- What does a VPN do?
- 10 benefits of a VPN
- Benefits of a VPN for business
- Benefits of a VPN on your phone
- Benefits of VPN for gaming
- Drawbacks of using a VPN
- How to choose the best VPN
What does a VPN do?
A virtual private network creates an encrypted tunnel between your device and a VPN server. Your browsing data travels to and from your device along this tunnel, protected from prying eyes. Not even your internet service provider (ISP) can view your browsing traffic. But what does a VPN do beyond this core function?
Using a VPN benefits you in many other ways too. VPNs protect your IP (internet protocol) address and digital location information. When you visit a website, the administrator of that website needs to know what IP address you’re using so they can send you the relevant page data. Your IP address can be used to determine your location, so you may not want to share it. That’s when a VPN comes in.
If you’re using a VPN, the website will only be able to view the IP address of the VPN server you’re connected to. Using a VPN also means that you can connect to a VPN server in a foreign country and browse the internet as if you were based there. Being able to change your geolocation brings with it several benefits that we will cover next.
10 benefits of a VPN
Here are the ten biggest benefits of VPN use.
Hide your browsing activity from your ISP and hackers
When you have a VPN client enabled on your device, all the data that flows between that device and the VPN server is encrypted. VPN encryption is a process through which information is scrambled into an incomprehensible mass of randomized code, and it’s one of the main VPN uses.
Even if a hacker manages to intercept your data while in transit, all they have access to is this meaningless code. When the encrypted data reaches its destination (the VPN server or your device) it is unencrypted.
Hide your IP address
First, a VPN lets you control your personal information and protect private data. One way it does so is by shielding your IP address.
A VPN can hide your IP address by routing your web traffic through a VPN server. As we’ve already mentioned, IP addresses can be used to identify specific devices and browsing locations, and this information is normally given out to any website you visit. With a VPN, you appear online via the VPN server’s IP address, so your own personal data doesn’t have to be exposed.
In addition to protecting your privacy, hiding your real IP address can also limit the threat of doxxing, cyberattacks, and online harassment.
Prevent bandwidth throttling
Data throttling is a tactic that can be used by an internet service provider to artificially limit your internet speeds. If your ISP notices you engaging in online activity that uses a lot of bandwidth — downloading large files, for example, or watching a streaming service — it can reduce your bandwidth. This throttling prevents you from using too much of the ISP’s network capacity (even if you’re paying for a high-speed internet connection).
Using a VPN prevents internet service providers from monitoring your activity, so they won’t be able to tell what sites and services you’re using. As a result, your ISP won’t target you directly with bandwidth throttling based on your traffic while you’re using a VPN. Of course, if it throttles the entire network, targeting your area rather than you individually, you’ll still be affected.
Browse from home while you’re abroad
When you’re traveling abroad, you may struggle to access the sites and services you normally use. Online banking sites may block you if you connect from an unusual location, while social media apps may force you to go through extensive security measures every time you log on. With a VPN service, you can avoid the hassle and just browse as if you never left your home country.
If you are based in the US but have gone on vacation to Europe, for example, you can connect to a server in your home state. Then, when you use the internet, websites will think you never left the country. This allows for a seamless online experience, wherever you are in the world.
Avoid price discrimination
Some online prices vary by region. The same product, bought through the same e-commerce site, may cost less in some countries than in others. To get access to the best pricing options, you can change your IP address with a VPN, accessing the lower prices available in locations around the globe.
From getting cheaper movies and games to buying more affordable plane tickets with a VPN, it opens up many opportunities to save money and find great deals.
Many countries restrict and censor the internet as a method of government control. In China, for example, access to global news sites, social media, and search engines is extremely limited. If you are based in one of these countries or are there for a trip, you can use a VPN to avoid censorship.
By routing your internet traffic through a VPN in a country without internet restrictions, you’ll be able to browse freely. If you wish to use a VPN in this way, however, be mindful of local laws against VPN use because an ISP can still tell if you’re using a VPN even if it can’t see your internet activity.
Connect safely to public Wi-Fi
Public Wi-Fi is notoriously risky. These routers are often unsecured, making them ideal for hackers wishing to spy on internet users connected to them. Some cybercriminals may even set up their own hotspots in hopes that people nearby will use them to get online, exposing their data in the process.
If you enable a VPN on your device, all your browsing traffic will travel along encrypted tunnels between your device and the VPN server. If your data is passing through a potentially unsafe public Wi-Fi router, however, it will still be protected by powerful encryption.
Protection in regions with low internet freedom
Journalists and activists risk persecution in some authoritarian or dangerous regions. Whether they are being targeted by government agencies and law enforcement or by organized criminals, being able to protect their privacy online is essential. By using a VPN service, someone operating in an area with low internet freedom can still get online, communicate with their peers, and access free media without exposing themselves to undue risk. You can read more about how VPNs help in this way in our article about social responsibility.
For additional online protection, some VPN users may wish to use NordVPN’s advanced Onion Over VPN feature to wrap their data in multiple layers of security.
Shop safely online
When you shop online, you will probably have to give websites card details and other sensitive data. These websites should already have their own encryption built into their payment systems, but to be on the safe side, you can use a VPN to ensure that all the data coming to and from your device is encrypted. Even if you’re using unsafe Wi-Fi, you’ll still be able to shop securely with a VPN.
Extra security features
If you invest in a premium VPN service, you can also benefit from other VPN security and privacy features that come bundled with it. NordVPN, for example, includes Threat Protection, a powerful tool that blocks ads, limits the risks of malware, and prevents intrusive cross-site tracking. We always recommend using a paid VPN instead of a free VPN, not only for these extra features but also because free VPN services usually lack stability, speed, and privacy.
Benefits of a VPN for business
VPN services are just as useful for businesses as they are for individual users. Here are a few ways in which a VPN can help businesses of all sizes.
- Endpoint security. Every employee device, or end point, is a potential entryway for hackers trying to get into a company’s networks. With many people working remotely, the risks of unsecured devices being used to steal data and decimate ransomware have never been greater. If all company devices are installed with a VPN client, however, they will all send and receive data through encrypted tunnels, lowering the risks of a breach.
- Scalability. As a business grows, it’s essential that its security measures keep pace and scale to meet the security risks larger organizations face. The great thing about a VPN is the ease with which it scales. If a hundred new employees are hired, they just need to download the VPN client to their device — a quick and easy process — and they can enjoy the same level of security and privacy as everyone else within the company.
- Reduced maintenance costs. If you use a third-party VPN provider like NordLayer, you don’t have to worry about the upkeep costs and maintenance for servers and network infrastructure. That is all handled by the dedicated VPN providers, so you and your team can focus on your work.
Every VPN provider offers different benefits, so it’s important to talk to a potential provider to ascertain exactly what they can offer your business.
Benefits of a VPN on your phone
VPNs can be installed across a range of smart devices, including your phone. Having a VPN on your smartphone is a good idea for several reasons.
- With a VPN on your phone, you can enjoy all the benefits previously discussed in this article, from security and privacy to safe online shopping and location changing.
- When traveling, having a VPN on your phone can help to keep you safe on the many different Wi-Fi networks you will probably be using. Whether it’s the hotel internet or a hotspot in an airport cafe, you can connect safely with a VPN.
If you’re using a VPN while traveling abroad, make sure to double-check regional laws and restrictions on VPN use to avoid getting yourself into trouble with local authorities.
Benefits of VPN for gaming
VPNs can also benefit gamers. Even if you can’t directly install a VPN on your gaming device, you can configure your router to use a VPN and so protect any devices connected to it (including consoles as well as other smart devices around the home). Here are some of the reasons you may wish to use a VPN for gaming.
- VPNs can absorb DDoS attacks. Distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks involve flooding a network with artificially inflated traffic to force legitimate users offline. To do so, the attacker needs the victim’s IP address, which a VPN conceals.
- Protection from swatting. One form of harassment in the online gaming scene — especially among those who stream their games live — is swatting. This is a process in which a perpetrator calls armed response units, known sometimes as SWAT teams, to attend the victim’s house, usually by making a fake report about hostages or firearms. The victim’s address can be obtained through their IP address which, again, is not available if they’re using a VPN.
- Gaming online is exactly the kind of bandwidth-heavy activity that can cause your ISP to throttle your speeds. However, if your internet traffic is sealed within encrypted VPN tunnels, your ISP won’t be able to assess what you’re doing and is less likely to throttle your data as a result.
Drawbacks of using a VPN
Like any service, VPNs have pros and cons. Some VPN services — though not all — can have drawbacks. Let’s take a closer look at some of the negative effects of a VPN.
Can slow down internet connection speed
Because a VPN adds one extra step to your data’s journey — the VPN server — your connection will be slowed down very slightly while using one. However, if you’ve invested in a reliable VPN service, the reduction in internet speed will be so small that you won’t notice it. To ensure that users enjoy the best speeds possible, NordVPN uses NordLynx, a powerful protocol based on WireGuard. That’s why NordVPN is the fastest VPN in the world.
Can be difficult to set up
If you’re trying to set up your own VPN, it can be a difficult process, but that’s not an issue if you have a VPN provider. With an easy-to-use client/server VPN, provided by a company like NordVPN, you just need to download one application and your device is ready to get online with enhanced security and privacy. However, if you want to quickly set up your own private VPN, you can easily use NordVPN’s completely free Meshnet feature to do so.
Can be prone to VPN blocking
Some websites and apps may try to block you if they think you’re using a VPN. This doesn’t happen often, but if it does, you can usually fix the problem by closing the browser or application window, connecting to a different VPN server, and then trying to access the website or service again. On a second attempt, the issue will usually be resolved.
Can be illegal in some areas
VPNs may not be legal in some countries. In some authoritarian regimes, governments attempt to limit free access to the internet by banning or limiting the use of VPNs. Before using your VPN in a new country, make sure that you are legally allowed to do so and take all possible precautions to stay safe.
Some VPNs are insecure
While premium VPN providers like NordVPN boost privacy and strengthen security, some free VPNs do the opposite of paid options and can actually make your data less safe. If a VPN provider doesn’t charge you to use its service, it is unlikely to maintain stable and secure infrastructure and may even sell information on your internet activity to make a profit. When it comes to the safety of your data, it’s always worth investing in a genuinely secure and professional service.
Doesn’t stop voluntary data collection
Remember, VPNs cannot protect you from voluntary data collection. By using services like Google, Facebook, and Amazon, you are signing away information about your location, your age, and many other personal details. A VPN can protect you from involuntary data exposure, but if you agree to privacy policies and accept tracking cookies, some of your data will still be collected.
How to choose the best VPN
When choosing the best VPN for your needs, you should consider the security and privacy a service offers first. The next priority should be the VPN connection speed because you want to maintain a fast, uninterrupted internet experience. Finally, take into account the number of server locations available and any extra features offered through the VPN application.
With NordVPN, you can enjoy unrivaled speeds while still getting the safety and privacy of a secure connection. With more than 5,200 servers globally, you’ll be able to browse from almost anywhere in the world, switching your IP address with the tap of a button.
NordVPN also includes many useful extra features, including ad blocking and malware scanning. With one NordVPN account, you can protect up to six devices, allowing you to stay protected at all times. For speed, security, privacy, and ease of use, NordVPN is your best option.