With privacy a growing concern, it makes sense that an increasing number of people are turning to VPNs to protect themselves. VPNs are known for protecting users’ privacy by encrypting their computer traffic and routing the encrypted traffic through anonymous routers, hiding the user’s identity. Thirty percent of all internet users use a VPN at least once month, and those users aren’t just journalists or investigators or others who need to maintain privacy for professional or political reasons. With people of all kinds becoming more reliant on VPNs, we need to ask: do VPNs actually protect our privacy?


What VPNs Do and Don’t Do

Usually, when a VPN routes your traffic through a server, the connection is encrypted, meaning that only you and the server can decrypt the traffic. This can be useful in a lot of situations—like when you’re using public WiFi—because it means that no one, from your Internet service provider to the network owner to any hacker can see any of the information you send over the network.


What a VPN doesn’t do is protect you from insecure websites (websites without a security certificate). A VPN doesn’t protect you if you submit information to an unencrypted site or accidentally download malware. In short, a VPN protects you in transit from one site to the next but can’t protect you from any actions you take at your destination site.


What VPNs Mean for Privacy…and What Privacy Means to the VPN

All this comes with a caveat, however. Not all VPNs are created equal. Not every VPN will necessarily protect you and some actively compromise your privacy. This is especially true with free VPNs, because if you’re not paying, your data is probably being harvested. A free VPN service usually sells your data. Even worse, one study found that 85% of free VPNs have permissions or functions that could compromise a user’s privacy, while 35% of VPNs expose a user’s traffic, and 18% contain potential malware or viruses. Bottom line? Chances are good that, with free VPNs, you’re not protecting your privacy, you’re actually putting it at risk.


It’s far better to opt for a reputed, paid VPN—but beware, three popular VPN services have been hacked in recent years. Paid VPN services are the better choice because, since you are a paying customer, they’re not incentivized to share your data and actively compromise your privacy. That said, paid VPN services can still have security flaws and aren’t always upfront with their customers about security breaches that puts their data at risk. Case in point: when NordVPN, which has regularly been rated the best VPN service, was hacked, they only acknowledged the attack after rumors began to circulate that a hack had occurred.


So, What’s a Privacy Conscious Individual to Do?

When it comes to selecting VPNs or other tools to protect your privacy, always do a thorough assessment before deciding, researching the different discussions and assessments of a tool so that you can understand its features, limitations and any security flaws. It can be tempting to opt for the free option but a good rule of thumb to remember is that if you’re not paying, your data is probably being harvested. It’s also important to be aware of what the tool does protect you from and what its limitations are—no single tool is going to solve all your privacy problems. A reputed VPN will protect your browsing history and other information you submit from outside eyes. It doesn’t protect you if you submit information over an insecure site or download something malicious. And even after you decide on a tool, stay alert. Keep an eye on the news and any conversations about the privacy tools you use so that if a breach does happen, you know immediately and can take steps to protect your data.


Vaporstream believes that that every individual and business is entitled to privacy and security when communicating and sharing data. Privacy goes beyond end-to-end encryption with advanced-content controls and enterprise policies that make it impossible for unauthorized third parties to access your data. Learn how Vaporstream puts privacy in your hands here.