There’s an old saying, the best things in life are free; well the good news is that’s true, because you can get all the benefits of a Virtual Private Network (VPN) at absolutely no cost (for non-commercial use) by using a community-based VPN provider.
A VPN is basically an encrypted connection between two computer servers, effectively protecting your own home computer from hackers across the internet. The concept offers many benefits and hardly any downsides, so there’s really no reason not to use one. Let’s look at all the features one by one.
An established example of a free VPN provider is Urban VPN. It’s a community-based platform that is completely anonymous to use and has little effect on your internet speeds, in fact, in some cases it could even speed your data traffic up by avoiding data throttling; we’ll look at that further along in this article.
Keeping Those Spies At Bay
Governments across the world nowadays are using legislation that forces people’s Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to give up details of their customers’ browsing habits. They say that this is for security against terrorism, which in itself is no bad thing – but how far will a regime go in snooping on your web activity?
If you’re a trade union member, a political activist our outspoken social media user, you might well be on some government’s ‘flagged-up’ list somewhere.
But using a VPN means that your ISP can’t keep a record of the websites you visited because your computer is effectively hidden behind another web server, chosen by you, that your ISP cannot access.
Think also about your shopping history on e-commerce giants like Amazon and eBay – advertisers can make a fortune at your expense by selling your search history to the highest bidder, but once again, a VPN cloaking your internet activity means that no-one can know what you’ve searched for on Google.
Hiding your IP address – and by extension your geographical location using a VPN can allow you to access some websites that otherwise wouldn’t be reachable from your home country or by subscription.
For example, using a VPN for Showbox, the free movie streaming platform. Showbox is free to use of course, but in theory, watching certain content on the site could lead to prosecution for copyright breach.
Hefty fines and even prison time could follow, but using a VPN to access Showbox means that they can’t tell who watched the vintage Spielberg movie Jaws on a Friday night – the viewing history can’t be traced to you.
Of course, another example of smart VPN use is keeping your data private and secure. As this linked article explains, the best VPN provider to use is one that offers as many international server locations as possible; this way you can decide which one to use and hide behind a variety of encrypted locations, changing every so often.
It’s not unlike changing your Facebook password from time to time, ensuring that your browsing history and other personal information can’t be compromised by hackers.
Built In Browser VPNs
But VPN technology isn’t particularly new. In fact, Apple and other device providers have been putting the technology into their devices for some years, although they don’t always make it known.
An interesting ongoing VPN-related patent dispute between Apple and patent licensing company VirnetX Inc is making the headlines in Reuter’s news agency because Virnet are claiming patent infringement by them installing VPN software into some devices.
But don’t confuse VPN’s with ‘private browsing’ on Google or ‘incognito mode’ in Safari; all that private browsing prevents is recording any activity in the browsing history and doesn’t allow cookies to be saved.
The difference is that a VPN puts a barrier between a device user on the internet by their accessing it via an encrypted server.
Likewise, another advantage of using a VPN is preventing users from falling foul of scams such as ‘phantom’ Wi-Fi networks. If you’re in a public place like a Starbucks, you’d probably expect to open your Wi-Fi on your device and see an option to join ‘Starbucks Guest Network.’ But beware!
That might be a phantom network put up by someone sitting in a car outside, ready to record your keystrokes as you buy some online shopping.
Such scams are not just a modern phenomenon, in fact, as far back as 2012, the UK’s Guardian newspaper’s ‘Ask Jack’ technical pages published an article about using a VPN while away from home to address this very issue.
Earlier on, we talked about ISP throttling and data fair usage policies. It’s a simple concept, and usually applies more to 4G and 5G mobile data than it does to fixed broadband, especially fast fiber connections, but nevertheless it can be a real pain point for some internet users.
Once a certain data limit has been reached over a period (usually monthly) by a domestic internet customer, that person’s ISP can ‘choke’ the speed of the data offered, effectively causing the customer to use less data, or, in fact to give up using their mobile signal for data at all until the throttle is removed.
You’ll often find such things in the very small print when you sign up for a phone based data plan; but if you connect to the streaming service of choice by a VPN, your ISP doesn’t know who is accessing the service, and therefore can’t single you out for your data to be slowed down.
It’s just another of the many benefits to using a VPN – this interesting article in Nerds Magazine, about using a VPN at no cost, also explains the many advantages, and touches upon ‘the internet of things’ – more and more of our domestic appliances are connected to the internet nowadays.
You can alter the temperature of your fridge, turn up your heating, close the blinds and even put the oven on in the kitchen from your phone. Imagine the havoc a hacker could wreak upon you if those connections became compromised!
Using a free VPN at home is a safe and sensible way to access the internet, and if you’re not using a VPN already, you should think about getting one pretty soon.