Are VPNs Safe?
Updated: March 25, 2016
→ Yes, VPNs are safe*
*However, not all VPNs are created equal. So some VPNs are much safer than others with protecting your online privacy. If you care about privacy protection most (rather than using a VPN to unblock restricted content) then check how sophisticated and secure the VPNs encryption methods are before use.
People exploring the idea of installing a VPN for the first time, or looking to change or upgrade their existing VPN are by nature very safety conscious people. The explosion in VPN awareness and usage that has followed the Edward Snowden revelations about systemic mass surveillance of the internet activity of ordinary US citizens is as a direct result of people valuing their online privacy and safety so highly.
But if you are new to the concept of a VPN, one of the questions likely to come into your mind, and one of the questions we here at Fried.com get asked on a regular basis, is whether using a VPN does actually make you safer. Hopefully this short article will give clear answers to any questions you might have about the safety of VPNs.
So are VPNs safe?
To answer this question in a single sentence, I would have to say, yes, VPNs are safe. When you connect to the internet via a VPN, the connection between your device and the VPN server you are using is an encrypted pathway. This means that any data or activity taking place is secure, but is also scrambled so if anyone did gain access to it, it would be incomprehensible to them.
This means that no outside body, such as a hacker or a Government intelligence officer trying to snoop on your online activity can see your online data. It also protects you from various forms of cyber-attack, such as sniffing passwords, session hijacking, ISP spying, and hotspot poisoning.
But are all VPNs safe?
The answer to this question is a rather more complicated one. What I have said above applies to all VPNs without exception, but the point still has to be made that some VPNs are safer than others. Which is why it is important to use Fried.com to research your VPN provider and understand the level of privacy and security they can offer you. To help you get started with this, check out our thoroughly reviewed list of the best 10 VPN services currently on the market here.
Your relationship with your VPN is one of trust, and the best way to trust your VPN provider is to know as much about them as possible.
If privacy and security online is your main reason, we would of course recommend you read our VPNs reviews thoroughly before signing up. But we do also understand that your time is precious and you may not be able to study every word of our thorough and details reviews. There are therefore a couple of key things you should be particularly looking out for:
1. No Logs:
Some VPNs will keep a record of their user’s internet activity for a period of time. They will say that this is to make sure you are not doing anything illegal on their network, or that you are not doing anything that might damage their network. But if the reason for getting a VPN is to take advantage of the additional online privacy and anonymity they offer, signing up with one that keeps detailed logs rather defeats the point.
The most secure VPN providers are the ones which keep zero logs of the activity of their users. This means that no matter who might try and extract information form them about the activity of their users, they simple have no information to give.
We have written recently about the FBI trying to gain logs on the activity of a Private Internet Access user, in a case which proves that they do not keep records of user activity. Other prominent names which also make the claim include NordVPN and IPVanish, but there are of course plenty of others.
A note of caution here though. The definition of what constitutes ‘zero-logs’ can vary from one provider to another, so be sure to read the small print (and our reviews) carefully to ensure you are happy with precisely what they offer.
2. Geographic Location:
Even though VPNs offer servers located all over the world, they are nevertheless all based somewhere. And as with all companies headquartered in a particular country, they are subject to the local laws of that country.
This factor can influence the extent to which they are able to offer a ‘zero-logs’ policy as discussed above. In some countries (and US States) online companies are required by law to keep records of user activity for a certain period of time.
It is therefore worth looking into where your provider is headquartered before signing up with them.
To give you a couple of examples of VPNs located in countries which allow them to offer users higher levels of online security and privacy, Buffered is based in Hungary which allows them to offer very high privacy settings, and NordVPN is headquartered in Panama which allows them to guarantee they keep ‘No Logs’.
On the flipside, IPVanish are located in the USA where there are much stronger laws about what information they must retain about user activity.
So in conclusion we can say with some certainty that it is safer to use a VPN than not to use one. But it is also the case that some VPNs offer a much higher degree of privacy and online security than others, and if this is your priority reason for signing up for one, it is strongly advisable to do your research before parting with any money.