When hearing about VPNs (virtual private networks), many users may think of a hacker wearing a hoodie in a dark room while accessing the dark web on their computer. However, these tools are useful for any Internet user, as they guarantee privacy in the connections that our device establishes with web pages or other services.
Before starting to use a VPN, it is important to keep in mind that privacy is not synonymous with security and, as Josep Albors, director of research and awareness of the computer security company ESET in Spain, explains to this newspaper, "VPNs do not prevent you from accessing a web page, downloading a virus and installing it on the device. because it is not their function", despite the fact that they are often offered as security systems.
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"What a VPN does is generate a tunnel in which an encrypted communication is made between your connection on your device and a website or a service that you want to access, and you do not want anyone to be able to see the data that is being transmitted through that private tunnel," he adds. In addition to offering privacy, VPNs have other utilities, such as allowing the user to watch a movie that is not available in their country or finding cheaper prices on some products.
Privately connect to Wi-Fi networks during a trip
In recent years, awareness of the dangers of connecting to public Wi-Fi has increased. We already know that, as tempting as it may be to find free Wi-Fi on the street, in a shopping mall or even on the beach, there may be a cybercriminal on the other side ready to steal information from users who connect. Having a VPN guarantees that, if we connect to a public Wi-Fi network, either on the street or in a hotel, the communications that are established are made privately, although that does not mean that we must continue to maintain the same precautions when accessing web pages or downloading applications or files. "That prevents someone who is spying on that wifi from knowing where we are accessing or what information we are sharing," explains Albors.
Buy cheaper airline tickets or get more affordable subscriptions
As Josep Albors recalls, there are users who make use of VPNs to get lower prices when buying airline tickets. "Depending on the country from which you buy them, the price can vary by a certain amount depending on the purchasing power that is assumed to people living in that country. If you buy a plane ticket from the Philippines, you're likely to save a certain amount of money with a VPN," he explains.
However, in an article published in the newspaper US Today, journalist Nathan Diller says he has found that differences between prices are usually not significant, for example, in airline tickets between the United States and Mexico. In fact, when using a VPN with a server in the UK, one of the hotel reservations you searched for was more expensive than if you ordered it directly from your country. Even so, it depends on the specific case and there are users who claim to find lower prices when changing their location to countries with lower purchasing power.
When it comes to price discrimination based on the device's IP address, changing the location with a VPN and clearing cookies and cache could also result in better prices on online shopping in general. There are users who use these tools to buy video games at the price of countries that are on the other side of the world or to get a subscription, for example, to a music platform, so that it is more profitable without too much effort.
Watch movies or series that have not arrived in Spain
How many times have you searched for the title of a series or movie on Netflix, Amazon Prime and other streaming platforms and received a message regretting that it is not available in your country? The alternative is usually to see such content on an illicit website where dozens of ads appear, so that you end up assuming the risk of finding a virus on your computer late and, in addition, contributing to a website that carries out an illegal activity. With a VPN, the user can more securely access content that is not available in their country, because they would not have to resort to these websites, but simply access their Netflix account (or any platform they have contracted) normally. As if he had traveled to another country. It is enough that through the VPN you choose the place where you want to establish the connection with a server, be it the United States, Colombia or Japan. Not all VPNs offer servers in every country and region, so many times the choice of one or the other is based on the offer. Some have servers in 90 countries, others in 50, etc.
Keeping identity hidden when navigating countries with authoritarian governments
VPNs aren't just useful for entertainment or consumption; In countries where certain websites are inaccessible, censored and even users who share or search for certain content are at risk of imprisonment, these networks can be instrumental in helping them keep their identity and information hidden.
However, not all VPNs shield user information in the same way. In the case of free networks, Albors explains that they usually keep some information: "They prevent them from spying on what you are visiting or the communication you are doing, but those VPNs, on their servers, can store some information and then sell you other products. And that's a problem because, if later someone requires that information in some country with oppressive legislation, they can expose people trying to access content that can't be reached from their country and that is considered illegal, so they can be convicted for it."
Keeping information hidden can be imperative for activists, human rights defenders or LGBTI people. "Those types of people would be at risk if they use a VPN that can give up data at the request of the authorities of that country. Therefore, it is important to hire only those that offer guarantees and that have been audited (and that they are responsible for promoting it), that do not keep any type of record and that, if they try to intervene the information of their clients, they can not provide anything. That's the bottom line, and free VPNs don't usually do that," he adds.
For teleworking it is also recommended to use them
Albors insists that it is advisable for all companies to use VPN because "when you use remote access to a computer of your company or to an online platform of it and you handle confidential information, the logical thing is that you can only access either from the internal network of the company, or from a tunnel that you generate from your home or from where you are working and that encrypted communication is made in a way that no one can spy or steal credentials. That way, even if someone gets the credentials, they can't access the platform because they're not connecting through the VPN that's supported by the company."
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