Privacy on the internet has never been so important. Many of us share sensitive information over the world wide web, especially when we are making purchases. Even if you are not using credit cards and debits cards, you may be using eWallet services such as PayPal that have access to your financial information. If an unwanted hacker gets hold of your details, then you could find yourself financially destitute overnight.
This is one of the reasons why you need to consider streaming all your internet traffic through a Virtual Private Network, or VPN for short. A VPN hides your IP address, which is the four number code that uniquely identifies your computer, or your wireless or wired router. Anyone can tell a great deal about you simply by your IP address and can hack into your network if they know that four number code. A VPN acts as a safe ‘buffer’ between you and the rest of the internet.
VPNs can also be used for streaming geo-blocked content, and for preventing companies selling your activity information to third parties.
Not all VPNs are worthy of your consideration though. Some have no privacy protocols at all, some slow your internet traffic down to standstill, and others charge exorbitant fees for very poor services.
Here you will find out how you can make the very best choice when it comes to choosing the right VPN.
What exactly does a VPN do, anyway?
Imagine that the internet is a huge network of roads. You can drive anywhere on this ‘internet highway’, and you can start off at any point, and end up at any point. Imagine then that all these roads can end up at your computer, or internet access point. That means that you can go anywhere on the internet, but also that anyone on the internet can also come to you.
Now imagine that all these roads end up at your VPN, and that there is only one road that connects you and the VPN, and that only you can use that road. What’s more, only you and your VPN know that this road exists, and the VPN ain’t telling anyone else about it!
This is precisely how a VPN works. You can travel down that single road to your VPN, and then out into the internet. However, everyone else can only get as far as your VPN, and they cannot get to your internet access point. What’s more, they have absolutely no idea where you are, and absolutely no way of finding out.
What are the main reasons for using a VPN?
As explained in the introduction, the main purpose of using a VPN is for privacy. The internet is full of snoopers, all of whom are extremely keen on finding out everything that you are doing on the world wide web. That’s not to say they are doing so with bad intentions in mind – big corporations simply want to know all about you so they can tailor their ads towards you in the hope of making it more likely that you’ll buy stuff that you don’t need.
Think about it – how would you like it if everyone in the world could see everything that you are doing within your own home? That’s exactly what you are doing every time you surf the internet without using a VPN.
More and more of us are cutting the cable when it comes to our media choices. Who these days wants to wait until a specific time on a specific day for our show to come on? We choose what we want to watch, and when we want to watch it via an array of available streaming choices.
There’s an immeasurable amount of content all around the globe just waiting to be streamed. The issue is, not all of us can stream it. The IP address of your internet access point contains geographical information that can show anyone exactly where you are in the world. This is bad news if you want to use a streaming service in the US that is only open to US customers, even if you are willing to pay for the privilege.
By using a VPN you will be masking your geographical location. Many VPNs are country-based, so you can choose a US-based VPN if you want to access geo-locked US content.
China has a pretty draconian attitude when it comes to the internet. The policy is that people in China should only view content on the internet that has been made in China, and with government approval. This ‘closed shop’ approach away around 99 percent of the internet away from the Chinese people.
If you are in China and want to view the internet beyond the country’s boundaries, then you can simply choose the correct VPN service provider for you.
How do I know which is the best VPN service provider for me to use?
Choosing the right VPN service provider depends upon your individual needs. If you are going to be using your VPN for streaming, then you need a VPN that can handle high streaming speeds without choking. There is no point watching a movie via a VPN if the throttling is so high the movie buffers every five minutes or so.
If you intend to watch streaming services from various locations which are typically geo-locked, then you need a VPN where you can alter the IP address of the VPN location. You will not want a VPN with an exit node solely in Vancouver if you want to access US streaming services, for example.
If you are a casual browser who uses public Wi-Fi networks a lot, then you will need to choose a VPN that has high-security protocols. Too many of us stroll around town, hacking on to any free internet access point that we can find. We never check that any of the networks we use are legitimate, or how secure they are. They could be cloned networks designed to steal private details or poorly configured ones that have been hacked and are not aware of it. For perfectly safe and secure casual browsing, a VPN is a must.
Decent VPNs are not free, and some are more expensive than others. The cost of each VPN in relation to all the services that it provides is also something that you will need to consider. The value-for-money you will receive is of paramount importance too.
What are the leading VPNs, and why are they the best?
Here is a quick rundown of some of the most popular VPNs available on the world wide web at the moment, and why you should consider using them.
ExpressVPN has established itself as the world leader when it comes to a multi-functional, hyper-secure virtual private network. If you know absolutely nothing about VPNs including how to use one and how to set it up, then ExpressVPN are always on hand to help you.
NordVPN has gained recommendations all of the time it has been in business for the reliability of its services. If you just want to stream geo-blocked movies and TV shows, it could be your number one choice.
If privacy is of paramount importance to you, then you should seriously consider the merits of Hong Kong-based PureVPN. PureVPN has a decent pricing structure too for all needs, so you are sure to find a plan that sits well with you.
Based in Singapore, Ivacy VPN put simplicity first. If your head turns somersaults at the thought of dealing with anything more technical than plugging in a USB stick, then Ivacy could be the choice for you.
VyprVPN brands itself as the ‘#1 VPN’, which may not be strictly accurate, but it could be considered to be a top-five finisher. It’s a super-speedy VPN that works especially well in Europe and un-geo-blocks the US version of Netflix with ease.
What else do I need to know about a VPN site before you sign up for one?
As well as the factors outlined above, there are some other details that you need to consider. Here are a few of the important ones.
As has been touched upon in some of the mini-reviews above, logs are a contentious point when it comes to VPNs. When you access the internet without a VPN, your ISP (internet service provider) will keep a log detailing your IP address and the areas of the internet that you access. They can then sell these logs to third parties.
Most people are not happy about their internet usage being sold, as they have no control over where such information ends up, or how it is used. This is one of the many reasons why people use VPNs to preserve their anonymity.
It is true that the fastest way to get from Point A to Point B is a straight, uninterrupted line. For the best streaming speeds, you need to stream straight from the source.
With a VPN, that ‘point-to-point’ transfer is not possible. The internet (i.e. streaming) data that you are trying to obtain has to go to your VPN first, and then to you. You may consider that this is not too bad a thing, but your VPN will be dealing with lots of incoming and outgoing traffic as well. Imagine your VPN as a traffic junction with thousands of cars – it’s understandable that traffic is going to slow down.
Check your expected transfer speeds when you are thinking about choosing a VPN provider. Your 1080p movie stream may diminish to 1Mbps levels of resolution if you choose a VPN that cannot handle its traffic.
Protocols and safety
A protocol is simply a ‘fancy’ way of describing the way that data is transferred from a website to your computer. When it comes to a VPN, security is of paramount importance. Data can be diverted at any stage and can end up precisely where you don’t want it to. The way that VPNs guard against data being diverted is by making sure that the data is useless unless it arrives precisely where it is meant to be.
SSTP is one form of VPN protocol. This uses secure sockets (which is what the SS in SSTP stands for), which is the standard for transmitting data across the internet. L2TP/IPSec is another common VPN protocol, created as a replacement for the now-obsolete PPTP protocol. When you are looking for a VPN you need to consider the protocols it has available.
Statistics on each main VPN provider
Logging: Does not log. Speeds: >150 Mbps. Connections: Max 3x simultaneous. Security: AES 256-bit cypher, 4096-bit RSA key, SHA-512 HMAC authentication (extremely high). Pricing: $8.32 pcm (15-month plan).
Pros: Easy to set-up, excellent customer support, high speeds, extremely high security. Cons: Higher cost than other providers. Only 3x simultaneous connections.
Logging: Does not log. Speeds: >80 Mbps. Connections: Max 6x simultaneous. Security: OpenVPN, IPSec & IKEv2 (very high). Pricing: $2.99 pcm (36-month plan).
Pros: Cheap! Good, stable speeds, no logs or IP/DNS leaking, excellent customer support. Cons: Company could be more transparent, refunds can sometimes take too long.
Logging: Collects bandwidth and connectivity logs. Speeds >30 Mbps. Connections: Max 2x connections: Security: OpenVPN, L2TP/IPSec, SSTP (very high). Pricing: $3.33 pcm (12-month plan).
Pros: Secure, some good features, cheap. Cons: Slow, some leaks, keeps some logs, poor customer service.
Logging: Does not keep logs. Speeds: >50 Mbps. Connections: Unknown. Security: OpenVPN, L2TP/IPSec, SSTP (very high). Pricing: $2.25 pcm (24-month plan).
Pros: Decent speeds for the price, no logging, excellent customer service, safe and secure. Cons: 30-day money back offer comes with caveats, unreliable geo-unblocking of Netflix.
Logging: No logging. Speeds: >70 Mbps. Connections: Max 3 or 5 depending on plan. Security: OpenVPN, L2TP/IPSec, SSTP (very high). Pricing: $5 or $6.67 pcm (12-month plan).
Pros: No logging, fast speeds, choice of plans, safe and secure, supports all devices, easy to use., decent customer support. Cons: No anonymous payment options, slow speeds for the cost when compared to some.
How to use a VPN on various platforms
Android and iOS
The easiest way to set up a VPN on an Android or iOS-based phone or tablet is to download an app that does it all for you. Most VPNs will offer an Android app that you can download from their site or an iOS-based app that you can download from the App Store. Just install the app and run it. You will soon be up and running with your VPN.
If you are a little more tech-savvy then you can configure your device to use your VPN without installing an app. Each VPN will offer you tutorials on how to do this. You can even download open source VPN apps (i.e. ones not supplied by your VPN) to make configuration easier.
Windows, MacOS, Linux
With both Windows and MacOS you will be able to download apps that will do all of the hard work for you when it comes to setting up your VPN. Just download the app from your VPN’s website and open it. Follow the prompts to configure your VPN and to get started.
Apps are generally not available for Linux users. You will have to download a configuration file from your VPN and install it using the Terminal app on your computer.
If you prefer, you can undergo a manual install via Windows and MacOS too. Just follow the instructions as detailed on your VPN’s website.
Smart TVs, boxes
Smart TVs are a little more complex to set up than other devices, mainly because there are so many of them! If you have a specific type of TV, then check to see if your VPN has a tutorial detailing how you can connect your Smart TV to your VPN.
If you have a streaming box such as a Kodi Box then configuration is easier, and you can download apps that will do all the work for you.
If you want to use your Smart TV with your VPN it is often easier to configure your internet access point/router instead.
Your router is probably the best way of setting up your VPN connection, as then all devices that connect to it will then use your VPN. You can usually configure your router via any device that connects to it – typically your PC or laptop.
Your VPN will help you to download a configuration file that you can then load into your router’s software. You can then tell your router to use your VPN to access the internet.
If you get stuck your VPN will have detailed instructions, or you can ask their customer service team for help.
Free VPNs and trial periods
If you have looked at our mini-reviews of the leading VPN providers, you will have noticed that they all cost money. If you hunt around the web, you will find plenty of free VPNs. You may then ask yourself why pay for a VPN when you can use one for free?
The answer to that is easy – free VPNs are slow, unreliable and insecure. They will also log your internet activity and then are likely to sell it to third parties. You are no better off using a free VPN than using no VPN at all.
If you want to try a VPN, many will offer time-limited trials, usually two to three days. You should also be able to secure a 30-day money back offer, where you can cancel your account and get your money back if you are not satisfied.
I am visiting China – why will I need a VPN?
While China is happy to allow human traffic in and out of the country, it’s not so happy about allowing internet traffic in and out! If you want to use a messaging service in China such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Skype or Viber to keep in contact with your friends, then such apps are unlikely to work. Social networks like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are geo-locked top. Even Google doesn’t work in China!
If you are going to China and you do not wish to feel isolated then you need to use a VPN. Be aware though that all VPNs do not work in China, although ExpressVPN does.
|VPN||Cost||Trial||Money Back?||Best Thing About it?||Rating (out of 5)|
|ExpressVPN||8,32 pcm(12-month plan)||No||100% money back for 30 days||Fast & Secure||5|
|NordVPN||$2.99 pcm(36-month plan)||No||100% money back for 30 days||Cheap!||4,5|
|PureVPN||$3.33 pcm(12-month plan)||No||100% money back for 30 days||Some good features||3,5|
|IvacyVPN||$2.25 pcm(24-month plan)||No||100% money back for 30 days||Value for mone||4|
|VyprVPN||$5.00 pcm(12-month plan)||No||100% money back for 30 days||Decent speeds for the price||3,75|
Q. Wlll a VPN slow my internet connection?
A. All VPNs will slow your internet connection, but if you have a naturally speedy internet connection (>4 Mbps), with most VPNs you will hardly notice any difference.
Q. How many devices can I use my VPN with?
A. That depends upon the VPN. It is often best to set your router or internet access point to use your VPN. That way, all your devices when connected to your home network will use your VPN without any further setting up.
Q. Why should I pay for a VPN when some VPNs are free?
A. Free VPNs are unreliable, slow and are just interested in logging your activity so they can sell it to third parties. A premium VPN (i.e. one that you pay for) is reliable, fast, and does not log your activity.
Q. I am not very computer-savvy. How am I suppose to set up a VPN?
A. All premium VPNs come with how-to guides and apps that make it very simple to set up a VPN. If you can connect your PC to the internet, then you can set up a VPN.
Q. How can I be sure that a VPN is not simply monitoring my internet usage and spying upon me?
A. Stlck to the premium VPNs recommended here. They have thousands of satisfied customers all over the globe.