A VPN’s security depends on protocols, encryption algorithms, and VPN features. When you connect to a VPN (Virtual Private Network) server, your traffic goes through an encrypted tunnel between your device and a destination website. This way, your internet service provider (ISP), snoopers, and sites you visit cannot see your actual IP (Internet Protocol) address or access your browsing habits and history.
But what makes a VPN a reliable security option when online?
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How secure is a VPN?
The simple answer is – plenty. At least against conventional cyberthreats.
A VPN reroutes your data through its servers, encrypts the data that passes them, and gives you a new IP (among other things, which I will mention later in the article). All of this is done via a single click on an app. It seems too good to be true. But it isn’t.
It’s a rocket in your pocket designed to fight online cyberthreats. Most hacks only happen once the criminal has access to your network or has their hands on your info. A VPN protects your network and mitigates the risk of leaking your data by default – you access the internet via its servers with a newly given IP.
This simple internet traffic rerouting defends your data from external access as well as attacks such as these three:
- Distributed Denial of Service attacks (DDoS);
- Man-in-the-middle attacks (MITM).
The oh-so-much more elaborate answer to ‘’How secure is a VPN’’ is – still plenty, but there’s more to explain. There are different levels of security offered by various VPN providers. The difference in safety usually depends on the features of a specific VPN.
VPN features that keep your connection secure
This is what you should expect from your VPN provider:
- Up-to-date encryption standards. The industry-leading encryption algorithm is AES-256. It would take at least several lifetimes to decrypt a message encoded with this algorithm. This encryption standard also supports Perfect Forward Secrecy, meaning it frequently changes encryption keys to avoid security breaches;
- Robust RAM-only servers. When all VPN servers run on volatile memory, any information that would usually be stored on a hard drive is immediately wiped when the server is no longer on. That means much better security for the end user;
- Strict no-logs policy. When a VPN provider says they adhere to a strict no-logs policy, that means they don’t collect your IP address, browsing history, used bandwidth, session information, network traffic, and connection timestamps;
- Advanced VPN protocols. Make sure your VPN provider uses modern protocols to secure your internet traffic. The most secure VPN protocol is either IKEv2 or OpenVPN. You can choose which one fits your needs better;
- Private DNS & leak protection. Most likely, your DNS provider is your internet service provider. When they operate your DNS, ISPs can access your browsing history and sell that information to third parties. Choose a VPN that offers private DNS on each server, thus ensuring better security;
- Two-factor authentication (2FA). 2FA is an extra step in the log-in process that protects the users from such common hacking attacks as credential stuffing and brute forcing.
If technical features are not your thing, look for outside proof
Look for legitimate, outside proof that a VPN is secure and worth investing in. That might be various VPN reviewers, tech YouTubers, or independent auditors specializing in security tests.
For example, independent web security testers Cure53 have audited Surfshark’s Chrome and Firefox extensions and server infrastructure. They concluded that “the Surfshark maintainers have a clear understanding of security and privacy challenges associated with being a VPN provider.”
Similar audits give legitimacy to a VPN, so look out for those.
Why are free VPNs not secure?
The dangers of free VPN services have been proven by testing and analyzing countless examples of these apps and looking over their privacy policies and ownership (which often traces back to China). One extensive analysis found that around 75% of free VPN apps in the Google Play store have tracking embedded in their source code. That doesn’t sound so good, does it? It defeats its primary purpose if you’re being tracked through an app promising you privacy and security.
And that’s not all. The development and maintenance of a VPN require a lot of resources. The software needs constant supervision, not to mention keeping up with security trends and challenges. That’s why paying someone to take care of your digital privacy is standard practice.
Free VPNs – like most free apps – are filled with irritating ads that are often extremely targeted on top of being annoying. And if the ads are targeted, that means trackers are involved.
Besides ads, free VPN services stay afloat by selling user data to third parties without their consent. Data is the hottest currency of our time, and you never know who might get ahold of it.
What happens when you connect to a VPN
To determine if a VPN is safe, we should understand its operating principles first. What happens when you click Connect? Let’s see.
Many moving parts go into the inner workings of A VPN, all happening in the blink of an eye.
What you don’t see when connecting to a VPN:
A DNS request is made
The secret keys are made
A secure channel is created
VPN protocols encrypt your data
What you do see, or the benefits you get:
- Anything you do on the internet goes through an encrypted VPN tunnel, meaning your browsing activity belongs only to you. Your ISP, the websites you visit, and hackers monitoring public networks cannot access your now-encrypted data.
- Your real IP address is hidden, and you get a new one. This way, no one can trace it back to you or your actual location. You get secure and private access to geo-blocked websites. That includes unfair censorship or network blocks (e.g., social media and news sites).
Can you be tracked if you use a VPN?
Some people also wonder if VPNs can be tracked, and the answer is no. There’s no way to monitor live VPN traffic. However, there are many ways you could be tracked online, and a VPN cannot cover all of them (e.g., doxxing). VPNs minimize your chances of being tracked by a mile, but no software will help if you’re not careful.
In short, a VPN secures your internet connection, making the information you send out unreadable – it literally looks like gibberish to any onlooker. Here’s an example:
This particular screenshot is taken from a VPN encryption test by Wireshark. There are no words in plaintext; thus, the data is encrypted!
Can hackers break through the VPN shield?
While, theoretically, it is possible to break VPN encryption, it’s such a technologically demanding and time-consuming task that, in practice, it’s illogical even to attempt it. Even for the strongest and fastest computers, it would take years upon years to hack an encrypted VPN tunnel.
Besides breaking encryption, there’s another method of hacking into a VPN, usually referred to as stealing the key. This happens when a hacker finds a piece of information that can encode or decode data. In practice, this theft is more realistic than finding cracks in encryption. By saying realistic, I don’t mean easy, but it makes sense that this tactic is far more attractive to hackers than spending years on decryption.
Can you get hacked with a VPN on?
Technically yes, but VPN hacks are rare and not easy to accomplish. If you use a good premium VPN, there’s almost no chance your security will be compromised. The hoops that the hackers have to jump through to accomplish it make it not worth the hassle. And at the end of the day, you’ll always be far more secure online with a VPN than without it.
Private browsing – is it the privacy alternative you think it is?
Incognito or Private browsing are modes designed for local privacy. When you ‘’go for a private browse,’’ your device doesn’t store any cookies or record any browsing history. That means once you finish your browsing session, another person using your device isn’t going to know what you browsed for.
However, sites that use trackers are still going to recognize you. For example, if you’re going to shop online, the website you’re visiting will still recognize that it’s you who’s entering the site, with or without private browsing.
The bottom line is that private browsing doesn’t provide you with online anonymity and doesn’t offer you private internet access. Data trackers, online snoopers, and your internet service provider can still see you doing what you’re doing. Not what I would call privacy.
Why Surfshark VPN?
Aside from a multitude of VPN providers doing the same (encryption), Surfshark bumps up your security by:
- Using RAM-based servers – user data passing through our servers physically can’t be held on for longer than 24 hours;
- Offering MultiHop – which routes your traffic through a couple of servers to make tracking you that much more impossible;
- Adding CleanWeb to its VPN bundle – once you install the Surfshark app, you can access the internet without malicious ads. There’s an in-built ad blocker that comes free with the VPN;
- Making the VPN more convenient with a Bypasser – a split tunneling option allowing you to encrypt only a part of your network traffic.
A VPN is an essential internet security tool. Even if it can’t make you completely safe – it can’t protect you from clicking on dangerous links – it can mitigate the risk of potential threats overall.
Remember always to stay vigilant and make sure you choose a reliable provider with rock-solid encryption algorithms and advanced protocols.
You’ll also get a 30-day money-back guarantee!Get Surfshark
Is Surfshark safe?
Yes, Surfshark is safe. On top of our audits, we offer all the features you need to look for in a safe VPN: we use military-grade encryption, updated protocols, and 100% RAM-only servers. We also have a strict no-logs policy. All of these VPN features ensure that your privacy and security are always our first priority.
Can you be tracked if you use VPN?
No, you can’t be tracked if you use a VPN. However, if your VPN doesn’t use obfuscation, your internet service provider can see that you’re using a VPN.
Can a VPN be hacked?
From a VPN user’s perspective, you can get hacked with a running VPN if your computer is infected prior to turning on a VPN. That means your data is already leaking, and turning a VPN on won’t help.
Also, VPN encryption can be hacked when a hacker gets ahold of a secret key that is used to build the encrypted tunnel and then decode it.
Will a VPN stop hackers?
A VPN will stop the conventional means of hacking, like tracking you on the web or hacking into your network and stealing your personal data.