If you’re interested in using a VPN, you need to know what to look for. There are hundreds of services to choose from, with new providers constantly entering the market. It’s no surprise that navigating the endless range of options can be daunting. However, this doesn’t have to be a headache.
Before we learn how to identify an effective, secure and reliable solution, let’s briefly revisit the basics and discuss the advantages of having a VPN tool.
As you may be aware, the purpose of a VPN (virtual private network) is to route requests through an encrypted server established between the user and the internet. This allows you to disguise your IP address and location as the selected network. In doing so, the VPN prevents websites and third parties from tracking your activity.
With the ability to browse from anywhere in the world, a VPN can also offer several benefits and features including:
- Access to region-restricted content
- Network scalability for business
- Reduced bandwidth throttling
- Wider variety when shopping
The first step in finding an ideal VPN service is to determine what you need it for. Here’s how.
Determine Your Needs
Whether or not you’re concerned about privacy, you should consider getting a VPN if you frequently connect to public Wi-Fi networks. Since these networks are unsecured, they make an ideal entry point for hackers looking to steal your data. In this case, prioritize a VPN that offers a high encryption standard such as AES 256-bit encryption.
On the other hand, you might be more interested in using a VPN on your own Wi-Fi network to access restricted content. Perhaps you live in the US and you want to watch BBC iPlayer videos that are only available to UK residents, for example. Then, you should focus on VPN providers with UK exit nodes.
Finally, you might simply prefer to hide your browsing activity from internet service providers (ISPs) and third parties. While a VPN is by no means a complete solution, the technology can certainly help in this regard. Keep an eye out for providers that don’t store any logs and service an extensive customer base, making it harder to single you out.
Now that you have a better idea of why you might want to use a VPN service, we can explore the key criteria to consider when assessing a provider.
There are numerous protocols that VPN companies can secure your data with as it passes through their networks. Not all are created equal, and each has unique benefits and drawbacks. Following is an overview of the main protocols:
- PPTP is an outdated protocol that’s suitable for accessing geo-restricted content but lacks reliable security.
- L2TP/IPSec has fewer vulnerabilities. However, it tends to be slow.
- SSTP is considered one of the safest protocols, but support for macOS and Linux devices is limited.
- IKEv2/IPSec leads the way in speed and security but is geared more towards mobile devices.
On that note, remember that VPN providers don’t always support every platform. If you have an Android and Windows device, for instance, then you’ll want to make sure that your selected VPN tool is available for both.
Servers and Locations
Let’s imagine that you’re looking to access exclusive discounts and sales at online retailers in Europe. Of course, it would be a waste to pay for a VPN service with networks across Asia and Africa. In fact, you shouldn’t settle for any provider that doesn’t maintain a large array of servers around the world.
The best VPN services comprise hundreds (or even thousands) of servers in all of the important countries. Not only does that allow you to freely switch locations, but it also speaks for how well-established the company is.
Another reason why you might use a VPN is to bypass ISP throttling. In this case, you wouldn’t want to shell out money for a VPN service only to get throttled again. The primary cause would be bandwidth restrictions enforced by the VPN provider. This isn’t something you’d have to worry about with a worthy VPN service.
It’s also possible for a VPN to experience IP leaks. When this happens, the VPN fails to mask your IP address, thus leaving you exposed as you were before. Luckily, you can always test VPN connections for leaks in a few simple steps, as outlined in the linked blog post by Setapp. Be sure to check out their suite of productivity apps and tools as well.
VPN tools inherently reduce your connection speed to some degree because of the encryption process. The extent to which your network slows down can range from an unnoticeable drop to a complete deal-breaker.
A reliable VPN provider will have measures in place to ensure that your connection speeds are minimally affected. For example, they can offer dedicated servers that are optimized for peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing or video streaming. Aim to identify a service that’s designed specifically for your intended use.
If you require a VPN tool that works on several devices at the same time, you’ll have to identify a service that supports multiple sessions. There are providers that offer up to ten, if not more, concurrent connections. An alternative is to install a VPN that hooks up directly to your router, thus eliminating the need to support simultaneous logins.
It’s important to consider the payment methods available for a VPN service, especially if your priorities revolve around anonymity and privacy.
Perhaps you’re comfortable paying with your credit card or through a payment processor, which is fine. But if you want something more discrete, there are VPN providers that accept cryptocurrency and even gift cards. This way, nobody will be able to determine who paid for the service.
In a similar vein, make sure that the company offers some kind of money-back guarantee. Every leading provider offers refund periods ranging from 7 to 31 days so that your investment is risk-free.
Paying for an effective and secure VPN service really can be an excellent investment. All you need to do is keep the above factors in mind when choosing your provider.