So, you have read all about the state-sponsored online surveillance programmes Edward Snowden revealed a few years back. You have seen the political arguments shifting towards how little privacy citizens should have online rather than how much. And you have seen countries right across the globe bringing in more and more intrusive laws on how much of your personal online information should be available to law enforcement agencies and others.
Like many other internet users, you are likely to be all set to take a few steps to protect your online privacy from these state-sponsored intrusions, and of course, the many cyber-criminals and hackers who are getting away with reams of private data every day through various online heists.
But what exactly do you need to do to protect your privacy? Even the shortest of google searches is likely to have turned up the term VPN as one of the best options out there.
But dig a little deeper and you are likely to have turned up the term SmartDNS as well. For the uninitiated, even these two terms can prove to be rather confusing. And having worked in the VPN industry myself for a number of years, the single most common question I get asked, on a daily basis, is ‘what is the difference?’
It’s actually pretty straightforward. So, let me explain, VPN VS SmartDNS: What Should You Use?
VPN stands for Virtual Private Network and is a service which has been used by businesses for decades but has only emerged into the private market in more recent years.
A VPN works a bit like a cloaking device to hide and protect your internet connection and all the data you are using whilst online. If you connect to the internet while using a VPN, it will reroute your online activity through an encrypted tunnel to an external server. This encrypted tunnel renders it all but impossible for your online activity to be traced back to your IP Address.
What this means is that you are using the internet anonymously, as it is your IP Address which websites and services, as well as Government surveillance officers and hackers, use to identify you.
The use of encryption is a vital security tool as this makes all your data completely secure, regardless of what type of internet connection you are using. Even on a public Wi-Fi network, which is notoriously unsafe, your data is safe if you are using a VPN.
Also, you can connect to a server anywhere in the world, meaning you can also access sites which are geo-blocked too. Say for example you are visiting Europe but want to access your Netflix account back in the US. On a regular connection, you would be unable to, as the service is unavailable outside the US.
But with a VPN, you can watch US Netflix no matter where in Europe you are located, just by connecting to a server based in the US.
So how does a SmartDNS differ from a VPN?
To put it simply, a SmartDNS offers a pared-down version of a VPN, which offers the same basic function, but using a different technology, and without the benefits of any encryption.
DNS stands for ‘Domain Name System’ and is what translates website addresses into numerical internet protocol (IP). What a SmartDNS does is receive the information that is used to defines a user location and is then able to change it to a different region as specified by the user.
This means that a SmartDNS is great at getting around geo-blocking, but is not an ideal tool for protecting your online privacy.
The next obvious question is; why would anyone choose a SmartDNS over a VPN? Well, there are a few good reasons. The lack of encryption means connection speeds are faster. And if streaming or downloading content is your priority, this can be a key factor.
They are also cheaper than a VPN too, with users on average saving about 50% on the monthly fees for a good SmartDNS compared to a good VPN.
Should I use a VPN or SmartDNS?
The answer to this question depends very much on what your reasons are for signing up for such a service in the first place.
If your main purpose is to access geo-blocked content and stream movies and TV shows, your best bet is probably a SmartDNS as they are faster and cheaper.
But if you want to enhance your privacy and security online, which is the main priority for most of the users who contact me, the only choice is a VPN. They offer encryption for all your online data and total anonymity online. Plus, you can still access geo-blocked sites and stream video content.
Yes, it will cost a little bit more than a SmartDNS, but we are only talking a few extra dollars here, and for that, you are definitely getting your money’s worth.