A ton of news sites are saying that everyone needs a VPN, but do you really?
What is a VPN?
Glad you asked 🙂 . Well, a VPN, or Virtual Private Network, routes your internet traffic through an encrypted tunnel to the VPN server. From there, the VPN server makes the request for you, and sends it back to your device.
Since the tunnel is encrypted, packet sniffers on that free Wi-Fi network you’re on now can’t see what you’re doing online. All they can see is a connection from your device going to the VPN server. In addition, websites can only see the IP address of the VPN server, not the network you’re on. This allows you, in some cases, to bypass geo-restrictions on services such as Netflix. However, many services that utilize geo-blocking are cracking down and banning VPN servers from accessing their service.
While VPN services can protect your internet traffic from being snooped on, the VPN service itself can be the snooper(making you the snoopee?). In fact, this is the case with many free VPN services. They harvest data, such as what websites you visit, and sell it to other companies. So, always be weary of “free” services. Services always cost something, but it’s not always money. This is true for services such as Google, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, all other social media sites, etc.
Additionally, the majority of internet users likely sign in to services they use often. This makes sense, as many services simply require an account(i.e. social media). However, the instant you sign in, you’re giving that website a beacon, which they can use to track you. That beacon? A cookie. In fact, you don’t even need to sign in for a website to set a cookie, that’s just an example.
A cookie is a piece of text stored in your browser that websites generally use to keep track of returning visitors, and logged in users. You can’t block cookies, because then you won’t be able to log in to any services, opt-outs or opt-ins won’t be stored, and more. The opt-in part is especially important since the GDPR, as most websites use a cookie to know not to display the privacy banner anymore.
So, unless you don’t sign up for any services, and are fine with popups on every website for the rest of your life, websites can still track you through cookies.
Not all VPN services will change your DNS settings. Some do, but there are still some that don’t. If your DNS records aren’t changed, you’re likely using the default DNS settings sent from the router. If you are, you could be sending all your queries directly to an attacker, a.k.a. your ISP 😉 .
The solution to most of the problems are simple: use your browser’s incognito mode(to not keep cookies), don’t sign up/log in(works together with incognito), use a privacy-conscious DNS( such as 188.8.131.52), and use a PAID VPN service(that has a strict no-log policy)!