Both personal and commercial VPN usage boomed during the coronavirus pandemic, particularly as remote working and a blurring of the lines between personal and work devices became increasingly blurred.
In fact, some 41% of Brits now use a VPN at least once weekly, and this trend is expected to continue in the near term at least.
However, there’s no doubt that VPNs represent relatively old technology and one that was developed in a very different innovation landscape. So, are VPNs still as relevant as they were before, or are they becoming increasingly obsolete in a distributed and decentralised age.
Then and Now – VPNs in the Digital Age
When the VPN was designed and developed during the 90s, the innovation came at a time when the Internet and online connectivity were still in their infancy.
Because of this and the initial vulnerabilities of the World Wide Web, VPNs played a key role in creating an additional layer of network security and preventing third parties from observing your web traffic or intercepting data when online.
Over time, VPNs became increasingly popular and more widely used by individuals and businesses alike, as they became more sophisticated and capacious in their design while playing a more critical role in warding off the machinations of hackers.
However, there’s now an argument that we’ve reached a tipping point in this respect, as VPN usage has peaked and some of the technology’s potential vulnerabilities have become increasingly clear. This has also coincided with a dramatic and continued rise in the prevalence of cybercrime in the UK, with 445,357 reported instances in 2021 (60,111 of which came from businesses).
Another key element here is the changing technological landscape that provides a fleeting backdrop for VPN usage.
More specifically, VPN technology is underpinned by a centralised architecture rooted in data centres and a bolt-on to safeguard Internet usage and public network access.
While this has its merits, it’s increasingly at odds with the decentralised nature of contemporary Internet applications. It’s also relatively out of place in the age of the distributed Cloud, ensuring that it’s not easily integrated with the rest of the enterprise network (which is key from the perspective of businesses).
We’re also seeing other technologies emerge that threaten the popularity of VPNs. For example, so-called “zero-trust network access” ZTNA technology creates an identity and context-based access boundary around a particular application or network.
Such applications are hidden from search and discovery, while access is restricted through a trust broker to a limited set of named entities.
Of course, it can be argued that VPNs and ZTNAs sit at opposite ends of the network security spectrum, as while the former enable connectivity for remote users and managed devices, the latter restrict access to all but a few selected parties.
However, ZTNAs compete as a robust network security protection, while they’re arguably better suited to the wider technological landscape and tackling the issues posed by modern cyber criminals.
Why VPNs Still Offer Value
Traditional and centralised VPNs are also being directly threatened by decentralised alternatives, which utilise blockchain technology and an open source structure to prevent any type of activity logging.
It also ensures that your web traffic is distributed to the whole network, which means that there’s no single node that can fully process your activity or know precisely what you’re doing.
Decentralised VPNs also work more seamlessly with the contemporary technological landscape, particularly as blockchain technology and connectivity concepts such as the metaverse become increasingly prevalent and influential.
With these points in mind, it would appear that the mere notion of centralised VPNs is becoming increasingly obsolete, with this trend only likely to gather momentum in the future.
At this stage, however, it’s important to consider the alternative case for centralised VPNs. To understand this in detail, we need to look at the best and market leading paid VPN clients, which provide exceptional value to users, especially when compared with free alternatives.
The issue with free VPNs is that they often undermine the service provided by paid clients, by offering only a limited ability to bypass significant firewall restrictions.
Such platforms also fail to safeguard your privacy during usage, logging your activity and potentially selling datasets to third parties as a way of monetising their service.
If we consider paid VPNs like Surfshark, however, the situation is entirely different. Firstly, such entities provide robust network protection and circumnavigate most blocks and firewalls, while they also take more significant steps to safeguard your privacy.
In a recent Surfshark review, it was also mentioned that the client offers access to 3,200 virtual servers in more than 65 countries and locations across the globe. This number is continuously growing too, providing a dense network of international coverage that guarantees widespread access and aids practices such as streaming and gaming.
At the same time, the client offers flexible pricing to suit your precise usage. This optimises the value for money you can receive as a user, while it’s possible to access the client for less than £3 a month on average.
Clearly, paid VPNs to offer far greater value, flexibility and protection than free alternatives, while such clients remain more than viable even in a decentralised technological realm.
The Bottom Line
There’s no doubt that free VPNs cloud the issues surrounding traditional virtual private networks, with paid clients far more capacious and easy to integrate into contemporary enterprise networks.
When dealing with paid clients, various VPN reviews also highlight the increased functionality of centralised virtual private networks and how this technology has evolved over time, meaning that the market leading products can continue to remain relevant even in an age of decentralised and distributed technologies.
The key is to identify the best-paid VPN clients on the market, by comparing comprehensive and independent reviews while making use of free trials as and when they’re offered by service providers.
This way, you can find a paid VPN client that can be seamlessly integrated into your existing technology stack, whether you’re a business owner with a remote workforce or an individual user.