10 reasons why you need a VPN

These days, the best VPNs have made the transition from a ‘nice thing to have’ to a ‘must-have’ for many folks who are online. And that’s mainly because of concerns around online privacy, and regulations like the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) in the UK, or the legislation passed in the US that allows ISPs to sell user data

It’s not just Big Brother you need to worry about either. Big Tech like social media and search engines are frequently in the news for tracing user’s IP address and personal data, sometimes to serve up personalised ads and at other times to sell it on to third parties. 

In short, there are a number of compelling reasons why you should start using a VPN, and we’ve rounded up 10 good ones here.

1. Secure messaging

Online communications have evolved from simple text-based emails to robust cross-platform messaging services – including WhatsApp, Skype and Snapchat to name a few of the more popular ones. 

Some messaging apps such as Whatsapp use end-to-end encryption, whereby your encryption keys never leave the devices of the people who are communicating. If set up correctly, this means that not even Meta, the owners of Whatsapp can read the messages you send and receive. This is true whether or not you use a VPN.

Sadly, some popular messaging apps don’t use end-to-end encryption or at least not fully. For instance, Snapchat encrypts ‘snaps’ but not text messages between users.

If you use a VPN with these apps, all your connection data between your device and the VPN server is encrypted. This means that anyone with access to your ISP’s records wouldn’t be able to intercept and read your messages.

This won’t protect you however if someone hacks into the messaging server for your chosen app, as they could get a copy of the messages on there. Stay safe by both subscribing to a reliable VPN Provider and use a free and open source app like Signal Messenger which does have end-to-end encryption for all types of communication. 

2. VoIP

VoIP stands for Voice over Internet Protocol. This is the revolutionary advance that enabled digital voice communications at a lower cost than traditional phone lines by routing calls through the internet.

The downside is that now instead of tapping individual subscriber lines, VoIP calls can be acquired and analyzed in bulk. By sending these calls through a VPN, they are encrypted, and therefore require serious decryption skills to gain access to the call, making things much harder for any snoops monitoring your connection in real time. (As with messaging apps, remember that your server could be compromised so try to find a VOIP provider that encrypts calls such as Zoom).

Even if your VOIP calls are encrypted, remember that snoopers may also try to track you through your provider’s metadata such as the IP address you were using when you placed your VOIP call. Using a VPN routes all your traffic through your provider’s server, so a bad actor would see the server’s IP address in this case, not yours. 

3. Online gaming

Using a VPN to play an online game might seem like a poor idea on the face of it, as it could reduce your connection speed but it does offer some advantages. 

Additionally, a VPN can be used to overcome geo-blocking restrictions, so for example, an American can continue to play a US-based game while traveling overseas. 

In some cases, using a VPN will actually offer faster connection speeds as it could avoid your ISP using “throttling” or “bandwidth shaping” to deliberately slow down traffic from gaming servers. You also may be able to connect to a VPN server which is closer to your gaming server (which you might not have even been able to access without a VPN).

Through hiding your IP address via your VPN you make your home connection less easy for hackers to target.  A VPN can increase your level of protection against DDoS attacks for instance – not that these are common, but gaming rivals with a serious grudge could decide to attempt to target your connection and bog it right down, lagging you out of the game. A nasty prospect indeed. Still, if they did this whilst you’re using a VPN, it would be your provider’s servers they target, not your home computer.  

4. Avoiding government censorship

In some countries the internet is highly censored by oppressive governments. This hampers efforts to communicate outside of the regime, and prevents access to sites that we all take for granted.

Obviously enough, when you’re travelling to such a country, you will also be subject to this online censorship – so a VPN could be a necessity if you want to freely surf the web and communicate with the rest of the world.

Some countries are aware of this and go to great lengths to detect VPNs in use, such as through using Deep Packet Inspection (DPI). If this is a concern for you, some VPN providers use obfuscation technology to try to disguise the fact you’re using one in the first place.  

A person looking at Wi-Fi bars on a phone

5. Secure public Wi-Fi

When out and about, staying connected is often a necessity, and free Wi-Fi has become an important commodity for staying in touch with family members, as well as business colleagues. The added bonus is that using Wi-Fi won’t chew through your smartphone data plan.

However, using public Wi-Fi can also be fraught with hazards. In the first place, any websites you access or data you enter without using SSL/TLS will be readable to other devices also connected to the public Wi-Fi network. Bad actors can also use “SSL Stripping” to try to force your computer or mobile device to use unencrypted versions of websites. 

Assuming you encrypt your data, bad actors can also use DNS ‘poisoning’ to redirect you to fake ‘phishing’ websites to fool you into entering sensitive personal data like passwords.  

Some cybercriminals even deliberately set up fake ‘honeypot’ Wi-Fi connections, which resemble legitimate public Wi-Fi hotspots but are designed to redirect you to phishing sites or malware.

The good news is that a VPN with a modern encryption protocol can help protect you and your precious data from these types of attacks. Although it won’t stop you from installing malware or entering personal data, most reputable providers use their own DNS servers to protect you from being redirected to the wrong page in the first place. Bad actors monitoring your connection on the same public Wi-Fi network would also only see encrypted data, not which specific sites you’re visiting or apps you’re using. 

6. Location-based price targeting

Businesses not only target their ads at customers, but they also adjust their pricing as well. We can (mostly) accept the fact that a supermarket chain may adjust the price of a certain item at different locations due to ‘local competition’. However, this sort of practice gets more painful when it occurs over the internet, as in essence it should be a level playing field.

Well, a VPN can even those odds right up. By being able to choose the VPN server’s location, you can change where the online shopping site will think that you are, and therefore benefit from the best price, as opposed to the one you’d have got from your real-world location.

Some VPN providers make this easier than others by offering easy to use “client” software for devices so you can switch servers with just a few taps or clicks. Take some time to read our guide on how to change location and IP address with a VPN to start saving now. 

red atom like rings around a world segmented into a grid

7. Bypass restrictions

Using a computer at certain locations, such as a school or library, will not offer the full internet, but rather a filtered, partially censored version. While in some cases this works for the protection of users, in other cases it can be frustrating when trying to look into a blocked topic.

For example, in one case a user was researching the topic of ‘breast cancer’ for informational purposes, and was blocked from doing so as the word ‘breast’ was on the restricted list to protect users from pornography. 

When you establish a VPN connection, you’re connecting to the Internet via a special VPN server. This means that you can access exactly the same websites as the server, not just those that your particular school or organisation want you to see.

If your organisation’s network also blocks certain protocols e.g. downloads via P2P software, you can also use a VPN to get round this : as your traffic’s sent down an encrypted ‘tunnel’ their servers won’t know which particular software you’re using.   

8. Help stop Google tracking

There are times when the ‘Do no evil’ company, Google, seriously starts to resemble ‘Big Brother’ as it seeks to track what every user does online, including searching their Gmail accounts to better target ads – although the firm has promised to stop this practice. Although Gmail aside, Google has plenty of mined data from other sources; it is a search engine giant, after all.

The firm has faced fines in the past for gathering personal data without permission or using it in ways that weren’t made clear to end users.

A VPN allows the user to stop Google from being the ‘camel that sticks its nose under the tent,’ and to take back control of their privacy. 

Without a VPN, users are literally tracked in just about everything they do online with Google’s suite of products from email, search, to G Suite apps, and when using the popular Chrome browser, among other considerations.

Using a VPN will conceal your IP address to stop Google from tracking where you are all the time. If you use Android, consider also turning off Google’s location services on your devices. 

Reduce the chance of seeing annoying ads by using an ad-blocker and make sure to set your browser to “Do Not Track.” You should also consider switching from Google to a more privacy conscious search engine like DuckDuckGo

9. Research without a trace

There are times when some research needs to be done without tipping your hand. For example, if one company wants to look at the available jobs or policies at a competitor, it would be ideal to do this without revealing their IP address, especially if this is done from the workplace.

This is especially important if you’re not using your home internet connection, as otherwise whoever manages the network e.g. in your office can monitor data packets passing between your device and the internet. 

This means, for instance, if you’re browsing job-hunting websites for another position, your boss could find out before you’re ready to leave. 

A VPN is an effective cloak in these cases, as all data between your device and the VPN server is encrypted, so unreadable to network admins. If you decide to e-mail a new employer about a job offer and they trace the IP address used, they’ll also see that of the VPN server, not your current employer! 

10. Take control of your privacy

Quite simply, a VPN has become a necessity to keep online activities private. Email and cloud storage accounts, with their potential to be compromised, are a ripe target for hackers. Thankfully, by using a VPN and choosing a robust encryption protocol, privacy can be reclaimed.

If you don’t already have a subscription but want to get started, first check out the best VPN available for 2023. There are free VPNs available but we don’t recommend them, as some providers sell user data and almost all of them have to restrict your bandwidth or show you adware to keep the lights on. Most paid providers either offer a free trial or let you pay for just 1 month upfront, so you can decide if their service is right for you.

When choosing the right provider for you, you should also consider why you want to use a VPN service. If it’s just to stream TV shows from elsewhere in the world, then privacy isn’t a big concern, so consider choosing a VPN Provider that specialises in streaming shows like Netflix.  

If you’re doing this for privacy reasons, you will want a more security conscious VPN service that offers modern protocols using advanced encryption. 

If you live in a country which restricts or blocks VPN usage, consider a VPN that uses obfuscation tech or at least one which has experience in dealing with the specific restrictions in your home state. Check out the best VPNs for China, as well as VPNs for Turkey and VPNs for UAE to get started.  

Jonas P. DeMuro

Jonas P. DeMuro is a freelance reviewer covering wireless networking hardware.

With contributions from