It’s not just your online reputation that’s at stake if any of your gaming accounts get hacked, there’s the hardware that can become compromised and potential access by criminals to other areas of your machine, say if you’re using a Windows laptop.
There’s an easy way to ensure that your gaming accounts stay safe online, by the simple installation of a Virtual Private network, or VPN. This can protect you from any internet bad guys, and offers many other advantages – from the simple convenience of not having to bother with how to clear all Bing history, to the more involved aspects of cyber security and the convenience of accessing geo-restricted content.
First, let’s examine how a VPN operates:
A VPN creates an encrypted connection between whatever device you’re using and a remotely located server location. Any of your internet traffic is routed through this encrypted connection, protecting your data from potential interference or interception by any malicious or snooping third party.
You can connect to a VPN server by installing a VPN client on your device, either as a browser extension or system-wide, then selecting a server location; sometimes the VPN will do this for you automatically if you don’t choose a preference. The client then connects to the internet using protocols such as OpenVPN or IKEv2.
Whilst using a VPN, you usually won’t notice any difference in performance, in fact, in some cases, your connection might speed up if your ISP ever ‘throttles’ your data; this is all because your device’s IP address will be replaced with the IP address of the VPN server.
Any data transmitted over the web from your device is encrypted by the VPN client and sent to its own dedicated server network. The chosen server then decrypts the data and sends it onwards to its required destination, leaving you secure and anonymous whilst you surf the web or play games. All this can protect your internet activity from being monitored or restricted by third parties.
Let’s look at just a few of the main advantages of a VPN:
No data throttling
Data throttling is the practice of a customer’s internet service provider (ISP) slowing down the rate of data transfer for that customer’s account. This usually happens if the customer has exceeded any data fair usage policy, especially if the data isn’t from a landline or fiber connection, but from 4G or 5G. An ISP might throttle data to prevent a single user from slowing down the network for everyone else. This is a particular problem, of course, for online gamers, so using a VPN can ensure that the gamer’s internet connection isn’t throttled.
Sometimes, data throttling is also used as a commercial incentive to encourage, or even force, customers to upgrade to higher-priced plans offering better connection speeds.
To find out if your internet connection is being throttled, you can use an online speed test tool. If your connection is consistently slower than what you’re paying for, you may be experiencing data throttling. Also, bear in mind that throttling isn’t always a 24/7 practice, it may only be prevalent in certain areas or at certain times of day. In any case, all you need to do is install a good quality VPN and that can often fix the issue.
Anonymity and encryption
Many people like to remain anonymous as they play games or surf, not least to protect their mental health from online bullies and aggressive players. But together with that anonymity, VPNs use strong symmetric and asymmetric ‘scrambling’ encryption algorithms and long keys, making it almost impossible for hackers to decipher your data. From sending email to typing in your gaming username and password, you can rest assured that nobody is going to steal your identity or impersonate you online.
Multiplayer mode and downloading updates in the background
Grand Theft Auto (GTA) and similar games often require updates and patches to be downloaded, which can use a lot of bandwidth that interferes with gameplay, especially if you’re on a console. Some games are notorious for crawling speeds and downtime in any case; so using a VPN means that all this data won’t be assigned to your ISP account, again avoiding the possibility of data throttling.
Split Tunneling Options
Another useful facility of using a VPN is split tunneling. This allows the customer to choose which apps and programs will be routed via the VPN and which do not, offering better speeds where it’s required but the unimportant stuff doesn’t have to clog up the channel you use for essentials. For example, you might want to use a VPN for online banking, gaming, and shopping, but not for looking at cat pictures on Facebook!
Accessing geo-restricted content
If you’re off on vacation in Europe, but you want to catch your favorite show streamed on your Disney+ account, the content might be inaccessible if your IP address shows that you’re in, say, Paris, France. But a VPN extension on your browser will use a US-based server, and the streaming platform you’re trying to access might detect you as being in Portland, Oregon. Problem solved!
In summary, using a VPN not only for online gaming but for all your internet activity around your home makes perfect sense. VPNs are often free or available at very affordable monthly costs, so there’s really no reason not to install one on your domestic devices. It only takes minutes, but it could save hours of frustration.