In 2017, the U.S. House of Representatives reversed laws that would prevent Internet Service Providers (ISPs) from selling your personal data for profit. That’s a troubling thought, to say the least. It’s also one reason so many Internet users are turning to Virtual Private Networks for added privacy and protection.
VPNs help keep you private by masking your ISP address, and perhaps more importantly— they also encrypt all your data and browsing history— so it’s like you were never online in the first place. They funnel all your data through a secure, private network tunnel, which makes it a powerful piece of technology!
The VPN is a robust, customizable tool to have in your war chest when going to battle against the many online threats like hackers and cybercriminals—or to simply keep your ISP from profiting off of your data. (VPNs hide your data, so your ISP just see endless logs of you connecting to the VPN server—but they can’t see any of the sites you visit.)
But how secure are the tunnels they use to keep you safe?
Can VPNs Themselves Get Hacked?
How hard is it for the government or an international hacker to break into a VPN tunnel and see your private information?
Luckily, most experts (like those at Technadu) agree that “Even though VPNs can be hacked in theory – you’ll be safe in 99.99% of cases.” If you are using the right VPN, that means your personal data, location, identity and browsing history are overwhelmingly secure.
For example, whistleblower and security expert Edward Snowden has stated in multiple interviews that he uses a combination of security measures, including Tor browsers and VPNs.
VPN reviewers at PC Magazine explain that “With a VPN, you can rest assured that your data is encrypted and less directly traceable back to you.” They go on to say that the mass surveillance efforts by the NSA and others means you need to have multiple ways to encrypt your data, including a good VPN.
Moreover, the act of merely intercepting data from a VPN tunnel is a chore in itself. But if hackers or a government agency like the NSA manage to gather this meta-data, they are still faced will a mess of unintelligible, scrambled-up nonsense they now have to actually decipher.
Cracking the complex, encrypted cryptographical algorithms is both extremely time-consuming and rarely worth a hacker’s time unless you are some sort of high-profile celebrity target. Codebreaking is technologically demanding because the best VPNs use the best security protocols, many of which can take months or years to decipher—if ever.
How VPNS Keep You From Getting Hacked
Online security is no longer as simple as keeping your laptop safe from viruses or trojans. You now need to keep your phone, tablet, wearables, smart outlets, thermostats, cameras and all your other “Internet of Things” gadgets protected from hackers and spies who can steal and sell your data.
Common sense (and decades of experience) tell us that no technology is perfect, so using a VPN won’t make you completely invulnerable to a potential data hack.
However, while using a VPN, your transactions are much safer from the prying eyes of hackers who may try to use keyloggers to discover your passwords and other credentials like financial data.
While VPNs aren’t perfect, it’s better to enter a war zone in a bullet-proof tank than to run around a minefield in your underwear.
According to experts at Technadu, VPNs protect you from all kinds of data breaches, including:
- “Man in the Middle” attacks
- Fake Wireless Access Points
- Bait-and-Switch ad attempts
- Browser hijackers
- Cookie theft
- DNS spoofing.
- For more specifics, check out Technadu’s overview here.
Which VPNs Protect Best Against Hacking?
Strictly speaking, a VPN is not an antivirus or spyware blocker. It’s a data encrypter for privacy, which has many of its own security merits, but you still have to be careful and use common sense.
- Choose a User-Friendly VPN: This seems like it would go without saying, but you should choose a VPN that’s easy to use. If your VPN isn’t always turn on, or easily turned on with one mouse-click, surveys show that users go unprotected too often. According to experts at Consumer Reports, if you fail to use your VPN, the it can’t encrypt your data for you. “If it’s hard to connect, you’re going to forget and then have no protection,” says cybersecurity expert Mark Nunnikhoven.
- Pay for Quality Service: You should always choose a paid VPN, because a free VPN can and will sell your personal data for profit. For more on why to use paid VPNs, read our FAQ explainer.
- Read Privacy Notices: Do they have strict no-logging policies? What about kill switches to shut down your connection if any trouble arises.
- Learn About the Best VPN Tech: Experts recommend VPNs that use current versions of OpenVPN, SSH and SHA-2. These are considered the most secure.
Make Yourself Less Hackable
If you don’t use strong antivirus software, and if you don’t have a VPN turned on at the time of the hack, a hacker could use phishing tactics to get you to install malware or trojan on your computer.
When it comes to questions of safety, almost any VPN you use will be safer and more secure than a standard ISP’s web browser. If you are careful to use only top-performing VPNs, your data cannot realistically be intercepted or misused by any bad actors.
Finally, you should also consider some other important measures you can take to make yourself less hackable in the future:
- Use antivirus software. A good antivirus software will keep you safe from most trojans, viruses, browser hijackings and other malicious attempts. A must-have to use in tandem with your VPN.
- Visit sites that use HTTPs security. HTTPS is the secure version of HTTP. You’ll always see a padlock icon with HTTPS websites— a visual reminder of its encrypted security. Luckily, the far-reaching adoption of HTTPS is making it nearly impossible for mass surveillance to be successful.
- Consider using a Tor Browser. A Tor browser is a downloadable software that allows you to browse the Internet securely and anonymously. Read our FAQ about Tor vs. VPN here.
- Use Two-factor Authentication: Many online services allowtwo-factor authentication, which means you can request a login requires identity verification with your connected phone number.
- Protect Your Passwords: Use a unique, complex password for every site you use. And change them regularly. Write them on a paper you keep in a safe, so that no one can hack your computer to retrieve your treasure chest of passwords.
- Always Use a VPN. Of course, your best tool is still the VPN. If you forget to turn it on, you won’t be protected. A VPN makes it much harder to associate online specifics back to you. They do a great job scrambling and anonymizing your data for relatively low cost, giving you peace of mind.