VPNs, or Virtual Private Networks, are a quick and easy solution to making your computer appear to be coming from a different location. They accomplish this by creating a virtual network that routes all of your PC or smartphone’s network traffic through an encrypted tunnel and out the other side, making it seem to the world that you’re actually in whatever location the VPN server is located. This can help you bypass geographic restrictions, avoid censors, or keep you (relatively) anonymous online.
Security is all too often considered a zero-sum game. You either make the effort to protect yourself and lose out on performance and shiny new toys, or you choose an easier life with the understanding that you may end up making ransomware payments for the rest of your life. At PCMag, we maintain that this mindset is outdated, especially in the world of virtual private networks, or VPNs. These services protect your data within an encrypted tunnel, keeping bad guys, ISPs, and snooping spies at bay. Using a VPN will certainly have an impact on your internet connection, but the good news is that it needn't be a big one.
Using a VPN will prevent most kinds of DNS attacks that would redirect you to a phishing page, but a regular old page made to look like a legit one in order to trick you into entering your data can still work. Some VPNs, and most browsers, are pretty good about blocking phishing pages, but this attack still claims too many victims to be ignored. Use common sense and be sure to verify that websites are what they say they are by looking carefully at the URL and always visiting HTTPS sites.
Remote access data encryption does not provide end-to-end data encryption. End-to-end encryption is data encryption between the client application and the server that hosts the resource or service being accessed by the client application. To get end-to-end data encryption, use IPSec to help create a secure connection after the remote access connection has been made.
When you activate a VPN, your web traffic is routed from your computer, through an encrypted tunnel, and to a server controlled by the VPN company. From there, your data exits and enters the public internet. These extra steps generally degrade your internet connection speeds, simply by adding more fiber, more computers, and more physical distance to the equation. In exchange, using a VPN helps protect your data and personal security.
Split tunneling is the generic term for software that lets you define which apps send data through the VPN tunnel and which travel outside the tunnel. This lets you route more sensitive activities, like web browsing or online banking, from more mundane but higher-bandwidth activities, like streaming music or playing video games. It's especially useful because Netflix blocks VPN use, as do other services. You can simply route these apps outside the VPN in order to avoid this problem. Not many VPN services offer this feature, but PureVPN does. Seek out split tunneling if speed is of primary concern.
To help ensure confidentiality of the data as it traverses the shared or public transit network, it is encrypted by the sender and decrypted by the receiver. Because data encryption is performed between the VPN client and VPN server, it is not necessary to use data encryption on the communication link between a dial-up client and its Internet service provider (ISP). For example, a mobile user uses a dial-up networking connection to dial in to a local ISP. Once the Internet connection is made, the user creates a VPN connection with the corporate VPN server. If the VPN connection is encrypted, there is no need to use encryption on the dial-up networking connection between the client and the ISP.
Of course, there are more than just phones and computers in a home. Game systems, tablets, and smart home devices such as light bulbs and fridges all need to connect to the internet. Many of these things can't run VPN software on their own, nor can they be configured to connect to a VPN through their individual settings. In these cases, you may be better off configuring your router to connect with the VPN of your choice. By adding VPN protection to your router, you secure the traffic of every gadget connected to that router. And the router—and everything protected by it—uses just one of your licenses. Nearly all of the companies we have reviewed offer software for most consumer routers and even routers with preinstalled VPN software, making it even easier to add this level of protection.
If you’re not looking to take advantage of its Channel Bonding functionality, users still benefit from a few tools designed to ensure users have a stable connection at all times. This includes its error correction algorithm that reduces packet loss and its automated, seamless network switching that acts as a failsafe should users step out of WiFi range or their primary connection fails.
Torrenting/P2P Support – IPVanish makes all torrent websites and clients accessible. There is no problem with IPVanish as far as support for P2P networking is considered. However, the fact that IPVanish is based in the US and subject to its laws makes it a poor choice if your main purpose of having a VPN is to download torrents. This is because companies have no power against agencies and if they are trying to monitor a specific user, the company would probably have no choice but to comply and leak user data. In short, do not use IPVanish for torrenting to ensure your safety.
The problem with anonymity is there are so many issues to consider—most of which are beyond the scope of this article. Has the government surreptitiously installed malware on your PC in order to monitor your activity, for example? Does the VPN you want to use have any issues with data leakage or weak encryption that could expose your web browsing? How much information does your VPN provider log about your activity, and would that information be accessible to the government? Are you using an anonymous identity online on a PC that you never use in conjunction with your actual identity?
For local VPN issues, you have a couple of options. First, consider installing VPN software on your router and not using a VPN on your local machines. Alternatively, many VPN services offer browser plug-ins that only encrypt your browser traffic. That's not ideal from a security perspective, but it's useful when all you need to secure is your browser information.
VPNs help enable users working at home, on the road, or at a branch office to connect in a secure fashion to a remote corporate server using the Internet. From the users perspective, the VPN is a point-to-point connection between the user's computer and a corporate server. The nature of the intermediate network, the Internet, is irrelevant to the user because it appears as if the data is being sent over a dedicated private link.
First and foremost, using a VPN prevents anyone on the same network access point (or anywhere else) from intercepting your web traffic in a man-in-the-middle attack. This is especially handy for travelers and for those using public Wi-Fi networks, such as web surfers at hotels, airports, and coffee shops. Someone on the same network, or the person in control of the network you're using, could conceivably intercept your information while you're connected.