A virtual private network (VPN) is a great way for any organization or person to upgrade their online security and privacy. By creating an encrypted connection to the internet, a VPN filters all of your traffic through a network server, hiding your online activities from potential cybercriminals or even your internet service provider (ISP).
While there are several great VPN services, such as PureVPN and CyberGhost VPN, that offer a wide variety of benefits, it's not a perfect technology – as with any other product or service, there are trade-offs. Although a VPN service can add some safety and anonymity to your online activities, what they don't tell you is that it can also slow your connection speed, or that some providers log your activity to sell to third parties. This is why you should fully explore both the pros and cons before deciding whether a VPN is right for your business.
|VPN pros||VPN cons|
|Geo-blocked content access||Low-quality options that undermine security|
|No ISP bandwidth throttling||Shared IPs (which can be blacklisted)|
|Lower support costs||N/A|
The pros of VPNs
As you surf the web, your online data has to go through various servers all over the world. Whether you're checking your email or visiting your favorite online shop, information like your passwords, messages, or bank statements is all being transferred between different sites and servers – and without an encrypted connection, who knows who's watching? Your ISP, a government agency and even cybercriminals could all potentially access that information for malicious use.
With a premium VPN service, all your traffic and online activity are immediately encrypted, shielding you from those pesky peeping Toms trying to steal your data. Cybercriminals are always trying to break through VPN security measures, especially with unsecured public Wi-Fi networks, but you can usually find a trusted VPN service that uses AES-256 encryption to help prevent that.
It's legal for ISPs in the U.S. to sell your personal data. A lot of organizations want that information and are willing to pay a handsome amount for it. There are businesses dedicated to data-mining your online activities, so prying eyes are always trying to see what you're up to. But with a VPN, you get a digital cloak of invisibility whenever you're online.
Once you're connected to a VPN, you get your own private lane to browse the web at your leisure. Your favorite sites will still see the traffic, but instead of your activity being tied to your IP address, you'll just be an anonymous user. Your ISP and cybercriminals won't see you at all; any activity will simply appear as traffic from the VPN server you're logged in to.
Geo-blocked content access
Since a VPN can keep your activity anonymous, it opens up a slew of new functionality. VPN services usually have servers in multiple regions around the globe, helping you bypass any content geo-blocks. You know how Netflix has a different catalog for different countries? A VPN can help you quickly get around that.
With a VPN, you can log in to a server located in the country of your choice, so your traffic appears as if you're actually in that region. For example, if you live in Delaware but want access to Youku to catch up on your favorite vloggers in China, just log in to one of your VPN's Chinese servers, and you'll be all set.
No ISP bandwidth throttling
Bandwidth throttling is when your ISP limits your internet speed. An ISP can throttle your speed for any reason, whether it's during peak hours, you've reached a data cap, or you're using high-bandwidth applications like streaming video. With all your traffic being filtered through a VPN server to secure your anonymity, it hides your activity from your ISP entirely, meaning it also takes away the ISP's ability to throttle your data.
Lower support costs
You can also use a VPN to reduce costs and the burden on your IT team. With a cloud-based VPN service, your IT department can quickly install a VPN client to your corporate computers, keeping your business safe from threats like malware and cyberattacks. Better yet, your VPN provider will handle all the support and maintenance of the service while ensuring compliant, encrypted security standards throughout your organization.
The cons of VPNs
One of the biggest drawbacks of any VPN is the inevitable reduction in your internet connection speed. As your traffic goes through a VPN server, you'll lose a bit of speed as your activity is encrypted. There are also some delays when you log in to a server in a different region – so if you're logged in to a French server from Los Angeles, for example, your performance could get a little laggy.
For the most part, the reduction in speed due to a VPN is negligible, and you may not even notice it. The businesses that would be impacted the most by the lower speeds are those that regularly use bandwidth-heavy or multi-stream workflows, such as a 4K multi-hour livestream event.
Depending on where you live, it may be a legal requirement for VPN providers to keep detailed activity logs of all your internet traffic. In addition, there are plenty of VPN services that keep records of your activity for the sole purpose of selling the data to third parties.
VPN providers headquartered in the U.S., Australia, France, and regions that face strict censorship regulations or oppression may be legally required to maintain comprehensive records. And government agencies all over the globe regularly access and use VPN logs to target and monitor suspicious activities or specific organizations.
Less security with free or low-quality VPNs
When it comes to a VPN, you really do get what you pay for. In fact, some free VPN services have a major conflict of interest in providing you with a secure and private internet connection. Because free VPN services still need to generate revenue from somewhere, they often sell your information or activity logs to third-party advertisers.
Moreover, a free or low-quality VPN service may not offer the encryption you need to keep your data safe. If you decide to save money by using a VPN that isn't configured with the proper encryption protocols, you're leaving yourself exposed to cybercriminals who know how to break into the network.
Blacklisting of shared IPs
A shared-IP VPN reuses an IP address and assigns it to users as they log in to the VPN server. Whiled a shared-IP VPN can certainly give you a secure connection to the internet and protect you from cyberattacks, the number of IP addresses being shared can overload a domain name system (DNS), leading your IP address to be blacklisted.
Typically, when your IP address is blacklisted, you'll be asked to complete a CAPTCHA check to verify you're not a bot, but some sites will restrict your access completely. Between the constant verifications and the need to disconnect from your VPN to access certain sites, it can create significant delays and disruptions that leave you vulnerable to security breaches.