There are many reason why you’d choose to use a VPN or Virtual Private Network. Primarily they are used to protect your privacy when browsing online. The likes of hackers, the government and your ISP all collect and store data for who-knows-what.
VPN’s are also useful for disarming big corporations from targeting you with their constant marketing which follows you where you go. Ever looked at a product and then visited Facebook or another website and BAM…there that product or service is.
Another popular use is to hide your IP address from services such as Netflix, Hulu and other geographically restricted content streaming services.
If you’re looking for the best VPN service it really does come down to the individual. There is no ‘one size fits all’ here. By using our guides you can understand the pros and cons of each and make an educated decision before you buy.
What is a VPN and how does it work?
A VPN or Virtual Private Network offers two huge benefits to internet users. Firstly they encrypt data sent across a network and secondly they mask your geographical location in order to access blocked content.
Why is this useful? There are a number of reasons, including:
- Accessing Geo-restricted apps and channels such as Netflix, Hula, BBC iPlayer etc
- Viewing censored content in countries such as China
- Hiding your identity and personal information from ISP’s (internet service providers)
- Encrypting your data sent across a network when in private or public WiFi spaces
When using a VPN you are accessing a large network of servers owned or operated by the VPN company.
Connecting to these servers is typically done by impressive apps and interfaces which means there is no need for complex coding skills. Just simply install, click and connect.
The remainder of this guide will look into more detail about why you’d want a VPN in the first place and how to go about finding one that is suited for your needs.
Why you need a VPN
If you’re not using a VPN yet, you should be and here’s why….you are ultimately responsible for the personal privacy of yourself and your family. We simply cannot rely on big corporations to care about our data as much as we do.
There are many valid reasons for having and using a VPN for your online activities. Some people incorrectly believe that VPN’s are illegal, but they are an important part of the Cybersecurity space and should be treated as an integral tool.
Let’s look into a some of the key reasons to use a VPN:
1. Hide/Change your IP address
A VPN will make it appear like your connections is coming from a different machine, Geo-location or even country.
This is useful for streaming services such as Kodi, NetFlix, Hulu or Pandora etc. These companies do not broadcast all content outside of the US, meaning you may not be able to access the video you need.
A VPN will change your IP address, allowing you to appear as if your machine is in the required country and stream till your heart’s content.
2. Hide/Mask your Geo-location
By masking where your connection is coming from, you are able to access otherwise restricted content.
For example, you’re visiting another country outside of the US or UK and your favorite team is playing, you want to log into your account and watch the game but you can’t because most services block access from foreign IP’s.
By changing your location, using a VPN you can appear to be in the country required and you can access whatever it was you needed to access as if you were sat at home.
3. Encrypt Your Data
Think about how many times you access the internet, be it at home, work or via public WiFi spots. The data you send a receive is out there for anyone and everyone to see, which is especially worrying when hackers and those with malicious intentions are around.
The trouble is, you simply don’t know who’s snooping on your online activities. It could be your neighbor, the government or even your ISP.
A VPN is a layer of security whenever your shopping online, check your internet banking, sending emails, checking out social media, watching videos or paying bills.
4. Access blocked/censored websites
Many countries, such as China, Egypt & Cuba censor much of what their residents can access online, whilst also monitoring what you do online.
If you reside in one of these countries, using a VPN server will allow you to “tunnel out” from behind the firewall and view the entire world wide web.
What are the disadvantages of a VPN?
There aren’t many disadvantages to using a VPN other than the potential to slow down your connection speed.
This is a major bug for most of us, and on average you could be looking at a reduction of around 10-20% in your internet speed.
With that being said, there are a number of other reasons which affect your internet speed…such as:
- The quality of your ISP
- Your Geographic location
- The location of the VPN server
- The websites you are accessing
- Your computer’s processing power
All of these will have a much larger impact than using a VPN and I feel like using a VPN and having a slightly reduced connection speed is a small sacrifice to pay for increased security and data protection.
What to look for in a VPN?
If you take just one thing away from this guide, it should be this. Not all VPN’s are created equal.
Given what we’ve discussed above, by now you understand that there are a few major considerations to make when choosing the best VPN. Such as privacy, data security, connection speed, interface, customer service, and price.
Let’s start off with one of the most asked questions when it comes to VPN’s and that is the cost.
The best services do all differ slightly in price, anywhere from $2-$10 per month, depending on the level you need. Typically you can get a better rate by purchasing for a full year and sometimes even lifetime plans are on offer for crazy savings.
Personally, I feel that is well worth the investment in your personal privacy.
Of course, there are free VPN’s on offer, which, unfortunately, aren’t always what they say they are.
In a study conducted of 300 Android VPN’s, they found that 84% of them leaked users web traffic, and alarming 38% of them contained malware and 18% didn’t encrypt data at all.
Along with poor customer service, fewer server connection options and the potential to leak your data to your ISP, I feel free VPN’s are simply not worth the risk.
Country of Incorporation
Where a business was registered and incorporated can have a big effect on how they are governed. Certain countries have laws that will require VPN companies to disclose their customer information when requested.
If you’re considering a company based in the United States, for example, you must ensure they have a strict no-logging policy (more on that below).
In short – avoid countries with data retention laws.
The logs kept by a VPN provider will differ form service-to-service. Each piece of information they log will reduce your anonymity, security and privacy whilst using their service.
You should look for a company that has a “No Logs” policy or as little data logged as possible.
Some of the info that can be logged includes:
- Internet Activity
- Your IP Address
- Payment Logs
- Connection/Disconnection timestamps
- Devices Used
- MAC address of the device
This is where the technical bit comes in, so we’ll do what we do best here at BitsFromBytes and make it super simple with a brief explanation and a cool image.
When looking for a VPN provider, you will see two different types of encryption levels: 128-bit or 256-bit AES. The higher the better, but both are equally suitable for most people needs.
There are 3-parts to data encryption:
- Channel Encryption
- Key Exchange
This is what we call an encryption suite and it’s what controls the security of your data as it passes through the network.
The encryption part simply means if someone somehow manages to intercept your data they are presented with a garbled mess of letters and numbers that they cannot and will not be able to make sense of.
A server is what you will connect too when using your VPN. It passes your data out and is what controls your perceived location and IP address.
What’s most important when searching for the best VPN for you is to consider the number of servers on offer and the number of locations. You need to ensure the company has servers in locations that you wish to use.
All VPN’s listed in this article have multiple servers in the most popular locations (US, Canada & Europe).
DNS Leak Protection is offered by many of the VPN providers and is something you should expect from your chosen service.
What ‘leak protection’ does is ensure that any DNS request is sent through the VPN tunnel and NOT outside of it…which is when the DNS leak can occur.
If a leak occurs, it could reveal the websites you are visiting and other data to your internet service provider, which is why leak protection is a must-have.
It sounds dramatic I know, but kill switches provide a very useful feature when it comes to protecting your browsing privacy.
Should at any point whilst you’re connected to your VPN network, there be a connection drop, a kill switch will automatically shut down your connection, thus preventing any ‘standard’ internet connection and therefore, saving your data from being leaked.
All of the top VPN’s we review in this article have a kill switch.
To limit the downside of a VPN (a slower connection speed) you should look for a provider that offers and uncapped data and unlimited bandwidth option.
Free VPN’s typically don’t offer this kind of flexibility, which is why a paid VPN is the preferred option.
When it comes to finding the fastest VPN on the market, it can be somewhat difficult due to all of the other potential issues we mentioned earlier, such as the time of day you’re online, the distance you are from the server you’re connected too, your ISP and the level of encryption being used.
As with any online service, customer service is key. The more ways you have to contact a business the better. What’s even more important in today’s fast-paced world is live chat support.
Troubleshooting is so much easier when you have multiple resources at your disposal. So be sure to look for live chat as mentioned above, but also a robust knowledge base that answers all of the common questions include how to get set up.
Next up look for a ticketing system and their typical response time. If you can’t speak to someone right now, how long will it take for them to come back with an answer to your question or problem?
The GUI (graphical user interface) is another term for the app that many of the VPN providers offer as a user-friendly was to access their service.
I’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to VPN interfaces. Some of the best include both a map and a simple drop down box where you can easily locate the country/server you require and hit the “connect’ button.
You will find details and images of the apps on the provider’s website along with details of the operating systems they cover (see below).
These days it seems your either a die-hard iOS fan or Android all the way. VPN providers understand this and therefore the best ones cater for every eventuality.
When choosing your provider, first of all, ensure that they offer a user interface for your operating system. Then check out the images to make sure it looks user-friendly and intuitive and see what others say about it on the AppStore or Google PlayStore.
How to Set up a VPN
Setting up a VPN is pretty much the same process for each provider. Once signed up for a free or paid account, you simply download their provided app, login and connect to a server.
We recommend you choose a VPN that offers a good user interface (app), however, If you choose to go with another option, then you may need to manually configure your VPN.
In this case you will need to use the provided information, usually received in the welcome email when you create an account, in order to set up the VPN correctly.
What does VPN mean?
VPN is short for Virtual Private Network. It creates an encrypted connection on a less secure, more public, network.
They serve to protect your online activities from snooping ISP’s and hackers, along with masking your identify so you can browse in safety.
Are VPN’s Legal?
The quick answer is Yes, VPN’s are legal. The misconception conception that they are illegal is surprising since they were originally built for large corporations.
With that being said there are always exceptions such as Belarus, Iraq and UAE where it is illegal to use a VPN.
If you don’t reside in any of the above countries, or any in this table, then you can use your VPN for whatever reason you choose, no restrictions.
How Much is a VPN?
You can pick up a very good VPN service for anything from $3 to $7 per month, often times cheaper if you opt for an annual plan which brings the average monthly price down in some cases to less than $3.
You can, of course, use a free VPN, however, we don’t think the security risk of using these free services is worth it, not to mention the slower bandwidth speeds and data caps involved.