VPN: For What Its Worth
A virtual private network (VPN) extends a private network across a public network, and enables users to send and receive data across shared or public networks as if their computing devices were directly connected to the private network. Applications running across the VPN may therefore benefit from the functionality, security, and management of the private network.
A VPN is created by establishing a virtual point-to-point connection through the use of dedicated connections, virtual tunneling protocols, or traffic encryption. A VPN available from the public Internet can provide some of the benefits of a wide area network (WAN). From a user perspective, the resources available within the private network can be accessed remotely.
VPN is used to create a secure, encrypted connection—which can be thought of as a tunnel—between your computer and a server operated by the VPN service. In a professional setting, this tunnel makes you part of the company's network, as if you were physically sitting in the office—hence the name.
While you are connected to a VPN, all your network traffic passes through this protected tunnel, and no one—not even your ISP—can see your traffic until it exits the tunnel from the VPN server and enters the public internet. If you make sure to only connect to websites secured with HTTPS, your data will continue to be encrypted even after it leaves the VPN.
The number of VPN providers has exploded in the past few years, with many providers capitalizing on the general population's growing concern about surveillance and cybercrime, which means it's getting hard to tell when a company is actually providing a secure service. It's important to keep a few things in mind when evaluating which VPN provider is right for you: reputation, performance, type of encryption used, transparency, ease of use, support, and extra features
That said, not all VPN services require that you pay. Several services we've listed here also have free VPN offerings. You tend to get what you pay for, as far as features and server locations go, but if your needs are basic, a free service can still keep you safe.
Some VPN services provide a free trial, so take advantage of it. Make sure you are happy with what you signed up for, and take advantage of money-back guarantees if you're not. This is actually why I also recommend starting out with a short-term subscription—a week or a month—to really make sure you are happy.
Many people agree "If you're not paying for it, then you are the product." Hosting a VPN service can be very expensive and any VPN service that offers free service has to pay their bills some how. A free VPN service is not recommended for its transparency, security.
The sad reality is - Most VPNs suck when paid, a free VPN is almost always a mistake if security or privacy is a concern.
Generally, following holds true for majority of VPN applications whether on mobile/PC device:
- Third-party user tracking and access to sensitive system permissions
- Malware presence
- Traffic interception modes
- In-path proxies and traffic manipulation
- TLS interception
- Opaque Interception and Forwarding Mechanisms
When you are considering trying out a VPN, Beware of False Reviews - VPN Marketing and Affiliate Programs
How to tell the fake reviews
If you see praise for a company that is known to have sold out its members, that is probably a dead giveaway. So if you see a "review" site praising lets say HideMyAss, you should probably dismiss everything they say from that point forward.
- If you see the same company mentioned over and over again on the same site, it is probably affiliate spam by the site partner.
- If a major site does a review about one specific VPN company, they were likely handsomely paid to do so.
- If the article you're reading sounds like an ad, it's an ad definitely.
Do not trust a single review to tell you the whole story. Find someone reputable or someone you personally know and ask them about their experience with the company. Almost no one on the internet is impartial.
Messy VPN Business
VPN business work is dirty, it is shady, and it is cutthroat. Competitors will pay black-hats to DDoS your website or services, they will pay script kiddies with botnets to commit massive click-fraud on your ads, they will pay individuals huge sums of money to spam websites with praise for their product, and they will pay people to praise themselves and denounce reputation with negative "review" on websites.
The VPN market is not one of healthy competition, and it does not operate in the best interests of the privacy minded consumer. Unless you are talking to someone you personally know and trust, it is hard to get an honest review about any service.
The biggest evidence for this is with a little research, you can find out who is paying the most affiliate cash, and compare that to who "wins" the VPN reviews. Invariably, the ones that pay the most tend to show up at the top of the lists, and the ones that don't pay affiliate cash either don't even get a review, or get shoved down to the bottom of the site in obscurity.
These review sites are nothing more than "linkfarming" sites in disguise. They put up as many affiliate links as they can, then give the highest paying ones praise to rake in money. There is no other motivation.
Testing your VPN connection
You do have to trust that your VPN service provider has your best interests at heart, because you're relying on them to secure your connection, keep everything encrypted, and to protect your activity from prying eyes. You're connected to their network and their servers, and you have to trust that when they say your exit IP is in Sweden, for example, it really is and they're not just obfuscating something else. It's true—when you sign up for a VPN, you put a lot of trust in the company you sign up with.
Not all VPN service providers are worth your trust. Some diligently log your connection times, dates, IP addresses, keep track of how long you're connected, and some even keep an eye on the types of traffic that you send through their networks while you're logged in. They'll tell you it's in order to make sure you're not doing anything illegal, or anything that would damage their network, but that level of snooping does kind of go against the whole purpose of a VPN
There are numerous sites that you can use to test your VPN connection for IP leakage, security logs and others. Some of them are listed below:
The best ones keep as few logs as possible, and aren't interested in what you do while you're connected at all. Some don't even track when you're logged in or out, and even if they do have to keep some logs, they purge them periodically in order to protect your privacy. After all, the reason you pay for a VPN is for privacy and security, and if they keep their own data, they're the weak link in that chain. Here's are some tips on how to research a VPN and decide whether they're a good match for you
Why You Need a VPN, the benefits from Using One?
A VPN alone is just 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 subjective matter. Usually, VPN users fall into a few separate categories:
- The student/worker. This person has responsibilities to attend to, and uses a VPN provided by their school or company to access resources on their network when they’re at home or traveling. In most cases, this person already has a free VPN service provided to them, and can always fire up their VPN when using airport or cafe WI-Fi to ensure no one’s snooping on their connection.
- The downloader. Whether they’re downloading legal or illegal substance, this person doesn’t want to be on some company’s witch-hunt list. VPNs are the only way to stay safe when using something like BitTorrent—everything else is just a false sense of security. Better safe than trying to defend yourself in court or paying a massive fine for something you may or may not have even done.
- The privacy minded and security advocate. Whether they’re a in a strictly monitored environment or a completely free and open one, this person uses VPN services to keep their communications secure and encrypted and away from prying eyes whether they’re at home or abroad.
- The globetrotter. This person wants to watch the Olympics live as they happen, without dealing with their crummy local networks. They want to check out their favorite TV shows as they air instead of waiting for translations or re-broadcasts (or watch the versions aired in other countries,) listen to location-restricted streaming internet radio, or want to use a new web service or application that looks great but is limited to a specific country or region.
- Some combination of the above. Odds are, even if you’re not one of these people more often than not, you’re some mix of them depending on what you’re doing. In all of these cases, a VPN service can be helpful, whether it’s just a matter of protecting yourself when you’re out and about, whether you handle sensitive data for your job and don’t want to get fired.
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 are some technical jargons of VPNs to research for and consider:
- Protocol: When you’re researching a VPN, you’ll see terms like SSL/TLS (sometimes referred to as OpenVPN support,) PPTP, IPSec, L2TP, and other VPN types. All of these protocols will provide a secure connection. Strictly, each protocol has its benefits and drawbacks, and if you’re concerned about this (specifically, PPTP vulnerabilities,) you’re probably already aware of them. Most users don’t need to be concerned about this—corporate users on the other hand, are most;y all using IPSec or SSL clients anyway.
- Corporate and Exit Locations: Depending on what you use VPN for, your service’s location—and the exit locations you can choose—are important to consider. If you want to get around a location restriction and watch live TV in the UK, for example, you want to make sure your VPN service provider has servers in the UK. Similarly, if the service is based on the US, they’re subject to US laws, and may be forced to turn over usage data to the authorities upon request. Many people make more of this than they should (we’ve seen overseas services turn over their data to friendly governments without any hesitation repeatedly), but it’s important to make sure a VPN has servers in multiple locations—or at least the location you’re interested in.
- Logging: When you connect to a VPN, you’re trusting the VPN service provider with your data. Your communications may be secure from eavesdropping, but other systems on the same VPN—especially the operator—can log your data if they choose. If this bothers you, make absolutely sure you know your provider’s logging policies before signing up. This applies to location as well—if your company doesn’t keep logs, it may not matter as much where it’s located. For a good list of VPN providers that don’t log your activities when connected (and many that do), check out this TorrentFreak article.
- 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 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.
- Mobile Apps: If you’re going to spend money on a VPN service provider (or even if you use a free one, frankly), 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, and while corporate and school networks may be a bit behind the curve here, they’re catching up too. Make sure you don’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.
- Free VPN Providers are more likely to log your activities and serve contextual ads while you’re connected. They’re also more likely to use your usage habits to tailor future ads to you, have fewer exit locations, and weak commitments to privacy. They may offer great features, but if logging and privacy are important to you, you may want to avoid them. However, if you just need quick, painless security while traveling on a budget, they’re a great option.
- Subscription VPN Providers usually take your privacy a bit more seriously, since you’re paying for the service. It’s unusual for them to show ads, although whether they do logging or store data about your usage varies from company to company. They usually offer free trials so you can give the service a shot first, but remember to do your homework.
Final Argument: Which VPNs Are The Best?
Considering things said above, there is so much more to choosing a VPN than just picking one out of somebody's list.
Here are some of the providers that are worth of time in 2017, (no affiliate links provided):
- Number of IP addresses: 2,000
- Number of servers: 1087
- Number of server locations: 61
- Country/Jurisdiction: Panama
They even offer the most generous simultaneous connection count, with six simultaneous connections through their network, where everyone else offers five or fewer. NordVPN's network isn't as large as some of their competitors, so if you're trying to obfuscate your tracks, you might want a company with more servers. Otherwise, this company is clearly providing a winning offering.
- Number of IP addresses: 40,000+
- Number of servers: 900
- Number of server locations: 60
- Country/Jurisdiction: United States
IPVanish keeps zero logs. Zero. We also like the company's stance towards privacy. They even provide support to EFF, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit at the front lines of protecting online privacy.
A unique feature of IPVanish is the VPN's support of Kodi, the open-source media streaming app that was once known as XBMC. The integrated IPVanish Kodi plugin provides access to media worldwide.
- Number of IP addresses: 15,000
- Number of servers: 1,700+
- Number of server locations: 145
- Country/Jurisdiction: British Virgin Islands
ExpressVPN also offers a 30-day money-back guarantee, and has impressive protocol support. While few will use PPTP , the added support of SSTP and L2TP/IPSec may be welcome to some users.
The ExpressVPN supports Bitcoin as a payment method, and their reliable and easy-to-use connection kill switch feature.
Supports: Windows, OS X, Linux, and iOS and Android via built-in VPN
Protocols: SSL (OpenVPN), PPTP, and L2TP, (with 256 bit security)
Native Country: Panama, with exit servers in The Netherlands, Romania, Ukraine and Panama.
Logging Policies: TorGuard wholeheartedly supports privacy, so you can feel a bit more secure that your connection is secure and anonymous. They purge their logs daily, and only keep payment information and registration info. They don’t even keep login/logout times.
Price: Depending on whether you’re the privacy advocate, the downloader, or a combination of the two, TorGuard offers plans specifically for anonymity (starting at $6/mo), for torrenting (starting at $5/mo), or for overall VPN services ($10/mo).
- No logs (at all)
- Modestly priced
- Good Smart DNS service
- Servers in 47 countries
- 24/7 support
ibVPN is a no logs Romanian VPN provider which may mean that it is free from NSA surveillance.Top-tier customers get an impressive Smart DNS service thrown in for free. Speed performance is not amazing, but this makes an already modestly-priced VPN service something of a bargain.
ibVPN runs servers in 47 countries, offers double VPN and SOCKS5 proxies. The desktop client features per-app a kill switch and a firewall-based system kill switch. The encryption employed by ibVPN is superb.