Put simply, a Virtual Private Network, or VPN, is a group of computers (or discrete networks) networked together over a public network—namely, the internet. Businesses use VPNs to connect remote datacenters, and individuals can use VPNs to get access to network resources when they’re not physically on the same LAN (local area network), or as a method for securing and encrypting their communications when they’re using an untrusted public network. Photo by Pavel Ignatov (Shutterstock).
Since it takes research to find out if a VPN service has a history of good or bad behavior, we’ve done the legwork to find the best VPN out there. In order to win our seal of approval, the service has to protect online privacy; allow you to keep anonymity; offer a good variety of locations from which to direct your traffic; offer fast, reliable performance; and provide an easy-to-use interface.
The Center for Democracy & Technology brought just such a complaint against one VPN provider last year, though no enforcement action has been announced. Many privacy sites suggest finding a VPN service outside the prying eyes of US intelligence agencies and their allies, but FTC protections could be an argument for finding one in the US so that there’s a penalty if it deceives its customers.
ExpressVPN attempts to build trust in other ways, even without a public face. Court records from 2017 demonstrate that when Turkish authorities seized ExpressVPN servers in the country looking for information, they found nothing of value, as promised by ExpressVPN’s no-logging policy. ExpressVPN also highlights initiatives such as open-source leak-testing tools, developer content about how the company implements different technologies, and support for the efforts of OpenMedia and the EFF. The ExpressVPN representative even offered to arrange a confidential call between our writer and the owners of the company. However, without being able to discuss their identities or learn about other senior leadership, we believed that wouldn’t have been enough to change our recommendation, so we declined. In the end, trust is such a crucial part of deciding which VPN to use that we had to pass on ExpressVPN.
If you are depending on your VPN to keep your activities even mildly anonymous, you need some sense of security that the VPN isn’t just going to go down and dump all your traffic out into the regular internet. What you want is tool known as a “kill switch system”. Good VPN providers have a kill switch system in place such that if the VPN connection fails for any reason it automatically locks down the connection so that the computer doesn’t default to using the open and unsecured internet connection.
Without a VPN, your connection is fully open. Your ISP, employer, the Wi-Fi router in the coffee shop mentioned above, any server along the way, or a person with the right tools can look at your data, log it and use it in ways you can’t control. Government agencies can monitor your online activity and share the retained metadata with each other, including across country borders through intelligence alliances such as “14 Eyes.” Based on your IP address, which depends on your geographic location, third-party sites and services may charge different prices or display intrusive targeted advertising.
Given the aggressive pricing and marketing of other services that don’t measure up to our picks, IVPN’s most obvious downside may look like its price: At the time of this writing, the regular price for an annual IVPN subscription is $100 (about $8 per month). Promotions regularly bringing that down to $70 to $80 per year, but some services have regular pricing of half that. But you shouldn’t pay for a VPN you can’t trust, or one so slow or confusing that you avoid using it at all. We think IVPN’s combination of trust, security, and performance is worth the price. But if it’s too expensive for your needs, consider our budget pick instead.
Another approach is to offer purpose-specific servers. NordVPN, for example, has a high-speed server earmarked for video streaming. The company's collection of these special servers is a great way to offer customers a better experience, one tailored to their needs. It even offers Tor-over-VPN servers, for another layer of privacy. CyberGhost and PureVPN also place an emphasis on streaming, offering modes designed to connect you to your favorite content.
The Remote Authentication Dial-In User Service (RADIUS) protocol is used to provide centralized administration of authentication, authorization, and accounting (AAA) and an industry-standard security infrastructure. RADIUS is defined in RFCs 2138 and 2139 in the IETF RFC Database. RADIUS enables administrators to manage a set of authorization policies, accumulate accounting information, and access an account database from a central location.
The first runs in the VPN client app on your computer, so if the VPN connection fails while the VPN client app is running, that VPN client app can turn off the computer or mobile device's internet connection. However, if your VPN connection has failed because the VPN client app itself crashed, then the kill switch may not work, and your IP and data may leak onto the internet.
After the tunnel is established, data can be sent. The tunnel client or server uses a tunnel data transfer protocol to prepare the data for transfer. For example, when the tunnel client sends a payload to the tunnel server, the tunnel client first appends a tunnel data transfer protocol header to the payload. The client then sends the resulting encapsulated payload across the network, which routes it to the tunnel server. The tunnel server accepts the packets, removes the tunnel data transfer protocol header, and forwards the payload to the target network. Information sent between the tunnel server and the tunnel client behaves similarly.
A number of vendors that sell dial-up access servers have implemented the ability to create a tunnel on behalf of a dial-up client. The computer or network device providing the tunnel for the client computer is variously known as a Front End Processor (FEP) for PPTP or an L2TP Access Concentrator (LAC) for L2TP. For the purposes of this reference, the term FEP is used to describe this functionality, regardless of the tunneling protocol. To carry out its function, the FEP must have the appropriate tunneling protocol installed and must be capable of establishing the tunnel when the client computer connects.
Cost - VPNs aren't too pricey, but they vary from vendor to vendor. If your main concern is price, then go with something inexpensive, or free - like Spotflux Premium VPN or AnchorFree HotSpot Shield Elite. By all means, try a free server but they do have a few drawbacks since they attract a lot of users. Free servers are often slower, and since most are ad-supported, they place adverts on the online pages you access. Others can even limit the speed of your connection, as well as your online time or amount of data transferred.
In short, it's time to start thinking about protecting your personal information. That's where virtual private networks, or VPNs, come in. These services use simple software to protect your internet connection, and they give you greater control over how you appear online, too. While you might never have heard of VPN services, they are valuable tools that you should understand and use. So who needs a VPN? The short answer is that everyone does. Even Mac users can benefit from a VPN.