There are many VPN myths which cause doubts in some users over whether should they get equipped with a virtual private network application. In this article, we are taking apart and analyzing the most common nine misconceptions surrounding VPN services to demonstrate that things are not what they appear to be.
It can be difficult to tell apart allies from enemies when trying to freely navigate the web. VPN providers are supposed to be the good guys but, unfortunately, the industry has its fair share of bad apples attempting to take advantage of user trust.
Once betrayed by the very VPN operator that was in charge of protecting your privacy, it seems impossible to trust another similar service again. Whether you’re a victim or not, it’s important to understand that some popular sayings about VPNs are not, in fact, true.
VPN Myth #1: “I think it’s enough to use a free VPN instead of a premium service”
Many software developers offer free and paid versions of their virtual private network applications, where the free edition is supposed to give users an overview of what they can get after paying a monthly or yearly subscription to a premium service. In this approach, a free VPN can be considered a temporary solution – a test-drive for the complete package.
However, many users don’t understand why should they pay for a product when they can get the functionality they want for free, putting aside extra features they’re not interested in using anyway. The fact of the matter is that free VPN solutions are not as innocent as you’d expect.
Free VPNs often do more damage than good
Because it’s simply not profitable from the business perspective to keep premium VPN qualities at zero cost, there’s no team of experts behind the product in charge with such a huge responsibility: fighting for your Internet privacy. Subsequently, the tool benefits from few and/or poorly maintained VPN servers, rare version updates, minimum or ineffective security features, and so on.
Plus, they might display ads which can lead to malware. But the worst part is that some so-called VPN providers actually collect details about your browsing activity and sell it to marketing companies in exchange for profit – which is exactly why some users put their faith in a VPN service in the first place. The point is that free virtual private network services often do more damage than good, so you’re better off not using them at all.
VPN Myth #2: “I don’t want to use a VPN because it slows down my Internet speed”
The principle behind a VPN service is that it encrypts data on the device by encapsulating every data packet from the inner layer in distinct encrypted packets on the outer layer. Only after performing the encryption can the information be sent to the remote server through a secure tunnel facilitated by the virtual private network.
Finally, the information is decrypted by reversing the whole process: eliminating the outer layer, decoding the encrypted data packet, and repeating these steps for all data packets until the original piece of information is reconstructed. The entire process takes time, of course. And yes, it might slow down networks, but this doesn’t always happen.
This is why it’s important to opt for a premium VPN application that has numerous servers in many countries. The team behind the service should continuously monitor the servers and add new ones as soon as there are too many users hogging the bandwidth.
Premium VPN customers have priority over free users
The VPN provider acts like the middle man between you (the client) and the remote server. Therefore, it’s in charge of the entire encryption and decryption process that we previously mentioned, so it influences your Internet speed to some degree. And it’s reasonable to think that paying customers to have priority over non-paying users.
Further, thanks to implementations of modern protocols like OpenVPN, connection speed delays caused by VPNs are now (mostly) resolved without having to sacrifice security. Other configuration settings play a key role in influencing the VPN-routed Internet speed, too, such as custom DNS, hardware acceleration, router upgrades, and operating system updates.
In fact, the regular Internet speeds can be sometimes surpassed when using a VPN, which particularly comes in handy for multiplayer games when lagging is a huge concern.
VPN Myth #3: “A VPN 100% guarantees my anonymity and privacy”
Being anonymous means that your online activities cannot be traced back to you. A VPN that protects your privacy means that, although it has your personal information on hand, it doesn’t divulge it to anyone else. There’s no such thing as a VPN that ensures 100% anonymity. Most services require you to sign up with an account as well as to make payments with a credit card – both of which are linked to your real identity.
If this information is not clear on the website, contact customer support and ask them about this straightforward. In the best case scenario, the VPN provider logs minimal information that can be hardly used by authorities (if demanded by law) to create a report about you.
The VPN company’s logging policy and jurisdiction play a key role
On the other hand, it’s worth paying attention to VPN makers with an honest and transparent approach toward the whole thing. When it comes to a company’s logging policy, it’s okay for them to record some details about the activity of its customers, which can help them improve their product.
But it’s not okay to have a full report about who you are, where you live and what websites you frequently visit. Especially if the VPN company is based in a country under the 5 Eyes, 9 Eyes or 14 Eyes surveillance alliance, which has to do with VPN jurisdiction.
Distance yourself from your social media accounts for true VPN anonymity
If you expect your VPN service to protect your real identity when you use it to access your real personal accounts, like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, email or bank, it’s a completely wrong approach. Even if the social media websites aren’t able to track your current location (by Wi-Fi signal, for example), they will be able to tell that it’s really you who’s establishing the connection since you’re the only person who has (or should have) access to your accounts.
What we’re trying to say is that, if you want to practice true anonymity as best as possible, then it’s not enough (or fair) to pin it all on your VPN service. To become untraceable, it’s necessary to isolate yourself from your true online accounts (among other things) the moment you connect to a VPN server.
To further boost your online anonymity, consider adopting the following:
- An email provider that doesn’t log your activity, like ProtonMail, Tutanota, MsgSafe.io, Disroot, and Posteo
- A secure web browser that doesn’t collect data about you, like Firefox (for desktop), Firefox Focus (for mobile), Brave, Tor Browser and Epic
- Web browser extensions that can improve your security, like HTTPS Everywhere, Privacy Badger, Ghostery, Disconnect and NoScript
- A secure search engine that doesn’t keep track of your browsing habits, like DuckDuckGo, Startpage and Wolfram Alpha
- Cryptocurrency or cash for transactions
- Private browsing sessions
For more information, check out our article about how to improve your privacy besides using VPN.
VPN Myth #4: “All VPNs are the same, so I’ll buy the first one I stumble upon”
Just because a VPN service is primarily designed to mask your real IP address and encrypt your network traffic, it doesn’t mean that all VPN apps are the same. In fact, you will never find two virtual private network tools which are identical in every respect (unless one is intentionally copying the other, which is frowned upon if not illegal).
Besides obvious visual differences in the graphical interface, VPN apps can be compared by taking numerous aspects into consideration: price, subscription plans, number of servers, and a variety of countries for the servers.
No two VPN services are identical: each has pros and cons
It’s also important to take note of the number of simultaneous connections, device and operating system compatibility, protocols, custom DNS, leak protection, kill switch, split tunneling, IPv6 support, VPN jurisdiction, logging policy, background checks (any history of controversy) as well as whether or not it works with Netflix (among other aspects).
Also, inspecting speed tests, IP leak tests and other kinds of evaluations is a must when it comes to VPN. Instead of going through VPN apps one by one to see what they have to offer, perhaps it’s easier to create a list of wants and needs in order to determine candidates before choosing a winner.
VPN Myth #5: “VPNs are too difficult to use and I’m not an advanced PC user”
There’s a common misconception that virtual private network services are tough to configure, and it’s not possible for casual users to handle this. Indeed, it’s sometimes necessary go to great lengths to set OpenVPN settings by modifying the configuration files, to name an example.
But even this is achievable if you have a bit of time and patience, thanks to the fact that most VPN services provide OpenVPN config files for separate download and setup, along with step-by-step instructions.
The intuitive graphical interface and endless VPN resources
Most virtual private network tools are wrapped in highly intuitive graphical interfaces, where you can connect to any VPN server with the click of a button, just as quickly disconnect, and modify settings with ease. There are descriptions spread across the GUI for each setting, offline help files bundled with the application, online documentation on the developer’s website, FAQ pages, forums, and endless resources a Google search away.
In addition to this, a lot of VPN companies provide customer support through various media channels, including live chat and remote PC control. Therefore, if you ever get stuck when trying to switch VPN servers, access Netflix or anything else, you just have to call for help, which hardly requires advanced PC skills.
VPN Myth #6: “I can do anything when I use VPN, even break the law”
Which also works as “Only hackers and cybercriminals use VPN”. Every time Tor comes into discussion, some people immediately assume that it’s solely used by those interested in avoiding or breaking the law by accessing the “Dark Web”, especially since Tor is targeted by the NSA. These people make the same assumptions about VPN usage, too.
Among the advantages of VPN are military-grade encryption, kill switch, unrestricted access to worldwide IP addresses, and the ability to bypass government censorship. These technically make it a powerful weapon in the hands of cybercriminals.
But the reality is quite different. It’s one thing to bring anonymity and privacy into the discussion when you want to dodge marketing companies, it’s another thing to assume you will get the same perks to become a criminal: you will most likely get caught.
VPN Myth #7: “I don’t need a VPN because I’m not doing anything illegal”
This VPN myth is strongly tied to the previous one. People who think that only hackers and cybercriminals employ the services of a virtual private network to cover their tracks are also the ones who falsely assume they don’t need a VPN application because they’re not planning to break the law on the Internet.
On the contrary, most VPN users are not cybercriminals but wish to enjoy the whole Internet browsing experience in the way it was originally intended: free and unrestricted for all global users, without fearing government censorship or net neutrality repeal effects.
A virtual private network application keeps you safe from hackers when using public wireless networks in airports, hotels and other dangerous areas. Without a VPN, someone can intercept your data, such as online banking details when making credit card payments, as well as login credentials when accessing your home or work email accounts.
VPN Myth #8: “I don’t need a VPN because I’m not paranoid about privacy”
Similarly, some people think that only journalists, whistleblowers and people living in countries with strict Internet policies use VPN services. It’s because they’re paranoid about their privacy and fear that Big Brother is watching them. While this is sadly true for citizens living in countries with harsh Internet policy laws, it certainly doesn’t apply to everyone.
A virtual private network service can protect you from targeted ads and hackers on public Wi-Fi, improve your gaming experience by reducing lag, help you bypass ISP throttling, unlock access to exclusive content that’s not normally available in your country, and avoid price discrimination on airplane tickets and hotel booking.
These are just some of the reasons why you definitely need a VPN app, even if you’re a casual user with absolutely no connections to the cybercriminal world and no plans to join it.
VPN Myth #9: “A VPN protects me from all dangers on the web because it encrypts my connection”
We’ve already established that the main goal of a virtual private network application is to secure your Internet connection by encrypting your data. But that’s not a reason to go from one extreme to another and assume that if a VPN can secure your browsing, then it can protect yours from all perils of the Internet.
Although they both deal with security, a VPN service is not the same as an anti-malware application, and one doesn’t include the functionality of the other. In fact, if you’re looking for a good piece of advice, you should have both a VPN application and antivirus solution. Having them both simultaneously running on the computer won’t cause system errors or other software-related conflicts.
Safely run VPN and anti-malware apps side by side
While the VPN service encrypts your data on the Internet, the anti-malware tool is busy detecting and blocking incoming threats. It can monitor visited pages and downloaded files for phishing and other kinds of malware, prevent ransomware agents from hijacking your sensitive data and asking for money in return, keep all your passwords in a safe place, and more.
If you’re interested in all these extra security features, we recommend avoiding free products and opting for a top-grade anti-malware application instead. Great examples include Bitdefender, ESET, Avast and Avira.
Our VPN recommendations
All the previously described VPN myths can be obstacles for any computer user interested but not completely convinced of the utility of a virtual private network client. It’s not easy to choose a good VPN service, especially when considering the numerous applications available on the current market.
There are many aspects worth taking into account as well as many tests that must be done to evaluate such as service. We strongly encourage all users to do their own research and their own tests instead of blindly accepting what a VPN developer or reviewer says: there’s nothing that guarantees they are independent.
That being said, we cannot stop ourselves from making our own VPN recommendations (as ironic as it sounds). The following virtual private network apps have been thoroughly reviewed by our team and are currently top-ranked on our website. Please don’t hesitate to check out their reviews.
- ExpressVPN. It supports numerous servers from all over the world, focusing on both security and speed. According to our tests, the service runs smoothly even on older machines. The company has a great reputation in the community, earning its trust as far as its logging policy goes. But the product is a bit expensive and it’s not possible to test it for free.
- NordVPN. Just like the previous entry, this app receives high scores when it comes to company reputation, logging policy, and a number of servers. It didn’t return any security issues in our testing and can be tested for free for 3 days. But the monthly subscription is pricey and the speed tests weren’t excellent.
- Ivacy. The tool has some unique VPN features and top-notch customer support. It worked great with Netflix throughout our evaluation and passed all leak tests with flying colors. The logging policy is minimal and there are many discounts available. But the company is located in a country part of the 5 Eyes alliance, and its refund policy is a bit sketchy.
- CyberGhost VPN. This service has a 7-day trial period and comes with a 45-day money back guarantee. It offers affordable subscription plans, has special servers optimized for Netflix, and showed no leaks during testing. The app is located in a country outside of the surveillance alliances, where it can safely practice its minimal logging policy out of the government’s reach. But some of its servers proved to be unstable.
- Mullvad VPN. We think this tool currently takes the best approach toward protecting your privacy: it generates a unique account number that doesn’t require email signup, and it accepts Bitcoin and cash payments if you want to become untraceable. It’s probably to make up for the fact that it’s based in a country part of 14 Eyes. The app doesn’t feature an abundance of servers and doesn’t work with Netflix or Hulu, but it has a cheap monthly subscription, high-speed servers, and no security leaks.
Whether you like it or not, having a reliable VPN at hand for securely browsing the Internet has become as indispensable as having a powerful antivirus application to help protect your computer from getting infected with malware. Computer users have Internet privacy rights and VPNs help preserve them.
We hope that we managed to shed some light on some common VPN myths, helping you take one step closer toward finding the best VPN tailored for your needs. If we forgot about any misconceptions surrounding virtual private network services, please don’t hesitate to draw our attention by leaving a comment in the section below.