Should You Use a Credit Card to Purchase Your VPN?
When discussing the topic of anonymity online, there are a lot of different factors at play. There’s your IP address to protect, your home address, your actual identity that can be tied back to your online activities. All of these things are markers that major surveillance agencies and hackers alike try to use to identify and trace your browsing habits online, which can be dangerous for anyone who values their anonymity above all else.
So what can be done to better protect your personal financial information from being picked up? Using alternative payment methods at checkout besides a standard credit card. Read our guide to buying a VPN with a credit card to find out everything you need about how to maintain the utmost level of privacy the next time you sign up for a new VPN online!
Protecting your financial information
Many VPN providers on the market these days will pride themselves on their ability to keep your traffic encrypted while you do things like shop online with your credit card. But how are you supposed to protect that credit card information when you don’t even have the VPN set up yet?
Well to start, it’s important to know how a credit card transaction works when you shop for anything online -- VPN or otherwise. When you sign onto a website that utilizes any kind of online shopping mechanism, the website itself should be encrypted by a protocol known as SSL, or a Secure Sockets Layer.
The way SSL actually works is pretty technical, but in simple terms it goes something like this: you sign onto a website, and that website forms a secure connection between their server and the device you logged in with. Both ends of that connection have contributed to what’s known as a “handshake”, or three different encryption keys that are handed off -- one to each party -- while the third is reserved as the “session key” that keeps the connection secure.
Think of a secret handshake that you and your friend have established. If an imposter were to try and come in and imitate the handshake, either one of you would automatically know that the new person was a fake. In this analogy, the person attempting to imitate the handshake is a would-be hacker.
Sometimes an SSL transaction can be pre-hijacked by a hacker who’s already installed their viruses on your device in anticipation of this very thing. The malware will detect when you’re shopping online or attempting to connect to a “secure” destination that’s “protected” by SSL. In reality, the software has actually diverted you to a page which looks identical to the one you thought was a regular checkout, complete with an SSL badge both on the page itself and in the corner of your preferred browser.
Once you’ve gotten to the fake page, the malware will simply record your information off the diverted page and send your credit card data back to home base. That said these types of hacks are relatively rare, and increasingly difficult to pull off as browsers and operating systems get more wise to the techniques that hackers try and use to fool their encryption systems.
But even though a potential third-party who might be trying to peer in on the transaction may have a difficult time getting their hands on your financial information, the VPN provider may still keep a log of that data just in case.
What does “no log” really mean?
Many VPN providers pride themselves on being what’s called a “no log” VPN, which (supposedly) means that no part of your credit card information or personal details are kept on their local servers. The point of this is not to protect their users from hackers, but rather legitimate investigative departments like the FBI or NSA who might want to get information on a user who’s keen to keep their online activities a secret.
Oftentimes while a VPN provider may not log critical identifying information like your actual name or phone number, they will keep more detailed records of the IP address you first connected with when you originally signed up. Also, at some level they do need to keep your credit card information on file in case you’re on a subscription that renews every month or year.
Anonymous payment services pick up the slack
This is where anonymous payment services come in. Some of the more popular options in this department include:
By using an anonymous payment option like any of those listed above, you can guarantee that your credit card, debit card, or bank account information will never be exposed during the initial transaction. Not only that, but even if the authorities wanted to somehow use your exposed IP address to try and identify you, without any details available from your payment processor, it becomes next to impossible to actually tie you (as a real life person) back to the device that was used to connect to the VPN in the first place.
Of all the options listed above, generally the two most secure routes will be either a gift card or cryptocurrency. Many VPNs at the bare minimum will accept one or the other, while most premium providers will put up the option to use both if you so choose.
Gift cards can be purchased in a physical store with cash, rendering them essentially untraceable. Similarly, cryptocurrency operates off the back of what’s known as the “blockchain”, a system of checks which completely obscures the source of an original transaction while still verifying the coin itself was purchased with real money.
If you have the option, we always recommend going with a fully anonymous payment option if it’s available to you. Anonymous payments protect you not only from hackers who launch man-in-the-middle attacks, but also keep your VPN provider from potentially revealing your data to the authorities in the case of an official subpoena.
If neither of these choices are the right fit for you, at the very least you should always triple-verify that the connection between you and the VPN provider is 100% secure before you enter any credit card information that could be tied back to your true identity. This means checking the URL to see if it matches up with the actual site (even one letter off could be all a hacker needs to fool a potential victim), and always make sure that the SSL certificate granted the site is the genuine deal.
Buying a VPN service is the most dangerous part of the whole process, but once you’ve got your service up and running on your devices you can be sure that every transaction you make while shopping online is protected and secured behind the best encryption services out there today!