The short answer is: Yes, you should keep your VPN on at all times. By encrypting the traffic that you send and receive, VPNs can prevent your personal data from being intercepted by third parties. This data includes your web browsing history, physical location, IP address, and more. Any moment that you go online without VPN, this personal data is more likely to be accessed by third parties, and you are more vulnerable to cyberattacks.
Read more: What your ISP sees when you use VPN
When to turn on your VPN
While it’s a good idea to keep your VPN in an always-on state, there are certain times when VPN encryption is even more important.
1. Online banking
When you’re banking online, you are accessing sensitive information such as your bank account number. Although your banking service may have strong authentication methods in place, there is still a chance of third parties intercepting with a man-in-the-middle attack and recording this information. A VPN connection removes this possibility by scrambling the information you send online to the VPN server.
2. Online shopping
When shopping online, you need to provide credit card information or at least PayPal credentials. Just like with online banking, this information can also be intercepted by third parties.
This is particularly important when you’re using a shopping app. They often store your credit card information, account details, and transaction history. If the app is not encrypted, then the data that it sends out is easy to access. By keeping your VPN on, you can stop third parties from intercepting this data.
Read more: How to stay safe when shopping online
3. Using public Wi-Fi
When you are using a public Wi-Fi hotspot, whoever is providing the Wi-Fi has access to the same information that an ISP would normally receive. With a packet sniffer, they too could get access to your browsing history, downloads, and more. Public hotspots are also more vulnerable to man-in-the-middle attacks, especially if the provider fails to change their router admin password from the factory default.
Keeping your VPN on protects you from both of these vulnerabilities. VPNs encrypt your internet data, making it harder for hotspot providers and potential interlopers from seeing your activity, even with a packet sniffer.
4. Visiting unsecured websites
By now, most websites use HTTPS, which offers greater security. You’ll know a web page is using HTTPS if you see the lock symbol next to the URL. But there are still plenty of sites that use the less secure HTTP protocol. While we advise you to leave that site, as it’s probably not well maintained and vulnerable to attacks, another solution is to turn on your VPN.
Even well-known sites and services have made the rookie mistake of sending data over HTTP, including Tinder and Clubhouse, so it’s ideal to just use a VPN whenever you go online.
Read more: The internet is safer now—but a VPN is still essential protection
5. Using peer-to-peer networks
With the rise of Web3, an increasing number of services are being delivered on peer-to-peer networks. This means instead of sharing your personal data with a single organization, you are sharing it with thousands of fellow users. Examples include torrenting and file sharing. And using such services puts your privacy at risk, as others could easily identify you by your IP address.
A VPN increases your anonymity by giving you an IP address shared by numerous users.
6. When you’re within a firewall
There are times when for one reason or another, you find yourself accessing the internet from within a firewall—for example, if your school or office Wi-Fi blocks popular social media sites or streaming services to preserve bandwidth. Firewalls work by detecting and blocking traffic from certain IP addresses and ports.
However, when you’re on a VPN, the Wi-Fi operator can’t see what you’re accessing and therefore can’t block it. So you can stream and scroll freely.
7. When you’re traveling
Traveling to a new destination is thrilling. What’s less thrilling is finding that you can’t access your favorite show or even your bank account. This happens because some services block access based on where you are located. Some countries also censor popular sites and services like Google and WhatsApp.
If you keep your VPN on, you will appear to be located elsewhere, ensuring you have access to the services you love.
Read more: Traveling this summer? 8 tips for online safety
8. When your bandwidth is being throttled
To conserve bandwidth, ISPs can slow down specific types of web traffic such as streaming or gaming—this is called throttling. This could lead to buffering, especially during peak hours. When you keep your VPN on, ISPs cannot see your activity and therefore won’t slow your traffic based on what you’re doing.
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