What are the pros and cons of VPNs?

Yaron Dror

March 25, 2024

  • # Account Protection
  • # Identity Protection
  • # Fraud Prevention

In the world of digital security, there’s no bigger buzzword than a virtual private network (VPN). But just because they’re a popular option doesn’t mean they’re effective.

VPNs, known for encrypting data and concealing your IP address, provide some level of privacy by masking your digital footprints. On top of that, they make it easier to stream movies and TV shows unavailable in your area. 

While VPNs are helpful in some ways, they fall short in digital security’s most critical areas. They don’t secure access to sensitive accounts like bank details, protect against the theft of credit card information, or prevent social media accounts from hacks — and those vulnerabilities can lead to huge consequences.

Here’s your guide to the pros and cons of VPNs, including a realistic perspective on what VPNs can and can’t do for your online protection.

What is a VPN? And how does a VPN work?

When you access the internet, your data has to travel from your device to a server. So what does a VPN do? A VPN is like a private tunnel that contains your data on its journey, preventing it from interception and providing a more secure and private way to use the web. It encrypts your internet data, making it unreadable to anyone who might intercept it. This is particularly important when you’re using public Wi-Fi, which is more vulnerable to potential hackers. When you use a VPN, it also hides your device's IP address and replaces it with a different one, keeping your location and browsing habits private.

6 advantages of VPNs

VPNs aren’t perfect, but they do add an extra layer of protection to your digital footprint. Here are some key benefits: 

  1. Enhanced online privacy: A VPN encrypts your data, making it difficult for others to track your online activities. 

  2. Access to geo-restricted content: Because VPNs use different IP addresses, they allow you to bypass geographical restrictions and access content that might be unavailable in your region. This includes websites, TV shows, and movies.

  3. Safe and private internet access: By masking your IP address, a VPN keeps your browsing habits and location private, offering a layer of anonymity while online.

  4. Protection against bandwidth throttling: Internet service providers (ISPs) sometimes slow down your internet connection based on your activities. A VPN can prevent your ISP from seeing your online activity, helping you avoid unjustified speed throttling.

  5. Secure data transmission: VPNs help keep your data safe during transmission, which is particularly important for sensitive transactions or emote workers accessing company resources from different locations.

  6. Avoidance of censorship: In regions with strict internet censorship, VPNs provide a way to access a free and open internet.

5 disadvantages of VPNs

VPNs are marketed as a holistic way to secure your internet activity — but that’s not true. While they do contribute to your protection VPNs can’t keep you 100% safe. 

Here are some reasons why VPNs aren’t a comprehensive approach to digital security:

  1. Incomplete security solution: While VPNs enhance online privacy, they don't protect against all cyber threats. For instance, they can't prevent your bank accounts or social media profiles from being hacked directly. 

  2. Potential speed reduction: Encrypting your data and routing it through a VPN server can sometimes slow down your internet speed, although this varies depending on the VPN service.

  3. Reliability of VPN providers: The security and effectiveness of a VPN largely depend on the provider. Not all VPN services are created equal — some may have weaker encryption standards or even log your data, putting your information at risk.

  4. Cost of quality services: While free VPNs are available, they often have limitations in terms of speed and security. Premium VPN services come with a cost, and some add up to hundreds of dollars per year.

  5. Legal and accessibility issues: In some regions, the use of VPNs is restricted or regulated, and accessing certain content through a VPN may be illegal. Before using a VPN, you have to be aware of the laws in your area.

Is a VPN worth it?

The value of a VPN depends significantly on your individual needs and online habits. If you’re concerned about online privacy — especially when using public Wi-Fi — a VPN's ability to encrypt data and hide internet activity from ISPs is a big plus. It’s also extremely useful for accessing geo-restricted content.

But while a VPN enhances privacy, it doesn't provide a complete cyber security solution. It won’t safeguard against all cyber threats, such as phishing attacks or direct hacking attempts on your financial accounts or social media profiles. A VPN is an excellent tool for base-level privacy and restricted content, it should be a part of a larger security strategy — not the sole line of defense.

For more comprehensive digital security, try IronVest. This super app fills in a VPN’s gaps, protecting your accounts and private information from unauthorized access. It uses biometric authentication so only you can access your banking information and social media, and on top of that, it masks your credit card number and contact details. If a cyber criminal bypasses your VPN or tries to phish for your data, IronVest will stop them.

5 things to consider when choosing a VPN

If you do want to use a VPN, choose one that has strong security features without compromising your data (or emptying your wallet). Here are some factors to consider so you get the best fit for your needs:

  1. Server network: A VPN with an extensive server network can offer more options for changing your location, also known as geo-spoofing. More servers also typically mean better speeds.

  2. Strong encryption: Look for VPNs with robust encryption methods to ensure your data remains secure. 

  3. Privacy policy: Choose a VPN provider with a strict no-logs policy, meaning it won’t track or store your data. 

  4. Security features: Features like a kill switch, which disconnects you from the internet if your VPN connection drops, add an extra layer of security.

  5. Cost versus quality: Free VPNs might be tempting but often have limitations and security concerns. Paid VPNs usually offer better security and features, though some are more expensive.

5 tips for enhancing your online security

While VPNs provide some privacy, a comprehensive online security strategy needs more layers of protection. Here are essential tips to enhance digital safety:

  1. Use a secure password manager: Managing unique passwords for all of your online accounts can be daunting. A secure password manager helps create strong individual passwords for each account and stores them safely, reducing the risk of password-related breaches.

  2. Regular software updates: Software updates often include patches for security vulnerabilities that hackers could exploit. Regular updates help protect your devices from evolving threats.

  3. Implement multi-factor authentication (MFA): MFA asks you for a second form of verification when you log into an account, such as a text message or biometric authentication. This makes it harder for unauthorized users to gain access.

  4. Recognize and avoid phishing attempts: Phishing scams, which happen when cyber criminals attempt to steal your sensitive information through deceitful emails or messages, are a huge threat online — and VPNs can’t protect you. Recognizing these attempts and not clicking on suspicious links keeps your accounts and data safe.

  5. Opt for platforms with zero-trust security: Zero-trust security models assume no one is trustworthy by default, even within the network. Services that use this model have stronger verification procedures, which can significantly reduce the risk of data breaches.

IronVest: Comprehensive online security beyond VPNs

While effective for enhancing online privacy and accessing restricted content, VPNs are just one piece of the security puzzle. 

IronVest offers the broader protection you need, extending way beyond the capabilities of standard VPNs and password managers. It addresses a more comprehensive range of digital threats, protecting your accounts with biometric authentication and masked emails and phone numbers. Discover IronVest for a more holistic security strategy.

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