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Should I use a VPN? originally appeared on Quora: the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.
Answer by Adam Levin, host of the podcast ‘What the Hack with Adam Levin’, founder of Cyberscout, and co-founder of credit.com, on Quora:
If you choose a VPN wisely, it can help you maintain greater privacy online. Should you consider using one? If you’re concerned about your Internet service provider tracking your online activity it’s probably a good idea. If you travel regularly and connect to Wi-Fi networks with unknown security settings, you should without a doubt use a VPN.
A VPN is short for “virtual private network.” In the simplest terms, it is a service that reroutes incoming and outgoing internet traffic from your device through another external server. VPNs are a valuable tool for anyone concerned with online privacy. While VPNs are able to encrypt and conceal internet traffic that could otherwise be intercepted on poorly secured or compromised Wi-Fi networks, a VPN is not a privacy silver bullet.
Here’s what you need to know:
Do some research before choosing a VPN provider:
Never use a “free” VPN:
App stores are loaded with so-called “free” VPN services. They should be avoided. At best, a free VPN is harvesting information about your internet activity. At worst, they contain malware designed to sniff out sensitive data. If the product is free, then you’re the product.
VPNs aren’t always necessary:
Approximately 95% of the websites indexed by Google use SSL, a form of encryption that prevents the data you transmit online from being intercepted. A VPN does the same thing. When you connect to any website that stores or requires sensitive information, look for a lock icon next to the URL on your browser. If it’s there, your data is encrypted, regardless of how you’re connecting to the Internet.
Some websites and services block VPNs:
One of the primary purposes of a VPN is to ensure anonymity and privacy online. Unfortunately, cybercriminals have a vested interest in concealing their identities and activities, which makes VPNs suspect in some situations. Many major websites and services will automatically block any request from a known VPN IP address for cybersecurity reasons. A default VPN may not be compatible with streaming services, some email providers and payment gateways.
VPNs don’t protect against malware:
It’s important to not get lulled into a false sense of security when using a VPN. You can still get phished, hacked, download malware and fall prey to ransomware when using a VPN. They are designed to help protect your identity and prevent your data from being intercepted in transit. You should still practice good data hygiene including using strong, unique passwords, using two-factor authentication whenever possible, installing security software and exercising extreme caution when providing potentially sensitive information online.
This question originally appeared on Quora – the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.