A digital lock.
JLStock/Shutterstock.com

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

VPN Ransomware Protection

The answer is quite simply no, a VPN cannot help you with ransomware attacks, prevent them or solve them. Anybody claiming that they can is trying to sell you something. Untrustworthy VPN providers are guilty of marketing their products as cure-alls for every problem on the internet, and “ransomware” is just another keyword to them. Even a VPN isn’t a cure-all for internet privacy. You also need to change your browsing habits.

The reason why a VPN can’t block ransomware is because they’re very different things. In real-world terms, it’s a little like be like replacing your car’s tires to fix a chip in the windshield. It’s 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 throughout 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’s no guarantee you’ll actually get your files after paying the ransom. Often enough, attackers will simply make off with the money without giving up the key to the encrypted files. It’s no surprise then, 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’s logical to think that VPNs could be a way to protect yourself against ransomware. After all, they can protect you online and many providers promise security of some kind or another.

Thing is, though, that VPNs only affect how you appear on the web. When you use a virtual private network, you reroute your connection through a server owned and operated by your VPN provider.  This makes you appear like you’re somewhere else than your actual location, which is great if you’re trying to circumvent regional restrictions.

It does nothing, however, to deter ransomware. A changed location doesn’t mean you’re suddenly undetectable to criminals, especially if you’re the one that downloaded the malicious program in the first place.

However, rerouting your connection isn’t the only thing that VPNs do, they also encrypt your connection in a so-called VPN tunnel. This is great if you want to avoid being spied on by your internet service provider, your government, copyright watchdogs, or anybody else that wants to monitor your connection.

Again, though, this does not apply to ransomware: the software is already on your system, and the VPN software can do nothing against it being there. Neither is it able to prevent you from downloading it or protecting you from hackers breaking into your system.

Threat Detection Systems

That said, some VPNs bundle added security software with their description, which may help in fighting ransomware. Good examples are ProtonVPN’s NetShield and ExpressVPN’s threat manager. These act much like similar systems offered by many of the best antivirus software in that they block access to suspicious sites, including those which are known to infect you with ransomware.

In these cases, a VPN may be of help in fighting ransomware, but only because of these extra modules; the core technology is still pretty powerless. You’re better off with the protection offered by your antivirus program, which also extends to scanning your computer for dangerous ransomware before it runs—something a VPN can’t do.

The Best Antivirus Software of 2022

Best Antivirus Software Overall
Bitdefender Internet Security
Best Free Antivirus Software
Avira Free Security
Best Antivirus Software for Windows
Malwarebytes Premium
Best Antivirus Software for Mac
Intego Mac Internet Security X9
Best Antivirus Software for Android
Bitdefender Mobile Security

VPNs and Ransomware

VPNs aren’t a defensive armor you can put on and be protected from all of the internet’s ills, no matter how much VPN providers would like to convince you otherwise. They’re a protective measure you can take to prevent being tracked, as well as a tool that can get past blocks.

There are plenty of valid ways to prepare for a ransomware attack, but getting a VPN subscription isn’t one of them. If you encounter a provider that claims otherwise—or even hints that they can—you may want to steer clear of them and their dodgy claims. There are plenty of VPNs that try and gain customers without claiming magical powers, stick with them; our selection of the best VPNs is a good place to start.

The Best VPN Services of 2022

Best Overall VPN
ExpressVPN
Best Budget VPN
SurfShark
Best Free VPN
Windscribe
Best VPN for iPhone
ProtonVPN
Best VPN for Android
Hide.me
Best VPN for Streaming
ExpressVPN
Best VPN for Gaming
Private Internet Access
Best VPN for Torrenting
NordVPN
Best VPN for Windows
CyberGhost
Best VPN for China
VyprVPN
Best VPN for Privacy
Mullvad VPN
Profile Photo for Fergus O'Sullivan Fergus O'Sullivan
Fergus is a freelance writer for How-To Geek. He has seven years of tech reporting and reviewing under his belt for a number of publications, including GameCrate and Cloudwards. He's written more articles and reviews about cybersecurity and cloud-based software than he can keep track of---and knows his way around Linux and hardware, too.
Read Full Bio »