Online security isn’t as easy as installing and running the most secure VPN available, as much as we’d like it to be that way. It definitely puts you at an advantage, but there are areas VPNs simply don’t cover in terms of security – mostly because that’s not what they’re built for.
If you’re looking for the most secure VPN options at the moment, discover ProPrivacy’s recommendations here. Read on to find out how to cover your bases and enhance the security offered by your VPN.
What Are VPNs Vulnerable Against?
Security-wise, VPNs are built for two things:
- Masking your IP address – which can be used to find out your approximate location, right down to the ZIP code. Hiding your location with a VPN also lets you get past irritating geo-blocks, so that’s a big plus.
- Encrypting your online data – essentially, hiding it from the prying eyes of greedy ISPs, government surveillance, and cyber attackers.
You have the odd provider here and there that offers built-in tracking and malware protection, as well. Despite being a helpful addition, they’re no substitute for decent anti-malware and a tracking script blocker like Privacy Badger or uBlock Origin.
That being said, VPNs can’t protect you from everything we’re about to discuss. For one, they’d be overstepping their boundaries. No one app should gain this much access to the inner workings of your device.
Second of all, let’s consider a situation where this doesn’t pose such a security risk. It would still be difficult to create a catch-all app like that and not have it be an absolute mess. “Jack of all trades, master of none,” as they say. Let’s see what threatens your VPN security and what you can do about it.
However, cookies can also be used to create specialized profiles about you that are used for targeted advertising. If this sounds bad, wait till you hear that cookie data can help the NSA find targets for hacking.
VPNs can’t access your cookies (at least, not any trustworthy provider), so they can’t keep you safe from them. Fortunately, it’s easy enough to clear cookies. True, you’ll lose some convenience of modern browsing – but overall it’s a small sacrifice for security.
2. Web Beacons
We won’t get into the technical details, but you can consider web beacons to be cookies’ insidious little brother. They are invisible, don’t require consent to be used, and they can basically gain just as much data about you as a cookie would.
You can prevent tracking through web beacons by using one of the two all-purpose blockers we mentioned before. uBlock Origin or Privacy Badger, specifically.
3. Browser Fingerprinting
Another one you can add to the long list of ad tracking methods. Mozilla have a great piece about browser fingerprinting right here if you’re interested in the technical side. The gist of it is that your browser sends a few bits of information to every website you access. This allows them to serve you an optimized version of their website (e.g. mobile versions if you’re on a phone).
However, those bits of info can be used to track your behavior, as well. It may not be useful to identify you by name or anything similar, but it’s still something to keep in mind. For the most part, you can’t prevent browser fingerprinting. Your best shot is using Tor over VPN; and even then you’re just mitigating, rather than completely solving the problem.
One thing that should interest you is that websites can detect VPN usage through your system’s time settings. When you connect to a different region with a VPN, your browser basically tells websites: “Hey, I’m from this specific region, please look the other way.”
However, your browser fingerprint contains your local system time. If the two time zones aren’t in sync, websites can tell something’s fishy. Even if you don’t plan on using Tor, you can at least change your system’s time to reflect your VPN server location.
4. Smartphone Location Data
Speaking of location, your smartphone can be your greatest enemy when it comes to online privacy. Using the most secure VPN to hide your location and encrypt your data? The myriad apps on your phone don’t care, and can still transmit this info if you don’t take app permissions seriously.
The New York Times has done a great investigative piece on the subject, and a guide to prevent location data sharing to go along with it. Check them out, use one of ProPrivacy’s top VPN picks, and you’re as close to bulletproof security as can be – short of going off the grid entirely.
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