By Melissa Burns
A VPN (Virtual Private Network) can be described as a tunnel between you and the Internet. It encrypts the data that passes through it, hides your location, masks your identity and protects you from many dangers of the Web. These days, it is a good idea to use a VPN even if you don’t worry about privacy all that much – it is just safer.
It is particularly important for students, as in college you do a lot of work on the Internet, and a good portion of this work is done in public places: on campus, in libraries, on the go. You need extra protection if you access the Internet not at home, especially if you use public Wi-Fi. Some colleges do offer their own campus VPNs, but don’t be too eager to rely on them – there is a number of reasons why you should consider getting a commercial VPN on top of them.
Campus VPNs have aren’t configured for your convenience
Campus VPNs exist for very specific purposes, and making life convenient for students isn’t one of them. Usually, they serve to provide access to various licensed databases that are limited for the use by your college’s staff and students (article indexes, electronic journals, library databases, etc.). In fact, quite often you are outright obliged to use them – as a security precaution and an easy way to control who gets access to the university’s resources. This means that they aren’t built for your convenience. For example, some are available only on campus, others only off-campus. If you use them, it means that you remain unprotected half the time, and it will be where you are most vulnerable – while using public Wi-Fi hotspots that are notoriously dangerous.
Campus VPNs let others decide what you can do on the Internet
On-campus VPNs often limit your access to specific websites and services. Even if you don’t realize it right away, you may suddenly find yourself incapable of using a website or a service simply because it is deemed inappropriate. If you want both protection and complete freedom in what websites you get to visit, consider taking a look at VPN overviews and choosing an independent VPN that will suit your needs.
Campus VPNs don’t protect you from offline identity theft threats
This one concerns not only campus VPNs but VPNs in general. Nevertheless, students who believe that their college already took care about protecting their privacy and do not want to lift a finger to get a VPN of their own are more likely to be complacent in other security matters. One of them is that even a genuinely effective campus VPN does nothing to protect you from offline threats to your identity, which are often much more simple than we are used to believe. For example, an ATM company servicing your college may equip its ATMs with top-notch security measures, but you still have to apply your own common sense to protect yourself from low-tech fraud methods like shoulder surfing. The same goes for many other situations: you should be careful when you use your devices in public places, for you never know who watches over your shoulder when you input a password to your bank account or social media.
Campus VPNs don’t let you connect from another region
One of the most popular functions of VPNs allows you to appear to be in a different geographical location than where you really are. It can be done for a variety of reasons: for example, some websites and services are region locked and may be inaccessible from your real location using normal means. Naturally, your campus VPN won’t give you such an opportunity – if you use it, you will have to connect to these websites from your university network.
Campus VPNs often don’t allow you to use torrents
While torrenting doesn’t automatically equal illegal practice, it is commonly perceived as such. Therefore, many campus VPNs block you from using torrents by default or even don’t allow you to visit torrent websites. This is why if you want to torrent freely and protect your privacy while doing it, an independent VPN is in order.
Campus VPNs aren’t exactly concerned about your privacy
Campus VPNs are primarily designed to protect the university’s assets, not your privacy. This is why most (if not all) of them keep logs of your activity on the Internet, which can be accessed if needed. Look for independent VPNs that don’t keep logs if you really value your online privacy.
Campus VPNs often cannot be used everywhere
When you deal with campus VPNs, you don’t have any choice – it is a take it or leave it situation. They decide what services to give you, and you have no say in it. Some are only available on campus, others can only be used off-campus. Whatever the case, your protection will be lacking – you will have to spend part of the time open to all the dangers the Internet has in store. This includes the time you need protection most of all – when you connect to public Wi-Fi hotspots. In addition, campus VPNs are sometimes limited in terms of which and how many devices you can use with them.
As you can see, campus VPNs are far from being an optimal solution for your online privacy and security needs. Fortunately, there are plenty of independent alternatives to choose from.
Melissa Burns graduated from the faculty of Journalism of Iowa State University. Nowadays she is an entrepreneur and independent journalist. Follow her @melissaaburns or contact at firstname.lastname@example.org