A virtual private network connection achieves two technical results: 1) a VPN cloaks and encrypts your signal, making your online activity completely illegible to any eavesdroppers, and 2) a VPN manipulates your IP address, making you appear to come from a different machine/location/country. While your VPN will slow down your connection speed by 25% - 50%, there are many good reasons to cloak your activities and change your IP address.
1. Use Public or Hotel Wi-Fi in Confidence
Photo Alto / Getty Images
Most people are unaware of this, but that Starbucks hotspot and that 10-dollar-a-day hotel wi-fi is not
safe for confidential email and browsing. Public wi-fi offers no encryption security to its users, and your signals are broadcast for anyone savvy enough to eavesdrop. It's very easy for even a junior hacker to intercept your unencrypted wi-fi signal using an Evil Twin phony hotspot
or a Firefox Tamper Data
plugin. Public wi-fi is terribly insecure, and is perhaps the biggest reason why mobile users should consider spending the 15 dollars per month for the safety of a VPN connection.
If you log into a public wi-fi network, and then connect to a personal VPN, all of your hotspot web use will then be encrypted and hidden from prying eyes. If you are a traveler or a user who is regularly using public wireless, then a VPN is a very wise investment in privacy.
2. Access Full Netflix and Streaming Content from Outside the USA
Because of copyright agreements, Netflix and Hulu and Pandora and other streaming media providers cannot broadcast all content outside of the USA. This means: many movies and shows are blocked to users in the UK, Canada, South America, Australia, Asia, and Europe. This geographical enforcement is managed by reading your user login IP address, and tracing it to its country of origin.
By using a VPN service, you can manipulate your machine's IP address to be from within the USA, therein unlocking access to more Netflix and Pandora streams. You will need to configure your television movie player or mobile device to use the VPN connection, but if you are a streaming fan, then the effort and cost of a VPN is worth it.
3. Break Out of a Restrictive Network at Work/School
E+ / Getty Images
As an employee of a company, or a student at a school/university, you will be subject to an 'Acceptable Use' policy for browsing the Web. 'Acceptable Use' is often debatable, and many organizations will impose draconian restrictions, like blocking you from checking your Facebook page, visiting YouTube, reading Twitter, surfing Flickr, performing instant messaging, or even accessing your Gmail or Yahoo mail.
A VPN connection will allow you to 'tunnel out
' of a restrictive network and connect to otherwise-restricted websites and webmail services. More importantly: your VPN browsing content is scrambled and indecipherable to the network administrator, so he cannot collect any recorded evidence about your specific web activities. About.com does not recommend violating Acceptable Use policies as a rule, but if you feel you have justifiable reasons for bypassing your specific network restrictions, then a VPN connection will help you.
4. Download and Upload P2P Files in Privacy
Photo Library / Getty Images
The MPAA and other cinema and music associations absolutely detest P2P file sharing. For reasons of both profit and legality, the MPAA and other authorities want to forbid users from sharing movies and music online. They nab offenders by masquerading as fellow file sharers, or by eavesdropping on your ISP signal.
A VPN can be a P2P user's best friend. While a VPN connection will slow your bandwidth by 25% - 50%, it will cipher your file downloads, uploads, and actual IP address so that you are unidentifiable by authorities. If you are a file sharer, and do not wish to risk copyright prosecution or civil lawsuits, definitely consider spending 15 dollars a month on a good VPN. The privacy and protection from surveillance is definitely worth it.
5. Bypass the Country's Web Censorship and Content Surveillance
Flickr / Getty Images
In the same way 'Acceptable Use' policies are enforced at workplaces and schools, some nations choose to impose oppressive internet censoring on their entire countries. Egypt, Afghanistan, China, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Belarus are some examples of nations who surveil and limit access to the World Wide Web.
If you live in one of these restrictive countries, connecting to a VPN server will enable you to 'tunnel out
' of the censorship restrictions and access the full World Wide Web. Simultaneously a VPN conceals your page-by-page activity from any government eavesdropping. As with all VPN connections, your bandwidth will be slower than uncloaked internet, but the freedom is absolutely worth it.
6. Cloak Your VOIP Phone Calls
E+ / Getty Images
Voice-over-IP (internet telephoning) is relatively easy to eavesdrop on. Even intermediate-level hackers can listen in to your VOIP calls. If you regularly use VOIP services like Skype, Lync, or online voice chatting, definitely consider implementing a VPN connection. The monthly cost will be higher, and the VOIP speed will be slower with a VPN, but personal privacy is invaluable.
7. Use Search Engines Without Having Your Searches Logged
Like it or not, Google, Bing, and other search engines will catalog every web search you perform. Your online search choices are then attached to your computer's IP address, and are subsequently used to customize advertising and future searches for your machine. This cataloging might seem unobtrusive and perhaps even useful, but it is also a risk for future public embarrassment and social faux pas.
Don't let Google store your searches for 'anti-depressants', 'love advice', 'divorce lawyers', and 'anger management'... consider getting a VPN and cloak your IP address so you can keep your private searches private.
8. Watch Home-Specific Broadcasts While You Are Traveling
Stone / Getty Images
Local network news can be rather dodgy in some countries, and access to your favorite streaming television, sports games, and video feeds can be locked out while you are away from your home country.
By employing a VPN tunnel connection, you can force your borrowed connection to access your home country as if you were physically there, therein enabling your favorite football feeds and TV and newscasts.
9. Avoid Reprisals and Traceback Because of Your Researching
Perhaps you are a celebrity, or you are an employee doing market research of your competition. Perhaps you are a reporter or writer who covers sensitive topics like war atrocities, violence against women, or human trafficking. Perhaps you are a law enforcement officer investigating cybercriminals. In any of these cases, it is in your best interests to make your computer untraceable to prevent reprisals.
A personal VPN connection is the best choice for manipulating your IP address and rendering you untraceable.
10. Because You Believe Privacy Is a Basic Right
Photodisc / Getty Images
All the above reasons notwithstanding, you are a firm believer in personal privacy and the right to broadcast and receive without being surveilled and catalogued by authorities. And that is perhaps the biggest philosophical reason you want to spend 15 dollars a month on a good VPN connection service.