You've heard the advice before: Whether you're in the office or on the road, a VPN is one of the best ways to protect yourself on the internet. But how effective are VPNs? What's the best one for you? What are the downsides? Our executive guide aims to answer all your VPN-related questions -- including a few you probably haven't thought about before.
No company came closer to being a pick than ExpressVPN. It has a huge server network that performed well in our tests, plus easy-to-use applications on tons of platforms, and strong security technologies in place. A representative answered all our questions about company operations at length—except one. As noted in a PCWorld review of the service, ExpressVPN chooses not to disclose the company’s leadership or ownership. The company representative told us that this policy enabled ExpressVPN to build a private and secure product without compromise. “We think that this approach has been effective until now and that coupled with a stellar VPN product, we have succeeded in gaining a solid reputation in our industry. We are fortunate to be trusted by the many users worldwide who choose ExpressVPN.”
How much should a VPN cost? Hotspot Shield can be as little as £119.99 for a lifetime or £5.99 a month if you'd rather sign up for a year. For your money you get a decent range of features including up to five devices, private browsing, virtual locations and good if not stellar performance: we did notice a slight increase in latency when Hotspot Shield was enabled, although it wasn’t too dramatic. There’s a seven-day trial that gives you more than enough time to put it through its paces.
Is using the web safely one of your concerns? Maybe you know someone who has been hacked or you’ve experienced it yourself. Have you ever wanted to purchase something or book travel but found it to be more expensive when you revisited it? Do you ever want to download a file but are unsure about your internet security? Or perhaps you’ve wanted to speak to family and friends but feel uncomfortable about how private your connection is. If one or more of these statements are concerns of yours, there is a solution — use a VPN, a way to disguise your IP address and add extra encryption to your data.
Ironically, in many cases, the faster your standard internet connection, the more speed you “lose” in percentage. Even if you have a 50 Mbps connection and this interconnection is poor, you probably won’t be able to make the best of the VPN service. For example, if you have a 5 Mbps connection, you’ll lose just 10-20% of bandwidth, but if you have 100 Mbps, connecting to a VPN may cause you to lose more than a half of your speed.
If you are interested in an added level of protection, there are intriguing gadgets called Tiny Hardware Firewalls. These devices range from about $30 to $70 and connect via a network port or a USB slot to your laptop. They make the initial network connection, and so your computer's communication is always blocked before it calls out to the internet.
The encryption and decryption processes depend on both the sender and the receiver having knowledge of a common encryption key. Intercepted packets sent along the VPN connection in the transit network are unintelligible to any computer that does not have the common encryption key. The length of the encryption key is an important security parameter. Computational techniques can be used to determine the encryption key. Such techniques require more computing power and computational time as the encryption key gets larger. Therefore, it is important to use the largest possible key size.
PPTP assumes the availability of an IP network between a PPTP client (a VPN client using the PPTP tunneling protocol) and a PPTP server (a VPN server using the PPTP tunneling protocol). The PPTP client might already be attached to an IP network that can reach the PPTP server, or the PPTP client might have to use a dial-up connection to a NAS to establish IP connectivity as in the case of dial-up Internet users.
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.
Not all the VPN protocols work fast. It is not that VPN doesn’t work fast, but all the protocols are designed to fulfill specific needs of the users. We have already discussed the fastest VPN protocols used in our VPN speed test. We are now detailing more features about each protocol to give you more reasons to choose the best one that fits your specific needs.
VPN services, while tremendously helpful, are not foolproof. There's no magic bullet (or magic armor) when it comes to security. A determined adversary can almost always breach your defenses in one way or another. Using a VPN can't help if you unwisely download ransomware on a visit to the Dark Web, or if you foolishly give up your data to a phishing attack.