What is a Virtual Private Network (VPN), and Why We Use It?
Virtual Private Network (VPN) is a search term on Google that has gained a lot of attention in recent years. This increase in searching of VPN and Privacy comes from our heightened concerns about protecting our Internet Data and Privacy
In short, a VPN adds a layer of connection in between your device and the Internet. This allows you to “pretend” you are at a different connection while securing and encrypting your Internet Data flow to and from your Computer or Mobile Device.
VPNs are now increasingly used by the casual user at home or outdoors (think free Wifi). A good service provider offer data encryption and provides a barrier to snooping activities wanting to obtain private and personal information like Username/Passwords or Credit card details.
A solid Virtual Private Network (VPN) service can truly be an “all in one” tool for anyone, from privacy, security, anonymity in file sharing and bypassing geographically limited content. All VPN providers will provide such components in their service but yet not all are created equal.
We’ll now delve into more intricate consideration when you pick a Provider. Of course you won’t want to pay extra for services you may not need while still retaining vital and necessary VPN functions. If you haven’t yet, read our article on “FREE VS PAID” VPNs we’ll recommend a paid one.
If you’ve already decided that you want a VPN and want to skip this article, then Jump to (HERE) and read our suggestions on a few awesome VPN providers. If you wanna read on, you’ll have a better understanding as to why we recommend these selected VPNs.
Assessing Your VPN Needs & Selecting your VPN Provider.
Each individual will have slightly different VPN requirements. First list down your requirements/needs before you “look around”. Sometimes you already have a “VPN” in your router and maybe that’s all you need.
We’ll now run through a list of frequent questions you should ask yourself when deciding on a VPN provider. These questions are intentionally positioned in such a way to let you think and consider which is more or most important for your personal use.
Below, we highlight several factors and points of consideration, you can then list the pros and cons of each provider and budget for what you eventually choose. It’s a very competitive market with many providers offering a plethora of services at different price points.
Do You Need to Unblock Region Specific Content or Websites?
Besides security, the most “popular” application for a VPN is to route your internet traffic through another network, as if its coming from another location.
If you’re from Melbourne Australia, you can “Set” your location as Washington DC. If content from Netflix USA is blocked in Australia, now you can watch it! (Woo hoo!!).
Again, specifically Australians, a big hint about software purchase in Australia vs in USA. We have recently learnt that import taxes on Software Purchases in Australia are almost double for the same stuff bought by an American for the same software!
One niggling issue about the Internet, is that some governments of certain countries actively blocks and censors their Internet access (China for instance bans Google, Youtube, Facebook… list goes on). You can easily bypass this restriction using a VPN. IN fact, many Chinese are doing this on a daily basis to access the “Outside World”.
Do You Need to Pretend You’re Somewhere Else?
Certain content providers limit access to their content via regions or countries. Wanna watch the Olympics? Tour De France? Or “Food network Canada”?
You won’t be able to if you’re not in those countries, but fire up the VPN, you can “pretend” to be there and gain access to these instantly.
Make sure that the VPN provider has specific servers in these countries, or find a VPN provider that has plenty of servers worldwide that you can connect to. Besides the country itself, make sure it has plenty of nodes in the country so they have many IP addresses available.
Do you need to Stop People Snooping/spying on your Connection?
We know, that there are prying eyes online, from Marketing Departments of companies, to Government agencies and even your Internet Service Provider (ISP).
One pet peeve of ours is that ISPs can throttle your connection based on “content” that you access. For instance, if it deems you’re streaming or downloading torrents, they can intentionally throttle your speed.
Having a VPN instantly masks such information flow and the ISPs won’t know what data it is and hence ignores it. So in that sense, VPNs may “not” slow down your connection but may enhance it.
Should you connect via a VPN while casually connecting to wifi networks?
Many of us are so elated when we find this sign
We tend to forget, that its actually an open connection. We highly recommend firing up your VPN to protect possible snooping software that is hiding on other users in the same network. Especially when you’re doing stuff like Internet Banking or Paying for something mundane like movie tickets which requires you t
o key in confidential information like passwords or credit card numbers.
Sometimes, the router you’re connected to could contain malicious sniffing packets or data loggers, this may be due to poor configuration from the person that set it up or poor security settings.
Is Being Anonymous Important?
We think “YES”. Nobody likes someone peering over their shoulder while in front of the Computer. Remember, its never just a “cloud” or “torrent file” or “email server”. Its actually someone else’s computer you share with millions of other users.
Sometimes, beyond casual surfing, we download torrents and watch movies from streaming sites with often dubious credentials. Having a VPN that ensures your anonymity is a huge enhancement to your own security. But which VPNs really keep you anonymous?
What are IP logs and Why don’t we want them.
We strongly suggest a VPN provider that doesn’t keep logs. This should be an important criterion when selecting a VPN. In fact, the more users on a VPN service that does not have logs, the better as it gets more and more difficult to isolate you as a user. This is an added layer of protection against someone trying to trace your Actual IP address.
If you do select a VPN provider with logging, find out why do they do so. In all honesty, we’d really suggest looking for one that don’t keep logs. There are plenty available and we’ve reviewed them HERE. Do take some time to read and compare.
What Protocols Do They Support?
This is where it can get technical, we’ll try to explain it in “English” as best as we can. You’ll find VPN providers touting they have “PPPT vs OpenVPN vs L2TP/IPsec vs SSTP
What are all these? These are just protocols that they use to encrypt your connection. Of course, not all are equal.
OpenVPN: The best of all these at the moment, is OpenVPN. At the very least, a good VPN provider will have this as a protocol to protect you.
PPPTP: We’d suggest to not use this encryption. Its quite dated and many in the tech world consider this obsolete. Do not use a VPN provider if they only have this as the main encryption tool
L2TP/IPsec : This is an improved version of PPPTP and can be considered pretty ok but the speeds may not be the best for this sort of encryption level/security offered.
OpenVPN: This should be the protocol that is being offered. Any good VPN provider should have this and it’s the minimum we expect them to have. If the provider does not have this, do not use their service.
Do note : Currently Android and iOS (Mobile phones and tablets) are not able to use OpenVPN connections adequately. As such, many VPN providers connect such devices through L2TP/IPsec connections as an alternative.
VPN providers would give a very similar explanation regarding these protocols and steer you to always use the best level of protection (Whenever available) for the Computer/Device you use to connect through their servers. Good providers will provide all such protocols and allow the user to select and configure their devices as they deem fit to.
No doubt they will also provide instructions and documentations on how to get connected safely.
How Many Countries servers are available?
The more the merrier here. Or at the very least, if you want to watch say Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime from specific sources, make sure the VPN provider has servers and nodes there.
As a rule of thumb, the more servers they have the better. It’s the norm for a good VPN provider to have several hundred (If not thousands) of nodes around the globe.
How Many Devices/Simultaneous logins at one go?
This actually is a critical consideration that many people forgot. At the very least, you’ll need a provider that lets you use your VPN on two simultaneous devices. Many of us don’t realize that we spend a considerable amount of time on our mobile phones too besides the computer or laptop at our home or offices. Almost all providers allows at least “TWO” simultaenous devices using a single VPN account to log in. You can install it on multiple devices but only two are allowed to use the services.
At the time of this article, at least two VPN services (PureVPN and IPvanish) allow “Five Simultaneous” logins. Again there’s no restrictions on how many devices you can install the VPN software on.
What Platforms/OS Can the VPN be used on?
At the very least, look for a VPN provider that can be used on the following Platforms/OS
Gaming Consoles (Yes they’re also supported now)
In fact, anything that can access the Internet should be able to use a VPN. So the more the merrier
We have more devices than we think.
Do They Throttle Connections, Limit Bandwidth, or Restrict Services?
Every ISP, like it or not, has the right to throttle (slow down) your connection if they have limited resources or at the discretion if they feel you’re using more than what you are allowed to. A quick search through tech forums and facebook groups reveal anecdotal evidence that point to ISP slowing down connections is quite evident.
Its irritating and annoying that you pay top dollar for a fast connection that they can throttle based on their discretion. A way to “bypass” this throttling is to use a VPN and mask such traffic (usually torrents and HD streaming) and still maintain a good speed. So connecting through a VPN might not actually “slow down” your Internet.
What Kind of Logs, If Any, Do They Keep?
In short, Don’t go for a service that keeps logs. That’s it, accept nothing less.
Do They Have a Kill Switch System?
This is like a safeguard for when your VPN loses a connection, it’ll turn off your Internet Connection directly. This ensures that your connection won’t be unsecured if your VPN disconnects for any reason.
You might be overwhelmed by all the information we’ve presented up to this point. We understand selecting a good VPN service might be daunting. We’re more than happy to help you out with several good recommendations.
All the VPN providers that we have reviewed were extensively tested, not only do they meet our criterias above, but many of exceeded them. They have also been around for a good number of years and remain highly rated amongst users as well as reviewers online