We often hear from members who are keen to know if a VPN (virtual private network) will boost their online privacy and security. Our view is that a VPN is overkill for most consumers.
While VPNs can boost your privacy, you typically need to pay a monthly or annual fee for one. Free VPNs tend to be less reliable in quality, leading to jerky or intermittent internet.
Even with a paid-for VPN, you can end up with decreased internet speeds.
What do VPNs do?
VPNs tend to be used to mask your true network address. This could appeal to the privacy conscious - it makes your data or online activity that much harder to pinpoint to an IP address of a device in your home.
While this process is a boost for your online privacy, paying for such a service is arguably more than the average home internet user should need. The likelihood of network slowdown arguably negates the privacy benefit.
VPNs for overseas
The other reason for using a VPN is often to access online services only available to certain countries. For instance, British people with a holiday home abroad may seek to use a VPN to access BBC iPlayer. The VPN, in this case, would make it appear as if you are accessing iPlayer from a UK address (instead of having it blocked if an overseas one is detected).
Streaming services, including iPlayer, have grown savvy to this tactic, and now often block the use of VPNs. Meanwhile, Netflix has become more open, allowing UK account holders to access its services from Europe, anyway. Yet another reason it's not worth paying for a VPN.
WPA2 security - should I use a VPN?
A recent breach of the WPA2 security protocol has led to some internet security companies pushing VPNs to their customers as a potential solution.
The WPA2 breach, nicknamed Krack, presents a potential security risk to most wirelessly connected devices. Routers worldwide use WPA2 encryption - changing your password won't help to resolve the issue.
However, the risk is mainly theoretical. Your data will be protected online by any sire that uses an https security certificate (which is to say, the vast majority of legitimate branded websites). Meanwhile, updates rolled out by Microsoft, Apple and Google Android will render the risk obsolete, or have done already.
In short, we don't believe it's worth spending extra money on a VPN to safeguard your data against the Krack WPA2 breach.