You don’t have to be a black hat hacker or a dark web dweller to appreciate the benefits of online anonymity. According to a poll from Pew, a plurality of Americans are more concerned about their privacy than ever. Around 57% of Americans don’t want the government monitoring private citizens and the number that are comfortable being monitored by corporations is equally low. Using a virtual private network (VPN) is one of the easiest ways to protect your privacy online.
Most people already know that VPNs are safe and ethical. In fact, many technical experts and privacy experts recommend them. The VPN market is surging. By 2022, experts estimate that it will be valued at $36 billion. This wouldn’t be the case if only cybercriminals use them.
However, the high demand for VPNs has created a tremendous amount of information about them on Google. It can be difficult to sort through it all to find resources that will help you make an informed decision. Many of these resources are heavily biased.
Fortunately, it is possible to find transparent sources of information if you know where to look. There are a couple of things that you need to do first. You need to know what features you are looking for and make sure that you do a detailed market research first.
What Types of VPN Options Are Available to You?
When you begin researching different VPN options, you will find that some of them are cited more prominently than others. You are going to want to start with the ones that receive the most publicity. They tend to be more reliable and you will have an easier time finding objective information that will help you make an informed purchase.
VPN users are extremely demanding by nature, so the VPNs that don’t deliver won’t survive for long. References to them will usually get buried in the search engine results over time. Users want a smooth experience that doesn’t compromise security even though their connection is one degree of separation further from the traffic source.
Although the bar for VPN solutions is set high, veteran VPN providers like Express VPN, HideMyAss, NordVPN, and TunnelBear have met or exceeded these standards for years. ExpressVPN has consistently been ranked higher than its peers. This isn’t surprising, considering its reasonable price and exceedingly easy-to-use interface. It doesn’t keep any logs on its users, successfully unblocks Netflix (in all countries), allows torrenting, offers 24/7 live chat support and operates over 2,000 servers worldwide. Most importantly; ExpressVPN is fast. Downsides are sparse. Though it can be run via any device, only three can be connected simultaneously, and if you’re trying to get in touch with Express or learn more about them, you’ll find the web mostly devoid of information—apparently, they’re as anonymous as their customers are. The whole package justifies a price on the higher end of $8.32 per month (or $99.95 per year).
On the same price tier but with a different focus, NordVPN comes at a price of $6.99 per month and emphasizes security, with 2048-bit encryption. This is double what similar VPNs offer. Additionally, peripheral features like protection from DNS leaks, a kill-switch that cuts the internet if the VPN loses connection, and the ability to pay with cryptocurrency keep the platform airtight and as anonymous as possible.
HideMyAss is a cheekily named service that is also ranked very highly. It is more affordable than ExpressVPN, with a monthly premium of around $6.80 if you subscribe for a year. It also supports five devices at one time instead of three. It’s also slower than some others and doesn’t offer advanced capabilities such as split tunneling. However, it may be more suitable for people who haven’t used a VPN before, with friendly pre-configured profiles that consider a user’s immediate needs, hiding functions that are more involved or customizable.
TunnelBear takes the beginner-friendly position to a new level by offering a free plan that allows up to 500MB of downloads via the client each month, allowing users to test it before buying. While experts will criticize the lack of granular preferences and the ability to tweak minute functions of the platform, the eye-level language on the site and simple dashboard means that TunnelBear is clearly for those uninitiated into the world of VPNs. Nevertheless, it performed decently in speed and security tests, and comes at the entry-level price of $5.00 flat monthly with a yearly subscription.
How does a VPN protect me?
The protective capabilities of any VPN depend on what its user (you) is doing to require a VPN in the first place. For example, students who like to study at their local café are aware that the free Wi-Fi provided in these establishments is rarely as secure as it should be. Public Wi-Fi is a ripe target for hackers, who take advantage of networks that are often unencrypted, using them to inject malware onto your device which then steals your most sensitive data.
Users who can’t afford exorbitantly priced digital music, movies, or eBooks will choose to torrent them instead of going without, and this is also a use case for VPNs. Downloading or uploading through your VPN prevents your personal IP from being logged in connection to these sites, so you’ll avoid the infrequent but scary letters in the mail from your ISP.
Using the web these days is like walking in a minefield if you don’t want your data sent to places that then use it to target you. A totally reasonable excuse for daily VPN use is to escape these data snoops, some of which are the government. Places like China block many innocent websites that help inform residents about the objective truth, making truth-seeking and geo-restricted content another great reason to wield a VPN.
Regardless of your personal cause or need, it’s crucial to figure out your priorities before doing VPN research. VPNs aren’t perfect for everything, and they’re no magic bullet for anonymity, but having reasonable expectations and knowing what you need is half the battle.