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Last updated on Sep 9, 2022

What Is A VPN? And Do I Need A VPN To Be Safe Online?

A VPN is a useful tool, but is not required to browse the Internet securely.

VPN stands for "Virtual Private Network". It's a service that encrypts the data you send over the Internet and changes your IP address to make it look like you're located somewhere else. This is useful because having your data encrypted makes it impossible for hackers to see what you're doing online. However, nowadays almost all your Internet traffic is already encrypted!

Modern web browsers use something called HTTPS to encrypt your browsing data. This secures your online traffic even on public WiFis such as in an airport or coffee shop. Yes, despite what VPN companies tell you, you probably don't need a VPN to securely browse the Internet.

When should I use a VPN?

While it's true that most sites already use encrypted communication channels, a VPN can still be a useful tool.

These are the 2 main circumstances where a VPN is useful:

  1. You want to change your IP address to look like you're from somewhere else. This is useful if you want to bypass country specific restrictions on sites like Netflix or YouTube, or if your real IP address has been blocked.
  2. A website you frequent does NOT use HTTPS to encrypt your data. This is uncommon nowadays, but sometimes websites are not equipped to use HTTPS, meaning that the data you send to them is not encrypted. How can you tell if a site is securely using HTTPS? Look for the lock icon in your browser next to the website name: Screenshot of the lock icon that indicates you're securely browsing using HTTPS

Any website not using HTTPS is either old or malicious and should be avoided if possible.

A third use for VPNs is to enable employees to access private enterprise files remotely. This uses the same technology as consumer VPNs but isn't typically relevant to the average person.

What is HTTPS?

HTTPS is a newer version of the original HTTP protocol. HTTPS stands for "HyperText Transfer Protocol Secure", and is the primary protocol that allows the Internet as you know it to function. HTTPS extends HTTP by encrypting all Internet traffic between a browser and a website. That means that any data you send to a website using HTTPS is encrypted, making it impossible for hackers to intercept it and read.

Since HTTPS is newer than HTTP, some old or sketchy websites have not updated their website to be compatible, making them insecure. You'll know this is the case when you see this in your browser: Screenshot of the "Not Secure" message Google Chrome shows when a site isn't using HTTPS

That means the site is insecure and you should be careful typing in important information such as your social security number.

The point is, if you see a lock icon next to the website name in your browser, you can be confident that it's safe to type in passwords or credit cards. Even on public Wifi.

If you're worried about your Internet security, using a password manager is almost always more important than using a VPN. If you use weak passwords or reuse the same password for everything, you are vulnerable even with a VPN. Locke Fortress is a password manager that helps you stay secure online by allowing you to store your passwords securely. You can generate and use long random passwords without ever having to remember them and protect your emails from phishing attacks.

Register for free at locke.id


Published by Locke: https://locke.id