You know what a VPN is and how it works.
You know that they can help you protect information. Or hide your browsing data and location.
But… why would you want these things? What’s the point? And where does the real value come in?
Here are five practical ways to use a VPN today.
1. VPN protects your data while you’re using public WiFi.
Data plans from your friends at Verizon, AT&T and others can get expensive in a hurry.
Those overage costs for streaming video and music can sometimes double your monthly bill.
So whenever possible, when off your home network, you look for available Wi-FI networks. It’s only natural; helping you save tons over time in extra data fees.
Coffee shops are the most freely available; encouraging you to hang out for a bit and sip your latte while browsing the internet for a few minutes.
You know they’re not the most secure. But you take a chance.
However, what about the other most common examples? What about places like airports or hotel networks that fall into a gray area?
You think they’re private. You assume your data is safe. But is it?
Unfortunately, the answer is a resounding no. These quasi-public networks are notoriously common targets for hackers. They’ll ‘snoop’ on your browsing activities to get their hands on passwords or emails. They can even inject malware onto the devices you’re using to connect and steal your information outright.
Even the FTC has come out and publicly declared hotel WiFi’s as dangerous.
To make matters worse, think for a second about the last time you actually read the Terms and Conditions that you’re agreeing to within these public networks?
For example, you’d think a reputable university – of all places – would lock up their WiFi… right?
Yet when you read through the fine print from the Terms and Conditions of the University of Colorado, you get this:
Wireless access is by nature an insecure medium. As with most guest wireless networks, any information being sent or received over the CU-Boulder Guest wireless network could potentially be intercepted by another wireless user.
Don’t act like the organization offering the network is above snooping, either.
The next time you plop down at a Panera Bread, keep these words in mind:
Consent to monitoring. Panera and the third party provider reserve the right to […] (but are not required to) monitor your communications and activities via this service (including their content) during transmission.
So your device will be remembered (and monitored). The websites you visit will be remembered (and monitored). And your location will be remembered (and monitored).
Public Wi-Fi’s – despite being among the most popular places to browse Facebook, check your email or do some online shopping – are also the least secure and most dangerous.
That doesn’t mean you’re going to stop going to Starbucks. Using airports. Or staying the night at a hotel. So protect yourself by connecting to a VPN first.
2. VPN helps to avoid ‘Price Discriminating’ practices.
Online travel agencies like Expedia use dynamic, real-time pricing.
That means the price for a hotel or flight could change dramatically based from day-to-day or even hour-to-hour.
But that’s not all.
The price you see on these popular websites will also depend on where you’re searching from. In other words, someone in another state (or country) might be performing the same exact hotel search as you, but see a much better price.
‘Price discrimination’ is a common practice in the industry to maximize the amount of money per seat on a plane or room in a hotel.
For example, business people typically travel during the week. So they’ll see (and willingly pay) much more for a hotel than a single couple would be.
Don’t take our word for it.
ExpressVPN ran a fascinating experiment early in 2016 and found a massive $2,176.82 price difference in flights depending on where your ‘searching’ location might be. So just by quickly switching where it looked like they were located, they were able to rack up huge savings.
They also did another similar test to show how these cost differences play out when you rent a car, too. Here’s how the experiment played out:
- They connected to their VPN service in seven different international locations.
- They browsed through a few different, common car rental sites like Rentalcars.com and Hertz with Google Chrome in incognito mode.
- They then closed and reopened Chrome after each visit, deleting all cookies in the process.
They searched from a few different locations over the same exact time period to keep everything else consistent (besides location). How did the costs differ?
Here’s what the Los Angeles searchers found:
The result is that locals (or people that appear like they’re searching within Los Angeles) get cheaper rates than those traveling from abroad.
The same results played out in reverse when searching in Vienna, too:
Once again, people searching from out of the area are getting more expensive rates (because ‘price discrimination’ says they’ll probably be willing to fork out the extra cash when they’re already spending more on travel).
The next time you’re going to travel or shop for something online, taking a few seconds to fire up your VPN to test different locations can help you get the best results; saving potentially up to a few thousand dollars that can quickly add up over the entire trip.
3. VPN keeps your stuff truly private.
The actual reach of government agencies has been under the spotlight for a few years now.
(Remember that Edward Snowden guy?)
Spying on your own people isn’t just something relegated to the far-flung regions of the world, but also front-and-center in the United States and the United Kingdom both.
With the introduction of the Patriot Act in the U.S. for example, governments are now able to get their hands on any “business records that are relevant to terrorist investigations.” The language of that statement is purposefully vague, allowing them a wide margin of exactly what information or activities fall under their microscope.
It allows them, for example, to record almost every single phone call.
It also allows the National Security Agency (NSA) to force tech juggernauts like Google and Facebook to give them access to your email, text messages, and other sensitive information.
The NSA even has it’s own hacking group, called the Tailored Access Operations (which sounds like something out of a James Bond flick).
They’ll monitor your movements by cellphone and even collect your data when you’re outside of the country according to our friend Snowden’s docs.
The situation in the UK isn’t much better. In fact, in many ways, it’s even worse.
Their “equipment interference” bill monitors all of your internet access, including which individual web pages you access from different devices. Then they store all of this information!
This sounds incredible. Like a bad movie about ‘Big Brother’.
But it’s not. It’s the truth and it’s already happening whether we like it or not. And there’s almost nothing we can do about it.
Use a VPN.
While your own internet service provider will keep track of browsing history (and likely be forced at some point to turn everything over to the authorities at any given moment), a VPN will help encrypt your connection so that no personal data is turned over.
That means there’s no paper trail. None of that stuff ever even makes it over to your internet service provider in the first place, which helps limit the amount of personalized information about your activities that can be monitored and collected by government agencies.
4. VPN helps you access geo-blocked sites.
American’s stand by their Freedom of Speech.
It’s one of the central tenants their society is founded on. Which means the press and journalists are free to pass judgment. We can have shows like House of Cards or Saturday Night Live which routinely mock and satirize the government.
What if you’re out of the U.S.? What if you’re traveling or visiting family in a country that’s a little less… willing to put up with your freedom of speech?
Government censorship is common around the world. And your own personal views or home-laws from the Constitution don’t really matter in the grand scheme of things.
Google, for example, commonly isn’t available in parts of Asia or the Middle East. Same with Facebook.
Look no further than Twitter Uprisings to see what kind of effect social media can have on a traditionally-closed society.
How do these people voice their opinions and views, when they’re unable to? How do journalists in those countries get out the message through social networks, when they can’t technically access them?
They use a VPN.
You can connect to a VPN through a different ‘exit location’ that doesn’t have as strict censorship laws. So if you’re sitting someone in the Middle East or Asia that doesn’t normally allow Facebook, you can login and point your location to the U.S. or some other friendly state.
Your IP address will be encrypted, and obfuscated from internet service providers to they can’t tell the difference.
To them, it just looks like business as usual. But for you, it means you can bypass the powerful firewalls set up that commonly block some of the world’s most popular websites.
5. VPN protects all of your devices.
You know better than to pull up your bank account at Starbucks.
You’re not too worried about reading the news on your laptop, though, right? There’s not much risk there. You’re not really exposing anything potentially dangerous.
Gmail? Eh… maybe. But you’ll take your chances.
But what about that device in your bag or purse?
Your mobile. That’s already logged into different apps and online accounts.
It’s out of sight, out of mind. But still in danger.
Many times your mobile device can be hacked without you even knowing about it.
Take Pegasus, the malware package, for example.
It specifically targeted iOS devices (“But Apple products don’t get viruses… right?!”) and had the ability to read through text messages.
Beyond the invasion of privacy, this poses serious threats to your other online accounts.
Accessing your SMS messages means that it can even break through two-factor authentication. This is one of the best, and most widely used security preventions to avoid having your important accounts hacked.
For example, try to login to Gmail on a new, random device.
Chances are, you’ll see a ‘warning’ message that forces you to send out a verification to make sure it’s you.
Typically, those are just sent as a text message to your mobile device.
But if someone can intercept those too, they now have access to your Gmail (which then has access to almost every single account you own online — including that bank account).
Connecting ALL of your devices, including mobile and tablet, to a secure connection through a VPN service can help you avoid this potential ‘backdoor’ into your personal life.
We’re at-risk most of the time on our devices. And we’re not even aware of it.
VPNs can save you on a daily basis.
They can fortify defenses around your devices when connecting to public networks. Each connection will be encrypted so you’re free to browse, email, or shop without worrying about who might be lurking on the same network, monitoring your every move.
They can help you get around government censorship and surveillance that continues to get more pervasive (and invasive).
They can even save you thousands of dollars in travel costs by beating the ‘price discrimination’ that many online services practice to force you to pay more.
Which means that not only do VPN’s provide peace of mind, but they can also pay for themselves.