Incognito Mode vs. VPN: What is the Difference? (2021 Edition)

There is no denying the fact that the internet is brimming with threats. On the one hand, bad actors, hackers, and cybercriminals are on the lookout for your data. They either use that means to steal your information, scam you, or sell the data to third-party data mining companies. On the other hand, the government, its agencies, and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) legally have access to your data. They can monitor and hence restrict your access to certain content.

In the face of all these, there is the need to keep safe while using the internet. This article looks at two different means to achieve this: using the incognito mode on your browser or getting a VPN. Here goes.

What is an Incognito Mode?

Incognito mode is a form of browsing that seeks to keep you secure while browsing. As you browse, your chosen browser hides your data and details on your device. Immediately you are done with the session; the browser deletes your data. This keeps your information well out of the reach of bad actors. 

How It Works

The incognito mode is available on select browsers. You would have to enable it each time you use the browser. Enabling the incognito mode informs the browser that you do not wish to save any of your browsing information on your device. Hence, once you close the incognito tab or window, these saved details will then be wiped off your device. Thus, visited pages, log-in details, cookies, etc., will be deleted after every session. However, if you downloaded or saved anything while browsing, this would remain on your device. So, you must be aware that if you download anything with malware embedded in it, your device will still get infected, and it may be compromised. 

The incognito or private mode is excellent if you are looking to bypass surveillance of any sort. It provides a measure of protection when you are using a public or shared network. It also proves useful if you are just logging in momentarily using another person’s device. The mode does not store your details and hence does not sign in to your account even when you are done. Furthermore, this other individual would be unaware that you even used their device.

You’ll find this option on most devices’ browsers. You will have to download and install the browser app, that is, if you do not have a browser already. Afterward, navigate to the settings and activate this option. What it is called may vary across several browsers. Some call it the Private mode or InPrivate mode. 

Pros and Cons of Using the Incognito Mode

There are several pros as well as cons of using the Incognito Mode. Let’s consider a few of them below.

Pros

Some of the benefits of the incognito mode include:

Ease of Use

Comparatively, the Incognito mode is easier to use than a VPN. You do not have to download or install any apps, except you do not already have a browser. More so, even within the browser, it only takes a few steps to activate the process.

Cost

Unlike most VPN providers, especially the premium ones, the incognito mode is completely free. Most browsers have the incognito mode option or a variant of it. You do not have to pay to use this extra option. Furthermore, as stated above, there’s no need to install any apps or pay for any subscription plan. You just need to toggle the settings in your browser to get the process started.

Protection

The incognito mode protects you from hackers and other bad actors. You definitely need it if you share a public network or are using someone’s device to access your online accounts or browse.

Cons

These are some of the downsides to using incognito mode:

Inability to Bypass Geo-restrictions

The incognito mode cannot bypass geo-restrictions on various platforms. However, this is one benefit you get with most VPN providers.

Incapable of Providing a New IP Address

The incognito mode does not switch out your IP address, just like you’d get with a VPN. Thus, you cannot trick websites into thinking that you are in another location apart from where you are physically located.

What is a VPN?

A VPN (Virtual Private Network) is software that is primarily designed to improve your security. Besides that, a VPN is useful for other situations. For instance, a VPN’s capabilities position it for use in bypassing geo-restrictions. If you are stationed in a region where any service is blocked, a VPN helps you get around this challenge. However, in the vast majority of cases, people get VPNs to improve their security. In the next section, we show you how it works. 

How Does a VPN Work

A VPN protects you by creating a secure tunnel through which your traffic can pass through. When you use the internet, but under a VPN’s protection, the VPN first routes your network through its servers. This encrypts your data, making sure you are impervious to attacks. As your traffic moves back and forth between the visited website and your device, you stay protected the whole time. Thus, your ISP, the government, and every other third party cannot access or tamper with your details. 

Pros and Cons of a VPN

There are several pros and cons of using a VPN, especially when compared to using your browser’s incognito mode. Here they are:

Pros

Here are the perks of using a VPN

Broader Coverage

A VPN offers blanket protection to your entire device. As long as you are using a VPN, all of the traffic emanating from your device will be encrypted. If you want to protect just your browser, you can download the app specific to the device you are using.

Streaming Geo-blocked Content

VPNs are great for bypassing geo-restricted content. If you need to access any content reserved for users outside of your primary location, a VPN offers you the best route to achieving this.

Great for High-risk Regions

If you are heading to (or are currently living in) places with high surveillance or restrictions, a VPN is indispensable. Simply using the incognito mode will be an insufficient means of staying safe. With a VPN spoofing your network, the authorities will be unaware of your activities online.

Cons                                                     

A VPN is not without disadvantages. Some of these include:

Cost

Few VPN providers offer free services. However, in the vast majority of cases, you’ll need to get on a subscription to use a VPN’s service. Generally, free providers do not offer the quality of services that a paid provider would offer. Thus, usually, there is a higher imperative to use a paid service. 

Requirement of Apps

Using a browser’s incognito mode is more straightforward than using a VPN. This is because you’d have to download and install a VPN app prior to use. If you intend to integrate the VPN with your browser, you’d have to download a browser extension for the browser in question.  

Differences Between an Incognito Mode and a VPN

At this point, it should be possible to tell some of the differences between a VPN and using an incognito mode. However, here is an itemized list if you are still unsure:

Complete Online Security

Between a VPN and using an incognito mode, the former is better equipped to provide blanket online security. The incognito mode protects the network coming from your browser. In addition, it disables any plugins that are running on your device. Since this is the primary means cybercriminals can access your data, disabling the plugins will improve your security.

A VPN, however, encrypts the data coming from your device. This means that whether you disable plugins or not, data proceeding from your device will remain impenetrable.

Ease of Penetration

Another crucial area of difference is in the ease of dismantling the barricades set up by either the incognito mode or the VPN. Basically, it will be easier for hackers to infiltrate and overcome the systems employed by the incognito mode. For instance, on a public network, everyone sharing the network will have to enable the incognito mode for you to be safe. What the hacker needs is just to introduce malware to the network, and everything will fall apart.

However, most VPNs employ superb encryption systems. Great providers go as far as using the AES 256-bit encryption model, which is the same employed by the United States military. More so, you will typically find powerful security protocols on VPN services. All of these improve your security, making it virtually impossible for hackers to crack.

Available Security Features

There is also some marked difference between the security features you get when using the different systems. Incognito mode just makes sure that you do not leave personal data behind after visiting a website. A VPN, on the other hand, does much more. In addition, it also provides other features that users may find appreciable. For instance, some VPN providers equip their service with a kill switch. This automatically logs the user off if the network becomes unstable. There are other great features such as obfuscated and dedicated server networks, split tunneling features, etc. All of these are only available when you use a VPN.

Unblocking Restricted Content

VPN providers typically have servers in various locations. When you connect to any of the servers, you get a new IP address that is encrypted. In addition, it would appear as though you are physically located wherever the server is stationed. This comes in handy if you are looking to circumvent geo-restrictions. 

Streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu, etc., provide services based on the location of users. Thus, if you are outside of the particular area, you will be unable to access certain content. However, with this feature provided by VPNs, you can trick the platform into thinking that you are in the approved location. The incognito mode does not provide this option.

Incognito Mode vs. VPN: Which Should You Choose?

It is really a no-brainer that a VPN trumps the incognito mode. Apart from keeping you safe (better than the incognito mode does), a VPN also allows you access to other benefits which you cannot find anywhere else. For instance, with a VPN, you do not have to worry about blocks on streaming platforms or even issues associated with torrenting and P2P file sharing.

One thing to bear in mind is that most VPN providers require that you pay for their subscription offers. However, the plans are in various categories, catering both to the wealthy and low-income earners. But if you’d rather not, then you could activate and use your browser’s incognito mode. However, you must bear in mind all you will be forgoing by choosing this route.

Conclusion

With the security threats internet users have to battle daily, it only makes sense to seek protection. Activating a browser’s incognito mode or using a VPN are two ways you could improve your security. This article has pitched the two systems against each other, analyzing their strengths and weaknesses. Hopefully, you are able now to decide on the one better suited to your needs.