Most cybersecurity experts agree that every internet user should invest in a virtual private network (VPN) client for both home and office. However, with hundreds of different providers offering similar products on the market, it can be incredibly challenging to choose one tool over another.
You should be prepared to pay a monthly or yearly fee for access to a reliable VPN service. Some providers may claim to have a completely free product, but those typically end up suffering from poor performance and stability. Some even may throttle your bandwidth usage or spy on your activity.
A good VPN encrypts your incoming and outgoing web traffic, all the while making you anonymous with a new IP address. But how do you go about choosing one? First, finish reading this article. Other good sources of firsthand information are recent VPN reviews, forums (which are brutally honest), and even the service provider website.
Taken together, this research process will help you learn what differentiates one product from another and which features matter. Get started with our roundup of the four most important things to consider when shopping for your first VPN.
A VPN is worthless unless it works on all the devices you need to use on a daily basis. In the early days of the internet, VPN clients were designed only to function with either the Windows or Mac OS X operating systems since the vast majority of people used those to connect to the internet.
Now, with so much web browsing on mobile devices like smartphones and tablets, it has become critical to secure them with the same level of protection. Otherwise if you happen to use a mobile device on a public wi-fi network without starting a VPN session, all of your data could be susceptible to attack.
When comparing VPN products online, make sure to research what platforms and operating systems they support. Most of the top VPN providers offer dedicated apps through the iOS or Android stores. Having dedicated tools for Mac and Windows is also a big benefit, as it reduces the amount of manual configuration you have to do.
You may also want to be on the lookout for a VPN solution that can be installed at the router level. This means you can enable VPN encryption on your entire home wi-fi network so that all devices automatically pick up the security benefits. Some VPNs limit the number of devices that can use the service concurrently, so be sure to check that stipulation before signing up for a service.
Even if you don’t have in-depth knowledge of how VPNs encrypt and transmit data, you can still do basic research into the protocol usage of each option to understand their strengths and weaknesses. VPN protocols have evolved over time to better strengthen the authentication and encoding mechanisms of internet traffic.
Among cybersecurity experts, the preferred VPN protocol is what is known as OpenVPN, which is an open-source software based on the encryption library of secure sockets layer (SSL) technology. Be aware that OpenSSL does have some known bugs, so make sure your provider uses the latest version of the protocol.
If you are looking for a VPN product that will support mobile devices, your search should include tools that are based on the L2TP/IPsec protocol. This combination provides strong security and authentication methods. The VPN protocol to avoid is PPTP, which was developed decades ago and has a comparatively weak encryption algorithm.
As mentioned earlier, one big benefit of using a VPN client is the ability to browse the internet from an anonymous IP address. Companies, advertisers, and hackers all try to track your location and activity based on that address, which is normally linked to your internet service provider (ISP).
With a VPN session, your IP address is generated by the endpoint server you are using for the connection. The largest VPN providers offer servers in a variety of locations and regions, allowing you to specify where your internet traffic should be routed. For example, you can be located in the United States but have your IP address point to France.
Obviously one of the main reasons that people choose to invest in a VPN product is for a safer and more private online experience. But the reality is that picking a VPN client to use requires a great deal of trust and comes with some risk. That’s because all of your network traffic will be routed through the provider’s equipment with no way of knowing how it is tracked or intercepted.
Choosing what VPN solution to spend your money on is important. Picking a poor tool could cause serious frustration (bad) or leave you exposed to hackers (worse). Appropriate research, such as the process suggested in this article and especially related to device support, protocol options, server locations, and privacy policies let you develop a solid understanding of how a VPN service works and where to locate the positives and negatives of each.
In general, VPN’s are available for relatively low monthly costs – between five and ten dollars – those these prices typically require a yearly subscription all paid upfront. Although it might seem counterintuitive to pay for a VPN when you already have a high internet bill, the security and peace of mind gained should be worth a case or two of ibuprofen.