Colleges around the US have been delaying the start of the spring semester due to the pandemic. If you’re about to return to campus soon (or already have), here’s how these top USA VPNs can make your life a bit easier.
#1 Access Exclusive Content from Abroad
VPNs have the ability to mask your real IP address and assign a new one based on the server you connect to. This lets you trick websites and online services into thinking you’re located in a different region. As a result, you gain access to any website blocked in the US, as well as unlock new content from around the world:
- Netflix shows exclusive to other regions (the US has fallen behind on the number of Netflix shows available).
- YouTube videos blocked in the US due to copyright reasons
- New streaming sites unavailable in the US (e.g. BBC iPlayer)
On top of that, VPNs also help you get around any firewalls set up by your school. More details below.
#2 Bypass School Firewall Restrictions
Firewalls are a set of rules used to allow or block specific connections to your device(s). Now, their primary use is network security (i.e. blocking malicious outside connections). However, colleges also use them as a virtual “no fun allowed” sign, blocking services that don’t serve an educational purpose. Yes, that means no sneaking in an episode of your favorite show on Netflix during that one boring lecture.
To get around that, all you need is to run a US VPN app on your device of choice. Basically, it acts as a middleman between you and whatever website you want to use. Unless VPNs are specifically blocked on campus, you should easily get around any firewall rules set up by the network admins.
But what if your school does block VPNs? No worries, as some providers offer obfuscation. This feature disguises your VPN traffic as regular HTTPS traffic, essentially hiding the fact that you’re using a VPN in the first place.
Should I Use a US VPN Server to Bypass Firewalls?
It doesn’t matter which country you connect to, unless you’re specifically looking to unblock content from abroad. Say, connecting to a VPN server in the UK so you can watch It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, or access shows on BBC iPlayer and other platforms.
On the other hand, using a US VPN server will get you the fastest speeds possible, so keep that in mind. Plus, having an American IP address will seem less suspicious in case the network admins check the school Wi-Fi connection logs for any reason. For the most part, colleges don’t bother blocking VPNs; but you never know.
#3 Safeguard Your Payment Info
With tuition costs and a pandemic raging outside, the last thing you need is some random hacker stealing your Paypal account or credit card info. And unfortunately, it seems hacking incidents have increased by as much as 300% since Covid first hit. Most of that increase is due to Coronavirus-related phishing scams (fake emails and websites), but regular attacks haven’t gone away either:
Hackers can create fake hotspots that mimic the real thing (which earned them the nickname “Evil Twins”). If you connect to one of these mimic networks, hackers can easily harvest any sensitive data you type in. Alternatively, they can redirect you to phishing sites, where you’ll be asked to input valuable information (emails, login info, etc.)
Next up, hackers can easily steal the Wi-Fi password using security exploits found in current-gen encryption protocols. That is, if they don’t already have the school Wi-Fi password from other sources. Whatever the case, it’s only a matter of using network analysis software to view your traffic.
Fortunately, VPNs encase your data in a layer of encryption before it’s sent towards its destination. That means hackers will see a bunch of gibberish. Network admins won’t be able to see what websites you’ve accessed, either – just that you’re connecting to a VPN server. Note that this won’t work with school-issued devices, so try not to access anything sketchy on those.
Will Any US VPN Do the Job?
Not exactly. Word of advice: you should be highly skeptical of so-called “free” VPNs.
Why? Well, for starters, free VPNs collect and sell your data to third parties. Mind you, Internet providers do so as well. But at least ISPs have the decency to not leak your data online, as was the case with several free VPN providers in 2020. The personal data of over 20 million people was exposed in the incident, a cautionary reminder to vet your VPN properly.
Now, not all of them are as bad as described above. However, even trustworthy free VPNs can’t offer the same level of speed and performance as a subscription-based service. After all, server upgrades don’t come cheap.
Finally, you won’t have much luck using a free US VPN for streaming content from abroad. Netflix and co. block these services fairly easily, and the VPN providers can’t exactly afford to get fresh new IPs all the time. Even if they do work, it won’t exactly be a smooth streaming experience for the reasons described above.
Save yourself the headache. We’ve linked to a great list of top-notch VPNs for the US at the beginning of this article, so give those a shot.