The 10 Best VPN For Privacy & Security In April 2021
Private Internet Access
Privacy on the internet used to be a given. However, with the end of Net Neutrality, the increase in sophisticated hackers who are compromising the data and customer information of larger corporations, third party sources mining personal data, and a rise in censorship in many countries, many net users are seeking ways to protect their browsing history, location, and personal information from prying eyes.
The answer? A Virtual Private Network (VPN), a service that creates a secure, shielded connection between you and any internet site. A good VPN can protect you at home and on the go, ensuring your privacy. How does a VPN protect privacy? We’ll walk you through the whole process and give you tips on selecting the right service for VPN privacy.
Why Should I Install A VPN?
Let’s get away from the old thinking that the only reason that users would want a VPN is that they’re doing something illegal or illicit on the internet. Now, a VPN the equivalent of hanging curtains in your windows, and almost as common. Just because you want privacy doesn’t mean that you’re doing anything wrong.
In fact, when even commercial giants like Equifax (credit reporting company) and Marriott International (hoteliers) are subject to hacking and theft of thousands of credit card numbers and identities, there’s a good reason to ensure that your information is secure. Beyond that, in 2017, the US Congress voted to allow Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to sell your internet browsing data. If you’ve noticed targeted ads based on sites you’ve recently visited, or Google searches you’re performed, it’s because of your browsing habits. These ads are populating on your computer or phone as a direct result of your internet history being sold to third parties, including advertisers.
Another reason to use a VPN to connect to a website instead of your regular ISP is the end of net neutrality. Net neutrality ensured that all internet sites were equally accessible, free, and without artificial “throttling” that slows down access. Now that Net Neutrality has been repealed, ISPs can select which sites to allow full ease of access and which sites are difficult to load or access for users. Internet providers may also choose to make certain sites accessible for a subscription or may opt to allow larger sites to be free, while either throttling the connectivity to smaller competitors or making these smaller competitors paid sites. You can guess who benefits from that. Revoking net neutrality is essentially economic censorship, but accessing websites through VPN servers bypasses restrictions that your ISP puts in place.
VPN privacy also protects you from internet censorship and allows users to access sites blocked by their government. On a more fun note, using a VPN to access certain streaming services allows subscribers to gain access to the full catalog of shows, movies, music, and videos, by masking their location. Want to see all 5 seasons of Community if you aren’t a UK resident? Get a VPN.
VPNs also allow BitTorrent, or P2P file sharing, allowing users to work around internet bottlenecks stemming from servers hosting popular media files. The secure VPN connection allows each client computer quick, easy access to the other, making it cheaper and faster to download larger files.
How Does A VPN Work?
A virtual private network encrypts data from your computer before sending it to the website you choose, which makes it look like gibberish to hackers. It also disguises your location, which means that you can choose to “be from” anywhere in the world. Accessing a website through a VPN creates a protected “tunnel” that your data travels through. Hackers or other interested third parties may be able to see that you’re on the internet, and the website you visit shows your activity on it, but in between that, it’s shielded. The website only sees the information from the VPN server that you’re routing through.
How A VPN Encrypts Data
Encryption is the method by which a VPN “hides” the data. Think of encryption as a virtually unbreakable code that scrambles your information from one place to another. Only the right decoding key can unscramble the information and thus allow you access to a website through the VPN. With a secure, private “tunnel,” there are decryption keys on both ends, unscrambling the data and allowing the uploads and downloads from you, the client, to the website host. These decoders are the “keys” but a VPN needs more than that to encrypt and decrypt your data.
Here’s where we’re getting a little technical. VPNs can use one of two protocols to package and transport your data, generic routing encapsulation (GRE), or internet protocol security protocol (IPSec). IPSec is fairly common and creates both the secure tunnel and the data package itself. These two sub-protocols work together to transfer your data securely.
Remote access VPNs use the same connection protocols that regular internet connections do, Point-to-point Protocol (PPP). For a VPN, there are three different types of protocols based on the PPP connectivity. These are L2F (Layer 2 Forwarding), which can use any programming supported by a PPP connection; PPTP (Point-to-point Tunneling Protocol), which supports any type of PPP connection plus 40- and 128-bit encryptions; and L2TP (Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol), which combines the first two and is capable of fully supporting IPSec execution.
How A VPN Disguises Your IP Address
Your IP address is unique to you when you sign into the internet – each device has its own discrete one, and they’ll indicate your country of origin to websites, display your IP address to the website you’re accessing, and indicate your internet service provider. If you’re trying to gain access to a site that’s blocked from users in your country through your regular internet connection, you’ll get an error message.
However, VPN servers also have IP addresses, and, depending on how many servers the provider owns, these IP addresses can appear to originate from over 100 or more different countries.
Moreover, VPN servers don’t restrict the number of users that an IP address can have. Instead of one user and one IP address, hundreds or thousands of users can “share” the IP address of each VPN server. When you connect from a VPN, you “borrow” the IP address and location of the server you select to connect from, and that’s what is displayed to the website you access (and anyone else who’s looking).
Essentially, when you connect through a VPN, you “leave” the server of your regular internet service provider and instead use the servers of the VPN provider. To anyone from a website host to a hacker to your government and even a streaming website validating that you’re accessing it from a certain country, your IP address will appear to be the one associated with the VPN server you chose.
If you know you want to access a website or media service that’s only available in certain countries, or if you want to watch content only available in certain countries (Netflix, for example, has different licensing agreements with different countries, and so has a different catalog depending on which country you’re in), then when you log into your VPN, select a server based in the country you want to be from.
Where Do I Get A VPN?
Subscribing to a VPN service is simple. They’re available online – simply go to the company website and sign up for the service you want. Then, sign up for the plan that suits your needs best, download the manual to install the VPN on your devices, and follow the instructions from there to select a username, password, and pick a server you want to connect through. When you connect to the internet, you have options to always connect through a VPN (recommended if you’re putting a VPN on your mobile devices – hotspots are notorious for being hackable) or just straight through your internet service provider (ISP).
Some VPNs are free, and, while free is great, their services may be limited. Many free VPNs limited the number of devices you can add to your account and the amount of bandwidth per day or per month you can use. For people who want a VPN for streaming media, limited bandwidth may be an issue.
Paid subscription VPNs are accessible online, too. Either pay upfront or leave a credit card on file for a recurring subscription. You won’t need a separate device for regular VPN use, although there are routers sold with VPNs pre-installed.
Why Should I Choose A Paid Subscription VPN Service?
There’s an old adage that you can’t get something for anything, which is why many users opt for a paid VPN account. With a paid VPN, especially one of the most highly rated like NordVPN or ExpressVPN, you’ll get top-of-the-line service and protection, as well as access to hundreds of servers. Plus, paid VPN services make their money off subscribers – they don’t have to rely on other income streams to stay in business. Free VPN services still have operating costs, and they need to make money somehow, usually through selling ads or selling data.
Larger VPN companies have more money to purchase new servers as some become compromised (remember those streaming services have a constant game of cat-and-mouse with VPN servers) as well as the resources to get servers back online once their VPN IP address has been exposed. Plus, larger VPN companies with more revenue also have the wherewithal to hire the best programmers, ensuring that their services stay one step ahead of hackers and sites that block VPN access.
Can I Use A VPN On My Mobile Device?
Yes. Many VPN services offer an app that works on iOS or Android systems, and you’ll be able to sign in through your VPN account using that app. For people who often use public WiFi, especially while traveling, having a VPN in “always-on” status on their mobile device can ensure that their data is always protected.
Bear in mind that running your VPN on your phone or tablet may drain the battery faster – you may wish to try out different VPN services (most paid subscriptions have a free trial period) to see which ones affect your battery life and performance least.
Can A VPN Be Compromised?
Well, yes. VPN servers are as vulnerable as others to hackers. In fact, the service Hotspot Shield had a bug in its protocols a few years back that allowed users’ locations and WiFi network names to be leaked. Using that data, it could be pretty easy to determine who was using the service. However, Hotspot Shield isn’t the only one wavers have been compromised. NordVPN, TorGuard, and VikingVPN servers all experienced breaches in 2018, although no data was compromised. NordVPN, in a transparent announcement, did indicate that their encryption keys were exposed, but the amount of time it would take to break 256-bit encryption reaches into the hundreds of years.
It’s also important to note that while the private connection of a VPN won’t be compromised, this doesn’t mean that the websites that you connect to aren’t phishing or fraudulent. While a VPN typically protects a user against attacks wherein a sketchy DNS protocol would redirect you to a fraudulent or phishing site, a VPN won’t protect you against a carefully constructed site that resembles the real thing. Look for the “s” after the HTTP in a web address, especially if you’re entering personal or financial data, and use your best judgment online.
Also, you may note that some VPN services list malware protection as part of their services. Many of these services do have a list of “blacklisted’ sites that are known for viruses and malware, but a VPN isn’t as effective against these types of computer bugs as reputable anti-virus software. Make sure that your VPN and antivirus software work well together, otherwise you may experience a slow connection.
What Are Common VPN Privacy Policies?
Each VPN provider has different privacy policies, so it’s important to read these before you sign up for a service. In fact, if you aren’t satisfied, not getting back a month’s subscription fees can be the least of your worries. If you didn’t read the policies correctly when signing up for service, you may find that your personal data has found its way to third parties or, in some countries, your government, too.
All VPNs are required by law to state their privacy policies, including what information they collect and how that information is used.
That being said, there are a few common threads among VPN privacy policies:
Protect Your Internet Privacy With A VPN Today
Internet privacy without a VPN is a thing of the past. Choosing the right VPN for your needs, whether you simply have a desktop at home or you need full coverage access on your mobile devices, too, means evaluating the pros and cons of each service. With a solid understanding of how VPNs ensure privacy, however, you’re in a better position to accurately evaluate whichever service you need. At VPN.com, we’re here to help. Our expertise and dedication to the privacy of our clients mean that we’re here to work for you.