VPN is one of the most famous internet acronyms. You will find it in forums and on your friends’ screens — you might have even heard someone ask what it’s all about. It is popular for one main reason: web protection.
Email is an important part of communication today and it has been around for many decades. I use email as my primary method of communication and security is very important to me, especially if a VPN can enhance the security.
So, can a VPN protect email? A VPN can only protect email whilst the email traffic remains within the connection from the VPN client to the VPN server, after which the email traffic will come out of the VPN server and carry on towards the intended mail server without any VPN protection. Therefore it is imperative to use secure ports for email that use encryption by default when connecting to the mail servers to send email to and to pick email from.
Security is important when sending and receiving email as the protocols used for sending and receiving emails can run in insecure configurations. This means the information in the email if intercepted on it’s journey is readable, with any sensitive information therefore visible to any attacker or hacker who has managed to gain access to the email.
Sending email using the Simple Message Transfer Protocol (SMTP) and for receiving email using Post Office Protocol (POP) or Internet Message Access Protocol (IMAP) can run in insecure configurations where they do not use encryption. With many email clients ending up using the non-encrypted configurations of these protocols when the email is setup.
Using a VPN with insecure configurations of these email protocols, only protects the email information whilst it travels through the VPNs encrypted communication channel from the VPN client on your device to the VPN server. After the email leaves the VPN server on it’s way to the email server, the email travels insecurely as there is no longer the protection provided by the VPN communication channel.
Using secure configurations for the SMTP, POP or IMAP protocols is essential as this will make sure the email is sent and received from the email servers using encrypted connections, making it difficult for hackers to see the information. Secure port configurations for email protocols are shown in the table below.
These protocols can also be used insecurely where the connections are not encrypted and use insecure ports as shown in the table below.
Fortunately a lot of email clients today like Google’s Gmail, automatically try to use the secure ports for SMTP, POP and IMAP and will only very rarely use insecure ports. This makes sure the email is encrypted when it is picked up from the Google Gmail email servers and when email is sent, as they have to pass through the Google Gmail servers.
When connecting over a VPN, any email sent will be encrypted as it travels through the VPN connection to the VPN server. Once this traffic reaches the VPN server, it then passes through and carries on towards it’s journey to the mail server, without the protection of the encryption used by the VPN. It is imperative at this point to ensure the email is encrypted and this is only possible if the secure versions of the SMTP, POP or IMAP protocols have been used.
Using secure ports doesn’t necessarily mean the email is protected throughout it’s journey, these secure ports only protect the email from your email client to the email server. When the email message has to continue it’s journey from the email server to the correct email server where the email is stored, the connection can end up being insecure, as it might not be encrypted.
So, if I send an email using my Yahoo email account to a friends Gmail account, the message from my email program like Outlook, will travel securely using an encrypted protocol (SMTP) to the Yahoo email servers. From the Yahoo server the email will need to travel to the Google Gmail server and if this connection is not encrypted, then the email will travel in clear text, meaning if it is intercepted, the email can be read.
Fortunately, many of the mail servers used around the world, like Yahoo and Google’s Gmail, communicate with each other using secure encrypted connections running over a TLS (secure) connection. Meaning in theory, there’s no need for a VPN if the goal is to ensure the email is secure through encryption. A VPN can also protect people’s identities when sending emails from finding out they are sending emails.
Protecting them from their internet service providers (ISP) to government agencies from seeing if they are sending emails. This might be important in regimes where using email for communication outside of the territories is forbidden. Using a VPN in this instance, will only show connections being made to the VPN and not to any email servers, as these will be protected by the VPN.
What does a VPN protection against?
A VPN (Virtual Private Network) protects you by preventing hackers, ISPs, and other prying eyes from obtaining the information you access and share over a network. This results in the following benefits:
- Securing connections in public Wi-Fi
- Helping you unblock restricted content
- Facilitating anonymity online
- Creating workarounds for internet government censorship
- Securing your online communication
- Preventing bandwidth throttling
- Ensuring secure torrenting
- Resolving IP bans
- Helping you bypass bias in online prices
As you can see, there are many benefits to using a VPN. In this article, you will learn how a VPN enables web protection and expound on the benefits of using a VPN.
How A VPN Enables Web Protection
A VPN uses various encryption technologies and tunneling protocols to enable secure connection and conveying of information through the internet. VPN encryption technologies mostly involve the TLS (Transport Layer Security) while the tunneling protocols used may be L2TP (the Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol), PPTP (Point to Point Tunneling Protocol), OpenVPN or IKEv2 (Internet Key Exchange Version 2).
Encryption of Your Data
Encryption conceals your data and makes it incomprehensible to anyone who acquires it. It scrambles your data in such a way that instead of a message reading, “The package is on the way,” it shows up in a code like “%&*£==##%%?.”
The encrypted information stays this way until you, the receiving end, decodes it using a key. Therefore, no one else but you will be able to read the information during transit or from another device that does not contain the key.
Changing of Your IP Address
When you connect to the internet from your IP address over a VPN, the connection is rerouted through the VPN servers to the website you are visiting. Therefore, instead of your IP showing up as the one from your real location, it shows up as that of the VPN servers.
A VPN helps you appear to be coming from another location other than the real one by changing your IP address. Therefore, no one can track your personal information if your real IP is cloaked.
All in all, a VPN changes your IP address and encrypts your data so that no one discovers your real location or any other details that may lead to your real identity.
The Benefits of Using A VPN
Other than giving you a sense of security while using the internet, a VPN gives you the freedom to do many other things you never imagined (check out my review of the best VPN choices here). The following are advantages of using a VPN so you can have an idea of what it has to offer.
1. Securing Connections in Public Wi-Fi
While McDonald’s Wi-Fi may help you save data, its dangers are not worth it. It is not just at McDonald’s; all public Wi-Fi is dangerous to use if you have no VPN.
Public Wi-Fi is not encrypted, and this lack of encryption makes it easy for someone to spy on and steal your information. If a hacker wishes to get your information, they can easily check out the websites you visit and the details you input.
So, even if the websites you visit are encrypted, the hacker can steal your information and find their way into your account. This is how people steal bank information and other personal data that they can use to carry out operations from extortion to identity theft.
However, when you connect to public Wi-Fi using a VPN, people cannot know which websites you are going to, they cannot see what data you’re accessing and the credentials you’re inputting. You can cloak your IP, and no one will know where you are connecting from in the first place, so it will be difficult to monitor any of your web moves.
2. Helping You Unblock Restricted Content
Numerous sites block certain content to people in specific locations because of several reasons. For instance, Netflix may give access to four libraries for a user in South Africa but gives access to all libraries to someone in the US. This is a problem for many users who wish to follow a show that is not available in their country.
That is where a VPN comes in. A VPN helps you change your IP address to appear like you are in another country where the show you want is accessible. This helps you unblock some, if not all, the content you want from geo-restricted sites.
3. Facilitating Anonymity Online
Using fake names online is not enough to hide who you are. However, a VPN can help you surf the web anonymously hence preventing things like identity theft and hacking, among other issues.
Since it changes your IP address and conceals your connection information, a VPN overrides attempts to obtain your information in storage and transit as well. Therefore, you can participate in forums, play games with your buddies, do research, and whatever else you would like with a fake name if you use a VPN.
4. Creating Workarounds for Internet Government Censorship
If you live in internet-censored countries, you are probably aware of the limitations of acquiring information and entertainment. Some countries block specific sites that the government deems unsuitable for its citizens. It could be for logical reasons like child protection or oppressive reasons like limiting information from government critics.
VPN is an anti-censorship tool that helps you break the barriers put by the government and gives you the freedom of education, communication, and entertainment. With a powerful anti-censorship VPN, you can acquire global information, share ideas on sites anonymously, and even gain access to entertainment that is deemed inappropriate.
Even if you live in non-censored countries like the US, do not be so sure that you won’t need a VPN. When you travel to censored countries, you get subjected to their barriers, so if you want or need to access some banned sites, you will need a VPN.
5. Securing Your Online Communication
Whether you are making calls or sending messages, you might need to secure sensitive information with a VPN. Like mentioned earlier, a VPN can encrypt written words such that no one else but you can open it in an understandable format. Furthermore, a VPN can also keep calls disguised.
Your ISP (Internet Service Provider), the government, or anyone who is snooping cannot know what you’re doing online and where you are. Whether you’re using Skype or any other VOIPs (Voice Over Internet Protocols), you’ll need to invest in a VPN if you want to keep the communication private.
6. Preventing Bandwidth Throttling
Bandwidth throttling is the reduction of internet speeds. This is done by your ISP, who spots what you are doing online and therefore limits your bandwidth so they can serve more customers without expanding their network capacity.
It is not fair, yet it is legal in many countries. And if you’re living or traveling in one of these countries that are against network neutrality, you might experience any of these issues while surfing the web:
- Videos restreaming in a lower resolution than the options available.
- Slowed download speeds of individual files.
- Network lagging when doing activities that demand bandwidth like gaming and streaming shows.
With network neutrality, you will experience none of the above issues. Every internet user would be free to do anything online if they are paying for their data plans. However, with a VPN, bandwidth throttling would not happen to you as well.
If you have a VPN, your ISP will not know what you are doing online and will be unable to throttle your bandwidth at any moment. The VPN encryption would also help prevent the ISP from separating your traffic since it is secured from the VPN remote servers.
Even better, if you can get a VPN that hides the fact that you are using a VPN from your ISP, the better. This way, they cannot make assumptions that put your internet activities in jeopardy.
7. Ensuring Secure Torrenting
While infringing copyright laws is bad, P2P file sharing isn’t illegal. However, some simple torrent downloads may get you into trouble if you are not careful. In this case, using a VPN would help you keep the government and other prying eyes from knowing what you are doing online.
Also, you must consider the peers you’re sharing the files with. If you share files without using a VPN, your IP is usually visible to everyone in your group. These people are potential threats since they are aware of where you come from, so tracking you down for malicious purposes will not be hard.
Instead of risking your privacy during torrenting, a VPN would help you hide your identity from anyone, be it the government or other dangerous parties.
8. Resolving IP Bans
Have you ever gotten an annoying “Access Denied” notice when you visit certain websites? That is an IP ban. IP bans are issued by servers to a particular IP or a range of IP addresses because of detected spamming and other harmful activities. However, sometimes it may be a geo-restriction.
Whatever reasons for your IP ban, you can override it using a VPN. With a simple click to connect virtually from the VPN servers, you will be able to visit any platform on the web.
9. Helping You Bypass Bias Online Pricing
Do you know that some online sellers discriminate against customers by putting up different prices for people in different countries? Although there are various types of price discrimination, the location-based one is used most in online businesses. So, if you are in a wealthier country, you may be experiencing higher prices than another person from the low-income part of the globe.
However, with a VPN, you can pretend that you are from a low-income country and get a better deal. It may take a bit of time to change your IP address to those of different servers across the world, but at the end of the day, you may save hundreds of dollars in shopping.
Are VPNs Legal?
Some people might think VPNs are too good to be legal. However, you would be surprised to learn that in some countries, VPNs are completely legal.
However, in other countries, the use of VPNs is either regulated or completely banned. If a citizen or a tourist of such a country violates the VPN regulation laws, they can be fined hundreds to even thousands of dollars. Sometimes it even involves jail time — Wu Xiangyang, a Chinese man, received 5-month jail time for running a VPN.
Why do some countries ban or regulate the use of VPNs? Here are some main reasons:
- To control the communication among terrorists.
- To prevent citizens from accessing sexual content, especially in Islamic countries.
- To deny complete freedom of expression since sites like social media can lead to an uprising.
As you can see, most of these reasons are oppressive. However, the following countries still ban or regulate VPN use:
- United Arab Emirates
- North Korea
While the above list covers most of the extreme bans, it is vital to know your country’s rules and regulations around VPNs before getting a VPN. This way, you are not unknowingly doing anything illegal.
Should I Get A Free VPN?
Should you get a free VPN? While a free VPN may provide you with some benefits, they come with numerous disadvantages. Therefore, when it comes down to it, a free VPN may not be free after all. So, before you start using a free VPN, you should be aware of problems that may follow.
While a VPN should be protecting you against numerous internet dangers, some free VPNs harbor malware. According to An Analysis of the Privacy and Security Risks of Android VPN Permission Enabled Apps, 38% of free VPNs contain a virus.
You could argue that some of these apps are downloaded more than a million times and feature a high rating, but that would be false hope you are giving yourself. Some of these statistics were engineered, and there is a considerable chance you hit a malware snag when you download the VPN.
So, is it worth it to get a free VPN that could get you in trouble that requires you to spend a ton of money to fix? Or would you better find a decent paid VPN to offer you the services you need? The choice is yours.
Selling of Your Information
If they can’t inject malware, free VPN providers may use another tactic you wouldn’t guess: selling your data. But why would they do this when they are supposed to protect your data in the first place?
Selling information to third parties by some free VPNs is meant to bring the income required to invest in the resources that bring you the VPN services. For instance, a popular free VPN, Hotspot Shield was accused of logging and selling user data.
Selling Your Bandwidth
Some free VPNs manage to unblock famously restricted sites like Hulu and Netflix, so many people flock to sign up. However, what is the point of accessing restricted content if the network is too slow to watch? This is a common occurrence if a VPN provider is selling your bandwidth.
The VPN servers must be paid somehow, and since you want to benefit from their services for free, they must bounce the network across distant, overcrowded servers to be able to cater to all users. That puts you behind their priority (paid users), so you get breadcrumbs of the connection, leading to painfully slow connections.
The Hola Free VPN was discovered to be selling users’ bandwidth by using its users as exit nodes.
Overwhelming Ad Popups
When you have no loophole for creating money through a free VPN, ads are the best way to ensure something isn’t free. This is a significant concern since ads:
- Slow your internet down
- May contain malware
- Seem to target your interests if the VPN is sharing information with third parties.
Some free VPNs ensure that enough ads are popping up to pay for the servers being used. If you do not want to be annoyed by a myriad of ads before making it to your favorite show, it is better to pay a fee and obtain full VPN benefits.
A VPN is, by far, the best tool for web privacy and security. It protects you against hackers and other prying eyes and goes further to help you unblock geo-restricted content and other internet barriers. Even better, you can enjoy smart online shopping and get affordable flights and accommodations.
Alleviating internet security worries and saving money while at it is a dream for many. You can make it come true with a VPN.