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You think you should be using a VPN. After all, virtual private networks enhance your security, right? Well, yes… and no. There is a time and a place for VPNs, but they’re certainly not as secure, or as private, as you think they are.

VPN Providers Can See Your Destination Traffic

We’ve already learned in 2017 that VPNs are employing fake servers that can destroy privacy, especially if you’re using the web in an oppressive regime. But really, that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

surveillance eye
Image Credit: Brian A Jackson via Shutterstock

You’re told by your VPN provider that they don’t keep logs. But consider this: 90 percent of VPNs are run from leased servers. Therefore, logs are being kept, at least by the owner of the server. And once your data leaves the VPN server, it isn’t encrypted.

Either way, your destination can be logged. So can your activity at the website.

But there’s no reason to believe that a company attempting to corner the market in VPNs is being honest. The practices VPN companies use to offer free VPN accounts 5 Reasons You Need to Stop Using Free VPNs Right Now 5 Reasons You Need to Stop Using Free VPNs Right Now Free VPNs are very tempting, but hold on. If you're thinking of signing up to one, you should read this article first. Here are the biggest risks with using a free VPN service. Read More can quite easily be replicated on paid VPN accounts. On the whole, the only real difference is that paid accounts are faster. You might be able to get good speeds on the BitTorrent network, or for viewing Netflix Which VPNs Still Work With Netflix? Which VPNs Still Work With Netflix? Netflix is trying to stop people accessing its service through VPNs, but a handful of VPNs are managing to stay one step ahead of the streaming giant. Read on to find out which ones... Read More , but those logs, and other surveillance, can still take place.

After all, you just handed your personal data to a company that has the power to sell it, and log your internet activity.

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It’s Not as Anonymous as You Think

Perhaps you think that using a VPN awards you complete anonymity. Perhaps it’s the security you’re after.

It’s simple: VPN services do not provide security beyond providing a ramped-up proxy service. Your data can still be tapped. Using a VPN doesn’t hide you from oppressive state surveillance, it just moves the observation point from your PC to your VPN server.

proxy vpn setting switch
Image Credit: Olivier Le Moal via Shutterstock

Then there is the curious case of the advertising trackers. You think that by hiding your IP address, the trackers can’t build a profile on your activity. But guess what? They can. They don’t even use your IP address any more. There is always a technique that can be applied to distinguish you online, track your actions, and present adverts.

And that anonymous payment you’re using? You connect using your IP address to make those payments. Come on, people: that’s not anonymity.

The Encryption Is Limited

VPNs use encryption, but they’re not the only way to protect your data. More and more websites are using HTTPS to protect transactions What Is HTTPS & How To Enable Secure Connections Per Default What Is HTTPS & How To Enable Secure Connections Per Default Security concerns are spreading far and wide and have reached the forefront of most everybody's mind. Terms like antivirus or firewall are no longer strange vocabulary and are not only understood, but also used by... Read More (whether submitting form data or making a purchase). Eventually, all sites will do this, encouraged by the prevailing culture (and Google).

Meanwhile, you may be using a social network or messaging service that employs end-to-end encryption. WhatsApp, for instance Why WhatsApp's End-to-End Encryption Is a Big Deal Why WhatsApp's End-to-End Encryption Is a Big Deal WhatsApp recently announced that they would be enabling end-to-end encryption in their service. But what does this mean for you? Here's what you need to know about WhatsApp encryption. Read More .

As mentioned above, once your data leaves the VPN, it can be read.

Only the connection between the VPN client on your computer or smartphone, and the VPN server, is encrypted. Beyond that, there’s no encryption, unless you’re using a secure connection for financial transactions.

VPNs Are Looking for YOU

Consider this: why are you using a VPN? 10 Reasons Why You Should Be Using a VPN 10 Reasons Why You Should Be Using a VPN Virtual Private Networks are affordable and easy to use. Along with a firewall and antivirus/anti-malware solution, here is exactly why you should have a VPN installed. Read More Is it to circumvent region blocking on a video streaming site? Perhaps you’re using P2P networking. Or is it for online gaming 7 Reasons Why Gamers Need a Gaming-Friendly VPN 7 Reasons Why Gamers Need a Gaming-Friendly VPN You've got the best mouse and a stunning monitor. But have you ever thought about how a good VPN can enhance your gaming experience? Here are seven reasons to try one. Read More ? All are good reasons. You know it, and so do the VPN companies.

money growing on tree
Image Credit: Fer Gregory via Shutterstock

In fact, they know it. They’re looking for people with, shall we say, “interesting” online activities. Right now, they’re targeting you with their services. Each time a government closes access to a website or service, you’re an instant customer.

If there is a financial advantage to be gained from having your personal details and information about your logs… well, no business with aims of long-term survival is going to pass up on the potential to make money from government. Or it might be the guarantee of continued operations, or even a government contract.

Free or not, your VPN is making you the product.

Blocked IP Addresses

Another problem with VPN services — albeit not as bad as the issues above — is how the IP address is used. Remember, when you connect to a VPN, the IP address assigned by your internet provider is hidden by the VPN server.

This can lead to problems.

ethernet cord on a laptop
Image Credit: Todja via Shutterstock

For instance, if the server is linked to an abusive account, the entire VPN server can be prevented from accessing a particular website. This can be circumvented, of course, by changing to a new VPN server, but that can be inconvenient. And not necessarily a solution!

There’s also targeted VPN blocking. This is when a website blocks known VPN server IP addresses from accessing them. It’s used by some online streaming services Netflix vs. Hulu vs. Amazon Prime: Which Should You Choose? Netflix vs. Hulu vs. Amazon Prime: Which Should You Choose? It has been years since we've compared heavy-hitting streaming services, Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime. And with changes in pricing, content, quality, and interface, we thought it was time to revisit the topic. Read More . For instance, in the U.K., you can’t access BBC iPlayer if you’re using a VPN, even one based in the U.K.

When You Should Use a VPN Service Provider

Everything discussed so far has probably blown your mind with regard to VPNs. Is the VPN subscription you’re using a complete waste of money?

hacker on a laptop
Image Credit: Africa Studio via Shutterstock

No, not quite. There is a use for VPNs: protecting you from drive by Wi-Fi hackers and insecure wireless connections. You know the type: you’ll typically find them in shopping centers, and cafes. Perhaps someone is sitting with a Wi-Fi packet sniffer running on their laptop or tablet, waiting to capture your username and password. Or maybe they have some hardware posing as a router, performing a man-in-the-middle attack. On the other hand, the router may have been compromised.

Either way, this is the time to use a VPN. Protect yourself and your data from cybercriminals by encrypting your connection. In this scenario, then we’d suggest using one from our list of VPN providers The Best VPN Services The Best VPN Services We've compiled a list of what we consider to be the best Virtual Private Network (VPN) service providers, grouped by premium, free, and torrent-friendly. Read More , perhaps ExpressVPN.

You’re Expecting Too Much From VPNs

One solution to all of this is to employ your own VPN server. This would entail renting a VPS (unless you’re particularly wealthy, in which case you could build your own!), and using this as your own personal VPN provider.

While a practical solution, you’re still affected by the lack of privacy that your relationship with the hosting company introduces. You might not keep logs on your VPN, but the web host will be keeping logs on their VPS.

Ultimately, VPNs only help to partially obfuscate your activity and data. If there’s an unsecure website at the other end, demanding plain text data, then that data is going to be revealed sooner or later. Yes, you can hide your activity from your internet provider, perhaps engage in online activities that have been banned — but as soon as that VPN wants to cut you loose, they can.

By all means, use a VPN service. Just be aware that you’re probably expecting too much from it. You aren’t invisible.

Are you using a VPN? Were you aware of these issues? Perhaps you’re now reconsidering your use of virtual private networks. Tell us what you think.

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  1. Shawn
    August 23, 2017 at 3:49 pm

    Make Use Of doing a 180 on the whole VPN thing? Just two days ago I read an article on here saying you should never go online without using a VPN! http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/online-vpn-use/

    Some of your sponsors on here are VPN providers. Just when I was considering getting a VPN myself after reading all these articles on security.

    • TomSJr
      August 27, 2017 at 4:45 pm

      They are talking about FREE VPNs and free proxies. I use NORDVPN because it is not in the USA and are located in PANAMA. In fact, I have 3 VPNs that I alternate between and I do not use any FREE VPNs just because of what this article explains. But, of course, I am a retired I.T. Administrator from a BANKING institution of sorts so I would know these things. You need to read the ENTIRE article and not skim through it. THIS IS AN EXCELLENT ARTICLE FOR NEWBIES AND PEOPLE WHO DO NOT UNDERSTAND THE DIFFERENCES IN VPNs, etc..

  2. Shawn
    August 23, 2017 at 2:58 pm

    Interesting take on the whole VPN thing, considering a lot of your sponsors on this website are VPN services, and one of your colleagues posted an article on here just two days ago about how you should NEVER go online without using a VPN. Case in point. http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/online-vpn-use/

    I was considering using a VPN provider after reading several other security and privacy focused articles here on this very website, and it pretty much had me convinced to sign up for a service after doing some research into what the best VPN's are and which ones do not log anything.

    Of course, you don't really know which VPN providers really don't log anything, you just have to take their word for it and read reviews from multiple sources to find out which services are generally the best ones, and which services you should stay away from. I pretty much narrowed my choices down to a handful of providers not located within the "14 eyes" as I've read about that also have good privacy policies.

    It's just interesting that this website gives reasons to not use a VPN, while also pushing to use a VPN.

  3. dragonmouth
    August 23, 2017 at 1:22 pm

    You have just laid a huge, smelly fart in the VPN cathedral. LOL