You’re constantly being told that if you aren’t making use of VPN privacy and security, then you’re being reckless with your sensitive information. In general, this is good advice and an honest description of the privacy threats we all face on the web. However, it’s not just a case of paying for a VPN and going on your merry way. VPN technology has come a long way over the years, but nothing is perfect. It’s important that you enter the world of VPN-powered browsing with sober information on the downsides as well. So, let’s take a look at the pros and cons of using VPN.
The Pros and Cons of Using VPN: The Basics
Just like other types of technologies, VPNs come with numerous benefits and some downsides as well. These downsides aren’t the same for all of us – and they depend on several factors. So, you need to clear about the best possible starting point when it comes to using a VPN. For example, having a fast Web connection will most definitely take care of any VPN-caused throttling. In other words, you will be able to use the Web as usual even if your chosen VPN affects your Web speed.
Let’s take a look at all the pros and cons of using VPN. We’ll start with good things, of course. Keep on reading to learn more.
The Pros of Using VPNs
The advantages and peace of mind that a good VPN brings are the reason we’re having this conversation. There are powerful, compelling reasons why everyone should use the technology whenever they connect to the Internet. These are simply the ones that make the strongest argument for buying a ticket to VPN heaven.
VPNs Are the Strongest Security and Privacy Solution
A VPN is by far the strongest option available to users of the public Internet. Given that you choose a quality service, you’ll enjoy strong protection against Internet spying, information interception as well as having your identity and location detected.
VPNs provide a triple layer of protective technologies. They mask the origin and destination of your data packets from snooping, they hide your IP address behind that of the VPN server and they can encrypt your data. This means that even governments won’t have the resources to crack open the locks. In fact, the best VPNs use the 256-bit encryption that can be found in large financial institutions. You can see how powerful this kind of encryption is, making your personal data inaccessible to anyone else.
VPNs Are Cross-Platform Compatible
While there are other types of services that can provide some of what a VPN does, none of those options are as widely compatible with both hardware devices and Internet services as VPNs are. When it comes to pros and cons of using VPN, this is definitely one of the biggest advantages that could persuade you into using this technology.
In principle, anything will work with a VPN, since from the perspective of a software client, the network operates as usual. The system receives and delivers the data as expected at both ends of the data transaction. Which means that you don’t have to worry about technical compatibility issues. A service’s policy on VPN use is another story, but we’ll get to that a little later.
VPN providers have also gone out of their way to provide many flexible options for various devices and setups. Which means that there’s usually a client program for a desktop operating system of your choice. There are also mobile device apps, router interface services and more.
VPNs Can Speed Up Throttled Connections
VPNs and the issues of Net Neutrality go hand-in-hand. The practice of ISPs to throttle specific types of Internet data is one that has sparked outrage from Internet users, but it can be neatly sidestepped thanks to the way the technology works.
Since the ISP can’t tell what type of data you’re sending and receiving with the VPN server, it has no way to apply selective throttling. So, their only choice is to throttle everything or nothing. Generally, they choose the latter and you can say goodbye to shady throttling forever. Make sure to learn more how a VPN bypasses ISP throttling.
The Cons of Using VPNs
Since what a VPN does is so essential to your safety and privacy, you shouldn’t think of these cons as reasons not to use a VPN. Rather, you should think of them as potential challenges that you can deal with in various ways. This is why we’ll offer a set of solutions as well. Keep on reading.
A VPN is Not a Total Solution
One of the biggest cons of using a VPN is that it can give you a false sense of security. While a VPN is a powerful tool, there are plenty of Internet threats that it can do nothing about.
For example, a VPN does nothing to prevent your online accounts from being hacked because you used a weak password, which includes using a weak password for your VPN itself! Likewise, you still need to stay away from websites that can give you malware or other dodgy software. A VPN can’t protect you against your own bad habits. This is why we always recommend you to use an antivirus while browsing the Web.
What Can You Do?
The optimal way to use a VPN and to be safe on the Internet, as usual, is to learn good security and privacy habits. Think twice before giving out your real email address and use a burner account if you really must. Don’t open email attachments without performing a virus scan. These and other basic rules of safe surfing should still be in full effect, even if you have that VPN protection. In fact, you can only increase your safety by integrating VPN technology with smart security habits.
Some Services Block VPNs Completely
There’s nothing intrinsically wrong or immoral about using a VPN. But many people use their geolocation abilities to circumvent geoblocking of content. Therefore some services and providers have issued a blanket ban on VPNs. One major culprit is Netflix, which started to ban the use of VPNs with its service shortly after its international rollout. Therefore, accessing media streaming services belongs to both the pros and cons of using VPN.
With most VPNs, you’ll get a proxy error message from Netflix telling you to do switch off the VPN if you want to watch it. The main way they achieve this is by banning the IP addresses of VPN servers, which is why it can be an endless game of cat and mouse as the IPs change. This is why it’s always good to take a look at specialized VPNs that promise to unblock certain Web services such as Hulu, HBO GO, DirecTV Now, SlingTV, and FuboTV.
What Can You Do?
While some VPNs do still manage to get around VPN blocks, the simplest solution is to selectively exclude some of those services. You can do this by using the right settings on your router (if it has them). Alternatively, you can choose to run your VPN on a per-device basis rather than at the router level. Unfortunately, many VPN services are limited to 3-5 connections per subscription. So it may be cheaper to buy a suitable router over the long term than paying for an extra VPN subscription.
You Could Get in Trouble for Using One
Depending on where in the world you live or what Internet services you use, you could get into trouble for using a VPN or have your service canceled. Countries like China and Russia, for example, block VPN use and can legally come after you for using one.
A less serious issue is when an online service has a usage policy that prohibits VPN use. For example, the gaming platform Steam has a policy that says using a VPN to perform geo hopping can result in a ban. In practice, many of these services don’t really actively enforce these policies, but if you get caught, you won’t have a foot to stand on.
What Can You Do?
In the case of a legal VPN ban rather than just a technical blocking issue, you really must decide whether what you want to achieve with the VPN is worth going to jail for. VPNs have been an incredible tool for political activists, which is why many despotic countries ban them, but we’d hardly risk it for the privilege of watching US TV shows.
In the case of services that say VPNs are against their policies, you can use a similar approach to getting around VPN blocking. However, take some time to see how common actual service bans are. If it looks like the policy isn’t really enforced, it might be worth risking it. The alternative is taking on a technically challenging solution such as selective routing.
You Might Have to Buy or Modify a Router
It’s generally best to set up your VPN software on your router itself. Then you know that any device connecting to the Internet through that router is covered under its protection. However, not all routers can act as a VPN client, which is what you need in order for this sort of setup to work.
Without the native ability to act as a VPN client, you may be forced to set up your VPN on a per-device basis. That’s fine if you only have a few devices, but if your devices exceed the number of connections included in your VPN subscription, you might need to take action.
What Can You Do?
You basically have two options in this situation. The first one is free but won’t work for everyone. The second option costs money but is a simple fix.
Firstly, it might be possible to replace the firmware on your router with custom firmware which supports VPN technology. Use Google to search your router model number and ‘VPN firmware’ to see if such an upgrade is possible. Just be aware that this will almost certainly void your router warranty. It can also permanently disable your router if you don’t know what you’re doing. Also, just because your router can accept VPN compatible firmware, doesn’t meant that its computing hardware is up to the task of handling the job. In which case you could suffer instability or performance issues. However, since this approach shouldn’t cost you anything it’s worth taking the chance if you’re willing to accept the risk.
The second option is to simply bite the bullet and buy a VPN router. Some VPN providers such as ExpressVPN will even sell you a pre-configured unit. These will have you up and running in no time.
VPNs Can Slow Down Unthrottled Connections
VPNs have provided Internet users with a reliable way to bypass ISP throttling. However, if you’re lucky enough to have an unthrottled high-speed connection, the added overhead of VPN protection might cause you to see a drop in its performance.
On modern high-speed connections such as gigabit fiber, the difference isn’t even noticeable. Plenty of people in the world use slower ADSL connections or are even stuck with dial-up. With those slower connections, VPN overhead might be a real problem.
Additionally, the extra overhead and network hops can introduce extra latency. This is how long you wait before getting an answer back from the network. Latency is bad for real-time tasks such as video conferencing and online gaming. Generally, a total latency of less than 50ms is just fine, but when it gets into the hundreds you’ll notice. Luckily, you can do a lot to speed up slow VPNs.
What Can You Do?
Not all VPNs are made equal and the best strategy here is to try different ones. Do it until you find one with a performance that matched your expectations. It also matters which type of services you want to use. Some offer specialized servers for gaming or peer-to-peer applications. The number of servers, the interconnect bandwidth and network architecture all play a role in VPN performance. Take advantage of free-trials and money-back guarantees to find the sweet spot.
If no VPNs provide the adequate performance, you should also eliminate your router as a bottleneck. Some of them have processors not up to the task of driving a VPN client. Finally, your ISP itself may not be the best, so switching services could also be a last resort.
These are, in our opinion, the most important pros and cons of using VPN technology. There’s no real argument that justifies avoiding the technology completely. Unless of course, you’re breaking the law in your home country! For the rest of us, the cons can be overcome and the rewards are worth it.