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6 Reasons Why You Should Always Use a VPN – And When to Turn it Off

Updated: January 3, 2022 By Dean Chester

Laptop with VPN in hand

Image source - pixabay.com

VPNs have become the munitions of choice in the pursuit of regaining online privacy and anonymity. How did we even lose that in the first place? Story for another day. VPNs are now the best companion for tech buffs and netizens looking to protect themselves while on the internet.

But while VPNs have become absolute necessities, the majority of users admittedly still struggle to decide if or not they should keep them running at all times. The solution to this pickle is not straightforward but don't worry, that's why we are here. Below, we have compiled six instances where you absolutely need to keep your VPN on. Please note that these aren't the only situations where you may need a VPN.

This guide also explores:

  • How a VPN works
  • Contexts where you may need to pause your VPN

How Does a VPN Work?

A VPN works by encrypting and routing your device's traffic through a secure tunnel between the device and the webserver. The encryption secures your data such that any prying eyes can't decipher it. Bouncing your data off the VPN server also hides your IP address and makes it appear like you're accessing the internet from a different location, granting you internet freedom.

Why Is It Advisable to Always Use a VPN?

You have probably gone through our guides and singled out the best VPN for your device. That's just half of it. VPN usage entails a little bit more than that, as it requires you to understand what settings you need, what server you should connect to, and even most importantly, whether you should keep your VPN on.

In a nutshell, you don't really have to leave your VPN be on always but, but you should keep it running for the most part. Here are the top reasons why we recommend keeping your VPN on as much as possible.

1. To guarantee your online privacy

The ever-present lurking eyes of the ISP and the government have turned users' online activities into a gold mine. Leaving your VPN on keeps you protected when you're accessing the internet. The VPN connection ensures that spying eyes remain in the dark about what you are sharing or accessing.

You may be inclined to turn your VPN off because you don't have anything to hide, but that’s just what you think. The internet is full of malicious characters that may try getting at you just for the sake of it. Some websites may also monitor your browsing data and target you with adverts, hence the need to always use a VPN.

We recommend using a VPN with 256-AES bit encryption and a kill switch as standard for maximum privacy and security. The former will ensure nobody can decipher your traffic, while the latter will ensure your data remains secure even when the VPN connection fails. While at it, check that the VPN strictly maintains a no-logs policy, so the provider doesn't store your data. This will ensure that whatever you do on the internet can’t be traced back to you.

2. To bypass geo-blocks and censorship

Security and data privacy are perhaps the most significant upsides of VPNs, but these handy services bring much more. A decent VPN also masks your IP and helps you skirt the geo-restrictions applied to locked content by streaming services such as Netflix, BBC iPlayer, and Hulu. It is, therefore, necessary to have a VPN on when you want to access restricted libraries.

Some VPNs will let you continue streaming even when you turn off your VPN. However, most of them, including Netflix, will require you to use the VPN connection throughout the entire stream. To enjoy such content consistently, you will need to enlist the services of a reliable streaming VPN. Such a VPN ensures that you can bypass the VPN blocks put in place by streaming services and stream without buffering.

3. To avoid bandwidth throttling

Although VPNs are known to slow down an internet connection, they can improve your speeds in some cases. Internet Services Providers often impose limits on the bandwidth they offer you if you're using up too many network resources, and you may see your speeds drop over time.

Download speed graph

Image source - https://www.reddit.com/r/qBittorrent/comments/o90bio/why_do_my_speeds_dr...

The aim of this strategy is usually to push you into subscribing to a higher package without limits.

In such a case, it might help to keep your VPN always on to avoid being constrained by the ISP limits. The ISP won't know what you're doing because of the encryption and thus won't target your bandwidth.

Note that connecting a VPN may also slow down your speeds in other contexts where throttling isn't enforced. The slight lag results from the time taken to transfer the data, especially when the VPN server is miles away from your location. For this reason, it is advisable that you connect to a server close to you and use a VPN with fast speeds such as ExpressVPN.

4. To save money by shopping online from a different region

Some online commerce platforms and service providers charge different prices for the same services or products based on the location of the site visitors. This is common in the flight, tourism, and accommodation industries. The providers may also track your history on the website and use it when adjusting the prices (price steering).

A VPN will help you avoid these types of price discrimination and save you a lot of money if you like shopping online or frequently make bulk purchases. You can temporarily change your location to a region with better deals and leverage the lower prices. VPNs with servers in many countries are ideal if you are looking to capitalize on price segregation. To avoid these websites from profiling you, it’s advisable that you always use a VPN.

5. To protect you when on Public Wi-Fi

Public Wi-Fi networks exist all around us, from cafes to airport lounges. However, most of them are not secure and are a haven for cybercriminals looking to access their victim's data and devices. Such individuals can easily gain access to your unencrypted traffic and plant malware on your device or even steal your financial information.

Apart from that, they can set up rogue connection points near legitimate hotspots with malicious intentions. These Wi-Fi networks can then be exploited to obtain private data such as login and credit card information of users connected to them. For this reason, it is imperative to always use a VPN when on public Wi-Fi. The VPN's encryption and tunneling will eliminate any susceptibilities within the network.

6. To secure sensitive information

Information such as quarterly reports, bank details, login credentials, and business strategies is confidential. In the wrong hands, such information can bring huge losses or harm the reputation of an individual or even a corporation. Accessing and sharing this data over an insecure network puts it at significant risk as it can easily be intercepted. If you work in an environment that involves sharing sensitive information over a network, it is advisable that you set up a VPN and keep it running to safeguard the data.

In What Situations Should You Turn Off Your VPN?

We strongly advise keeping your VPN on for as long as you’re active on the internet. However, there are times when using a VPN isn't necessarily beneficial. Here are some instances when it is convenient to pause the VPN.

Working with digital banks and payments service providers

It sounds like a direct contradiction considering banking involves sensitive data. The thing is, some payment service providers and banks have security systems set to detect unusual activities. Location changes on such payment platforms can trigger measures such as verification or being locked out.

PayPal, for instance, will automatically lock you out of your account if it detects you're in an unusual location. Your account remains locked until you've verified you are the account owner with the security team. Outlook, on the other hand, will send you an email notifying you of unusual activity. Leaving your VPN on always can inconvenience you when dealing with such platforms.

However, it can be beneficial to connect the VPN to a server in your country. This will not be registered as a geographical anomaly, and it can even be helpful if you have traveled to a different country or region.

Connecting to network devices

You might need to pause your VPN when you want to share files with other peripherals in the same network, such as printers. A VPN connection segregates a device from the immediate network, thanks to the tunnel that has been established.

Eliminating VPN lags

A VPN essentially routes your traffic through a different server, and in most cases, the connection will be slower than the ISP connection. If you're working on something where speed takes precedence, say gaming or teleconferencing, we recommend pausing your VPN, at least until you are done.

That said, some VPNs allow you to configure the connection to let speed take precedence over security. This can be done by choosing a lower encryption standard and a faster, less secure protocol.

Wrap Up

A VPN is the perfect cyber tool when security and online privacy matter most. It also offers a wide array of benefits beyond keeping your data protected, such as your online freedom. This means that it’s important that you should always use a VPN, although there are a few instances where you might need to pause it for a while. Still, beware of the potential dangers you might be exposed to without a VPN. Gauge the context appropriately and only resort to pausing the VPN when you're confident about the situation.

Senior Researcher
Dean Chester
Cybersecurity and online privacy expert and researcher. He's been published on OpenVPN, EC-Council Blog, DevSecOps, AT-T Business, SAP Community, etc. Dean has been testing VPNs for 8 years.

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