Table of Contents
What is a VPN
Through the use of software (and sometimes hardware as well at large organizations and multinational companies) a VPN (Virtual Private Network) forms a new virtual network between two physically separate networks.
VPN use, for example, allows an IBM employee to work from home in a Chicago suburb while accessing the company intranet located in a building in New York City, as if he was right there on the New York office’s network. The same technology can be used by consumers to bridge their phones and laptops to their home network so, while on the road, they can securely access files from their home computers.
VPNs have other uses cases, though. Because they encrypt your connection, VPNs allow users to prevent others from seeing the data they’re transferring. This keeps data secure, particularly on public Wi-Fi networks in places like coffee shops and airports, ensuring no one can snoop your traffic and steal your passwords or credit card numbers.
Since VPNs route your traffic through another network, you can also make it appear as if it’s coming from another location. That means if you’re in Sydney, Australia, you can make your traffic appear to come from New York City. This is useful for certain sites that block content based on your location (like Netflix). It also allows some people (we’re looking at you, Australians) have to deal with insanely high import taxes on software that see them paying twice (or more) what US consumers pay for the same products.
On a more serious note, an unfortunately large number of people live in countries with high levels of overt censorship and monitoring (like China) and countries with more covert monitoring (like the US); one of the best ways to get around censorship and monitoring is to use a secure tunnel to appear as if you’re from somewhere else altogether.
In addition to hiding your online activity from a snooping government, it’s also useful for hiding your activity from a snooping Internet Service Provider (ISP). If your ISP likes to throttle your connection based on content (tanking your file downloads and/or streaming video speeds in the process) a VPN completely eliminates that problem as all your traffic is traveling to a single point through the encrypted tunnel and your ISP remains ignorant of what kind of traffic it is.
In short, a VPN is useful anytime you want to either hide your traffic from people on your local network (like that free coffee shop Wi-Fi), your ISP, or your government, and it’s also incredibly useful to trick services into thinking you’re right next door when you’re an ocean away.
How to choose a VPN Service?
Before you decide which VPN client you want to download and install on your device, take some time to ask yourself a few questions, the most important of them being “ what exactly do you need the VPN for?” regardless of the platform or firmware that your devices operate on, certain aspects of a VPN are critical, and should be considered before making the purchase.
For most users, the connectivity speed is the most essential part of a VPN service. Smartphone users want apps to refresh and fetch new data faster, while the desktop users want a VPN with good download speed and stable connectivity, so that torrenting and streaming can be done with ease.
While it is impossible to know how good the provided speed is for every VPN that you are considering as an option, new users can start of by reading reviews online. If that doesn’t suffice, download trial version of the VPN you are interested in and see if it is affecting your speed and slowing down your connection.
VPN for iPhone, Android or Mac?
Some people only want a VPN to protect their online activities from their smartphone only. Some are more inclined toward protecting browsing sessions that they engage in from their PC browser. As am aspiring VPN user, it first needs to be determined if the primary purpose of purchasing the subscription is to protect a smartphone or a desktop or laptop. Once that has been established, making the next choice becomes easier.
Different VPN providers boast different and unique features which set them apart. Some specialize in providing the ultimate protection for your PC, while others are good protecting your PC, so make sure you get one that fulfills your requirements. Some of the reputable providers even offer multi-device subscriptions, which allows you to use the same subscription on multiple devices, at the same time.
Unlimited bandwidth – a must for VPN services
Most VPN providers have limitations on the default bandwidth that they provide to their users, but will offer more or unlimited bandwidth if their users pay up an additional amount. This can be a major turn off for users who want a VPN for Mac or Windows, as these platforms use more data and are dependent on fast and stable download speeds to optimize their online experience.
Extra features in your VPN client
The best VPN providers would always bundle additional features along with their service, without complicating it for their users. Such additional features usually make users’ connection more safe and secure, and provides added privacy. Users who are looking for a VPN for their PC need to be extra cautious before making a purchase. Make sure that you have read a few reviews, or even better, seen a few videos on Youtube about the functionality and features of the VPN you are about to purchase. Things would only become more complicated if you make the purchase without doing your research, only to find out that the VPN you just bought is too much for you to handle, or worse too little to take care of your basics.
Why we need a VPN Service
Privacy and security
A VPN is for any user who is even slightly concerned about the privacy and security of their personal information. Today, connectivity is abundant; and while it has made it very easy to get in touch with people from around the world, sare files, and of course find stuff that you like, it has also become very easy for hackers and eavesdroppers to keep tabs on internet users and steal their personal information.
Some people believe that since they do nothing wrong on the internet, and all of their interests and preferences are well within legal boundaries, they fail to realize that they are not just up against governments and monitoring authorities that may be on the lookout to ban specific content and apprehend users trying to access such content. While this has also become a major problem in many countries such as China, which demonstrates one of the most stringent internet policies, or Saudi Arabia, where more than, 400,000 sites are blocked, most of which are media sites which discuss international political, social, and religious topics.
Internet surveillance is not just limited to these countries, but rather encompasses almost the entire online human population. The National Security Agency (NSA) is known to have developed programs and software that can be used to monitor emails and personal messages. The famous whistleblower, Edward Snowden mentioned about NSA’s top-notch surveillance program, called the Heartbeat, a search engine which could show results from people’s personal messages, emails, and chats, based on keywords.
To put it simply, everything we do online gets monitored, screened, and at times maybe flagged if it does not coincide with the ideology of the government. The only way to remain safe from this constant snooping and invasion of privacy is by using a VPN. A VPN makes its users invisible by enabling them to leave no digital trails online for hackers, spammers and monitoring authorities to follow.
Access Region-Restricted Content
The internet has connected people from around the world in the most sophisticated way, giving life to the phrase that “the earth has become a global village”. Everything is easily accessible within fractions of a second. While many people know this already, the internet also has borders. These borders decide what content is available to which region, and which users should be blocked from accessing that content. This type of content filtering, based on users’ location is known as geo-restrictions. A great example to understand geo-restriction is this: Facebook is banned in China, this means that if anyone from China wants to access www.facebook.com, he will see an error message suggesting something like “the following website is blocked in your region”.
All of this is made possible because of your IP address. This unique string of numbers acts like an address for every device that can access the internet. Without an IP address, internet connectivity is practically impossible. Changing the actual IP address of a device is not possible in most cases, however, it can be masked with another IP address. This allows your device to assume a pseudo identity for getting online.
With a pseudo IP, the freedom to access any content is limitless. Say you are in Dubai to spend your vacations. You have been in contact with your friends back home on Whatsapp; you’ve been sending them pictures and videos. Now you want to call one of your friends to ask something. You try Whatsapp to make the call, but that feature is just not available. This is a classic example of geo-restrictions, which can be easily bypassed by a VPN. It will not only provide you access to the blocked content, but also protect your identity from getting revealed to the internet regulatory authorities in Dubai.
To understand how this process is made possible, think about an imaginary secret passage that can be used to move between two places without getting noticed. To go from one place to another, you can opt for the regular route which everyone is taking, or you can opt for the secret passage, where no one can see you. Here, the secret passage works the same way for you as a VPN.
Most VPN have servers placed in many cities around the world. If some content is blocked in a region, it is sure to be accessible from another region. Connecting to a server that is in a region where content is available allows users to access content that is restricted in their region.
The above-mentioned process sounds complicated, and it actually is. But it is all automated and very easy to do. All a user needs to do is download a VPN app and click connect, or in some cases chose a server before connecting.
Professional users from around the world are always over-concerned about the privacy of their official documents and other sensitive material. Many organizations from around the world avoid sending and receiving files over the internet because of many reasons.
The primary reason for avoiding this relatively easier medium of transferring documents is that internet is a very unsafe place. Data can easily be intercepted by a hacker or any other malicious individual. If this data involves upcoming products of a company, its leakage can jeopardize a company’s business prospects and halt its growth. Things can get even worse if the data intruder decides to contact a competitor and sells the data to them. This can give the competitors an upper hand over the market, as well as an insight into what is under the covers. In such a scenario, a company can lose its profit for the foreseeable future.
To overcome this hazard, it is always recommended that employees encrypt their data before sending it over the internet. When sensitive documents are encrypted, the data contained gets scrambled and can be made no sense of, even if it gets intercepted by an intruder. It can only be put together in a meaningful shape with the decryption key. Since the decryption key is transferred separately, it is impossible for any hacker to get hold of it. Hence, the data will remain safe, even if it is stolen.
A VPN is the easiest way to secure all such data via encryption. It would, by default, encrypt all data that it sends, and naturally, decrypt it upon receiving. There are multiple encryption protocols which different services use, and each encrypts data in a unique way. The most commonly used encryption protocols are PPTP, L2TP, and IKeV6.
It’s not just social platforms that may be region specific; there are many other content types which may be region restricted. These can include new movies, games, music, TV shows, and a few streaming services as well. It defies the concept of net neutrality and global citizenship when someone tries to access a website, and gets denied because the region he is trying to access the content from is not allowed access to the desired content. Obviously, the server you’re requesting data from knows your precise location, and is limiting your access to the desired content as a response.
Out of 10 users who subscribe for a VPN service, it is safe to assume that eight of them are in for streaming content which is not available in their region. Most users want to stream TV shows on popular streaming services such as Netflix, which is currently available only in certain regions. In regions where it is not available, the only way to use it is through a VPN. A VPN changes the IP address, assigns a new location, and allows users to bypass geo-restrictions.
Furthermore, there are other types of content too that people want to stream every now and then. This can include live sports matches and other live shows which are region restricted. While most such content would ultimately make its way to youtube where people from all over the world can watch it, nothing beats being the first one to watch it live via a VPN service.
A VPN can provide you with only some degree of anonymity; it is just one tool in the fight. It’s important to know beforehand who you are trying to be anonymous from.
VPN is great at masking the location you are trying to access the internet from. For instance, if you go to www.whatismyip.com without using a VPN, you will notice that the website is able to retrieve many location details, such as coordinates, city, along with other significant details such as the OS you are using. When you connect to a VPN, your internet traffic is routed through a different server in a different country (often of your choice). Once you have connected the VPN, you can check if it is working by going to the same website again, www.whatismyip.com. If your VPN is not faulty, you will see that your IP and location has changed. Now, if someone tries to track you online and trace your location, he will only be able to see the pseudo-location allotted to you by your VPN, and not your actual location.
The first thing this stops is your ISP from monitoring you. Some ISPs will block you or cancel your account if you are doing file sharing, for example. It also allows you to access websites in certain countries which are not open to residents of your country, because you appear to be in the second country instead of your own. Having an anonymous connection helps to ensure that your online activities will not get monitored or tracked by your ISP, government or monitoring authorities. However, being safe from the eyes of these entities is only half the deal. Major websites and platforms can still know your identity. For example, if you change your IP and location to another country, but have logged in to your Gmail account or Facebook profile, you have not only exposed your identity but have also allowed these tech giants to link your pseudo IP with your original one. Once that connection has been made, these websites will profile your pseudo IP and know that you are online each time you use your pseudo IP.
As for banking websites, when using a VPN to change your location for anonymity, you may have to go through multiple factor authentication. This is because, while your bank is, let’s say in China, but your VPN server is in Canada, the bank server will know that the incoming data request is originating from Canada, hence it will have to be extra cautious before granting you access.
This is the idea behind anonymity, the ability to browse the internet without making your identity public. While some people believe that they have nothing to hide and that they don’t need to mask their IP and go all anonymous, they may not fully understand the repercussions of making themselves so “visible” online.
What is a No-Logs VPN service and why should you opt for it
Before deciding if logs are jeopardizing one’s security or not, it is important to first understand what exactly are logs, and what are the used for. Imagine that the internet has a file on you. That file record all your online activities, including usernames across different platforms, all of your email addresses, and even passwords, your likes and dislikes, your friend list, and your communication records. Not only that, this file, or log as we call it in the industry, can describe even the most intrinsic details about your life, often the things which you do not disclose easily even to your friends, let alone the public.
We now know that we are exposed on the internet, and have no privacy. That’s a problem that millions of users are concerned about, and hence resort to using a VPN to hide their digital trails. This gives rise to a new problem; what if the VPN is keeping logs? It’s futile if you put in efforts to evade the government and monitoring authorities, but enable the VPN service provider to maintain a file on you. According to internet regulations of most developed countries, a VPN service can practically not operate if it cannot provide logs upon an official request from the government. Yet, almost every popular VPN service brags about its no-log policy.
As for free VPNs, there is a simple truth to most, if not all, of them – they keep logs, even if they say otherwise. How else do you suppose they earn their revenues? Always keep the age-old notion in mind: If you get to use something for free, then you are in fact the product being sold! All the user logs that free VPN services maintain are regularly sold to advertisers, or worst still, with spying agencies. What this essentially means for you is that if you use a free VPN service to watch explicit content, your inbox will be littered with emails about your man or womanhood. Therefore, any privacy concerned user should cancel out any free VPN service from his available options.
As for the paid VPN services, there are multiple opinions that circulate in the industry about the validity of their no-logs claim. Liz Kintzele, the Vice President of Golden Frog, believes that a no-log VPN service cannot guarantee online anonymity or privacy. In a reply on a public forum to a question about the same, she wrote, “If a VPN provider kept absolutely no logs, they wouldn’t be able to:
1. Offer plans with limits on GB usage or per user basis
2. Troubleshoot your connection or offer support for server-side problems
3. Prevent abuse, such as spammers, port scanners, and DDOS to protect their VPN service and their users
Another, more popular opinion, shared by the online community, suggests that a no-log policy does not mean that a VPN is not keeping logs, rather that the logs are maintained partially, only for smooth functionality and service to their customers, and that no logs are ever sold or shared.
While this is the mainstream opinion, there might be a little authenticity to it. We believe that all VPNs keep logs, but use the logs in different ways. The free VPN services will sell the logs, while the paid VPN services may or may not share the logs with advertisers/monitoring authorities based on different scenarios. Some VPN services may even encrypt their logs so that they cannot be stolen and used by third-parties. For concerned users, it’s always a good idea to go through the fine prints of the company policy to be sure about what they are up against. Simply put, paid VPN services which claim to have a no-log policy, are your best bet at securing your privacy.
Best VPN for Mac Users – What makes a VPN client work great with MacOS?
Given the over-protected firmware that Apple has for its Macs, it is usually a tough job finding a VPN that works flawlessly with your Mac, and gives you smooth functionality along as well. In such a scenario, it is only easier and logical for people to search google with keywords like “best VPN for Mac”. Such a search result can reveal good options, but it must be considered that the internet is not a very neutral place, and the reviews that are posted by users under different products may not be genuine. The best option is to know what elements to exactly look for when choosing a VPN for your Mac.
The first thing to consider in a VPN is that the provider should offer a pre-configured client or app for its service. Having a good client with an easy user interface (UI) makes many things easy, which otherwise require a lot of tweaks and settings. Apple has a smooth and integrated ecosystem, which often gives great benefit to its users. Almost all VPN services what are available for mac do have an iOS app as well on the App Store.
Next, the supported protocols on the VPN client need to be taken into account. On MacOS, the list of supported protocols is a brief one. If you are using an older version of MacOS, there is no harm in choosing a VPN with PPTP support. But it should be kept in mind the PPTP protocol is considered to provide a very weak encryption, which is easy to break. In 2016, Apple completely dropped its support for PPTP protocol on its new OS. On its official website, the iMac maker has encouraged developers to use other security protocols with better and stronger encryption. These protocols include L2TP/IPsec, IKEv2/IPsec, Cisco IPsec, and SSL VPN.
Other features which can make your VPN a good buy include internet kill switch (IKS) and push notifications. IKS is a feature that comes in very handy at instances when there is a network outage, either from the ISP or from the VPN service. VPNs that do not have an IKS often expose users identity when a connection is not stable. Once the identity is exposed, the user can no longer remain protected on the internet. The IKS efficiently kills all traffic and manages to keep the user’s’ identity secure, even over unstable networks and faulty connections. On the other hand, push notifications are a great way to keep a user informed of the latest updates, security patches, and other important information.
Best VPN for Windows Users – What makes a VPN client compatible with Windows?
Unlike Apple, which requires every app and software to go through a rigorous screening process before becoming live, Microsoft has kept a rather lenient policy for software and clients that run on Windows. Most developers would create software, test it themselves, and make it available for the public to download. While Microsoft has the right to ban any software it considers as malicious, not all software go through a proper screening process, nor are they tested for user privacy and security.
A good VPN client for Windows, which provides uninterrupted functionality and maximum protection must support all popular encryption protocols, such as IPSec, OpenVPN, PPTP, L2TP, IKev2, and others. Apart from the encryption protocols, good VPN services that offer Windows client for their users do offer split tunneling, a data transmission methodology where a user can pre-decide which data goes through encrypted and protected channels and which does not. Split tunneling does a great job at saving bandwidth and in turn, speeds up connectivity.
Other minor features, which are usually hosted by almost every other VPN service for Windows, include Internet Kill Switch (IKS) and Hot Spot.