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Choosing a VPN

by Marshall Stevenson 3 years ago in cybersecurity
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There's a wide range of options for internet users looking to protect their privacy with a virtual private network. But finding the VPN that's perfect for your needs can be a challenge.

How VPNs work

A VPN is a wonderful thing for any internet user who values privacy and security. But when it comes to actually choosing a VPN, there is a lot to consider. Different VPNs have different user experiences, and there are more serious differences as well. Here’s what you need to consider when you’re choosing a VPN service.

Who knows about your VPN?

VPNs can hide your IP address, but there will still be an IP address out there. And it is possible for some companies, governments, and individuals to identify IP addresses as VPN or proxy server addresses.

Is it a big deal that your IP address will be recognized as a VPN one? Your personal address is still hidden, right? So who cares? Well, it all depends. In some cases, it’s no big deal to have an IP address that’s recognizable as a VPN address. But, in other cases, it can cost you. With a database of these IP addresses, organizations can mass-block VPNs and proxy servers. For example, since it’s against Netflix’s terms of service to use a VPN to access foreign streaming titles, users of some VPNs will find themselves blocked by Netflix when they’re using them. That’s understandable on Netflix’s part, but it’s frustrating, especially to those who aren’t using the VPN for that purpose; if you’re in the Northeastern United States and connect to a VPN server in the Northeastern United States, you may still not be able to access Netflix while using your VPN (Netflix, after all, has no idea where you actually are and that you’re not really cheating them).

This is more likely to be a problem with the sketchier and cheaper VPNs, which we’ll explore in more detail in the next couple of sections.

Can you trust your VPN provider?

When you connect to a VPN, you hide a lot from the internet—but not necessarily from the VPN server. In fact, you give the VPN company a fair bit of information. Some less-than-reputable VPNs will use this information: They could track your activity, steal your information, or even use your computer for their own purposes (at least one VPN has been caught stealing user computing power to mine bitcoin). So be on the lookout for warning signs of a bad VPN, including country of origin and one very big red flag that we’ll discuss in the next section.

You get what you pay for

Some VPNs are free, so why would you pay for a VPN service? Simply put, because the free ones can be very, very sketchy. They may be ineffective; at worst, they could be logging your activity or stealing your data. Free VPNs are generally not recommended by any serious VPN review site. You’re better off trying a free trial of a paid service and, if you like it, shelling out a few bucks to get proper VPN coverage.

Comparing the big brand names

So which VPN should you use? It’s a confusing world out there when you start running down the competitors: ExpressVPN vs Cyberghost VPN, PIA vs NordVPN, and so on. How can you decide?

You can start by heading to a trusted review site to check out the opinions that experts have on the services that you’re considering. User reviews can be helpful, too. Hopefully, these sources of information will help you narrow the field quite a bit.

But you’ll still have a decision to make. Happily, many VPN services offer free trials. Because of this, you’ll actually be able to test out the services that you’re considering without spending any money. With a little first-hand experience, you’ll likely develop a favorite and end up with a simple decision.

So go forth and try some VPNs! When you have a reliable VPN on your computer, you can keep your browsing more private and keep your personal data more secure.


About the author

Marshall Stevenson

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