Last Updated: September 21, 2021
Have you ever connected to a public Wi-Fi network and wondered if someone can see or track your online activity? How can you be 100% certain that the network you’re on is secure? These are reasonable questions, given the cyberattacks that happen daily.
This is the part where you should consider using a VPN service. Now, you may ask, do you need a VPN? Are VPNs worth it? Well, if you value online privacy and want to have your information encrypted while surfing the internet at home or your local cafe, then yes, VPN solutions can lend a hand.
We’ve created this guide to answer all of your queries when it comes to VPN technology. Below, you’ll learn how VPNs work, how to pick the right one for you, the benefits of using a VPN, and much, much more. We’ll focus on using a VPN in the UK, but we’ll also check out some alternatives to a VPN in case this option doesn’t quite suit your needs.
Let’s get started!
What Is a VPN?
The purpose of a VPN is to create an encrypted tunnel between your device and a remote server operated by a VPN service.
This means that when you’re using a public internet connection, a different network is carrying and encrypting your data. This renders your IP address, online activity, and user location almost untraceable. Awesome, right?
The VPN advantages go far beyond the local Starbucks or airport network. You don’t have to worry that much about someone spying on your Wi-Fi at home because you own the network hardware. But guess what? A VPN can help you there, too.
Your internet service provider tracks your web traffic, gaining profound insight into what you do online. Unfortunately, most countries allow your ISP to sell this data to other companies for profit. A VPN internet connection would come in the way of that.
But that’s not all.
Have you ever browsed the internet and encountered a message saying, “this content is not available in your country”? This is a great example of geo-blocking, and it can be pretty annoying.
It can happen due to government legislation, censorship, or licensing and copyright issues, and is mainly used in the video streaming industry, for example, on YouTube. You might also encounter these restrictions when trying to access social media networks, news websites, dating platforms, etc. So is there something you can do if you desperately need to access a particular link?
VPN networks are the most effective method of bypassing geo-blocking and hiding your current location. They mask your IP address and switch it out with a different one based in a country of your preference. Therefore, a VPN comes in handy even if you aren’t too concerned about privacy and simply want to watch your favourite series on BBC iPlayer while you’re on holiday overseas.
How Do ISPs Work?
On the other side, you have your internet service provider, and once you connect to it, you join its network that’s part of a larger one.
Getting hacked is probably not a primary concern when you’re using the internet through your own home network. However, don’t forget that your ISP has access to swathes of data on you and your online habits.
You can’t escape internet service providers because you need them to give you an internet connection. But what about their habit of harvesting web traffic data and selling it to online advertisers, or worse?
This is where VPN protection comes in. Setting up a trusted VPN network prevents ISPs from offering your information to third parties and making money off of it. However, it can’t protect you if you fall for a phishing scam and turn over, say, your login credentials or credit card information willingly.
The Limitations of a VPN
While a VPN can seem like the best solution for your online privacy issues, it does have its shortcomings. Below we’ve listed the 10 most common disadvantages of a VPN:
- A slower internet connection due to it rerouting and encrypting your online activity.
- You risk being blocked by the government or certain subscription services like Netflix and Hulu.
- VPNs aren’t legal in all countries (you can only use government-approved ones in countries like Russia or China).
- Some VPNs do log your data, so you might want to consider a no-log VPN.
- It can’t hide activities on the Dark Web.
- A VPN doesn’t prevent cookies from tracking you.
- Your web traffic patterns can be exposed to advertisers.
- When disconnected, you’re left without any VPN protection.
- There’s always the risk of getting infected with some sort of malware.
- Free VPN protection isn’t that great, and downloads can contain spyware or malware.
While irritating, what matters is that these disadvantages of a VPN don’t necessarily affect the overwhelming majority of users. Most of the issues mentioned above are encountered by people who use a free or cheaper VPN service.
Are VPNs Safe?
How secure are VPNs, really? The short answer is—very. If you’re using a VPN, a hacker, advertiser or government agency will have a hard time distinguishing your web traffic from that of countless other users. So as long as you’re using a VPN with no logs based in a country whose authorities allow it to operate freely while offering reliable internet servers in the UK, you’re good to go.
However, you pretty much always have to pony up the cash to get a high-quality feature. A VPN service has bills to pay, after all, and running one doesn’t come cheap, since it uses advanced hardware and expertise to safeguard its users and their internet connections.
Because of this, you’ll either pay for the right VPN service with your money or with your data when using dodgy, fake or free VPN programs. It’s up to you. Some services like IPVanish, ExpressVPN, CyberGhost, and PrivateVPN will even let you pay with cryptocurrencies for an added layer of anonymity.
Is a VPN Worth It?
Does a VPN protect you from hackers? Absolutely. But have in mind that we’re talking about the paid version here.
Given the large number of VPN services out there, it can be challenging to decide which one to try out first.
These are the key features you should look (and pay) for in a VPN provider:
- Encryption: providing multiple encryption protocols to keep your data safe.
- No-logs policy: not retaining many elements of your browsing history or online activity.
- Speed: not slowing your internet connection down too much by tunnelling your web traffic.
- Number of servers and server locations: offering extensive coverage across a wide range of countries.
- Device connections: allowing you to connect a sufficient number of devices to your VPN internet connection simultaneously.
- Unblocking popular streaming sites: giving you access to streaming services or shopping websites specific to a particular country, thus bypassing geo-blocking.
- Automatic kill switch, ad-block, leak protection: preventing unencrypted data from being transmitted.
- Platform compatibility: offering mobile, tablet and desktop software, as well as supporting various operating systems and browsers.
- Money-back guarantee, free trial, customer service: being a serious company with enough confidence in its product to provide such user perks.
Why Should You Use VPN Services in the UK?
So, if you live in Great Britain or are travelling to it from elsewhere, you need to be mindful of internet monitoring legislation and UK streaming laws. If need be, the British authorities can gain unprecedented access to all of your online activity.
Next time you use internet services in the UK, regardless of whether you’re in a hotel or at home, know that they legally log every online service you use and website you visit and store that information for a year. This is why many people spending time in this country use VPN technology to protect themselves.
How Much Is a VPN in the UK?
UK VPN providers offer their services at very accessible prices. Most VPN subscriptions cost around £8-£10 per month. Looking at the best-performing VPNs in Britain, CyberGhost is among the priciest ones, providing its features at a monthly fee of £10.89. Some more affordable options would be NordVPN or ExpressVPN, coming in at £8.84 and £6.17 per month, respectively.
On the other hand, various companies offer limited versions at no charge, but are free VPN services any good? HotSpot Shield has a free option with a 500MB cap on the daily bandwidth that allows only one connection at a time, which is fairly decent if you aren’t looking for any extra features.
Is a VPN Legal in the UK?
If you’re still wondering if using a VPN is legal in the UK—the answer is yes. It’s completely legal to use a VPN service in the UK. There isn’t a single law that forbids it.
Which VPN Should You Use in the UK?
Any decent VPN network should work well as a British VPN as well. No matter which solution you go for, it’ll serve as your first line of defence against prying eyes and ensure your online privacy in the country.
However, some VPNs pack a meaner punch than others. Here’s a list of the most popular ones on the Isles you might want to consider:
ExpressVPN is one of the top-rated VPNs in the UK, providing an average speed of 120Mbps in Europe, slightly higher than its worldwide average of 95Mbps. Its 256-bit AES encryption used by security agencies successfully prevents attacks. Additionally, the company offers VPN network services for both Android and iOS, although not all desktop features are included in the mobile version.
As another super fast service, NordVPN boasts an average speed of 165Mbps when tested on a local UK VPN server. Furthermore, its NSA-recommended AES-256-GCM encryption will make sure to keep your confidential information secure. NordVPN also offers a kill switch feature for mobile and desktop that will protect your data from sudden exposure. However, Nord doesn’t allow split tunnelling for desktop, which can be considered its greatest disadvantage, along with not offering a free trial.
With an average speed loss of 30%, Surfshark is a big name in the VPN industry. Its performance is undoubtedly impressive, as it reached 164Mbps download and 171Mbps upload speeds on a UK server. Aside from some minor issues like slower speeds on long-distance servers, this VPN service is a reliable and decent choice.
In terms of security, Surfshark defaults to using the OpenVPN protocol on desktop and the IKEv2 on mobile devices, but both of these safe and fast protocols are available on either.
Next is CyberGhost, a VPN that also recorded an average speed loss of 30% like its top competitors in our VPN review in the UK. If you like sharing files P2P, CyberGhost will ensure smooth and quick torrenting. Gamers will likewise find CyberGhost suitable for a seamless gaming experience on a local server. What’s more, the company enables multiple VPN connections so you can use CyberGhost on up to seven devices at the same time.
On local UK servers, HotSpot Shield boasts an excellent download speed of 174Mbps. Moreover, this VPN does a fantastic job even on international servers, hitting a download speed of 120Mbps on an Australian one.
Of course, a vital element of any VPN is privacy, which isn’t an issue with HotSpot Shield. It also relies on 256-bit AES encryption to keep you protected. Though it only offers five simultaneous connections, it’s still one of the best options in the industry.
Do VPNs Completely Cover Up Illegal Activity?
One of the crucial VPN advantages is that it provides various methods of obfuscating one’s online identity, guaranteeing that users will remain safe and anonymous. However, while using a VPN is perfectly legal, any illegal online activity will remain illegal, regardless of whether the perpetrator uses a VPN to commit the crime or not.
VPN privacy, while substantial, isn’t perfect. So if you believe that one won’t do the job of protecting your internet activity, there are other alternative tools that you can try to limit who can see what of your online life, both professional and private.
Below is a list of tools that can act as an alternative to a VPN that you should consider:
- Identity and Access Management—incorporates a comprehensive multi-verification process.
- Privileged Access Management—manages privileged credentials for critical systems and applications with a higher level of care and examination.
- Vendor Privileged Access Management—allows controlled onboarding, elevation, and termination of access privileges for external users.
- SmartDNS—masks your location, granting you access to restricted websites.
- Lantern—bypasses internet censorship by using peer-to-peer connections.
- Tor—protects your online identity and allows you to circumvent social media and internet blocking.
- Software-Defined Perimeter—hides internet-connected infrastructure like servers and routers so external trackers can’t see it.
- Remote Desktop Connection—provides you with a direct connection to all the files and resources of a separate device.
- Netop Remote Control—advanced options for using servers for remote connections.
Do VPNs Work?
As we’ve delved deep into questions such as “how secure are VPNs” or “is a VPN necessary”, we can safely conclude that the answer is yes.
To sum up, this is what a VPN service does for you:
- hides your IP address
- encrypts your data
- allows you to access IP address protected content
In short, VPN solutions provide you with the safety, anonymity, and freedom you need when browsing the internet.
Of course, there are some disadvantages when using a VPN (especially if it’s free). However, if you go for a high-quality provider, we guarantee you that you’ll only notice the ways in which a VPN benefits you.
Therefore, you shouldn’t just pick a VPN service at random and call it a day. You should explore your options carefully and make sure you go for a VPN tool with a tonne of security features, and we hope that we’ve helped you do just that.
Finally, if you’re still wondering “are VPNs worth it”, bear in mind that staying safe online is one of the best things you can do to protect yourself and your loved ones’ identities and personal information from a variety of cyberattacks. This is a risk that isn’t worth taking at all, especially since the solution is this simple, easy to use and readily available.