Imagine for a moment that you’re driving down the road and you come upon a roadblock – police officers with their weapons drawn, a K9 unit with its jaws wide open, a line of cars with their license plates taped and a sign that reads, “Roadblock Ahead”.
What would you do? Would you stop and calmly comply, or would you try to speed past, possibly even flip them the bird as you drive by?
We’ve all seen the movies. The person in the driving seat taps on the glass, screams out the window, “Fuck you, fascist pigs,” and then hits the gas, laughing as they drive away. That might be pure fiction, but there’s a bit of truth behind it. The problem is that even when the movie characters are motivated by good reasoning, they often make disastrous choices, and the consequences of their actions reverberate for years to come.
When you rely on the internet to do your daily tasks, to shop online or to bank online, for example, you’re often presented with a warning that your personal information – including your IP address – may be being collected and used by hackers and other third parties. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the data security risks we face online.
That might seem extreme, but it’s an actual risk we have to face every single day. As more and more of our everyday tasks become digital, from bill paying to buying groceries to posting on social media, we’re put at great risk of having our personal data compromised.
Why Should You Use A VPN?
A VPN hides your real IP address, which generally prevents your personal data from being intercepted while you’re performing daily tasks online. When you use a VPN, your IP address shows as 127.0.0.1 – a local IP address – rather than the actual IP address of your device. Any website or app that you visit through the VPN is encrypted, which means that no one can interpret the data that you and the website exchange, including your personal information. (This does not prevent your internet service provider from intercepting your data, as they can still see what sites you’re visiting and the files you’re downloading.)
A VPN also protects you from traffic interference, which happens when a third party (like a giant corporation or a government agency) tries to block or throttle your access to specific websites or services. In those cases, the third party might use your IP address to identify you and your device as part of an “illegal” activity, like piracy or copyright infringement. If you experience problems with a website or an app while using a VPN, it’s typically because the developer doesn’t want to work with large corporations or governments, which have unlimited funds to spend on traffic manipulation.
How Do I Know If I Need A VPN?
If you use the internet to access restricted or blocked content or services, you need a VPN. It’s fairly easy to use and costs only a few dollars a month, so it’s an affordable and accessible option for everyone. We’ll explain a few signs that might suggest you need a VPN – and what you should do about them.
The first and most obvious sign that you need a VPN is if you start experiencing problems with your internet connection, especially when accessing content or services that are restricted or blocked. This is often the case when you’re using a public wifi hotspot, or if you live in an area where internet service providers (ISPs) engage in “internet throttling”, which we discussed above.
In both cases, your internet service provider knows your real IP address. Even if you use a VPN, your IP address shows as the same 127.0.0.1, rather than the real IP address of your device. So, in effect, a VPN isn’t that different from having no security at all – at least not as far as your internet service provider is concerned. They still see everything you do online, including if you’re trying to access restricted or blocked websites.
If you suspect that your internet service provider is throttling or blocking certain websites or services or if you experience problems with your internet connection when using public wifi, it’s time to find a new service provider. Your options range from traditional cable TV providers, to DSL providers, to satellite TV providers, to mobile phone service providers, to free-to-use wi-fi hotspots, and so on.
Zero-Days, Hackers, And Other Threats To My Data
Another important thing to consider when choosing a VPN is how much you’re willing to pay for security. Even the most basic VPN services will encrypt your internet traffic, but it’s up to you how much you want to pay for that security. Most companies will offer varying degrees of encryption – ranging from none, all the way up to double-encrypted encryption (also known as “end-to-end encryption”) – so you can choose the level of security that fits your needs. (Check out our guide on the different types of VPNs if you want to know more about what each level of encryption entails.)
Some companies don’t offer any level of encryption at all. These are the companies you should avoid like the plague. You have absolutely no way of knowing if they’ll keep their word about keeping your data secure, or if they’ll sell your data to the highest bidder – which is often a government agency or a large corporation.
How Do I Stop IP Leaking?
There are a few things you can do to stop IP leaking when you’re on the go. First, you can use a VPN app on your mobile device – which will encrypt all of the data you transmit, even if it’s not secure enough to protect you from eavesdroppers (or hackers!) on the internet. Second, you can use a virtual private network (VPN) on your computer or laptop to encrypt all of the data you send and receive. Third, you can use a VPN to connect to a trusted site to access restricted or blocked content or services. Finally, you can use a VPN to create a secure connection to a secondary device, like a smartphone or a tablet, to access all of your online accounts and data wherever you go.
Choosing a VPN isn’t an easy task, especially if you’re venturing beyond the simple question of “Does this service keep my private data secure?” There are a lot of considerations to make, including how much you’re willing to pay for security and what type of encryption you need. Do your research and you’ll be well on your way to finding the ideal VPN for your needs.