A virtual private network or a VPN is a computer programme that allows you to access the internet from a different location. You may need this for a variety of reasons, and with governments around the world starting to crack down on them, are they an asset or a liability?
The laws differ from country to country, with nations such as Russia and China outright banning them, mainly because of censorship and control. For the time being, in most countries, VPNs remain legal, however for how long?
Overall, they are a very safe application used on personal computers and phones rarely infecting the device. On the other hand, more sinister programmes are used by cybercriminals like ransomware. Read our guide on how to protect your computer from ransomware.
The way they work is very simple. When using, it hides your Internet provider (IP) address by letting the network redirect the connection to a specified server somewhere else. So, if you are watching Netflix in France and want to access the US library, you can select a city in the USA and have an internet connection as if you are located in the country.
Deciding on acquiring a VPN depends on a variety of factors and there are benefits and drawbacks to most service providers. If you are in a country that blocks social media like China, it is imperative to get one so you can stay connected to all your family and friends. Moreover, in many places around the world content is blocked for numerous reasons, whether it’s illegal or the government just doesn’t like it. For example, in many Asian countries, adult content is blocked and in Middle Eastern nations, gambling websites are prohibited. In places like Kuwait, where VPNs are still legal, one is needed to play casino games like blackjack and baccarat. They give you the freedom to choose which websites you would like to visit, without government interference. For Kuwaiti players who want to gamble online, they can access comparison sites that check for all the best online casinos in Kuwait. These sites help with finding the best bonuses for new and existing players, give tips on how to gamble safely, and provide excellent reviews of the operators available. Only through a VPN is this possible, giving the individual freedom.
The use of them can be politically important, rather than using them to access the content you desire. In some countries, journalists may opt to use a VPN to mask their identity because of persecution. Even though they are illegal in China, many dissidents use them especially in Hong Kong to access information and to be connected to the rest of the world. Websites such as Twitter are an excellent resource for journalists and whistleblowers to share information, meaning having a VPN is paramount.
If privacy is important to you in this world, then having a VPN is non-negotiable. They allow you to access whatever content you desire and hide your identity. On the other hand, what are the downsides of having one? Well, it differs from country to country. For example, it is advisable not to use a VPN in the UAE as you could go to jail. Recently the Gulf State has announced it is illegal to use them, with people paying hefty fines and some even facing prison time. The UAE is not unique in this regard, China has cracked down on VPNs for decades, putting some of its citizens in prison for 5 years.
The use of technology is an authoritarian government’s nightmare, allowing the individual access to information that may have been censored. As there are still many dictatorships around the world, if you are traveling, you should research the relevant laws so you do not end up in jail or fined heavily. The use of VPNs at the moment is currently used to watch entertainment such as BBC iPlayer or Netflix.
An important note on VPNs is the cost. They are relatively cheap, especially if you opt for the yearly or 2-year options, costing around $40 for the year. They can be downloaded as an app or you can use one via a plugin. They are a cheap resource to use to access any information or content at your fingertips.