With so many different VPNs on the market these days, it’s easy to become overwhelmed. When that happens, we often throw reason out of the window – choosing the cheapest option or the product with the smoothest sales pitch. That’s always a bad way to make purchases, but it’s doubly important when selecting a VPN.
Why? It’s simple. There’s a massive gulf the quality of leading VPNs and mediocre alternatives. Choose unwisely, and you could end up with an expensive service which hardly provides any privacy at all. But if you follow our advice, you’ll be able to make the right choice without any problems.
Things to remember when choosing the Ideal VPN
Broadly speaking, there are several attributes that we look for in elite Virtual Private Networks: price, speed, the number and location of servers, whether they have a logging policy, the encryption they use, and where they are based. When they all align, you know you’ve found a winner.
To qualify as part of the VPN elite, a service needs to deliver speeds which allow users to stream movies and TV smoothly, download torrents, and generally browse the web without any serious slow-down.
However, beware of services which claim “lightning-fast” speeds that are tough to distinguish from using the web without protection. In many cases, those speeds are “bought” by cutting back on the encryption required to anonymize users.
The total number of servers varies from company to company. For example, a leading contender like NordVPN has over 3,000 servers worldwide, while LiquidVPN has just 40.
With more servers, you’re more likely to find a faster connection. If a company has servers across the world, they will also deliver much better performance for travelers, while a wide choice of servers boosts their ability to work around geoblocks.
There’s a “but” here though. While some companies offer huge numbers of servers, this may not be entirely truthful. Instead of owning their own banks of servers, they may rent space on larger data banks. This could mean they deliver restricted performance, and your data may be made available to server companies. So be skeptical about little-known VPNs with amazing server portfolios.
Logging refers to the collection of information about what users do while they use VPNs, and it’s a major issue if you want to surf privately.
You’d think that providers would keep logs to an absolute minimum, but not all do. Some hide their logging policies within privacy policies, and then sell customer information to marketers. They may also make information about users available to law enforcement bodies.
Generally speaking, free VPNs pose the highest logging risk. They work by luring customers in with slick marketing and free privacy, but actually totally compromise users’ online security.
Even reputable providers may not be open about logging. For example, PureVPN states that it keeps no logs. But PureVPN has been known to hand users’ activity logs to the FBI – logs which were not supposed to exist. So be very careful here. You tend to get what you pay for, but supposedly high-end providers can be hiding dangerous policies.
Another privacy issue is where the Virtual Private Network is based. As a rule, it’s better to choose companies that are headquartered outside the so-called “5 Eyes” countries (the USA, UK, Australia, New Zealand and Canada). And those based in the 14-eyes extended network are also suspect.
In these countries, VPNs could well be forced to hand over confidential information by government agencies. Instead, it’s advisable to use companies based in nations like Panama (NordVPN) or Switzerland (ProtonVPN), which are not associated with these intelligence alliances.
Wherever a VPN is based, it’s no good if data is transmitted using poor quality encryption. Look for 256-Bit AES Encryption and the use of OpenVPN protocols for industry-leading security practices.
Most importantly, steer clear of services which aren’t open about their encryption systems. In the past, some VPNs have turned out to lack any encryption at all. This often applies to free or budget suppliers, so if price is a major consideration be sure to look for details about how your data will be encrypted.
Price should never be the motivating factor when selecting security tools, and in the VPN sector you can pay heavily for choosing cheaper providers. Free VPNs are almost always to be avoided, and are associated with poor encryption, logging, malware – everything users want to avoid.
But don’t avoid providers offering free trials. Almost all elite Virtual Private Networks let you try their services for free, whether via free trials or moneyback guarantees.
A Bad VPN is worse than No VPN, So make the right selection
Choosing the right Virtual Private Network is an essential step to achieving online anonymity and security. However, it’s only a first step. You also need to know how to use your chosen VPN effectively. Even if you’ve chosen the ideal service, using it recklessly could endanger your security.
For example, remember to connect to your VPN before firing up your browser or torrent client. If the client offers a “kill switch”, make sure it’s enabled (that way if your protection drops, your internet connection will also cut out). And learn how to check that your IP address has been masked properly. Simple tools like BroswerSpy can let you know where you are currently “located”, allowing you to make sure the VPN is functioning effectively. If everything checks out, your connection should be anonymized and fully protected.
Hopefully you now have a good idea of what to look for in a VPN, and how to make best use of the service you choose. Now you’re ready to make a purchase, so head over the list of the great VPNs around and find one which meets your requirements.