The #Tech Life ~ #VPN Pros and Cons

26 Apr

As always, I’m actually a supporter of people using VPNs to protect themselves when on the internet.  Although a VPN is never completely anonymous, it does go a long way towards protecting your identity and computer from people who want to hack and steal your data.  For those of you interested in how a VPN can help you or hurt you, I thought I’d compile a list of benefits and problems I’ve run into with my 3 years of VPN experience 🙂

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VPNs change your IP address to that of there servers, which can be really handy if you don’t want websites tracking your location.  This used to be less of a problem, but now we all know just what companies like Facebook, Yahoo!, Youtube, and Google are getting up to with your private information.  A lot of users don’t want those companies knowing their exact home locations or using their information to track and follow them.  That kind of information is really valuable and if those websites (like Yahoo!) are hacked, it can be really damaging to you and can contribute to your identity being stolen.  

LANGUAGES!  Traveling abroad, I constantly run into the problem where the languages on my websites changes by default to that of the country I’m in.  For example, while living in South Korea I mistakenly logged into my University email account while on a public server.  Suddenly everything was in Korean and it was a pain in the butt to fix.  I had to call my university and have them go in a fix it all backwards.  In China, Bing and Yahoo and everything flips over to Chinese. In Dubai it all goes to reading right to left in Arabic.  The VPN tells them you are accessing the site from whichever server you’re on.  So if you want everything to stay in English (or your language of choice), you just log onto a server in that country.  

You can access a lot of sites from home that might otherwise be inaccessible.  For example, a lot of people like watching Asian tv shows (dramas) on the two websites called KissAsian and Viki. But both websites often don’t work if you’re in the wrong region.  For example, I know KissAsian was blocked in Shanghai (you can get to the website, but the videos don’t load) and Viki often pops up the “this video is blocked in your region” even in the US.

Security.  VPNs help to keep Hackers and Virus-makers out of your computers.  I’m not a software tech expert, so I can only talk from my experience. I know that fellow travelers who do not use VPNs statistically always have more viruses, trackers, and trojans on their computers when they go home than those who do use VPNs. 

Avoiding Technical Difficulties.  I’m not sure why this would be true, but I’ve found that having a VPN often allows you to avoid technical blocks that other people are experiencing.  For example, my university uses Blackboard which often crashes or won’t load.  People how have a VPN at those times are about 50% more likely to be able to load the site than people who don’t have VPNs.

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If you are living in a country/province/state/county that blocks the VPN websites, they are practically impossible to get.  I know several people who bought VPNs with the intention of using them in China, but then once they got there found out they couldn’t install the programs because it required a VPN to install the VPN.  The VPN websites don’t really warn you about that.  Sometimes, if you go into their accounts they’ll say “oh, if you can’t reach us normally try this website” — but you have to have a VPN to get to the account to figure out then how to get to the VPN. 

To resolve that problem, most people know to install the VPNs before they visit places like that.  But I have also yet to find a VPN that didn’t crash every 2 months or so.  Astrill and Vypr crashed no matter what country I was in — Vypr I reinstall almost every time I restart my computer. Astrill I reinstall about once every 2 months or so.  Both require access to their websites to download the installation file.  In China, Vypr still requires a VPN to install the file itself.  Given the problem mentioned above (you need a VPN to access the VPN websites), this can disintegrate into a big issue.  

They don’t always work.  VPNs by their very nature tend to slow down your computer. If you have a super fast internet connection (ie in Seoul, Korea), you won’t really notice the slow-down.  But if your connection is slow (as it is in less developed nations or smaller towns in developed countries), then it can simply stop working.  Frequently my Astrill or Vypr connections are actually too slow to work.  At my university, they slow down the internet speed at night (7:30pm it drops like clockwork and starts up again at 3:30am).  During that time, I can use the internet without a VPN, but if I try adding a VPN it simply won’t work.  So at night (when I use my computer the most), my VPNs aren’t actually working.  It’s annoying.  Vypr is better about this than Astrill — Astrill has a tendency to drop of a lot faster for some reason.  

Also, a lot of websites have started figuring out that there are VPNs in the world and are now blocking them. For example, Hulu is blocking all VPNs so don’t try accessing them with it. And if you use one while getting onto your email accounts, they will repeatedly block you out and force you to verify yourself. If you used a US phone for your verification and don’t have access to that, you’ll be locked out of your email permanently until you get access to that phone number again. I’ve run into that with my Credit Cards and Bank Accounts as well.  I try logging in with a VPN on and they block me thinking I’m a hacker.  To get back in, they always want to “text a code” to my US phone number.  But if  I’m in Korea, I can’t get to that phone. So I can’t pay my bill or anything until I get back.  It’s annoying.

Even countries that allow VPNs also are quick to slow your system down once you have it on if they don’t like them.  I’ve been to a couple countries that permit VPNs but don’t particularly appreciate them.  I’ve notices (as have many other foreigners) that if they use a VPN once to log onto the internet, their internet will slow down later even if they restart their computers or log in without a VPN.  It doesn’t happen all the time, but in a building with about 200 foreigners about 10 ran into that problem.  

They aren’t completely anonymous.  There are a lot of things to remember about VPNs security. Including the fact that you aren’t completely anonymous on them.  For example, they might tell the website you’re visiting that you are anonymous, but the machine in your apartment building will still know where you went.  Also, they tend to drop a lot. So if you are trying to visit a site you shouldn’t be (always a stupid, bad, bad thing –  yet so many still try it) and the VPN drops, the website will still pick up who and where you are. Also, not all VPNs are as free as they like to pretend.  I know we got a warning a long time ago for Astrill that an “Asian government had collected one of their servers.” It ended up kind of hush-hush, and I’m assuming they closed those servers down, but it just goes to show that the VPN companies aren’t as safe as they seem to be.  

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Should you use a VPN?  It’s kind of up to you, your needs, and your tech ability.

I am generally good with technology and familiar with my computer.  So I’m quick to find work-arounds or ways to bypass issues with mine. For example, I know when to switch from Reliable to Fast on Stealth Astrill networks verses using the OpenVpn system.  I also figured out how to avoid the “log-out’ issue where Astrill logged its users out and they couldn’t sign back in.  I also use two VPNs, so if one goes out, I pick up the other.  In all honestly, I haven’t run into some of the problems mentioned above so I don’t worry about it as much.  On the other hand, my mom has had horrible issues with VPNs so I’m frequently going on to fix her computer.  If you have someone in your family who can help you out with the internet, it helps a lot. 

I also do a TON of work on the computer. I’m a teacher, writer, researcher, editor, consultant, speaker, etc. I am constantly doing research and working with social media sites and things. That means I am often on sites that are trying to mine my data and steal my information. I also work a lot from public sites which are more dangerous to data theft. So I prefer a lot of protection and safety from hackers and trackers.  My grandmother on the other hand really only visits quilting websites and doesn’t need a VPN much.  I know that for teachers or foreigners living abroad, almost all of them say that life is easier with a VPN, even if just in countries like Thailand or Australia.  I would never travel without a VPN because of the security features and the ability to fix my languages and regions and stuff. 

I’d say shop around and decide A) if you need one and B) which is the best for you. I know a lot of people think Express is pretty good for newbie users or low-tech users.  I prefer Astrill or VyprVPN.  Vypr is really easy to use as long as you know how to Re-Install it.  Very simple to figure out, and I almost never need to make changes to it.  It works pretty consistently too. Astrill is considered top of the line, and a lot of high-tech users like it better. Some low-tech users also work with it, but I’ve noticed they need more help than others when it goes down.  

If you want more information on Astrill or Vypr, let me know.  I am pretty familiar with them at this point.  However, if someone knows more about Express or another VPN fell free to POST IN THE COMMENTS!  More information is always a good thing!

3 Responses to “The #Tech Life ~ #VPN Pros and Cons”

  1. Tim Tremblay May 19, 2017 at 12:20 pm #

    I have tried most of the “major” VPN providers, and if you’re new to the world of VPNs or not to comfortable with technology, I second ExpressVPN as a good choice. HMA! is a decent alternative as well. Both are technically sound with no connection issues, and have super intuitive and easy to understand interfaces. HMA! is the simpler of the two, but is rather limiting when it comes to features (i.e. it’s very bare bones). ExpressVPN is only slightly more complicated, but has many advanced features you can use as your knowledge and needs expand. For what it’s worth, I set up my retired parents with ExpressVPN and several months in, have not heard any complaints 🙂


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