There was a time when using a VPN required users to know about the built-in VPN client for Windows or universal open-source solutions such as OpenVPN. Nowadays, however, nearly every VPN provider has its own one-click client that gets you up and running in seconds. There are usually mobile apps as well to keep your Android or iOS device secure over public Wi-Fi.
One of the most important factors when you’re choosing a VPN provider is also the hardest to quantify: trust. All your Internet activity will flow through this company’s servers, so you have to trust that company more than the network you’re trying to secure, be it a local coffee shop’s Wi-Fi, your campus Internet connection, your corporate IT network, or your home ISP. In all our research, we came across a lot of gray areas when it came to trusting a VPN, and only two hard rules: Know who you’re trusting, and remember that security isn’t free.
While it hides your IP address, a VPN is not a true anonymization service. For that, you'll want to access the Tor network, which will almost certainly slow down your connection. While a VPN tunnels your web traffic to a VPN server, Tor bounces around your traffic through several volunteer nodes making it much, much harder to track. Using Tor also grants access to hidden Dark Web sites, which a VPN simply cannot do. That said, some services, such as NordVPN, offer Tor access on specific servers. IVPN offers a similar feature called multi-hop VPN, which lets you route your web traffic in tricky ways.
If you don’t mind doing a little extra tinkering in a more complicated app to save some money, we recommend TorGuard because it’s trustworthy, secure, and fast. TorGuard is well-regarded in trust and transparency; it was also the fastest service we tried despite being less expensive than much of the competition, and its server network spans more than 50 locations, more than twice as many as our top pick. But TorGuard’s apps aren’t as easy to use as IVPN’s: TorGuard includes settings and labels that allow extra flexibility but clutter the experience for anyone new to VPNs. And unlike IVPN, TorGuard doesn’t natively support OpenVPN connections on iOS, making it a significantly worse choice on Apple devices than it is if you use Windows, ChromeOS, or Android.
Jurisdiction – From the point of view of privacy, nothing is more important than the jurisdiction in which a VPN provider operates. VPN providers based in countries like the UK, the US, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia have to follow data retention laws and cooperate with agencies for surveillance purposes. However, if a VPN provider truly follows a zero-logging policy, then users can consider their privacy secure even if the VPN is based in one of the countries as above. Nonetheless, given the choice, you should avoid VPNs that fall in the jurisdiction of agencies notorious for their surveillance programs.
Servers – IPVanish has a moderately-sized server network of 1,000 servers. Geographically, it covers 60 regions around the world. Although this is relatively small than the VPNs provided above, this is still better than many other VPN providers. IPVanish provides a lot of control to the user when it comes to selecting a server. You can filter VPNs by country, city, and latency. The best thing about it is that IPVanish is remarkably fast in establishing a connection with any server location of your choice.
Jump up ^ Cisco Systems, Inc. (2004). Internetworking Technologies Handbook. Networking Technology Series (4 ed.). Cisco Press. p. 233. ISBN 9781587051197. Retrieved 2013-02-15. [...] VPNs using dedicated circuits, such as Frame Relay [...] are sometimes called trusted VPNs, because customers trust that the network facilities operated by the service providers will not be compromised.
A Virtual Private Network is a connection method used to add security and privacy to private and public networks, like WiFi Hotspots and the Internet. Virtual Private Networks are most often used by corporations to protect sensitive data. However, using a personal VPN is increasingly becoming more popular as more interactions that were previously face-to-face transition to the Internet. Privacy is increased with a Virtual Private Network because the user's initial IP address is replaced with one from the Virtual Private Network provider. Subscribers can obtain an IP address from any gateway city the VPN service provides. For instance, you may live in San Francisco, but with a Virtual Private Network, you can appear to live in Amsterdam, New York, or any number of gateway cities.
The main reason to use a VPN is security - in theory, the data that travels across your VPN should be impossible for anybody else to intercept, so it can protect your online banking or confidential business communications - but there are other benefits too. VPNs can make it much harder for advertising to track you online, and they can overcome geography-specific blocks that prevent you from accessing some country-specific services such as online video.
VPNs secure your traffic and route it through an intermediary server so it can’t be traced. But if privacy is not of chief concern to you, then there are other alternative proxy methods that offer faster speed. A SOCKS proxy, for example, does pretty much the same thing as a VPN without the encryption. Without having to encrypt and decrypt traffic, SOCKS proxy users can get faster speeds and still mask their IP address.
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.
Server switching is a feature -- offered by most VPN service providers -- that allows you to change what region or country you're going to connect to. Most providers allow you to switch as often as you'd like (although you usually have to disconnect, then change your configuration, and reconnect). This may be useful if you're trying to hide your location, or if you're running into some communications glitches on the server you're currently using.
For PPTP and Layer Two Tunneling Protocol (L2TP), a tunnel is similar to a session. Both of the tunnel endpoints must agree to the tunnel and must negotiate configuration variables, such as address assignment, encryption, or compression parameters. In most cases, data transferred across the tunnel is sent using a datagram-based protocol. A tunnel management protocol is used as the mechanism to create, maintain, and terminate the tunnel.
Logging Policy – IVPN is arguably one of the few VPN providers that take the privacy and security of their users extremely seriously. The no-logging policy is followed in the best way possible by the company and does not log IP, DNS request, traffic, or timestamps. A particularly admirable step that IVPN has taken towards its transparency is its monthly publication of a “warrant canary”, which will declare if the company has been served any warrant by the government or other authorities that might threaten the privacy of its users.
IPSec – Internet Protocol Security (IPSec) can be utilized with Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol (L2TP) or Internet Key Exchange version 2 (IKEv2). While it is not open source, it does do well in the performance category and can be used natively (without apps) on most operating systems. IPSec/IKEv2 may be the best protocol to use with some mobile devices (iOS), which do not work as well with OpenVPN.
Are you so used to your data traveling over Wi-Fi that you've stopped worrying about the security of that data—and about who else might be spying on it, or even stealing it for nefarious purposes? If so, you are—sadly—in the majority, and you ought to consider using a viritual private network, or VPN. In fact, when PCMag conducted a survey on VPN usage, we found that a dismal 71 percent of the 1,000 respondents had never used a VPN. Even among those who support net neutrality—who you might think would tend to be well informed on technology and privacy issues—only 45 percent had used a VPN.