Will a VPN protect your computer? Consumer Reports puts them to the test

Consumer Reports says the false security you get from some virtual private networks, or VPNs, could leave you less safe online.
Published: Dec. 16, 2022 at 8:44 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - Over the years, people have looked to various tools to try to stay safer online, including antivirus software and virtual private networks, known as VPNs. But be careful: As Consumer Reports explains, the false sense of security you get from some VPNs could actually leave you less safe online.

A VPN is a software service that routes data to and from your computer or smartphone through an encrypted tunnel. It sounds great, but testing by Consumer Reports reveals that many VPNs don’t live up to their claims. When you are using a VPN, you are actually giving a VPN your data, and the VPN service is able to access and use your data as it sees fit.

CR’s tests include a check to see whether best security practices were used, whether data is leaked, and what the VPN’s privacy policy says about how customers’ personal data might be used. Of the 16 VPNs tested, three came out on top—Mullvad VPN AB, IVPN, and Mozilla VPN. These three did the best because they limit data sharing, they have accurate marketing messages, they include third-party audits of their programs, and they have open-source code and modern protocols.

When shopping around, CR says, be wary of any VPN that promises to provide complete anonymity online or to protect you from all advertisers, governments, or criminals online, or services that offer “military-grade encryption,” which doesn’t actually mean anything.

Consumer Reports also says not everyone needs a VPN. One can offer you some protection if you’re using the free WiFi at a coffee shop or the airport, but it’s not necessary if you’re on a trusted network at home or work.