VPNs are becoming mainstream, survey finds, but US beats UK in adaptation and general VPN culture

A recent survey by Wombat Security, 2017 User Risk Report, has shown that VPNs are becoming mainstream – but American respondents surveyed turned out to be much bigger VPN users than the respondents in the UK.

In the U.S., 65% of 1,000 respondents said that they used a VPN on a corporate and/or personal device, while only 44% of 1,000 respondents in the UK said they used a VPN. Also, a staggering 23% of UK respondents said they knew what a VPN was, but chose not to use one – compared to only 16% in the US. And finally, as many as 33% of UK respondents did not know what a VPN was, compared to 19% in the U.S.

Recent developments in the U.S. and the UK, such as the Investigatory Powers Act in the UK and new ISP rights in the US, have significantly boosted the popularity of VPNs, increasing NordVPN’s users from these countries three times and more.

VPNs are the main tool for those desiring to protect their online privacy and security. How does a VPN work? A user’s Internet traffic gets encrypted and routed through a secure tunnel between two points: the computer and a remote VPN server. This way, no one can access the data that passes through the tunnel – it becomes invisible to ISPs, government snoopers, and advertisers. Moreover, it becomes harder to be intercepted by identity thieves and hackers.

What can VPNs be used for? Here is the list:

  1. Public Wi-Fi. When a user connects to a VPN server and goes online on an unprotected Wi-Fi at a hotel, restaurant or airport – their data will also be automatically encrypted, and they can even proceed with their online banking or shopping.
  2. Online shopping.There are many ways online shopping can become hazardous to any user. For example, any website may be a spoofed fraudulent website set up by hackers to steal the data. VPNs encrypt data shared online into a safe tunnel, but users need to be careful and identify fraudulent sites – for example, the correct payment gateway will always have https URL.
  3. Protection against government snooping (both UK and US).The UK passed its Snooper’s Charter last November, and now the government has almost unlimited powers to access everyone’s browsing history and online habits, without any evidence or court order. In the US, intelligence agencies were found to be conducting illegal surveillance on American citizens over a five-year period. A VPN can help hide a user’s IP address and avoid government snooping.
  4. Protection against ISP tracking. In the US, Internet Service Providers are now free to collect and share their subscribers’ privatedata that includes precise geolocation, financial information, health information, children’s information and web browsing history. In the UK, ISPs are the ones collecting and storing citizen online data for 12 months. A VPN protects against all tracking by hiding a user’s IP address, and encrypts user’s Internet activity, so even an ISP can’t track, collect and share it.
  5. Net neutrality.Since net neutrality is being revoked in the US, Internet Service providers are starting to throttle Internet speed, capping streaming, and giving preference to some websites over others. So those who want to stream with normal speeds can use a VPN to bypass ISP throttling.
  6. Removing geo-blocks when traveling. If one is traveling, and want to connect to their favorite shows at home, they will often find that they are geo-blocked in other countries. A VPN would allow circumventing such restrictions by hiding user’s real IP address and substituting it with the ‘local’ address. So when the streaming site looks at an IP, it will see the IP of the VPN server. Bypassing geo-blocks also helps with accessing such sites as Wikipedia or The New York Times in countries with restricted Internet access.

The growing popularity of VPNs is related to the fact that the Internet is not a private and safe space – it’s an illusion to think that what we do online will stay invisible to others. VPNs help protect Internet users’ privacy and are becoming an integral part of the online experience.