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No matter who you are or how old you may be, you run the very real risk of exposing yourself online. No, I do not mean it that way, so get your minds out of the gutters.

No, we are instead referring to the fact that whenever you are connected to the Internet, be it browsing a website or playing your favorite online game like Fortnite or Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, you are exposed to a huge number of nefarious actors that could potentially spy on you. People you do not know or even want to know could find out information about your browsing habits. They can see the sites you browse and when you last browsed a site. Even if you take precautions while browsing websites, a number of your favorite games could leave the door open for people to find out your IP address. From there, it is possible for them to find out your name, the names of your family members, your home address, your current and former jobs, and whatever other information they desire.

It used to be that the use of a Virtual Private Network, or VPN, was a dirty word amongst gamers. They often resulted in high pings in multiplayer servers or even just terribly inconsistent speeds that were nowhere close to non-VPN speeds from your Internet service provider. However, these days there are a huge number of free and paid VPN solutions that can both protect your online identity. While paid is usually the best course of action when selecting a VPN, there are some good free ones out there and thankfully there are some services that can help you find the best free VPN for gaming.

What is a VPN?

To back things up for a moment, let us briefly explain what a VPN can do for you. In short, a VPN is a way in which you can add more security and privacy to your browsing and gaming habits. A VPN is a service that can hide your real IP from any would-be attackers. VPNs mask your IP which makes it seem to outsiders that are somewhere else than where you actually are. For instance, if you live in Seattle but use a VPN located in Toronto, your public facing IP will say that you are from somewhere in Toronto. Simple, right? This little bit of added security goes a long way to making sure that you are not sharing too much with the wrong types of people.

VPNs for Gaming

So why would anybody want to use a VPN when gaming? Wouldn't that just add in an extra step in the connection and cause lag? Sure, that is one possibility. In fact, that used to be the case before more and more VPN options became available to users. These days, many reputable VPN providers have enough servers, server capacity, and bandwidth to go around ensuring that connections are almost identical to the speeds you would see without using a VPN. The only real difference you may see is a very slight increase to your pings, depending on how far you are from your VPN server location. Your connection speed to a VPN also hinges on the level of encryption and security you would like to have. Higher levels of encryption will result in slowed connection speeds. If you want just the basic level of protection, one that simply masks your IP, you typically will not incur much in the way of a speed or ping penalty.

However, the possible slight hit to your ping might be worth it if it means you are not sharing your IP with people you do not know. While many games seem to take some measures to protect the privacy of those who are connected together during an online session, it still is not enough. Some games may just leave your IP hanging out there for anybody to find out, especially if the online games are peer-to-peer (P2P) connections. Even some games that use hosted servers may still share your personal IP if voice over IP (VOIP) is used for communicating with others. Using a VPN will help to mask your IP so that you will not have to worry about this happening.

Beyond VPN

Using a VPN is just one way to make sure you keep your online privacy intact. Other important steps to take include using a unique and strong password for every website you visit. Over the years, we have seen numerous websites fall victim to hacks. When that happens, it usually means that usernames and even passwords are now at risk if used on other sites. Websites themselves have also taken steps to ensure your safety online. The use of HTTPS as the new standard protocol has really taken off in recent years. This is the more secure version of the old HTTP standard. This essentially tells a person that the site they are on is authentic and secure. Using HTTPS provides levels of security to protect the privacy of data transferred to and from websites and helps to prevent man-in-the-middle attacks.

There are many different VPN options available to you. With a little luck and some handy guidance, you should be able to find one that suits your particular needs and budget. In addition, be sure to keep a look out for shady sites that do not use HTTPS, and always make a strong and unique password for every account you have. Using a password manager will do you wonders in this regard. Do not forget to use some common sense either. Common sense can go a long way to protecting yourself online.