Can a VPN protect you from ransomware?

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Ransomware is a pretty serious problem: a hack can cost you a lot of money or your data, both if you’re unlucky. It’s important to protect yourself against this threat, and we’ve seen some VPNs claim they can help. But can a VPN really protect you from ransomware?

VPN ransomware protection

The answer is simply no, a VPN cannot help you with, prevent or resolve ransomware attacks. Anyone who claims they can is trying to sell you something. Unreliable VPN providers are guilty of marketing their products as panaceas for all problems on the Internet, and “ransomware” is just another keyword for them. Even a VPN is not a panacea for internet privacy. You also need to change your browsing habits.

The reason a VPN can’t block ransomware is because they are very different things. In real-world terms, it’s a bit like replacing the tires on your car to repair a dent in your windshield. It is not directly related. To understand a little better how this works, or rather not, we need to take a closer look at both ransomware and VPNs.

How ransomware works

The way most ransomware works is that it somehow infects your system, usually through a file you download or even a targeted attack. Once on your system, it spreads and encrypts parts of your hard drive, or even all of it. To unlock and decrypt your data, you need to pay money, a ransom, to the attackers; hence “ransomware”.

As you can imagine, ransomware is a nasty thing to fall victim to, and what makes it worse is that there is no guarantee that you will actually get your files after paying the ransom. Quite often, attackers simply keep the money without handing over the key to the encrypted files. So it’s no surprise that anti-ransomware software has become a booming business.

How VPNs work

Obviously, when business is booming, people will want a piece of it, and in a way, it stands to reason that VPNs could be a way to protect against ransomware. After all, they can protect you online, and many providers promise security of some sort or another.

The thing is, though, VPNs only affect how you appear on the web. When you use a virtual private network, you route your connection through a server that is owned and operated by your VPN provider. This makes it look like you’re somewhere other than your actual location, which is great if you’re trying to get around regional restrictions.

However, it does nothing to deter ransomware. A change of location does not mean that you are suddenly undetectable to criminals, especially if you are the one who downloaded the malware in the first place.

However, redirecting your connection is not the only thing VPNs do, they also encrypt your connection in a so-called VPN tunnel. This is great if you want to prevent your internet service provider, your government, copyright watchdogs, or anyone else who wants to monitor your connection from snooping on you.

Once again, however, this does not apply to ransomware: the software is already on your system, and VPN software cannot do anything against its presence. It also cannot prevent you from downloading it or protect you from hackers getting into your system.

Threat detection systems

That said, some VPNs include additional security software with their description, which can help combat ransomware. Good examples are ProtonVPN’s NetShield and ExpressVPN’s Threat Manager. These act like similar systems offered by many of the best antivirus programs in that they block access to suspicious sites, including those known to infect you with ransomware.

In these cases, a VPN can help combat ransomware, but only thanks to these additional modules; the core technology is still pretty powerless. You’re better off with the protection your antivirus program offers, which also extends to scanning your computer for dangerous ransomware before it runs, something a VPN can’t do.

VPNs and ransomware

VPNs are not defensive armor that you can put on and be protected from all the ills of the Internet, no matter how much VPN providers would like to convince you otherwise. They are a protective measure you can take to prevent being tracked, as well as a tool that can bypass blocks.

There are many valid ways to prepare for a ransomware attack, but getting a VPN subscription is not one of them. If you find a provider that claims otherwise, or even hints that they can, you may want to stay away from them and their dubious claims. There are many VPNs out there that try to gain customers without claiming magical powers, stick with them; Our selection of the best VPNs is a good starting point.