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I understand the necessity of using VPN when connecting to the work network from the outside. What I want to know is there any benefit for a strictly consumer computer that is connected to the internet but only for non-work things? Does it protect against viruses or people taking over your computer for example?

  • One thing the answers fail to mention is that VPNs have a huge security benefits in untrusted networks like public Wifi. Because arp poisoning, TLS downgrading, and other attacks are more feasible when someone's on the same local network, you can sidestep a lot of that vulnerability by VPNing to a trusted network. – TopherIsSwell Mar 13 at 22:30
  • @TopherIsSwell those sounds like the sorts of details that could make a good additional answer. – Conor Mancone Mar 13 at 22:45
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What a VPN does for you is establish an encrypted channel to another location and then pass all your internet traffic through that second location. In effect, you can consider your internet traffic as originating at that second location. Whether that has any benefit for you depends on the specifics.

In general it does not provide any additional security to your specific machine- if you engage in risky behavior on the internet like downloading random executables or visiting sketchy websites then doing that same activity through a VPN does not help keep you safer.

However, whoever provides the VPN can theoretically make you safer. For example, my workplace runs an internet filter and has a dedicated security staff to maintain it, so it can catch and prevent a lot of risky online behavior. When I connect to my workplace VPN then all my web traffic runs through that filter- that makes my online activity safer, but it's not because of anything special about VPN, it's because the people on the other end of the VPN have taken the time to provide security mechanisms beyond what the VPN provides.

However, a major non-commercial use of VPNs is hiding your true location (if you trust your VPN provider to keep that secret for you). If you don't like the fact that web services can tell where your traffic originates from then you can establish a VPN link to a provider in another area, and then it appears as though all your traffic originates from your provider. This is exactly analogous how people with offline privacy concerns can get a PO box from the post office in order to hide their true home address.

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  • I was about to write pretty much the same thing, nice one. However, I would maybe add that resources (servers) that are not otherwise accessible from the internet can be accessed using a VPN (maybe home server?). Also, public wi-fi... – Peter Harmann Mar 14 at 0:33
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It's worth mentioning that almost all VPNs offer encryption. When configured correctly, it hides both the destination and content of all connections between the client and the VPN server. This is useful when operating on untrusted networks such as public hotspots. However, your ISP's network may also be untrustworthy. For example, some ISP's intercept and alter DNS queries (which are normally unencrypted). Then there is also government surveillance to consider depending on the country in which you live. A common case for VPN when dealing with government surveillance is to get a VPN provider outside the country in a more trustworthy state.

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Generally speaking, A VPN will not protect you from viruses or people taking over your computer. VPN's are generally used to conceal the user's 'real IP address' (i.e. the IP address assigned to them by their ISP) from the servers that they connect to, or used to conceal the user's networking activity from their ISP. But, in general, the purpose of a VPN is not to protect against the type of attacks that you mentioned.

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  • concealing your IP is why a consumer might use a VPN to pirate movies/tv. The original idea of a VPN was to provide a secure way for people outside a corporate network to connect to the corporate network (and there's plenty of people that use it for just that). There's plenty of other use cases as well, including jumping the Great Firewall Of China. It's not limited to piracy. – Steve Sether Mar 19 at 16:54

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