What is a VPN?
A VPN (Virtual Private Network) is a powerful and essential security tool for all home or office PCs that makes it nearly impossible for someone to snoop on your network traffic and potentially view your data as you browse the web. When you browse data on any network the data is sent out and received in packets and at any point, while it is in transit someone can grab those packets and the containing data and see what it is. This Data can include sensitive information and passwords. A VPN creates an encrypted connection between your computer and a server managed by the VPN provider, which accesses the internet on your behalf. This effectively creates a secure tunnel for your online activities to pass through. A VPN also masks your computer’s IP address making it harder for outsiders, including advertisers and your internet service provider (ISP), to track your activity online.
These days, it’s so easy for people to steal your ID, credit card credentials and your online passwords. The problem is, the internet’s worst downside is that criminals can remotely track your online movements from anywhere in the world. You hear about the unfortunate results every day. Hackers steal billions of dollars from people just like you every year. Criminals steal your tax refunds, they use your home address, tax file number and other stolen information to use your ID to buy things, apply for credit and can even take your home from you. Fortunately, you do not have to be an easy target. In fact, it’s fairly straightforward to remain anonymous when you’re online by using a Virtual Private Network, or VPN. That’s especially important when you’re using public Wi-Fi at places like your local coffee shop or fast-food restaurant.
Why You Need A VPN
A VPN alone is simply a way to bolster your security and access resources on a network you’re not physically connected to. What you choose to do with a VPN is a different story. Typically, VPN users fall into a number of separate categories:
Employees or Students
VPNs can be vital tools for employees and students as they allow you to access local networks from afar and perform the same work without being local to the network. If your VPN connects to your company or school network, you can access local network resources such as an internal intranet and networked drives without even being in the building. As well as securing network resources, when using airport or cafe WI-Fi hotspots, the VPN helps ensure no-one is snooping on their connection. In most cases, this person already has a free VPN service provided to them by their employer or educational institution.
Whether you are downloading or streaming media legally or illegally, you do not want to end up on some media company’s hitlist. Better off being safe than trying to defend yourself in court or paying a massive fine for something you may or may not have even done. Using a VPN will mask your IP address and data traffic so that ISPs can not see what you are doing online. VPNs are great also for that peace of mind that you can use secure banking websites without fear that someone can hack in and see your private data
Depending on what country you are in you can be restricted on what content you can view. Many copyright holders have licensing agreements which only allow their content to be shown in certain parts of the world. You might always want to see Australian content or you might prefer to watch content aired in another country. Using a VPN you can often have the flexibility to choose which country your IP address is masked as. Doing this will allow you to watch your favourite TV shows untranslated and when they are aired instead of waiting for translations or re-broadcasts (or watch the versions aired in other countries,)
What Makes For A Good VPN?
The best VPNs offer a solid balance of features, server location, connectivity protocols, and price. Some are great for occasional use, others are geared towards getting around the location restrictions companies put on their apps and services, and others are targeted at people who do heavy downloading and want a little privacy while they do it. Here’s what you should look for.
- Secure Protocol: When you’re researching VPN providers, you’ll see terms such as SSL/TLS (sometimes referred to as OpenVPN support,) PPTP, IPSec, L2TP, and other VPN types. SSL is the most commonly used protocol these days and provides stronger security than other protocols, such as PPTP. but all of these protocols will provide a secure connection.
- Corporate and Exit Locations: Your service’s location and the “exit locations” you can choose that identify the country you’re browsing from are key considerations. If you want to watch the BBC iPlayer service, for example, your VPN service provider will need servers in the UK. If you’re concerned about privacy or state-sponsored snooping, you may want to pick a service operated outside of your home country. It’s important to make sure a VPN has servers in multiple locations — or at least the location you’re interested in — when shopping.
- Data limits: Depending on your internet usage, bandwidth may be a large deciding factor for you. Especially if you are looking to stream any types of media or download large files such as media file. Make sure their services match your needs by checking to see if you’ll get full, unmetered bandwidth without data limits.
- Logging: When you connect to a VPN, you’re trusting the VPN service provider with your data. The point of using a VPN is to protect your privacy, so it’s crucial that your VPN provider respects your privacy, too. They should have a no-log policy, which means that they never track or log your online activities.
- Anti-Malware/Anti-Spyware Features: Using a VPN doesn’t mean you’re invulnerable. You should still make sure you’re using HTTPS whenever possible, and you should still be careful about what you download. Some VPN service providers — especially mobile ones — bundle their clients with anti-malware scanners to make sure you’re not downloading viruses or trojans. When you’re shopping around, see if the providers you’re interested in offer anti-malware protection while you’re connected.
- Mobile Apps: If you’re going to spend money on a VPN service provider, you should be able to get a consistent experience across all of your devices. Most prominent providers offer desktop and mobile solutions for individual users. You shouldn’t have to use two different VPNs with two different policies and agreements just because you want to secure your phone along with your laptop.
- don’t offer the most current or secure protocols
- don’t offer the highest bandwidth and connection speeds to free users
- do have a higher disconnection rate
- don’t have as many servers in as many countries globally
- don’t offer support
A mix of features and price make a good VPN, but plenty of bad VPNs mask themselves as good ones. Do your research and look for articles written by trustworthy sources that discuss the merits of each service based on its features rather than simple rundowns and user testimonials, which are almost always polluted by a combination of fanatical users and corporate bootstrapping.
Will a VPN slow down my internet?
Yes, but hopefully not by too much. Not only does your data have to travel extra leg on its journey as it routes via the VPN server, but encrypting and decrypting your data takes processing power – and therefore time. I most cases the difference is a matter of milliseconds. Also, if you connect to a VPN server on the other side of the world, then it takes time for your data to get there. Blame physics! If you connect to a nearby VPN server, however, you should only lose about 10% of your speed if using a fast VPN service.
How Do You Get a VPN, and Which One Should You Choose?
Depending on your needs, you can either use a VPN from your workplace, create a VPN server yourself, or sometimes host one out of your house — but realistically the vast majority of people are just looking for something to protect them while torrenting or help them watch some media online that they can’t seem to access from their country.
The easiest thing to do is simply head to one of these sites, sign up, and download the VPN client for your Windows PC, Mac, Android, iPhone, or iPad. It’s as easy as that. These are just a few examples so do your research first because there may be another better suited to your needs. This is very important because you do not want to sign up only to find there are some restrictions set and the performance is less than desired.
- ExpressVPN – This VPN server has the best combination of ease-of-use, powerful encryption, really fast servers, and supports streaming media and torrenting One of the more expensive VPNs available but comes with a truckload of features and if you use Netflix then you can get Unlimited Netflix streaming.
- Hotspot Sheild – This VPN is simple but extremely effective with very good levels of security and privacy. This VPN also has unlimited Netflix steaming and also comes with real-time Malware protection.
- Tunnelbear – This VPN is really easy to use, is great for using at the coffee shop, and has a (limited) free tier. It’s not good for torrenting or streaming media though. Unrestricted access to Netflix.
- StrongVPN – Not quite as easy to use as the others, but you can definitely use them for torrenting and streaming media. Unrestricted access to Netflix.
- HidemyAss – One of the more established VPN services with an extensive range of server locations. Unrestricted access to Netflix.
- NordVPN – NordVPN is one of the more fully-featured VPN services. It is extremely secure and keeps no logs at all which is also a big drawcard for those who care about privacy. Simple to use and has bonus features such as Malware protection. Unrestricted access to Netflix.
All of them have free trials, so you can easily get your money back if you change your mind.
VPNs are an essential internet tool and should be rated as important as client antivirus software as a must on any PC. VPNs dramatically improve your privacy on the internet, and also help improve your security keeping your data safe when online. In an age of sophisticated cyber-crime, heightened government surveillance and industrial espionage, a VPN is a fundamental tool that everyone should have at their disposal.