?

Is private browsing private?

Which VPNs are most trustworthy?

Can VPNs be hacked?

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Chris Price
Freelance technology writer

Chris has been a freelance technology journalist since the 1990s. In addition to editing two consumer tech blogs, TechDigest.tv and ShinyShiny.tv, he also regularly contributes tech/business articles to various publications including The Daily Telegraph, The Daily Mail, Tech Radar, IFSEC Insider and AI Business. He was recently listed in the TytoTech 500 list of UK tech influencers, one place behind money-saving expert Martin Lewis! A passionate outdoor swimmer, Chris is also a qualified lifeguard.