Let’s face it: there is no such thing as privacy. Well, at least when it comes to staying private on the Internet. Advertisers, governments, data brokers, hackers, and even your ISP (Internet Service Provider) are working 24/7 to collect all information they can and use it for their own interests.
The second you open your browser, you are no longer private. In fact, it doesn’t even matter who you are and what you do on the Internet – your every step is being closely watched, tracked, recorded and stored. Therefore, it is not surprising that more and more Internet users are looking for reliable tools that could help them to stay secure and private when browsing the Internet.
One of the most common methods to protect your communications online is to hide your IP address, which, if exposed, can be used by snoopers to find out your geographical location and gather a significant amount of your personal information. However, obscuring your IP address is only the first step towards better online privacy and security. Strong encryption is even more important, as it ensures the safety of your communications and personal data in case someone manages to find out your IP address.
In this article, we take a closer look at the pros and cons of the two most popular web anonymity tools and see whether or not they are the best you can get to protect your privacy online.
Use web proxies if hiding your IP is all that you need
The demand for free web proxy tools has been growing over the years due to the rise of online streaming services and ever-growing concerns of government surveillance. No one likes to be watched, so hiding your IP with a proxy sound like an easy and fast solution to the problem.
A web proxy server, also known as a proxy or application-level gateway, is a computer that acts as an intermediary between your device and the Internet. When you browse with a web proxy, websites see the IP address of the proxy server, meaning that your actual IP stays hidden. This makes it more difficult, but not impossible, for snoopers to reveal your online identity and track your physical location.
Since web proxies are usually free and quite easy-to-use, people tend to use them to cloak their IP addresses and access websites that might be blocked due to censorship, licensing agreements, or workplace policy. However, now that the majority of sites and services have implemented sophisticated blocking techniques, simple proxies may not be enough to bypass them.
Here’s what web a proxy will and won’t do to protect your privacy:
Now, if you are still willing to try browsing with a web proxy, note that hiding the IP is all it does. Proxies don’t encrypt your Internet traffic, leaving it wide open to anyone who tries to intercept it.
Therefore, if you use a web proxy to unblock websites or streaming services, that’s perfectly fine as long as the tool does its job. But if you wish to protect your online activities and keep your sensitive information away from prying eyes, you will need more reliable security tools than proxies.
If you care about your privacy and data security, get a VPN
VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) are by far the most reliable tools to protect yourself online. Unlike web proxies, VPNs encrypt all communications traveling between your device and the Internet, making it nearly impossible for hackers to intercept and decipher.
A VPN redirects your Internet traffic through an alternative path to the one offered by your ISP. The moment you connect to a remote VPN server, your Internet traffic is encrypted so that nobody can read or control it. The only information visible to anyone trying to monitor your online activity is the fact that you are connected to a VPN server – that’s all.
VPNs come in especially handy when connecting to free Wi-Fi hotspots that are nowadays provided almost in every airport, university, shopping mall, or a coffee shop. Despite being free and convenient, public Wi-Fi can be extremely dangerous.
The problem with public networks is that most of them are not properly secured. According to some studies, almost a quarter of the world’s Wi-Fi hotspots are not encrypted, so by connecting to any of them you expose your personal information to potential data theft. And that doesn’t mean that the remaining 75% of Wi-Fi hotspots are safe to connect, as many of them use weak security tools, which makes them extremely vulnerable. VPNs encrypt all the data that is sent and received, so you can be sure that every single bit of your information is protected, even on unsecured public Wi-Fi networks.
The most popular VPN services allow their users connecting to hundreds or thousands of servers in various countries, which not only means more freedom to choose but also better connection speeds for their users.
Some providers outrun their competitors by offering much more than you could expect from a VPN service. For example, NordVPN’s SmartPlay technology allows you securely access online streaming websites, while their CyberSec feature offers reliable protection against many kinds of cyber threats and removes a significant amount of advertising material from the sites you are visiting. Kill Switch is always there to protect your data in case the VPN connection is lost.
The only drawback of the most popular VPN services is the fact that the protection they offer will cost you some money. But given all the benefits that a full-featured VPN service, like NordVPN, has to offer, $2.75/month is the price worth paying. Besides military-grade encryption and DNS leak protection, NordVPN provides a bunch of additional benefits that will make your browsing more secure and private. What is more, it allows you connecting up to 6 devices under one account, so you can protect your laptop, tablet, or even another smartphone with a different OS.
Here’s what a trusted VPN will do to protect for your privacy:
-It will hide your IP address and encrypt the Internet connection between your device and a VPN server.
-It will protect your private data from being seen and controlled by third parties: hackers, advertisers, governments and even internet service providers.
-A VPN will make it look like you are browsing from another country, this way giving you secure access to all websites and services that otherwise may not be available in your region.
-A full-featured VPN service won’t set any bandwidth limits and will give a green light for your P2P (Peer-to-Peer) sharing activities.
-A reliable VPN will also help to protect your device from malicious online threats, DNS leaks, and annoying advertisements.
Here is what it won’t do:
-A VPN won’t protect you from social engineering and physical device theft, so it’s extremely important to take care of your belongings. Never leave your phone unattended and unlocked, and never share your passwords with anyone.
-It also will not be able to protect your data if you give your permission for third-parties to collect your info. Therefore, always make sure you provide as less personal details as possible.
Why is it better to avoid free VPNs?
You can find dozens of free VPN providers claiming to be the best for protecting your privacy. But as the saying goes, there’s no such thing as free lunch. The truth is – free VPNs have their methods to make a profit. They usually do so by selling your personal data to third parties, or by interrupting your communications with their own ads.
Moreover, free VPNs usually set monthly bandwidth limits, meaning that users are allowed to download and upload only a limited amount of data. If you want more, you are welcome to pay for it.
By contrast, paid VPN services don’t have to do any of that, because they are supported by user subscriptions. Although we can’t speak for all the paid VPNs out there, most of them are strongly committed to protecting your privacy and don’t monitor their users’ browsing activity. With NordVPN, none of your private data is logged, so they would not be able to provide any information about what you do online even if you ask them yourself.
When it comes to choosing online security tools, the decision is yours. Both a VPN and a web proxy can be used to mask your IP address and access restricted content. However, keep in mind that web proxy tools don’t offer any encryption, leaving your Internet traffic vulnerable to hacking. Therefore, a trusted VPN service is a much better option if you care about your privacy and want to stay safe online at all times.
The truth is, there’s no silver bullet to ensure 100% privacy and security. So in addition to any security measure, privacy-conscious Internet users should also review their online habits. It’s extremely important to follow updates about latest cybersecurity risks and be extra careful when sending sensitive information or downloading attachments from unknown senders. After all, it’s all about protecting your privacy and security.