It is often promoted the VPN’s are the great saviour of privacy.  However, most people really don’t understand what a VPN is doing.

For home users, VPN’s (Virtual Private Network’s) are just private tunnels through the internet  that let you APPEAR to be at in a different city.  After you connect to a VPN, your computer’s data is encrypted between your house and the city you chose to connect to but NOT the websites you connect to.

The benefit being is that it becomes nearly impossible for a hacker to intercept your traffic (think passwords, usernames, bank information…) while it is moving through the VPN tunnel.

The limitation is that the VPN ends meaning your encrypted traffic becomes unencrypted at the far end.  That results in you being nearly wide open to attack and that a successful attack will be re-encrypted by your VPN before it is delivered right back to your home computer.

Consider this example. You connect your Mac to a VPN at your house in Seattle Washington (USA) and it comes out as unencrypted in London England.  Anyone monitoring your traffic will see you as being in London.  However, lets say you then surf to www.MyFavMovieSite.com and that site has malicious code on it which transmits a virus. What happens then?  Well, the site will send the virus back to your VPN’s London England data center where it will be encrypted and sent directly to your home computer, which will promptly dencrypted it and… BINGO… you now have a problem.

As another more common example lets say our fictitious www.MyFavMovieSite.com has malware on it that is recording the keystrokes that are entered (i.e. a username or password, or account number, or what you search for on that site, or…).  In this case everything you type will be collected by the bad guys.

Put simply a VPN only protects your data while it is in motion between you and city you connect to.  VPN’s do nothing to protect you from hacked websites or malicious emails which is 98% of the problems these days.

Good VPN’s also cost you money, add complexity and by definition their encryption will slow down your connection speeds.

VPN’s are great for people:

  1. who need to appear to be in other locations
    • i.e. hackers, pornographers, movie pirates, people hiding from the government, drug dealers…
  2. who have a reason to believe someone is trying to get into their data streams
    • i.e. an exgirlfriend that works at a telecom company may be able to look at the internet traffic going in and out of your house unless you have a VPN
  3. who are connecting to secure sites
    • i.e. the dark web, corporate networks,…

As noted in point 3, corporate VPN’s are VERY useful because your computer data is protected by the VPN’s encryption while it is moving through the public internet and it gets unencrypted what should be a highly secure private network, your company.

In summary we can say that at best VPN’s are a just one component of internet security and at worst VPN’s are a waste of time and money.


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