Top 5 Things You Shouldn’t Do While on VPN
1. Don’t do anything illegal.
Many people think that having a VPN shields them from all repercussions when the do shady things online — and there are SO MANY shady things you can do online. Some of them are borderline legal (or at least not so bad that governments would go looking for you) while a few are blatantly illegal. Remember, while VPNs provide military-grade encryption, law enforcement has a way to track you if you ever do something to tick them off. These actors have the full power of a government behind them, and it’s not wise to do anything that will normally paint a target on your back, even when you’re on VPN. Note that even some of the most secure networks in the world had been attacked by government agencies once they figure out something fishy is going on. These include “amoral” online marketplace Silk Road, and parts of the Tor Network. Even the infamous PirateBay had been attacked several times. VPNs can afford you protection against the most tenacious hackers, but that shield will pale against the might of a state-sanctioned operation.
2. Don’t download indiscriminately.
We’ve already covered this in our tips to upgrade your browsing habits while on VPN, but it’s worth repeating — be very careful what you download! Many online criminals are already aware that they can’t attack encrypted data streams. So instead, they attack the victim’s devices instead. By creating a file that looks innocuous, such as a multimedia file or a document, they can lure victims into downloading and installing/using these files. Then, a malware immediately and silently starts working, harvesting private user data and sending it out back to the hacker. This is just one of the many ways indiscriminately downloading files can get you in trouble. To be safe, always be mindful of where you download. Make sure it’s a reputable website. Also make sure that you’re protected on your end with an antivirus or antimalware system, so that you can catch any bad actor trying to invade your device. When using a VPN, you should also be careful of where you download stuff, especially for P2P or torrent downloading. Always make sure to use torrent-friendly servers, so that government agencies will have no reason to start tracking you down. P2P downloading, especially of copyrighted materials, raises a lot of red flags in the international community and if ever you do this, you need to make sure you’re using a server from a privacy-respecting country.
3. Don’t give out your private information through other means.
Your VPN might be able to protect you from privacy breaches into your browsing data, but it can’t do anything once you reveal your private information through other means. Social engineering is another way for hackers to get at your data, and this is done by coaxing you into revealing sensitive information. Phishing, for example, is a very common goal of social engineering. A hacker may imitate a legitimate site that will ask for your login credentials. Once you enter them, they will be sent directly to the hacker. Even when you’re on VPN, you can still inadvertently reveal your information this way. It goes without saying, of course, that you also need to temper your social media activity to make sure you’re not revealing information or patterns that third parties can link to your private behavior.
4. Don’t do payments over unsecure platforms.
Most people use VPNs when banking or doing online transactions, because it eliminates the likelihood that someone is spying on them as they enter their banking credentials. However, you can still get into trouble if you’re transacting in unsecure sites or platforms. Generally, VPNs encrypt all your traffic to the point that even they cannot read it. But a person watching from the other end of an unsecured platform can still see the data that you are entering. Even if the transaction is legitimate, your credentials can still be stolen this way. To prevent this, make sure the payment platform you are using supports SSL. This technology encrypts the information it receives, so no one can eavesdrop. Remember that VPNs can only encrypt data as far as its access goes — once the data has been received by the payment platform, the latter needs to have its own set of security protocols and algorithms to keep your data safe.
5. Don’t browse with just HTTP.
This is directly connected to tip #4. Since VPNs can only protect you as far as their service goes, once the information you send is received by the destination server, all protection is gone — unless, of course, the receiving server has its own encryption. This is called end-to-end encryption. This means that your browsing data is encrypted from the moment it leaves your machine, through the VPN tunnel, and all the way to the destination server. The traffic is also completely encrypted on the way back. Such end-to-end encryption is made possible by sites that support HTTPS, which adds a security layer to the usual HTTP. Most browsers will refuse to connect to unsecure HTTP connections. However, to be safe, having an addon like HTTPS Everywhere will force your browser to use only HTTPS when available. This way, you can take advantage of end-to-end encryption that is another step towards keeping your data private.
BONUS: 6. Don’t use a sketchy or untested VPN service!
A bad VPN is even worse than having no VPN at all! A bad VPN can be anything from a VPN that collects your private data, leaks your IP, or does not encrypt anything at all. Thankfully, our site reviews provide an in-depth analysis for VPN services that can help you cherry-pick the best VPN for your needs. Remember, the most important factor in maintaining safety and privacy online isn’t your VPN. It isn’t even the site that you’re visiting. It’s you, the user, who will decide everything that happens (assuming there’s no malware on your device to decide otherwise). By being careful and always staying on safe grounds, you can almost totally eliminate the risk that your browsing