Privacy and security are a major concern for internet users around the world. We hear about threats like hacking and surveillance programs on a daily basis, which is why the popularity of the technology that helps to protect online data is on the rise. Many people have opted for VPN services to add a layer of security to their internet traffic. With VPN services it is possible to keep your activities private, thanks to the encryption that is used to protect your data. A VPN is also a good choice when you want to bypass online restrictions (censorship or geographical blocks) that prevent you from getting access to certain content. The VPN industry has grown considerably over the last decade, but there are other options that offer the same or similar benefits. Before we take a look at the alternatives to VPN services, let’s start talking about the benefits of using a privacy tool when you are browsing, streaming or downloading content.
The risks of using the internet without protecting your traffic
When you visit a website, the request is sent through your ISP, which returns the data to you. In the exchange, all the information is shared, including your IP address. Your IP address or Internet Protocol address, is the unique number that is assigned to your device when you connect to the internet. This number can be used to identify your computer or internet connection. The IP address allows a website to know where to send the data requested when you load a page or download a file. The issue is that your IP address provides information about your location and the Internet Service provider that you use. In some forums, online games chats and torrent clients, your IP address may be visible to others. This means that if someone looks up your IP address, all they need to do is to use a website like whatismyipaddress.com to see your approximate location.
Knowing your IP address can allow others to trace your identity as well. Consider this scenario: You are using torrent services and copyright enforcement organizations are likely to check who is downloading copyrighted content without authorization. They will see that a movie was downloaded using a specific IP address so they will try to trace that user. Upon checking your IP address, they find not only your location, but also the ISP that the IP address refers to. Now all they need to do is to contact your ISP and they will in turn contact you regarding the content you downloaded. In countries with strict laws against online piracy, you can face hefty fines. But the risks are not only for torrent users. Your IP address can be stored or sold to third parties by your ISP without your knowledge.
The situation is even more concerning for those who live under oppressive regimes. If you post something against the government or share a controversial opinion on the internet, you may be identified and face legal actions. You may think that you are anonymous online, but unless you are taking the necessary measures, your identity could be exposed. When you are connected to the internet without any kind of protection for your traffic, others will not only see what you do, but can also trace the activity back to you. This is why it is important to use technology that enhances your anonymity and that helps you to protect your privacy.
Apart from the issues from a privacy perspective, it is also important to think about the dangers for the security of your personal data. It doesn’t matter if you are not using services that could be considered as illegal in your location, or that you are not a political activist or a journalists who wants to expose corruption or human rights violations. It is likely that someone is monitoring what you do online and we are not only talking about your ISP, large corporations or the government. Cyber criminals are looking for any given chance to steal your information. You are particularly vulnerable when you use public WiFi hotspots since they are not secured networks.
Using the internet connection available in a coffee shop or hotel can be very convenient. The problem is that someone with the necessary technical knowledge can intercept your connection and snoop on your activities. If you access online banking services, your social media accounts, your email address, intruders will be able to see details like your name, password, address and credit cards. Just imagine all the damage that they can do with that information. This is another very important reason to make sure that you take the necessary measures to secure your data when you are online.
Tools like VPN services are not only very useful when it comes to protecting your online traffic from prying eyes. They can also help you to enjoy the internet without facing restrictions. In countries like China and Iran, the internet is heavily censored and it is not possible to access certain websites including popular search engines, social media and email services. Even in countries where there are not restrictions implemented due to political or religious censorship, you can still come across blocks. For instance, if you are outside the United States, you won’t be able to use streaming services like Hulu or Pandora. In the case of Netflix, although it is now available pretty much anywhere in the world, the content is not the same in every country. Users in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom have a wider variety of options available than those in Egypt or Hong Kong.
With a service that allows you to change your IP address, you can appear as if you were in a different location. This allows you to access services and websites that are not available in your country. By changing your virtual location, you can trick services and websites into thinking that you are somewhere else. You can pretend to be in the United States, even if you are physically located in another country and this will help you to unblock US content. The fact that your IP address is changed, also means that your anonymity is strengthened because others won’t see your real IP address. Apart from VPNs, there are other tools that facilitate online privacy and freedom. However, it is important to keep in mind that each of these tools work in a different way.
VPNs are a comprehensive solution to secure your online activities and to bypass the restrictions that prevent from accessing media content and websites. When you use a VPN, your IP address is changed and your entire internet traffic is encrypted. Encryption means that the data is scrambled, which makes it pretty much impossible to read. If someone else tries to see what you are doing, all they will see is a bunch of data that doesn’t make any sense. This level of security is applied when you browse, stream, download content or play games. Most commercial VPN services allow you to connect to servers in many different locations around the world. You can obtain an IP address from a different country and access the content that is available there and at the same time, your real IP address will be hidden. All this, while your activities are secure and private thanks to the encryption used.
VPNs offer many advantages such as the high level of encryption that the best services use to protect your data and the practical dedicated software that many providers have and that make things simple when you use and install the VPN. However, a VPN can slow down your connection due to the encryption used. Another point to consider is that in order to get the best performance and enjoy all the advantages of this technology, you need to get a paid VPN service. In addition, using a VPN requires some level of trust in the provider you chose as they have visibility of your online activities. In some locations, they are required to keep records, which means that if the information is requested by the authorities, the VPN will most likely hand it over. For this reason, it is very important to choose a VPN that doesn’t keep logs and that is not located in a country where VPNs are subject to mandatory data retention laws or government surveillance. If you prefer to check other options to protect your privacy or circumvent online restrictions, check the below alternatives.
Alternatives to VPNs
If you are mainly interested in unblocking websites that are not available in your location, a proxy service may be a practical solution to consider. Since one of the downsides of using a VPN is that it tends to slow down your connection due to the encryption it uses, some people prefer proxy services as they don’t an impact on speed. If you opt for a proxy server, an anonymous Socks5 proxy would be the most convenient solution. Socks5 proxies support multiple protocols, unlike HTTP proxies, which are only focused on website traffic, meaning that they only allow you to disguise your IP address when browsing the internet.
It is important to keep in mind that a proxy changes the IP address for one application, but it doesn’t encrypt your data. In general, you can only connect to one server location, but there may be more options available in some cases. A proxy has to be set up manually, although this is not an overly complicated process. The main advantage of a proxy over a VPN is that it is faster. In addition, proxies tend to be cheaper than VPN and it is possible to find free options that work well. However, the fact that it doesn’t encrypt your entire traffic means that it is not the best option when it comes to privacy and security. Furthermore, a proxy doesn’t have its own software and you don’t get the same level of flexibility that a VPN gives you when it comes to choosing a server location.
The Tor (short for The Onion Router) network is a solution with a strong focus on anonymity and it offers free software that allows you to connect to the internet without compromising your privacy. When you use Tor, your data is routed through multiple nodes and each of them is only able to see the IP address “in front” of the node and “behind” it. The nodes are run by a network of volunteers and given the way Tor is setup, no one can see the complete path between your computer and the website you are trying to access, at any stage. The technology was originally created by the US Navy and the onion in the name of the network, refers to the multiple layers of encryption used to protect the data that goes through random nodes.
Tor is considered as a very secure solution to connect to the internet anonymously and many organizations that defend freedom of expression support this project. Tor is used by journalists, whistleblowers, political dissidents and anyone who wants to use the internet and share information without exposing their identity or putting their safety at risk. However, the network is also used by criminals who rely on the anonymity that it provides and the hidden services that can be set up using the Tor Hidden Service Protocol.
It is also important to keep in mind that authorities often infiltrate Tor and when you use this technology, you are likely to draw attention to yourself. Plus, it should be noted that unlike most VPN services, Tor is not a good option for torrenting. Apart from being very slow, the fact that it is run by volunteers means that you could cause issues for those who run exit nodes. If you try to download torrent using Tor, you can affect the entire network, which would be very unfair, considering that Tor is used by many people who need to protect their safety while defending their right to freedom of speech under oppressive regimes.
Conclusion – Which one should you use?
Proxy services can work well for those who only want to add some anonymity to their connection and unblock certain websites that are restricted due to geographical locations. They will disguise your IP address, but won’t protect your entire traffic from snooping.
Tor is a good solution for anonymity and it allows you to defeat restrictions so that you can use content that is censored in your location. It is run by volunteers and it is free to use. However, it is very slow and due to the way it is set up, it is not the right choice for streaming or torrenting.
VPN services offer both security and flexibility to access the content that you want. They protect your internet traffic with encryption and also allow you to connect to servers around the world so that you can bypass blocks. They can slow down your connection and in order to ensure that your privacy remains intact, it is crucial that you opt for a reliable service that doesn’t keep logs. To enjoy a strong level of protection, you can use a VPN along with Tor. Providers like NordVPN and AirVPN offers features that allow you to combine these two technologies.