Should you leave your VPN on all the time?Feb 10, 2021
VPNs are a crucial tool for online privacy. Uniquely, Orchid lets people combine the services of many of the top bandwidth providers through a single decentralized privacy marketplace. But how often should we be using a privacy solution? When is it really necessary to use a VPN, and when is it ok to switch it off? Should we leave our VPNs running at all times, or are there scenarios where we can feel confident browsing the Internet unprotected?
As with most things, the ultimate answer will be specific to each individual. It's certainly true that some functions -- such as financial transactions or the sharing of highly sensitive information -- carry higher levels of risk requiring greater precaution. But is any online activity truly safe? After all, we live in a world where every click or tap, from texting to ordering dinner to taking a cab to the airport, can be tracked and logged by apps and Internet Service Providers (ISPs). Today, even banal activities can pose a risk to privacy.
In this context, the safest thing is to keep your VPN running at all times. But this may not be possible or practical for everyone, particularly in certain times and places. Cost and connection speeds, for example, are two of the most important considerations people must take into account. Here, we outline different use cases for a VPN and their relative risk, in order to help you make the best decision on when to use a VPN.
The choice of VPN is crucial
For the best protection from possible cyberattack or information theft, it's important to use a reputable, high-quality VPN. The strongest VPN service providers use 256-bit AES encryption -- also known as "military-grade" encryption -- to scramble data before sending it to its intended destination. When choosing a service, be sure to look into the company's privacy and data-collection policies -- it's important, for instance, to make sure any VPN you use has a stated "no logging" policy. Users should also verify the provider's country of jurisdiction, whether they have a "kill switch" to prevent data leakage if there's a drop in connection, and the number of devices the VPN can be used with.
Reputable VPNs charge for their services. While there are free VPN apps out there, they tend to come with major drawbacks. The fact is, with a free VPN, you aren't a customer, you're a product. There is a high risk these providers will log and share your data and activity, which generates the service's revenue through sales to third parties. Many "free" VPNs redirect user web traffic or share information with advertisers, or even potentially bad actors.
Aside from the risk of logging and data sharing, "free" VPNs also suffer from greater susceptibility to malware. There are even free VPNs that will sell their customers' bandwidth for use as botnets. Free services also have far less incentive (and sometimes ability) to carry the high cost of hardware maintenance and expertise needed to provide reliable security and high speed to their users. Moreover, cybercriminals actively target no-cost VPNs for their large user bases.
The problem is not a minor one. Fully 86 percent of "free" VPN apps have weak privacy policies, either because they lack transparency or they directly share users' data with third parties. Another 64 percent have no web presence outside of their app store pages -- a major red flag -- and only 17 percent reliably respond to customer support emails.
A VPN customer, then, has a choice between paying a premium for a quality service, or paying for "free" services with their data. In other words, there's a cost no matter which option you choose, but the "free" choice could end up costing far more than one that charges a fee.
Why not just leave your VPN on all the time?
So the need for a reputable privacy tool is clear; if your VPN is logging all of your activity, your privacy is compromised whether it's turned on or not. But even a high-quality VPN may not always be practical to have switched on.
A common challenge for VPN users is travel. People often access the web from a smartphone or tablet while traveling, and unless they've installed a mobile version of their VPN service, they won't automatically be connected. Download speeds are also a common issue, particularly when accessing the Internet from a public wi-fi network while in transit.
In fact, connection speed, even when a user is not traveling, is one of the most common obstacles for VPN users. There are numerous reasons someone might experience latency with a VPN. The most likely is simply that bandwidth is strained as large numbers of people simultaneously access content online -- particularly amid an ongoing pandemic that has more people than ever working, attending school, and entertaining themselves at home.
It isn't your imagination: average internet speeds globally have slowed as traffic has soared during the pandemic. In particular, services that require a lot of bandwidth, such as video calls for work or movies and video games on the weekends, are the most likely to experience delays.
Of course, "fast" and "slow" are relative terms. Depending on your needs and what you're used to, it mostly comes down to what your specific digital priorities are. Those looking to download movies and video games will require more bandwidth than those who simply want to read the newspaper.
When is a VPN essential?
Regardless of any individual's personal preferences, habits, and standards, there are certain key activities where we should always make an effort to use a VPN. To carry out these sensitive activities unprotected would expose users to the risk of highly damaging and potentially irreparable harm if the data involved were to be lost, stolen, or manipulated.
Finance is one of the key areas where a VPN is a must-have in order to strengthen privacy and protect against potentially critical risks to the security of our . Banking is a critical, sensitive function that is fundamental to our lives, livelihoods, and digital identities. The loss or misuse of our private financial information is among the most serious threats we face online, so it's essential we use every tool at our disposal to protect ourselves.
Using a VPN for banking is not the same as for activities like streaming videos or light web browsing. This is because when we bank online with VPN, we are not simply avoiding cookies or getting around firewalls. When it comes to high-sensitivity functions like finance, we are making the choice to actively protect our data when we use a privacy tool. We are guarding our passwords, government identifiers, and personal biographical information from anyone who might be trying to get hold of them illicitly.
And bad actors are always trying to gain access to sensitive information. A particular threat is posed by unsecured, public wi-fi networks, which criminals can easily manipulate in order to hack anyone using the same network at the same time without a VPN. That's why we should always use a VPN when accessing the Internet from a public or unsecured wireless network. Hackers cannot casually decrypt traffic that's routed through a strong privacy tool. With a good VPN, you can use any wi-fi connection -- even one in an airport or coffee shop -- for something as sensitive as checking your bank account or carrying out sensitive business communications.
Perhaps even more than personal information, sensitive workplace data is a common target of hackers. In some settings -- such as government agencies -- nothing less than national security can be at risk, with potential legal ramifications if data is lost or stolen. In any situation where large organizations are concerned, millions of dollars, essential information, and years of hard work can be put in jeopardy if we fail to take adequate privacy measures. In one case, a reporter even inadvertently tipped off the subject of a major investigation simply by visiting their website enough times to cause a red flag.
It's always better to turn your VPN on. But sometimes the stakes are lower
There are some activities for which we should always keep our VPN switched on. When dealing with finance or sensitive workplace data, or while connected to an unsecured network, we should never go online without a strong privacy tool. But there are certain times when a VPN is less critical to use.
Activities such as texting, looking up directions, or shopping may pose relatively less danger. For these activities -- depending on the particular circumstances -- the risk of going without a VPN is lower. Keep in mind, though, that it is never safe to share sensitive information. Always be cautious, for example, when entering credit card information to pay for something online.
Finally, even in the absence of a VPN, basic privacy best practices should always be followed. First and foremost, it's important to use a web browser with a commitment to privacy. A good option is Mozilla Firefox, whose HTTPS-Everywhere plug-in forces the browser to use encryption on popular websites that aren't usually encrypted. And always look for https in a website's URL to ensure it's following up-to-date privacy standards.
Ultimately, our privacy is in our hands
Ultimately, everyone must make their own choices when it comes to online privacy, but there are certain sensitive activities where a VPN should always be used if possible. Flexibility is key. An underappreciated aspect of VPN services is the degree to which they lock users into fixed contracts, regardless of how frequently or intensely they use the service.
Most VPNs charge between $8 and $13 per month -- with some discounts offered to people who commit to annual or two-year plans. This can create a "use it or lose it" dilemma. If we're paying no matter what, we can begin to feel like we're being wasteful in situations where we're not actively using the service. For someone who travels for business a few times a year, it may seem like a waste of money to pay for something, only to use it on a few rare occasions.
Orchid solves this problem. Our VPN service is pay-as-you-go -- users only pay for the bandwidth they consume. Orchid brings together the capabilities of leading VPN providers in a two-sided marketplace. This ensures there is always ample bandwidth for customers, whether they're looking to message their relatives or download entire TV series. And Orchid goes further than standard VPNs, letting users string together multiple "hops" between providers. This feature adds an extra level of security, since even if one VPN leaks or logs data, traffic is routed through one or more additional providers before it reaches its destination, keeping the data confidential.
Orchid's bandwidth marketplace is peer-to-peer and decentralized, with no authority or middleman required to sustain its operation. But Orchid is as simple to use as any smartphone app. You can buy a pre-filled account with nothing more than an ordinary credit card, while enjoying the full security of our blockchain-based marketplace powered by the OXT digital asset.
Privacy is a choice each of us has the ability to make. The Internet has been optimized for widespread surveillance, tracking, and sharing of data. This information harvesting takes place across every imaginable function, from app downloads to messages to financial transfers, and in some cases its use is relatively innocuous. But even in lower-risk settings, our information puts us at risk if it falls into the wrong hands.
For some Internet activities -- such as sensitive financial or professional data -- we're never truly safe unless we use a strong privacy solution. Fortunately, there's Orchid: a decentralized, pay-as-you-go privacy solution that brings together the best qualities of leading VPNs in an easy-to-use app. Internet privacy has never been easier.
Download the Orchid app today to start exploring the Internet freely.
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