5 reasons why VPN services are so essential right now

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There's no doubt that the popularity of VPNs - or Virtual Private Networks - has soared since the outbreak of Covid-19 across the globe.

And it's really easy to see why. Whether it's folk wanting to protect themselves and their data while working at home thanks to those watertight encrypted tunnels, as an avenue to stream a world of Netflix content, or simply to get around blocked websites - downloading a VPN with pre-installed settings and protocols can help.

And with the US FCC (Federal Communications Commission) having stripped away net neutrality provisions, there’s never been a better time to arm yourself with a VPN. Using a trustworthy service is a great way to encrypt your online traffic and avoid government censorship, not to mention bypass certain ISP (Internet Service Provider) restrictions.

There are dozens of reasons why you should use a VPN, but here are five of the best.

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1. Browse anonymously

When you connect to a secure VPN, you’re able to browse the web with complete anonymity. That’s because a good VPN service will hide your actual location, letting you browse without ever leaving a ‘physical’ trace.

More than that, VPNs also block your ISP from tracking your every move on the internet. Whereas incognito mode simply hides your browsing history from your browser, a VPN lets you hide your traffic from your ISP. Connecting to a VPN server essentially ‘masks’ your location, connecting you to a location in another area, making it difficult for your ISP to see – and therefore block – the sites you’re accessing.

This is especially important if you’re concerned about your internet browsing history. Back in 2017, the US government gave ISPs the power to package and sell user data. That means everything you do online could become fodder for marketers or insurance companies. If that sounds spooky to you, then using a VPN is a great way to keep your digital life private.

2. Encrypt your network

Cybersecurity is an increasing headache, as hackers and malware become ever more prevalent, and that situation isn’t likely to improve any time soon. So it’s a sound idea to use a VPN to encrypt your internet connection )alongside your usual antivirus software), allowing you to browse without worrying about exposing your network. This is especially helpful when you’re traveling and find yourself browsing via public Wi-Fi hotspots (in hotels for example).

ExpressVPN (opens in new tab), NordVPN (opens in new tab), IPVanish (opens in new tab), Surfshark and other top-tier VPN providers use AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) encryption. That means your network is fully encrypted, making it near impossible for anyone to see what you’re doing online, whether you’re browsing on a secure network or an open one.S

Better yet, if you set up a VPN on your router, you can encrypt the traffic of all the devices in your house. That way you never have to remember to turn on the VPN each time you boot up your computer or switch on your phone.

This is one of the defining differences between VPNs and proxy servers and sites: whereas a proxy only covers a single device’s web traffic, you can hook up your VPN to a router to cover every device in your network. Many small- and medium-sized businesses have begun installing VPNs on their office networks. It’s an upward trend that’s only expected to gain momentum as cybercrime becomes more prevalent.

3. Stream content from anywhere in the world

When it comes to watching content from abroad – whether it be unblocking Netflix or Hulu – getting the best VPN for streaming to watch your favorite shows can open up a world of new content to devour.

Connecting to a VPN automatically changes your IP address. Sites (or, at least, content on those sites) that may be blocked in your region become readily available, making it possible to access any site and service from virtually anywhere in the world.

You can also use a VPN to torrent and download without having to worry about your ISP zeroing in on your online activity. Most VPNs come with unlimited bandwidth and server switches, which means there are no data caps restricting the amount of content you’re able to access. It also means you can endlessly hop from location to location, which is useful when content is only available in certain areas.

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

4. Avoid network throttling

With the net neutrality repeal, ISPs in the US now have more power over how they market their services, which means users can soon expect some sites to load faster – while others may load much, much slower.

In the UK, traffic throttling (or shaping) is an accepted fact that is detailed and documented by most of the country’s big ISPs (the likes of Virgin Media, BT, and Plusnet).

Fortunately, a VPN service can help reset your online network to its original settings and allow you to browse, stream, and download without having to worry about slow-loading sites.

More than that, it’s a simple and effective way to fight back against the status quo. Privacy advocates say using a VPN to slip through the cracks and browse normally isn’t only recommended, it’s encouraged.

And while it’s entirely possible that Comcast, AT&T and other internet providers could one day ban VPNs, the staggering amount of both business and everyday VPN usage makes this a very unlikely scenario.

5. Find better deals online

This lesser-known VPN trick is a great way to save on flights and hotels. By connecting to a VPN server outside your home region and comparing prices online, you might be able to save a significant amount of money on rentals and airfares.

That’s because most sites (including Kayak and Priceline) actually charge different amounts based on a user’s IP address. Start by checking prices in and around your location. Then try comparing prices between different cities and, if possible, nearby states.

After that, try switching your VPN location to a few different countries and check the same prices. It’s a fairly simple trick, though it’s worth taking the time to do a more wide-ranging search – that way you’ll cast a more expansive net for trying to find the best deals.

Next time you’re looking for cheap flights, try using a VPN to check prices from different countries – just remember to browse in incognito mode and clear your cookies after each visit.

Adam Marshall

Adam was formerly the Content Director of Subscriptions and Services at Future, meaning that he oversaw many of the articles TechRadar produces about antivirus software, VPN, TV streaming, broadband and mobile phone contracts - from buying guides and deals news, to industry interest pieces and reviews. Leading and developing a great team, Adam also dusted off his keyboard to write articles for the likes of TechRadar, T3 and Tom's Guide.