Providers can also log less-specific data about when or how often you connect to your VPN service. In some cases, these logs are a routine part of server or account management, and can be responsibly separated and scrubbed. In other cases, VPN providers take note of every connection and use that information to actively police individual customers. Though it’s reasonable for companies to protect their networks from abuse, it becomes a dealbreaker when companies keep extensive connection data for a longer period of time. Some VPN companies we spoke with explained how a log might note your current connection for authentication purposes, but that log is deleted as soon as you disconnect. This kind of “live log” isn’t a concern, and even those culled every few hours—or as long as the end of each day—shouldn’t be confused with logs of your traffic and online destinations.
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If the only use case you care about is securely accessing your home network to, then you absolutely do not need to invest in a VPN service provider. This isn’t even a case of the tool being overkill for the job; it’s a case of the tool being wrong for the job. A remote VPN service provider gives you secure access to a remote network (like an exit node in Amsterdam), not access to your own network.
A “kill switch” goes by many names, but the term describes VPN software that shuts off all network traffic in and out of your computer if the encrypted connection fails. A hiccup in your Wi-Fi or even with your ISP can cause a VPN to disconnect, and if you then maintain an unsecure connection—especially if the VPN software doesn’t alert you that it’s no longer protecting your traffic—that wipes out all the benefits of your VPN. We considered kill switches to be mandatory. And although we looked for apps that made it easy to add rules about when to activate kill switches, we considered special config files or manual firewall tweaks to be too complex. (iOS doesn’t support any kill-switch features; we address a few iOS-specific problems that apply to all VPN services in a separate section.)
A popular VPN service, TorGuard has servers in over 50 countries and enables users to unblock websites and get around censorship. This ensures that wherever you are in the world, there is bound to be a TorGuard server near you. By default, the service enables users to make five simultaneous connections. This lets users run the service on all their devices. To better protect users, the service has a kill switch. However, this feature is not available on mobile devices. Likewise, a Domain Name System leak protection works on Windows and OS X.
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.
That attitude to the safety and privacy of personal data creates an enormous online security risk. Public Wi-Fi networks, which are ubiquitous and convenient, are unfortunately also highly convenient for attackers looking to compromise your personal information. How do you know, for example, that "starbucks_wifi_real" is actually the Wi-Fi network for the coffee shop? Anyone could have created that network, and they may have done so in order to lure victims into disclosing personal information over it. In fact, a popular security researcher prank is to create a network with the same name as a free, popular service and see how many devices will automatically connect because it appears safe.