GlobalSign Blog

02 Mar 2018

Should You Use a VPN for Console Gaming? Here's Why You Need to and How to Do It

Gaming online presents the same risks as any online activity. And when you stop to think about it, the sheer amount of data stored on your gaming system is terrifying.

What’s to stop hackers or overreaching governments from locating your IP address, passwords, email address, credit card information, and physical home address? Also, when making purchases on the store associated with your system, you expose valuable credit card data along with addresses and email logins without thinking.

If you’ve already taken steps to protect your computer using a VPN, it’s a no-brainer to consider doing this for your gaming system as well. But, do the benefits outweigh the effort it takes to set one up? And what if the VPN slows down your system and exposes you to game-sabotaging lag or restricted NAT types?

If you’re trying to decide if you should connect your gaming system to a VPN, you’ve come to the right place. This article will walk you through the benefits and potential side-effects and then show you how to set one up today.

How Secure are Consoles?

Consoles are relatively secure when compared to computers. But that doesn’t mean they are 100% secure, safe, and free from hacking, phishing attempts, or serious data collection.

While consoles don’t have widespread exposure to viruses or malware, it’s not uncommon for hackers to attempt to gain access to your account and retrieve secure data.

On consoles, the number-one target for thieves will be your account. Your account contains everything from personal details like your full name, date of birth, and often your home address. That’s not to mention your credit card information and likely a password that you’ve used before on multiple other platforms beyond your console.

While most platforms like PlayStation and Microsoft Xbox will have multiple-step verification options that link to your email and phone, it’s not enough.

Playstation’s two-step verification process

Not when the US Department of Homeland Security awarded a nearly $200,000 contract to a computer forensics group solely to hack the encryption of data on consoles.

Not when US police branches are using console communication channels to record conversations, trace IPs, and leverage that data to arrest potential criminals.

All of those long audio conversations or sent and received messages on your account are susceptible to government access and spying, let alone hackers looking to access your data.

It’s no news to anyone that smart home devices are already spying on us, collecting data, and then reporting that data to third-party services. So why would anyone be shocked to hear that the same thing happens on consoles? It’s a market that nearly 100 million Americans spend time in each day.

Monthly number of game console users in the United States from 2nd quarter 2012 to 1st quarter 2017 (in millions)

Not to mention the billions more in other countries around the world.

Everything collects, saves, and reports data in the modern world. Did you Google Map search for local pizza shops or a new restaurant? You can bet that information is saved in your online profile and that third-parties can bid on it.

Did you watch a movie afterwards on your smart TV? It may have been tracking your data to sell to advertisers.

According to VentureBeat, Microsoft has catered to government agencies like the NSA, providing ways around their encryption for easy access to platforms like Xbox, Kinect, and Outlook.

A simple Google search for anything related to console data collection will return millions of results.

Why? Because it’s real.

Government entities are openly stating their efforts to breach and monitor services from smart home features to consoles and everything in between.

So, even if your password is made with a “passphrase” and free from hacking, it’s likely that your conversations and messages are exposed and linked directly to your online profile.

So, what can you do about it? How do VPNs protect your console?

Here’s how.

Advantages of Using a VPN on Your Console

With all of the news surrounding the potential loopholes with consoles and spying, it’s only natural to consider using a VPN.

With a gaming console, the potential advantages of using a VPN are huge, including avoiding a serious uptick in cybercrime. Some people who start using a VPN designed for gaming end up with faster speeds than they would by connecting to a regular network that is shared with everyone in their household and the rest of their devices.

If you experience issues with lagging when you play games or watch Netflix on your console, using a VPN that is dedicated to the console can make these problems a thing of the past.

For example, PureVPN is a dedicated console VPN that gives you benchmark data on speed and connection, providing insight into how fast your internet will be while keeping it secure:

PureVPN PlayStation VPN Details

By masking and tunneling your geographic location, using a VPN can also help you view and download content that is restricted or not yet released in your country, meaning Netflix, YouTube, or other popular streaming services won’t be restricted or impacted.

When it comes to internet browsing on your console, you can also be sure that your history isn’t stored, tracked or leveraged.

VPNs allow you to access a private network and keep data safe as you use streaming services or gaming servers. To access one, you connect to the internet through a regular public connection, then begin using the private network as you use the console. The VPN replaces your IP address with its own, tunneling your connection to different cities, countries, and server locations to effectively mask your real online location.

Most VPNs also use multiple methods of encrypting data as it transmits, making the information nearly impossible to access for even the best hackers in the business.

The specific methods each VPN uses can be different, but some of the most popular ways include SSL, PPTP and more:

SSL: Otherwise known as secure sockets layer, this protocol encrypts data exchanged between you and another website or entity. As of 2017, Google recommends that all websites have SSL.

PPTP: Also known as point-to-point tunneling, this protocol provides a key step in protecting and encrypting data by using virtual “tunnels” to hide your location information.

Let’s recap. The advantages of using a VPN on your console include:

  • Secure internet browsing.
  • Unblocked content on streaming services like Netflix and YouTube.
  • Masking your location, history, and IP from hackers or government spying.

Choosing the Right VPN for Gaming

Choosing a VPN for your gaming console is like finding an internet provider - there are tons of different options, packages, plans, and services, meaning research is critical.  You should always analyse different VPNs before making a decision.

Why? There are free VPNs, paid plans and even ones that cater to torrenting and even Netflix. With such abundance of choices, research will be necessary for your decision.

In this section, we’ll lay out specific aspects to look for when choosing your VPN.

First off, ignore free VPNs. If you're serious about gaming on your console and protecting your privacy and data, look elsewhere.

Free VPNs are not ideal for serious gamers because they often put caps on how much bandwidth you can use. If you play multiple hours daily or use your console to stream movies, listen to music, and browse the web, it’s not going to work. Speed and bandwidth caps will even affect casual playing.

Plus, many free VPN providers make money by showing you ads that can seriously disrupt the gaming experience.

More importantly, free VPNs often store logs of your information, defeating the whole purpose of a VPN. When looking for a gaming VPN, you want a plan that logs nothing. Advertisers will pay big dollars to find out more about user demographics and habits. And VPN providers can easily obtain and sell this information.

Unless you want ads, logging, lag and a sub-par experience, avoid free VPNs like the plague.

Deciding on a paid VPN plan is tough. There are hundreds of options on the market today. Some are expensive, and some are reasonably priced. But the key details are in the features they offer.

As with many services, the monthly cost is generally lower if you pay for a full year. But many VPN services will allow you to try it for a month first before you commit to a full year.

Look for a VPN that offers strong encryption to protect your privacy, and some kind of support available anytime, whether by chat or phone. That way, if you have an all-night gaming session planned and experience issues, you can get support instantly.

No matter what VPN you select, it’s critical to find out how much of your information the provider collects. If the VPN keeps a full activity log of where you go and when, it’s simply adding a wasted step in your gaming process. It could potentially give you lag and experience-hindering issues.

Before you sign on with a VPN provider, read the terms of service very carefully. Find out if they keep logs, how extensive the logs are, and what the provider’s policy says about sharing the information with third parties like law enforcement agencies, advertisers, and researchers.

The Easiest Way to Set Up a VPN with Your Console Today

There are a few different methods you can use to establish a VPN with your console.

Some require an ethernet cable, but if you don’t have one, don’t fret. The Wi-Fi capabilities of consoles are limited, so using an ethernet cable will increase your download and upload speed. However, using an ethernet cable can often limit your mobility in terms of where you plug and play.

All in all, using an ethernet cable is not essential, but it’s recommended for maximum speed and minimized lag.

Another amazing option is to purchase a router equipped with a pre-installed VPN. It’s by far the easiest, simplest option you can choose. However, convenience comes at a cost. These routers are often extremely expensive, averaging over $100 and often reaching prices of $200-$400. If you have extra money to spare and less technical experience, it’s a great choice.

If you’d rather manually use a VPN, here is an easy way to get started today.

Installing a VPN to Your Router

An easy way to get started with a VPN for your console is to install a VPN on your router.

This will allow you to simply reconnect to your Wi-Fi and have the ease of a VPN without much set-up work.

Here’s how to get started:

Step 1. Open your router’s control panel and find the tab where you can enter the VPN details.

Depending on the type of router, it may be labeled “Setup,” “Settings,” or “Network.” You can do this by heading to the control panel and clicking “View network status and tasks.”

Next, click on the Wi-Fi connection that you are using:

From here, click on “Details…” to proceed:

Look for the selection of “IPv4 Default Gateway” and the accompanying number:

Copy the value of the gateway and head to your internet browser. Paste the value and hit enter:

You are now logged into your router’s settings.

Step 2. Enter the VPN information, such as username, password, and address in the appropriate fields. You should have received this information after initially signing up for the VPN service.

Step 3. Save all of these changes and exit the control panel.

Step 4. Open the system settings for your Xbox or PS4 console and navigate to network settings.

Step 5. Choose the VPN connection and select to connect the Xbox or PS4 to the router.

Step 6. Save changes and exit.

Setting up your console to connect to a VPN only takes a few minutes, and it can save you from opportunistic hackers, malicious attacks and the worst culprit of all, long lag times when you try to binge watch Netflix (admit it, you’re guilty of this too.)

With your VPN in place, you can enjoy a wider selection of entertainment without worrying about how your information is being transmitted and who is monitoring your activity.

For additional VPN installation options, try these methods.

Conclusion

Everything from smart TVs to smart home appliances can track, store, and log data from your personal profile and you can bet that your console gaming does the same. Beyond data logging, your entire profile often contains valuable credit card, email, password, and address information, not to mention multiple government agencies openly admitting to spying on users with Kinect, PS4 cameras and recording conversations online.

Without a VPN, you leave yourself extremely vulnerable to all of those attacking forces. With a quality VPN, you can expect fast and safe gaming that’s easy to setup on any console today. Protect yourself and get your gaming console connected to a VPN.

About the Author

John Mason is an Estonian based cybersecurity analyst/journalist who holds an MSc from Northumbria University. In his free time, he likes to give (free and paid) consultations and write about privacy related concerns, news, politics and technology. His work has been published in Tripwire, Digital Guardian, Glassdoor, StaySafeOnline and many more. His website is located here: JohnCyberMason.com

Note: This blog article was written by a guest contributor for the purpose of offering a wider variety of content for our readers. The opinions expressed in this guest author article are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect those of GlobalSign

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