The internet is not a perfect place even though you spend most of your time there for work, shopping, business, and catching up with family and friends on social media. You also probably know that once you are online you are vulnerable to hackers, government snooping, and the omnipresent advertisers who track and monitor your online activities. Many people are aware of leaving behind their digital footprints and have tried some means of covering these up.
A Pew Reseach Center survey found out that 55% of internet users have taken steps to avoid observation by specific people and organizations, and the government. However, most have taken only simple steps to hide or shield their information such as avoiding certain app or changing privacy settings, rather than more robust methods like “don’t track” browser plugins, anonymity software, or email encryption.
One of the more tested methods to hide your online tracks and trails is through the use of VPN or Virtual Private Network. It doesn’t completely make you anonymous, but it provides another layer of security and defense against hackers and snoopers. VPN services let you connect to the internet via a secure server operated by a VPN provider. All data that passes between your internet-connected device and this server is encrypted. VPN services have long been used by companies and businesses to securely transmit, access, and protect corporate data and other sensitive information. And with the growing awareness of regular internet users of its benefits, VPN services have surged in popularity and numbers in recent years, significantly driving down its prices.
How does VPN Software Work
VPN services add security and privacy to public and private networks (Wi-Fi hotspots and the internet) because it can temporarily replace the user’s original IP address with one it provides. Hence, a user who lives in New York can appear to live in Amsterdam (or any gateway city the VPN service provides). Anyone snooping can only trace you back to the location of the IP address the service provided. For business, even if they are not physically on the same network, best VPN services serve as hubs for connecting to and getting access to networks. Likewise, the service can be used to encrypt communications over public networks.
VPNs can be deployed on-premise or by logging as a subscriber onto the website of VPN services. Your computer and the remote server exchange keys which encrypt all data traffic, keeping them safe and secure and allowing you to browse the internet without being monitored, tacked or identified. Furthermore, VPN can help you access or go around blocked and censored sites.
What are the Benefits of VPN Software?
By now, the foregoing may already have given you an idea of what VPN can do and what you can gain from it. But for better understanding, we itemize the common major benefits provided by VPN services:
- Anonymity – VPN constantly replaces a user’s IP address, keeping the original IP address hidden. This makes the user unidentifiable and gives the illusion of being in another location in the world.
- Privacy – You probably know that your ISP can monitor the websites you visit; with a VPN, they can’t because all your browsing and internet activity are routed through the VPN server. All the ISP can see is that you’re connected to a VPN server.
- Security – All VPN connections and user activity are encrypted and unreadable while in transit, making them very secure and extremely difficult to hack.
- Access to Blocked Websites – VPN can circumvent censorship usually imposed by certain governments, allowing users to access blocked websites anywhere in the world.
- The Same Internet Experience – You’ll enjoy the internet same as before although you may have slower internet access since encrypting and decrypting data requires processing power. However, today’s powerful computers can ably address that issue.
What Should You Look for in VPN Software?
With so many VPN services and software offered nowadays, how do you choose the right one for you? Well, there are parameters that can serve as your guide when selecting a VPN. Below we’ve listed some of the most important ones that you should consider.
- Price – This can vary widely from free ones to premium ones. Free is always an attraction but may limit you on certain features and capabilities. Good thing is that subscription based-VPN services are quite affordable these days, going for just single or double digit figures a month with generous discounts offered for 1-year or 2-year contracts. Of course, we’re talking of commercial VPNs here; corporate VPNs are another matter and can be as robust and pricey as your budget allows.
- Speed – Slowdown in internet speed is a common issue faced by VPN users. Signals need to travel longer distances – from your computer to the VPN server and to the website you’re accessing, while encryption and decryption process will hug more of your computer’s resources. Make sure that the VPN service is fully capable of providing optimal speeds.
- Privacy – Consider first your privacy requirements. Is it simply for browsing, surfing and downloading, or going around restrictions for accessing blocked sites? Many VPN services are more than equipped to provide you these capabilities.
- Security – VPNs are built for security, and VPN services can provide you various levels of security that you may need to prevent hackers and other entities from accessing your data.
- Number of servers and countries – VPN services operate several servers in various countries around the world and the rule of thumb is, the more servers there are in more countries, the better. This enables users to connect from virtually anywhere in the world and allow them to change their locations anytime.
- Simultaneous connections – Although some services allow users to use only one device at a time, others allow customers to connect multiple devices simultaneously using a single account.
- Other functionality – Do check out the VPN platform if it is easy to use and carry other features such as DNS leak prevention tools and kill switches. Most VPN services offer free trials and money back guarantees to give you a chance to personally try the platform first.
- Multi-device compatibility – The VPN service should allow you to connect and run any device, and provide you with setup guides for different devices and platforms.
- Customer support – As always, the vendor’s technical or service support team should be there when you need to ask queries or assistance. Customer support must be fast and accessible.
What are examples of VPN?
NordVPN – Operating 550 servers in 49 different countries says a lot for NordVPM, one of the most popular VPN software available today. Our NordVPN reviews found it to be a very capable VPN solution, boasting of military-grade encryption to shield users from intrusive ads and malicious online threats. It also has Double VPN that encrypts traffic twice to add an extra layer of online privacy. Among its other highlights are strict no logs policy; auto kill switch to protect user’s internet traffic even if VPN connection drops; DNS leak technology to protect private data all the time; combination of The Onion Router with VPN for maximum online security; 6-device simultaneous connection with one NordVPN account; and mobile VPN with iOS and android apps. It has four subscription plans with lowest one going for $3.29/month for a 2-year period.
Proxy.sh – With more than 300 servers in 57 countries that uses 4096 bit RSA keys and 128 bit Blowfish cipher for encryption that constantly regenerates every hour, Proxy.sh provides a powerful VPN solution that supports most desktop or mobile operating systems. It keeps user’s IP hidden, their traffic encrypted, connections protected, and all restrictions lifted. It has the ability to connect to any preferred network, set up shortcuts for faster connections, and allow users to view connection time and traffic volumes. It has four flexible subscription plans including one where you can use it for three days at just $2 with unlimited bandwidth and two countries.
ExpressVPN – A leading VPN provider with 145 NPN locations in 94 countries, ExpressVPN takes pride in its easy to use, lightweight but powerful VPN solution. It brings a host of features and capabilities such as fast connections with unlimited bandwidth and no throttling; 256-bit AES encryption; VPN split tunneling which routes some of your device through VPN while allowing others direct internet access; apps for every device (Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, routers, and Linux); IP address masking and anonymous browsing; and 24/7 live chat support. The service accepts bitcoins aside from traditional payment forms like PayPal. It has three pricing plans with the lowest pegged at $9.99/month.
PureVPN – Having 450 servers located in 101 countries, PureVPN is noted for its advanced features, service quality and customer support. It touts itself as more than just a VPN service built on security, anonymity and speed, offering best in class features. These include ultra-secure encryption, server level content filter, internet kill switch, app blocker, one-click antivirus protection, website filtering, DNS leak protection, and split tunneling. Pure VPN is also compatible with multiple gaming consoles, smart TV and routers. It provides users five multi-logins and 24/7 support on a single account. The service offers three subscription plans starting with a discounted $3.25/month for a two-year contract.
IPVanish – One of the pioneers in the VPN service sector, IPVanish not only has hundreds of servers (850+) but they are also diversely located in 60 countries spanning Asia, Africa, India, Middle East, Europe, Central and South America, and North America. Considered a top tier VPN service, it delivers fast VPN speeds, secure connections, and competitive pricing. IPVanish is compatible with any computer and mobile device, and capable of simultaneously using different types of connections. The service supports torrenting through its zero logs policy and uses shared IPs, making it even more difficult to identify users. Three plans are available with the lowest price at $6.49/month.