Why Use a VPN? 7 Reasons to Hide Your IP Address in 2023
Why use a VPN? Because the WiFi password at your local coffee shop is visible from the street. Because your internet service provider (ISP) makes as much money selling your private information to advertisers as it does charging you a ridiculous amount for a weak signal. Because Google, the company synonymous with the internet, has an abysmal privacy record.
There are always those who will tell you, if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear. To them, I respond: do you close the stall door because pooping is illegal?
You need a virtual private network (VPN) because — while privacy is your right — the people in power don’t always look out for you. By taking control of your online privacy, you’re striking a blow for your rights — and that starts with finding a VPN provider.
This article is your VPN bible. I’m going to explain why you need a VPN, how they work and how to get one. Then I’ll turn it to you for other questions you may have about this lifesaving privacy technology.
What are the benefits of using a VPN?A VPN keeps you safe from hackers, advertisers, doxxing and government surveillance. You can also use one to watch content from other countries, surf the internet for better deals and work remotely in a secure environment.
Is a VPN actually necessary?Yes. Failing to run a VPN makes you vulnerable to invasive advertising, hackers, scam artists and overreaching governments.
Why Use a VPN? 7 Main Reasons
A caveat before I start: while I’ll be talking a lot about the why of getting a VPN, these reasons are only for you. You don’t need to justify your ownership or use of a VPN to anybody.
- Protect your personal data — VPNs keep you safe from the people who stand to profit off private data about you. That’s a lot of people.
- Foil government surveillance — As we learned from Edward Snowden, even democratic governments love spying on their citizens.
- Keep yourself safe — Your IP address and unencrypted communications can reveal things to people who mean you harm.
- Stay secure on public WiFi — Public internet connections in restaurants, cafes, hotel lobbies and elsewhere are convenient, but they attract hackers like slugs to beer. Read the guide on how to protect yourself from hackers.
- Help your company work remotely — The original purpose of a VPN still holds: you can set one up to act like a private internet for your organization, making it easy to connect from anywhere.
- Access geo-restricted content — Streaming services only make content available in places where they have the copyright. A VPN provider can help you sneak around those restrictions.
- Find e-commerce deals — Online shops offer different deals to shoppers from different countries. By changing your location with a VPN, you might be able to find a better bargain.
Let’s explore these reasons in more detail.
1. Protect your data from your internet service provider
Internet service providers offer internet services by working as a sort of switchboard operator for your internet connection. Its network matches your requests to view websites with the servers where those websites are located. And just like the operator used to, your ISP knows all your juicy gossip — learn more about ISP tracking.
It’s 100% legal for your ISP to sell your browsing history to advertisers. Networks like Google AdSense use ISP data to build profiles on individuals like you, then sell those profiles to advertisers. It isn’t just ISPs that do this. Web and mobile apps are also implicated in logging and selling user data.
A VPN stops this nonsense in two ways. First, it filters your connection through another server, masking your real IP address. Then it encrypts all data that passes through the VPN connection, so your ISP has no idea whether you’re even doing anything worth exploiting.
2. Prevent the government from spying on your internet connection
Advertisers aren’t the only ones looking to buy user data from ISPs. One of the biggest revelations in Edward Snowden’s PRISM leak was that Verizon dealt directly with the National Security Agency to harvest records from millions of users.
But that was two presidents ago. There’s no way it’s still happening… Oh, they’re just buying the records through thinly-disguised middlemen instead? Disappointing, but unsurprising.
Again, nobody is going to protect you. If you care about keeping your data private from the government, you need to work with a VPN provider.
3. Keep yourself safe from attacks and stalkers
In some circumstances, you may need a VPN to protect your personal safety, not just your privacy.
Anyone can find themselves in such a situation. Online gamers have been doxxed and had police SWAT teams called on them, resulting in at least one death. A stalker can find a victim using the victim’s IP address. Journalists and public figures who receive death threats are a lot less safe with their information freely available.
A VPN provider can’t protect you against someone who knows your IP address already, but if you get a new IP and use your VPN diligently, it becomes much harder for people to find you and do you harm.
4. Keep a secure connection on public WiFi
We’ve all had public WiFi save our lives at one point or another. It’s great to stay connected while waiting for your flight or enjoying a drink at your favorite coffee shop. But hackers lurk around public hot spots like predators at a watering hole.
WiFi anybody can access, whether totally unsecured or “secured” with a password everyone can see, lets hackers perform man-in-the-middle attacks. That’s the hacking equivalent of saying, “you look like you could use a rest. Why don’t you give me the top-secret letter, and I’ll bring it to the president.”
It’s best not to use public WiFi if you can avoid it. But if you have to log on, a VPN service will keep hackers from messing with you by encrypting the web requests you send.
5. Help your company work remotely
Before people realized they could be used to access the internet privately, VPNs had a different purpose: letting companies set up a private internet that their employees could safely access from anywhere.
You can still use a VPN that way. People with credentials can access the company network while it remains secure from outsiders. It’s useful for business travel, but it’s also helpful if large chunks of the workforce start working remotely for some reason.
6. Access content restricted by region
A VPN service gives you a choice of servers in different countries. Your VPN connection will appear to be coming from the server location you choose. Normally, you’ll choose a server close to you for better speeds, but there are benefits to pretending to be from another country.
Streaming platforms like Netflix, HBO Max and Amazon Prime Video can be accessed from many places, but they’re only allowed to show content in countries where they own the copyright for it. But if you use a VPN service to pretend to be in another country, you can browse the streaming libraries of foreign lands.
One catch: streaming sites know people do this and block the VPN connection traffic they can. To get around the blocks, you’ll need a VPN service that can hide its own presence, which many of the top-tier choices can do.
7. Find better shopping deals
International e-commerce stores want access to as many markets as possible, so they index their prices for different economies and currencies. A serious bargain hunter can click their way across the world to find the best possible deal (or find a website that does the hunting for them), then claim it with a VPN.
How to Get a Virtual Private Network & Connect to a VPN Server
Setting up a VPN on your computer is a simple task that requires almost no technical knowledge. Teams of developers and designers at VPN providers have spent years making them as accessible as possible. And they’re not even that expensive!
Follow these steps to protect your internet traffic with a VPN on your own computer.
Step 1: Select a VPN
Look through the market to find a VPN provider that’ll work for your needs. This task may seem daunting at first. There are hundreds of VPN providers on the internet, all promising that they’re the fastest, most secure, most convenient and cheapest.
Most of them are lying. To make an informed decision, start by deciding why you need a VPN. Is it for security? Are you setting up remote work for your corporation? Or are you a Yank who wants to watch the BBC?
The following traits will be more or less important depending on why you need the VPN:
- Security. Choose a VPN that uses strong security protocols, like OpenVPN, WireGuard or IKEv2. Avoid SSTP and PPTP, along with untested private protocols like Hotspot Shield’s Catapult Hydra. Make sure the protocol offers AES-256 or ChaCha20 encryption.
- Privacy. Check the news to see if your chosen VPN services have ever been caught selling user data to advertisers, turning logs over to law enforcement or getting hacked. A security breach isn’t always a death sentence (NordVPN and VyprVPN got hacked and I still recommend them), but never pick a VPN that gets hacked the same way twice.
- Speed. Every VPN will impact your browsing speed, but some will slow you down much less than others. Use speedtest.net to test how much your chosen VPN slows down your WiFi speeds or read reports from others who have run those tests.
- Server network. The closer you are to a VPN server, the faster your speeds will be. However, if you’re planning to spoof a specific country, your chosen VPN needs to have servers there. Also, the more servers a VPN has in total, the less burdened each one will be, granting faster overall speeds.
- Device support. The VPN needs to work on the device you want to use it for. Most VPNs work on Windows, macOS, iOS and Android devices. Some can be installed on your router, protecting every device on your home WiFi.
- Features. All a VPN really needs is a server network and an app that lets you connect to it. But there are other things that can sweeten the deal. Examples include servers optimized for streaming or torrenting, a kill switch that protects you from sudden loss of your VPN connection, support for Tor browsing and extra-secure multi-hop servers.
- Price. This shouldn’t be the first thing you look at — many free VPN services provide dangerously shoddy service — but it’s a consideration. You can often save money by signing up for a year or more.
A few recommendations to get you started: I fully endorse ExpressVPN, NordVPN, Surfshark, CyberGhost, VyprVPN, ProtonVPN, Windscribe, Mullvad and Private Internet Access.
Step 2: Purchase a VPN subscription
Once you’ve chosen your VPN, go to its website and look at the pricing tiers. Pick one that you can afford and has the features you need.
Most VPN services honor their commitment to privacy by offering several anonymous ways to pay. You can use cryptocurrency, send cash or register using a randomized sequence of numbers instead of your real email.
Step 3: Create VPN credentials
After becoming a paying member, create login credentials for the VPN using a strong, memorable password.
Step 4: Download the VPN client software
Go to the VPN’s website and download apps to each device on which you plan to use it. Open each VPN app and log in. You’ll now have access to the user interface.
Step 5: Choose a server and connect
Find the VPN’s list of servers. This can take the form of a clickable map or a searchable list of names. If you just want security, pick one near you. If you’re trying to circumvent a government surveillance scheme, pick a server outside your country. If you’re looking for specific geo-restricted content, pick a server in the relevant country.
Conclusion: Benefits of Using a VPN
Over the last 10 years, VPNs have become so affordable and user-friendly that there’s no reason not to subscribe to one. You’ll browse smarter, feel safer and enjoy access to a more globetrotting internet than you’d get otherwise.
The best part? A solid VPN foils just about every security threat there is. If you see a scary story in the news about cybercrime, you can smile and keep scrolling — it’s not about you.
Do you have a favorite VPN, or any wisdom for a first-time user? Let me know in the comments. Thanks for reading!
Leave a Reply