VPNs have become very popular among internet users. In fact, more than 30% of people use VPNs to secure their data, enhance their anonymity, and access blocked content on the web. Nonetheless, there are certain things that a VPN isn’t capable of.
Using a VPN does not equip you with a silver bullet against all cyber threats that are roaming the Internet. Using a VPN at work may also cause you trouble, especially if you are installing unauthorized software. So, are there situations where you should not use a VPN? Definitely yes, and this guide covers everything.
What is a Virtual Private Network?
The usage of virtual private networks (VPN) is growing. Both individual and business users are looking for more privacy and security when browsing the Internet.
A VPN hides your real IP address and encrypts your connection. This helps avoid malicious attempts such as man-in-the-middle attacks.
Moreover, a VPN’s encryption makes your traffic hard to read. That, of course, is courtesy of military-grade encryption and top security protocols.
Furthermore, by hiding your IP address, a VPN can spoof your online location to a country of your choosing. You can connect to a server and obtain an IP address in the country where it’s based.
These are a few things a VPN is capable of accomplishing. However, the almighty cybersecurity tool has its limits. In other words, it cannot be used in certain situations. Let us shed more light on the matter next.
A VPN Is Not an Antivirus
While VPNs are software tools that fail under the definition for cyber-security apps, they are not designed or intended to protect you against computer viruses or software malware of any kind.
A VPN shields you against someone unveiling your real IP address by rerouting your connection through the VPN provider’s servers.
Utilizing this connection tunnel does not mean you cannot follow a malicious link through a VPN or that the site where you land, is not malicious. What you need to realize is that your VPN is an anonymizer, to some extent, but not an antivirus suite.
Some VPN apps do make checks whether a site you visit is legitimate to guard you against phishing but this is still not an antivirus feature.
For instance, a VPN app does not check the files you download for malicious code and in most cases cannot distinguish between a malicious website and, say, an official app store.
VPNs Cannot Hide You from IT Admins
We all know that any employee spends some time in the office not performing day-to-day tasks but just browsing the news or visiting a few entertainment websites.
Gaming online or streaming video at work may cause you trouble with your boss (or not), but what you need to know is that a VPN cannot hide your online activities from the guys in your IT department.
It might cause you even more trouble if your company’s IT security policies do not encourage the use of specific software, or VPN apps, at work.
You see, any company large enough to employ a dedicated IT support team also has the tools to track what you install on your office PC and what Internet addresses you visit.
While a VPN hides your real IP address from the website you are connecting to, it cannot hide its very VPN server IP address from your IT administrators.
You need to connect to this VPN server to watch videos on Netflix but your sys-admins can also see that you are connecting to a specific IP address – in this case, your VPN server. This is true even if you use a corporate VPN connection from a remote location or at home, so bear that in mind.
Can’t Always Maintain Your Privacy
Whenever you’re installing software on your PC, rest assured that some of them, if not all, are seeing what you’re up to and transmitting that data to third parties.
For example, an antivirus scanning the URL you’re visiting may be collecting data and selling it for advertising companies. Moreover, back in 2013, a study showed that 80% of top iOS and Android apps were leaking personal information.
Take Google, for instance. Why would the giant invest so much money in Android? Your data is valuable to them and they spend billions of dollars on their “walled grade” just so they can get a hold of your information.
There’s always a risk when installing applications. They might act as back doors as well spy on what we do without us even knowing about it.
The fact is, a VPNs limited compatibility makes most of the devices at home vulnerable. There are a lot of devices that don’t support VPN clients, and even if they do, this doesn’t prevent apps from accessing your personal data.
Take the Intel computer for example. These devices are likely running Minix, a secret operating system with full access to users’ files and networks, which they have no control of.
For quite some time now, Chrome has been using the QUIC protocol, which circumvents any firewalls and other security gateways used, granting the company unlimited access to your browsing history.
In general, a VPN is useless when it comes to such a privacy invasion/attack.
Can’t Prevent Every Data Collection Process
Most websites nowadays collect user data and sell them. No one knows how these sites are using the data and with what companies they’re sharing them.
Whatever word you type, rest assured it’s helping them in the process. Whether it’s a song on Spotify, a keyword on Google, or any item you buy on Amazon, all this is harvested and sold.
The websites aggregate this information into insecure databases that go by the name of “DMPs.” These can help identify an individual based on a unique audience identifier (digital social security number), that they can’t even access.
Whenever you share your credentials on a website, you’re practically allowing them to do whatever they desire with your information. In fact, some of them don’t even need a typical log in as they can identify you through various methods, including browsing fingerprints and cookies.
That’s where a VPN can do nothing to help protect you. The tracking codes are allowed to enter your network and run in an (almost) unlimited manner.
So, by using such methods, websites can easily identify an individual despite having a connected VPN.
VPN Usage Can Cause Troubles with Online Services
You will find numerous online articles on how to use a VPN service to boost your security while performing various transactions online but the truth is that VPN usage can cause you real trouble and result in some online services freezing your account.
For instance, some online payment processors do not encourage the use of VPNs and proxy servers and others explicitly prohibit the use of such software for conducting financial transactions online.
The same applies to a good number of gaming sites such as online casinos and sportsbooks that need a specific license to operate within a country and thus need to verify that you are eligible to use their services.
There are multiple examples of online services that need to check where your connections originate from due to various reasons.
Even pure entertainment services such as Netflix and Hulu video streaming sites do not like VPNs and can freeze an account because they are also license-holders – they purchase the rights to stream a movie in specific countries and these rights cover only a number of specific countries.
Here’s an example of what Netflix does to users who use VPNs to access its content.
“Pardon the interruption. Looks like you’re connecting through a VPN, proxy, or “unblocked” service. To start watching, please turn off any of these services and try again.”
Thus, on paper, if you watch a movie in a country for which Netflix did not pay the rights to stream the film, you are infringing someone’s intellectual property rights.
It is a bit complicated situation since you might be a paid user of the respective service but the service might restrict your access to their servers once you leave your country or try to access the service from restricted locations.
In any case, you need to be aware that some online services can freeze or delete your account with them if you use a VPN, which in turn can cost you money.
There are use-cases when you can take advantage of VPN features such as changing your IP address and encrypting your connection to a VPN server. There are scenarios in which you either do not need a VPN or using a VPN can bring more trouble rather than solve a problem.
If you are a C-level executive exchanging messages containing sensitive data from home, using a VPN is not your best choice, for example. In this scenario, you would be a victim of a targeted attack in which a VPN is of little use.
Instead, you can use software for end-to-end encryption and self-destructing messages as hiding your online whereabouts does not protect you against someone who targets your connection specifically.