One of the most compelling advantages to using a VPN is encryption. When connected to a VPN, all your data to and from the VPN server is scrambled, so anyone who might intercept your data would be unable to decipher it. This is particularly useful for mobile devices, such as laptops and smartphones that connect to insecure public hotspots.
In such environments, morally reprehensible thieves could eavesdrop on your connection and collect virtually anything you submit, including passwords, emails and photos. However, by establishing a connection with your VPN on such hotspots, your data becomes an incoherent mess to any unauthorized users.
The benefits aren’t limited to public hotspots. While you’re indeed safer on a home network with the recommended WPA2 wireless encryption and strong, random password, you’re not completely out of the woods. There’s always a possibility of in-range hackers breaking into your network, especially if you fail to follow the aforementioned encryption recommendation. Employing a VPN on your home network prevents any intercepted data from being read, just like it would on a public hotspot.
Furthermore, ISPs have been known to snoop on their users. Whether this is solely watching ports to block peer-2-peer traffic or collecting of personal and identifiable data, you probably don’t want your ISP Big Brother watching your every move.
It wouldn’t even matter if you use a wired connection or the strongest wireless encryption in the world. By the time your data reaches the ISP, it’s visible unless the website uses a secure connection or you use a VPN.