Do VPNs Really Work? Qualified answer for 2021
Here at Cloudwards.net, we talk a lot about the best VPN services on the market. From guides on the best VPN for Hulu to the best VPN for Nepal, we’ve run a whole series on which services to use in different situations. In this guide, we take a different approach, talking about whether VPNs work and the limitations that come into play while using one.
If you’d rather not deal with the nuts and bolts, simply head over to our ExpressVPN review. Over the years, we’ve tested ExpressVPN countless times, and in every review, it simply works (even the new ExpressVPN Lightway protocol looks promising). Plus, there’s a 30-day money-back guarantee, so you can get started risk-free.
Do VPN apps really work?
VPN apps really work, but that depends on your definition of the term “working”. As we explained in our article on what a VPN is, the technology is easy to understand. It’s a private network – a network accessible only to users with appropriate credentials – created by default.
Commercial VPNs like NordVPN go beyond just creating a virtual network. Using specialized VPN protocols, services like NordVPN and CyberGhost can connect you to a virtual network while adding an encryption layer to your connection (read our encryption description for more information).
As we explained in our guide on how secure VPNs are, the effectiveness of this virtual private tunnel changes from provider to provider.
For example, Private Internet Access works wonders, securing your connection from snoopers while keeping your browsing data private. On the other hand, a service like VPN.Express barely works at all (read our Private Internet Access and VPN.Express Review for more information).
The VPN concept works, and as long as you use a reputable service like ExpressVPN or NordVPN, your connection will be secure. However, even more than other software, there are many services that pretend to be VPNs are nothing more than a scam. For example, Hola VPN is basically just a bot network, even though it advertises itself as one of the best free VPNs.
Use a VPN for torrenting and streaming
Fortunately, the majority of VPN services available today are legit, at least to some extent. Services like Hola VPN are usually nothing more than a flash; As long as you do some basic research, you should be fine.
At least you should be fine when it comes to not being scammed. Just because a VPN is legit doesn’t mean it works in every app. Torrenting and streaming are two of the main reasons to use a VPN, but some services are more suitable for these tasks than others.
Hide.me, for example, can’t break through a geographic barrier to save his life, despite being a powerful service otherwise. Meanwhile, ExpressVPN has been named our best VPN for streaming and best VPN for Netflix guides. Likewise, IPVanish is an attractive and easy to use VPN with questionable security, while NordVPN ranks at the top of the best VPN guide for torrenting activities.
Navigating the VPN market is tricky, especially with so much difference between the services (just read our fastest VPN guide to see it in action). At Cloudwards.net, we consider all of the many factors that make up a VPN service when we review it, so know that when we recommend a service, we mean it.
How effective are VPNs?
Now that you understand how VPNs work, and the fact that they can actually work, it’s time to talk about effectiveness. In this section, we’ll cover how effective VPN security is, as well as VPN limits when it comes to user privacy.
Let’s start with security. With your normal internet connection, your ISP handles all the details. You send a request to your service provider’s DNS servers, they route the connection correctly, and a channel is opened that allows Internet traffic to go back and forth.
The VPN is between your initial request and your ISP. Instead of connecting to your ISP, you can connect to a remote VPN server. This connection is encrypted, and once your requests reach the server, they are anonymised, decrypted, and then sent to the open internet.
What results is a connection that appears to be coming from the VPN server, replacing any personal information, such as your IP address.
There are two pressure points when it comes to a VPN connection. The first is the encrypted tunnel between your computer and the VPN server. There are many different encryption methods, but we recommend using AES-256, when available. It is well documented and very safe, with no known exploits. If a VPN service is completely forward secrecy, like ExpressVPN, it’s even better.
The second possible point of failure is with the VPN server, where your requests are anonymized and decrypted. Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do to verify this point, except to use a well-established VPN service with a good privacy tracking history (Mullvad and ProtonVPN come to mind).
Anonymity vs. privacy
“Privacy” and “anonymity” — or whatever it is — are the most important words on most VPN sites, and they are often used interchangeably. These words are meant to drive one point home: VPNs protect you on the Internet. However, allowing the two to be synonymous is not only inaccurate, it is also dangerous.
When you are anonymous, there are no identifiable traits or traits about you. Being anonymous means everything you do is shrouded in mystery. Nobody knows who you are, what you do, how you do it, or why you do it. Privacy, on the other hand, means that people may know who you are and what you do, but only to the extent that you allow.
For example, let’s say you live in a dead end or crowded apartment complex. If you are anonymous, none of your neighbors will know who you are, to the point that none of them will see your face.
To remain completely anonymous in this situation, you can never leave your home, the postal service can not know that you live there and cannot have recognizable signs. Some would argue that living with others may break the anonymity of your identity.
The situation above seems absurd, and it is. More realistically, you may not know your neighbors on a personal level, and you can choose to keep the details of your life private. This is privacy, but it is not anonymity.
You can apply the same concept to VPNs. Staying anonymous online is just a matter of avoiding the internet completely. VPNs do not make you anonymous; They maintain your privacy.
With a VPN, you can choose what data you hand over and what data you don’t, as well as decide the “who, what, where, when, and why” of your browsing habits. Others may be able to see these browsing habits in one way or another. Still, you have control over how this information is spread.
Is a VPN Necessary?
You must use a VPN. If nothing else, a VPN protects your online privacy by preventing companies, ISPs, and government agencies from tracking you. In the United States and many other countries, VPNs are legal. One use is just an exercise in online privacy, giving you control over how your data is protected.
In the unlikely event that you want to torrent or stream Netflix from other countries, a VPN is a must. Using one of them removes geoblocks and allows you to experience the Internet in the world, rather than just the Internet in your country.
For those who do not completely care about their online privacy, a VPN is a poor investment. For others, a VPN is a great option.
As long as you stick to providers like ExpressVPN, CyberGhost, and NordVPN, your online data will be protected from third parties, all while giving you a chance for a more open internet experience. If you want more recommendations, be sure to read our Best VPN guide (linked above).
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