Why Use a VPN? There Are More Reasons Than You Might Think
A virtual private network (VPN) gives you an extra layer of security and privacy when online — but is it really necessary in 2023?
One Texas woman found out the hard way when cybercriminals hacked her device and email account while she was using a public Wi-Fi network. Eventually, they gained access to her credit card numbers and stole hundreds of dollars [*].
The threat of hacking and cybercrime is only getting worse, yet fewer people are using VPNs to protect themselves. According to Security.org [*]:
VPN awareness grew between 2021 and 2022, but overall usage decreased with 59% of people saying they “don’t need” a VPN.
While a VPN can’t solve all of your cybersecurity issues, it’s still an essential part of protecting yourself when traveling and even using your home Wi-Fi network.
In this guide we’ll explain what a VPN does (and doesn’t do), why you should consider using one, and how to keep yourself and your family safe from hackers and scammers while online.
What Is a VPN? Should You Get One?
A VPN runs your internet traffic through an encrypted tunnel that hides your browsing activity, IP address, and more from hackers, internet service providers (ISPs), and government agencies.
When your VPN connection is active, hackers won’t be able to intercept data that you send to websites, such as passwords or banking details.
However, while VPNs were essential tools in the past, the changing online landscape has reduced the need for some VPN features. For example, most top websites now have their own encryption, making it harder for hackers to steal your information [*].
Basic web traffic may not need VPN server encryption, but VPN companies still provide a valuable service to many people, including:
- Employees who work from home. If you regularly use company services at home (such as email and online tools) or send sensitive data, you should use a VPN to encrypt and protect your information. Employers may even mandate VPNs for remote workers in order to protect company assets.
- People who use public Wi-Fi. Regular travelers, coffee shop visitors, and anyone who uses public Wi-Fi should consider a VPN. Cybercriminals can infiltrate unsecure public Wi-Wi networks or set up fake look-alike networks and hotspots.
- Anyone who wants to protect their online privacy. Whether you need privacy for your job or want to keep the specifics of your online activity hidden from your ISP, a VPN could be right for you. A VPN scrambles your web browsing history — making it unintelligible for onlookers, including your ISP.
- If you want access to geo-restricted content. A VPN can get around location limitations in certain countries. It also unblocks geo-restricted websites and streaming services like Hulu and Netflix. VPNs also block your ISP from knowing the details of your streaming content.
- Non-tech savvy users. While website safety has generally improved, not all users navigate the web in the same ways. If you want to protect your personal data — and prevent snooping but don't quite know how to go about doing that — a VPN can put you at ease.
The bottom line: Every internet user is a good candidate for a VPN — whether you want to protect your privacy, access more content, or secure your data against hackers.
12 Reasons Why You Should Be Using a VPN in 2023
- Protect your data when using public Wi-Fi
- Secure your sensitive data when working from home
- Hide your browsing history from your ISP and others
- Safeguard your home network against hackers
- Gain access to location-restricted content
- Prevent hackers from accessing your mobile devices
- Unblock content and apps when traveling to censored countries
- Unlock savings from online stores
- Avoid internet throttling while gaming or browsing
- Protect your financial information from scammers
- Block malicious ads
- Sidestep organizational firewalls
The best VPNs offer several user benefits. While you may not need every feature, most people can find something they need from a VPN.
1. Protect your data when using public Wi-Fi
Public Wi-Fi networks offer convenience at the expense of your online security.
Many hackers target popular locations such as coffee shops, hotels, and airports with cyberattacks such as Man-in-the-Middle attacks (MitM) that steal any sensitive data you input on websites, or “Evil Twin” networks that trick you into logging in to a network controlled by scammers.
A VPN encrypts your data so that even if someone hacks the Wi-Fi network you’re using, your data will be undecipherable and unusable.
2. Secure your sensitive data when working from home
The pandemic forced organizations to adopt a work-from-home approach very quickly. As a result, a 2022 Fortinet survey found that 62% of respondents reported data breaches related to their remote workers [*].
If hackers infiltrate a remote employee's device, they could gain access to the entire organizational network. To prevent this from happening, organizations can restrict server access to only those employees with a secure connection to the VPN. This forces all files and information through an encrypted tunnel to the server.
3. Hide your browsing history from your ISP and others
VPNs work by sending your traffic through an encrypted tunnel that not even your ISP can access. This stops your internet provider from tracking, logging, and selling your information. As a result, VPNs can limit the amount of targeted advertising that you see.
A 2021 study from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) found that several of the major ISPs sold user browsing histories and behaviors to third parties for advertising and other purposes [*]. Free VPN providers may also sell browsing history, so VPN users should be aware of their provider's logging policies.
💡 Related: Free VPN vs. Paid VPN – Which One Is Right For You? →
4. Safeguard your home network against hackers
VPNs can protect your home Wi-Fi network as well. If someone hacks your Wi-Fi, they might access all unencrypted information coming from any of the devices on your local network. For one Arkansas family, a hacked Wi-Fi network gave a stranger access to their baby monitor. For a month, the intruder was whispering to their son at night [*].
You can even install a VPN on your router, which then protects any device with an internet connection.
💡 Related: Does a VPN Protect You From Hackers? →
5. Gain access to location-restricted content
Many streaming services restrict content to certain locations. This may limit your Netflix or Amazon Prime library or block you from watching out-of-region sports. These services use your device's IP address to locate and block you.
VPNs get around this by masking your IP address. You choose a VPN server location and take on the IP address from that area, thereby tricking the service into giving you access. While some services like Netflix have blocked certain IP addresses associated with VPNs, many still work [*].
6. Prevent hackers from accessing your mobile devices
Our mobile devices go everywhere with us. They control most of our internet usage and connect to many more Wi-Fi networks than other devices [*]. If hackers take over your phone, they likely have access to your email, online accounts, and financial information.
A New Hampshire woman inadvertently let hackers into her phone when she clicked on a fake Samsung update button. The next thing she knew, her phone was down and $15,000 had been extracted from her cryptocurrency account [*].
Many VPN providers include multi-device functionality, offering protection for iPhones and Android devices. Wherever your phone goes, your VPN security and encryption go with it.
7. Unblock content and apps when traveling to censored countries
Every country has its own internet access and privacy laws. Certain sites or apps may be unavailable to users in certain regions. To bypass these geoblocks, you can use a VPN to spoof your IP address to a location where the blocks are not in place.
In Iran, for example, the day after the country banned WhatsApp and Instagram, VPN usage shot up by over 2,100% [*]. Tourists can also use VPNs when visiting censored countries, although they should be careful in places that ban or control VPNs. Usage in these countries may lead to fines [*].
8. Unlock savings from online stores
Many online marketplaces and stores feature location-based prices. Pricing differences can incentivize shoppers from various places around the world. The costs may also reflect higher business expenses or spending habits of that location.
By masking your location with a VPN, you can access lower pricing online. In some cases, the savings can be quite significant. For instance, a Comparitech study found that a VPN could reduce the cost of a car rental by up to 85% [*].
💡 Related: 14 Tips For Shopping Online Safely in 2023 →
9. Avoid internet throttling while gaming or browsing
ISP throttling leads to slower internet speeds, which can hinder your gaming and streaming experience. Throttling happens for various reasons, including easing network congestion and exceeding data caps. Some ISPs throttle bandwidth for specific websites and media types.
In these cases, you can get around the slow down with a VPN. The encrypted tunnel will hide your activity and block ISPs from limiting your online speeds, based on the content.
10. Protect your financial information from scammers
If hackers have access to your network, they could find your financial account information. From there, they can make transactions, withdraw money, or make account changes. In Florida, hackers got into a woman's unemployment account and rerouted her payments to another account [*].
While a VPN can't stop hackers from breaking into these accounts directly, it can make it more difficult for them. On an encrypted network, any financial account information that you input or share will be useless to hackers.
11. Block malicious ads
Malicious ads can pop up at any time and trick even the savviest internet users. A popular cryptocurrency influencer, NFT God, was duped by a fake app ad which gave scammers access to his Twitter account — followed by his entire crypto wallet and his NFTs [*].
While not standard on all VPNs, many offer ad-blocking software and DNS filters that block malicious ads and known phishing sites. This can help prevent accidental clicks and fraudulent malware downloads.
12. Sidestep organizational firewalls
Many organizations set up firewalls to block sites and apps that they feel reduce productivity or risk company privacy, such as social media and streaming sites. A survey of 1,000 companies found that 62% of employers track employee web activity and 49% limit access to certain sites, apps, and services [*].
A VPN can hide your activity from your employer and get you past these firewalls, but be careful not to violate company policies in the process. If your employer is watching, they will likely be able to see that you are using a VPN. They might also require you to use their VPN, which could allow them to track your activity even more effectively.
What a VPN Doesn’t Do: 7 Risks of Using a VPN
VPNs aren't flawless, and it's important to know the pros and cons of using one. Here are some of the biggest risks that VPN users should know about:
- Your browsing data could get leaked online. Many free (and paid) VPN services keep logs of your browsing history. While the more unscrupulous providers may actually sell this data to advertisers, others can get hacked, resulting in data being released online. This was the case with SuperVPN — a free VPN service that was breached and had over 360 million user records leaked to the Dark Web [*].
- You can still get hacked. The level of security varies with each VPN, and some leave users susceptible to hackers. VPNs don't protect users from themselves, either. If you click on a malicious link or share information in the wrong place, you can still get hacked.
- Your devices are still vulnerable to malware and viruses. Unless your VPN has embedded antivirus software, it won't protect your device from malware and viruses. In fact, many free VPNs flood user devices with ads, which could increase your chances of a mishap.
- You can still be tracked by ad networks. VPNs may limit some of the advertising related to your browsing activity, but it won't stop it completely. Among other methods, advertisers use URLs, cookies, and pixels to track users and create targeted ads for them.
- VPNs are illegal in some countries. VPNs have been banned in some countries, which could penalize users in those places with hefty fines [*]. In most of these locations, the governments still allow certain VPN providers to operate, but these relationships might leave some users wary.
- Your online experience could degrade. Free VPNs can slow down your internet speeds because of overloaded servers or heavy ad content. VPNs also consume data at higher rates, which might bring you to your cap more quickly [*].
- Your devices may be incompatible. Your VPN may not accommodate all of the devices or operating systems that you want to integrate. You may also be limited by how many devices you can connect at once — leaving some vulnerable.
How To Choose the VPN That’s Right for You: 7 Options
Nowadays, people manage most (if not all) of their accounts online. Because of this, VPNs have become essential — but only if you choose one with the best services, price, and privacy policies.
Here are some of the key features that you should look for in a VPN.
The choice between free vs. paid VPNs may be simple, but it can be more difficult to choose between premium VPNs. Here's a quick rundown of what some of the best VPNs have to offer.
- Aura: An all-in-one cybersecurity package that includes a military-grade VPN, antivirus software, identity theft protection and insurance coverage, Safe Browsing tools, and credit monitoring. Plans start at $6/month with this exclusive link.
- NordVPN: A premium VPN with antivirus protection, kill switch, and Dark Web monitoring. Plans start at $12.99/month, but users can save up to 69% with a two-year package.
- ExpressVPN: A premium VPN service with multi-device functionality, servers in 94 countries, and a zero-log policy. ExpressVPN starts at $12.95/month with long-term discounts available.
- SurfShark: A premium VPN from the Netherlands with clean web surfing, no-logs policy, and split tunneling. Plans start at $12.95/month with long-term plan discounts available.
How To Stay Safe Online (Along With Using a VPN)
Online threats continue to grow at an alarming rate. Cybersecurity Ventures predicts cybercrime damages will reach $10.5 trillion by 2025 [*].
While VPNs help protect our data and privacy, they can't do it all. For complete protection, combine a VPN with other digital security tools and strategies, such as:
- Use unique passwords and a password manager. A secure password manager stores all of your credentials in one place, allowing you to use complex passwords without worrying about forgetting them. Aura’s password manager gives you access to your passwords with a single click and can even warn you if they’ve been compromised in a data breach.
- Enable two-factor authentication (2FA) on all accounts. 2FA makes it harder for hackers to infiltrate your accounts by requiring two forms of identification verification.
- Protect your devices with antivirus software. Antivirus software scans your devices for malware and viruses, and disposes of them. Aura's software blocks viruses, adware, and harmful pages before you ever see them.
- Regularly update your apps and operating system. Regular updates keep your devices running properly and eliminate any potential vulnerabilities. If developers spot a system flaw, an update ensures that you get the patch before it's exploited.
- Learn the warning signs of a phishing scam. Understanding how phishing scams work can help you avoid common missteps. If you spot the red flags early on, you can save yourself a lot of pain in the long term.
- Consider signing up for identity theft protection. An identity theft protection provider monitors your accounts and information, giving you peace of mind. Aura scans the Dark Web and your accounts for signs of breaches, and alerts you immediately if any of your data is at risk.
Aura's all-in-one solution helps keep your online, financial, and personal accounts safe. Along with a reliable VPN, you'll get identity theft, antivirus, and credit protection — as well as 24/7 U.S.-based support from White Glove Fraud Resolution Specialists and a $1 million insurance policy for every adult on your plan that covers eligible losses due to identity theft.