A Virtual Private Network (VPN) is essential in today’s digital world where online privacy and security matter.
But, what exactly does it do to secure your internet connection and give you a private experience? Do you need to use a VPN? When do you need it?
Here, I shall be answering all these questions while mentioning the features you need to keep an eye on when choosing to buy a VPN.
What is a VPN?
A VPN re-routes your internet connection through an encrypted tunnel network, preventing hackers from identifying what you are doing on the internet.
It masks your original IP address and location and uses its encrypted DNS service to protect your real identity from websites you visit.
Also, you get to prevent your Internet Service Provider (ISP) from snooping.
While you can rely on several security measures to keep your browsing experience secure, a VPN makes it easy to enforce all the essential protections in just one click.
In other words, a VPN is a powerful tool to enhance online security and privacy, no matter whether you are using a home network or a public network.
Why Do You Need a VPN?
A VPN alone does not solve everything related to security and privacy. But, there are many benefits of a VPN. So, it is essential to know the practical use-cases for a VPN.
Here are some reasons why you might want to consider getting a VPN for yourself:
Hide your actual IP address from websites to keep yourself anonymous
Unblock access to geo-restricted content
Securely share files using a peer-to-peer method
Prevent ISP from spying on your online activities
Provide secure network access to your employees when accessing important company assets
Effective to fight back against censorship
Features to Consider When Buying a VPN
If you think you need a VPN, you should not just grab any VPN service offering a cheap deal. Often, robust VPN services do not provide heavy discounts. So, you should keep in mind a few pointers to evaluate the service before deciding to purchase.
While most providers support common VPN protocols to facilitate connections in various platforms, some offer newer or proprietary VPN connection protocols.
OpenVPN is one of the popular choices that focus on security and speed.
Other common protocols include IKEv2, IPSec, PPTP. Some are meant to facilitate easy VPN connections on mobile, and some are because of their simplicity.
And, you will also find some VPN providers that support the latest technologies like WireGuard, which is aimed to be faster and more secure than OpenVPN. In addition that, some VPN services develop their proprietary protocols like the Chameleon protocol (VyprVPN) by modifying OpenVPN at its core.
It is good to choose a service that supports multiple VPN protocols. So, you can choose an alternative if something does not work in any case. However, OpenVPN is an easy recommendation and should be available with all VPN providers.
Security and Encryption
The connection protocol decides the type of encryption used by a VPN service.
While the encryption types can vary, it is not easy to determine what kind of encryption is being used by a VPN service provider. Most commercial VPNs advertise 128-bit, 256-bit encryption techniques, but technically, it is a vague description of what exactly happens behind the scenes.
To decide what’s best, you should ensure that different protocols are available. Note that the stronger the encryption, the slower the connection. So, it is wise to research whether you want the strongest encryption possible or a common form of encryption.
One of the primary use-cases of a VPN is to hide your location, hide your IP address, and unblock geo-restricted content.
Most VPN providers offer a basic set of server locations, but the more options you have, the better. Also, it is essential to check if you have servers nearby your original location.
Having servers nearby helps you get a faster connection speed when you require. And, having server options like Sweden, Switzerland, Germany, etc., gives you the freedom to use P2P services (like Torrents) and make sure you are using a server protected by strong privacy law.
Not everyone needs this feature, but if you want to use a VPN to securely access any of your admin portals or a private online server, a static IP address associated with your VPN should help.
You can restrict access to any service (like CCTV) by blocking other IP addresses but yours. This should ensure that no unauthorized users get access to the network.
A dedicated IP address is also helpful if shared IP addresses present issues with your browsing activities.
Note that not all VPN providers support a static IP address. It may not be a deal-breaking factor for most but check for dedicated IP address support before purchasing if it is essential for you.
Not to forget, a static IP address will cost you extra on top of your subscription.
You should take note that VPN providers require your personal information and payment methods. Some VPN services like Mullvad have been trying to offer absolute privacy by not requiring personal information. So, that’s something worth looking into.
If you are not too worried about the information collected during sign-up, you should thoroughly check the VPN’s privacy features. You may notice some of them offering tracking protection as a feature. So, with the help of those options, you can enhance the privacy you get with the VPN service.
Usually, when you connect to a VPN, your internet connection speed does get a significant hit, especially if you choose a server located far away.
So, make sure the service offers servers nearby and supports protocols like OpenVPN to offer modest speeds. You may want to opt for VPNs that offer a trial, where you can test the speed with different types of connections.
Kill Switch is an essential feature to have with a VPN. It enhances the level of privacy and security in a single click.
With a Kill Switch, be rest assured that the device will not connect to any internet services if you lose the VPN connection. It could be an inconvenient feature for some.
But, if you want to stay connected and access everything through a VPN, enabling the Kill Switch feature should come in handy.
Cross-Platform App Availability
You can configure most VPNs without a graphical application available. However, the availability of an official app makes things convenient.
So, you should always check for platform support whether a VPN supports operating systems like Windows, macOS, Android, iOS, or Linux.
Some VPN services also support Android TVs, routers, and other platforms. If you need them, look at whether the VPN service you like supports it.
With the VPN app, you can easily secure the entire system. However, if you do not like to connect everything through the VPN, a browser extension should help you toggle VPN when using the web browser. It should also step up your privacy protections when coupled with security add-ons that you may already have in your browser.
Depending on the web browser you use, it is good to check if the VPN offers a browser extension compatible with it, like Mozilla Firefox or Google Chrome.
Port Forwarding is a feature that some advanced users may like to have in a VPN. Not every VPN service is compatible with port forwarding.
Also, note that using the port forwarding feature also has security risks to it, where it lets you bypass firewalls to send data to specific devices. So, if you are new to this, make sure to do your research.
No Log Policy
Some VPN providers log your browsing activities, defeating the purpose of using a VPN. This is mostly true for free VPN services.
When it comes to paid VPNs, you should ensure that they offer a no-log policy that does not collect any of your information associated with the network or when using the VPN.
Of course, you will have to trust the VPN provider eventually. But, for a change, you can keep an eye on third-party audit reports to know if they stay true to their promises.
Top VPNs That You Should Try
VPN service providers may not be able to fulfill all the features mentioned above. So, you should prioritize what you want and decide accordingly.
Here are some of our popular recommendations. All the options should be available for Android and iOS as well.
ProtonVPN is one of the most secure VPN services out there, and it offers open-source clients, taking things up a notch.
Unlike many other competitors, it offers premium features like malware detection and anti-tracker protection to enhance your privacy. In addition to that, it also gives you the ability to select some unique server locations protected by two layers.
Suppose you connect to a server located in the UK; that server will further connect through Switzerland, making things more secure and private. While this technique is a unique offering by ProtonVPN, this could affect the speed drastically.
You will find a free plan with limited features; if you like it, you can upgrade it to any premium plan as per your requirements.
PureVPN is an all-rounder VPN service that offers the latest security features and compatible apps for various platforms.
You should find exciting deals for PureVPN compared to others. So, if you want to save some money while opting for a good VPN, PureVPN can be an option. It does not offer any free options, but the premium offering is suitable for most users.