Do you have faith in your VPN?
These days, Virtual Private Networks are all the rage to keep your online activities secure and private. But as more and more users are snapping up VPN services to stop advertisers from monitoring their actions and would-be hackers from stealing personal details, there remains a serious question: can you trust a VPN?
There is an increasing number of free and paid VPN services available, each with its own separate service policies. Facebook, notorious for invading the privacy of people and selling information to third parties, has recently had its Onavo VPN service in extreme hot water. For the purpose of tailoring targeted advertising and selling behavioral data to third parties, Onavo has no longer been available in the App Store, monitoring user data across other apps on the devices it was installed on.
Because a key objective of many VPN users is to prevent third parties from snooping their browsing activity, it was a rather shocking discovery. The news is a serious concern for outsiders to the VPN community. Note that when you choose a VPN, there are some major trust signals to look for, because while the good services are legitimately capable of protecting your information, others are not what they appear to be.
Flaws in free VPNs
If you could have it for free, why pay for something, right? Well, no, it’s not that easy. It’s often said you get what you’re paying for, and the adage holds true in the case of security software.
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While free VPNs may seem like a great idea, bear in mind that they somehow have to pay for everything from their servers to their customer service staff and software growth. If they do not pay a fee for their service, there is a high likelihood that they will sell user data instead to fund it.
Certain problems with free VPNs include a lack of additional security features including kill switches, as well as a limited selection of encryption protocol. This is another place where beginners may end up feeling a bit lost, but kill switches are especially important as they make sure that if your VPN link drops, the rest of your internet connectivity will drop.
Having a kill switch means that if you do online banking or send personal data and there is no added encryption of the VPN to protect you, you will be disconnected from the internet immediately before hackers can look in.
Encryption protocols can also be as clear as mud, but there are many free services that only provide basic encryption. This means that they are fine to use for things like streaming internationally or accessing region-locked news content, but may not be secure enough to make online payments. You want high levels of encryption for this, which are sometimes only available in paid VPN options.
Regardless of your feelings regarding protection of encryption, Virtual Private Network use logging is a serious matter. Many VPNs only log when you access the network and when you log off, some tend not to record anything at all–but in some situations, usage logs may still be maintained by your provider. That means they have a record of the websites you browsed and the content you interacted with while using a VPN, as well as the device you used and any online tools you used.
If you don’t have anything to hide, you might think it doesn’t matter if a VPN client can see you shopping on Amazon or reading the latest news. But even a paid service may look to sell it on to advertisers if they have that information. Worse yet, if a data breach is experienced by the service provider, your logged activity data may be stolen.
A VPN has no good reason to store your traffic information, and they don’t always know if they’re doing it. Carefully read the small print to make sure the only records are contact logs, if any, and not the full history of use. There are trustworthy VPN providers, and they don’t watch every move you make.
Fake VPN apps
When you’re on the lookout for a trustworthy VPN, the other thing to watch out for is tell-tale signs of bogus VPN apps. Genuine VPNs from protection brands with household names are usually easy to find –with direct download links from websites of providers, and plenty of feedback to tell you what.
Fake VPN apps aren’t common, but they’re out there. Some impersonate genuine offers, others are standalone apps designed to look like great new services, but designed solely for data collection.
Don’t just pick the first thing that looks good when you come to install a VPN app and look for it later. Check for feedback on major tech websites showing that the software has been reviewed in depth by professional reviewers and check if you can find details on working customer support. Many bogus apps list their customer service information as a personal email address or out – of-use telephone number, which is a sure sign that you are not supposed to take their deal at face value.
Using any VPN service means putting your faith in the provider, realizing that they have hypothetical knowledge of all the behaviors that you cover from the websites that you visit and the advertisers that they deal with. While you can set up your own Virtual Private Network using open source software, so there’s no outside interference at all, it’s also hard work getting right–even for the technically minded among us.
Realistically, with some common sense around who you’re going to, it’s not hard to find a trusted VPN that will protect your data without any further motives. Investigating paying choices, reading logging guidelines, and steering clear of risky apps are simple things to do that will really pay off in the long run, making sure you can easily avoid targeted ads and determined hackers.