There are a lot of reasons why you might want to choose a VPN service to secure your browsing & conceal your identity, but what is a VPN and what are the benefits? Worry not, this article has you covered and in no time you’ll be able to make a much more informed decision on how to secure your online activities and which is right for you.
VPN’s (or Virtual Private Networks) have been around for a lot longer than you might imagine but have only recently become more popular thanks to the ever increasing push for online anonymity and security. In it’s most basic form a VPN is an extended network designed to allow secure, remote access of private networks.
It’s no big news that many online service providers geo-restrict certain content within their services, in particular those who offer TV & Film streaming services. Government censorship is also becoming increasingly widespread and much more sophisticated, using a VPN can help you overcome many of these issues and secure both your data and your location.
The VPN market is now bursting at the seems with a wide variety of VPN providers, each claiming they are better in terms of functionality, security and ever-faster speeds. For the first-timer it can be difficult to determine what’s what amidst the virtual screaming matches and deluge of glossy graphics. What you need really depends on your type of usage and bandwidth requirements.
The right VPN:
For many, the main point of a VPN is to secure their online privacy and data from prying eyes if not to elude any kind of censorship but what you probably won’t know is that many VPN providers log all of your data, whether it’s for legal reasons, ToS compliance monitoring or both, you and your data may not be as secure as you first thought when using a VPN.
If data logging is something which concerns you, you need to look for VPN’s which offer no-logging but bear in mind that this will vary depending on country, as in some it is a legal requirement. Free VPN’s typically do not offer this kind of service and might even sell on your details and will also provide limited bandwidth, but if you’re casually browsing from college or work it might do the job.
For the best reliability and security you should ideally be considering a paid VPN service, particularly if you want to connect multiple devices, though you’ll find some do have limited device allowances, typically 2-5 at a time. If you’re on a budget there are many inexpensive paid VPN’s out there, a firm favorite amongst the privacy movement is www.privateinternetaccess.com who have packages starting at $6.95 and also claim to provide no data logging.
Another drawback to consider when using a VPN is speed loss, just like when you browse via a proxy site your traffic has to travel from the source, through the VPN and then back to you and thus you can expect to see some speed loss due to the extra leg of the journey. That said some users have reported seeing speed improvements when using a VPN. In particular by those who suffer the dreaded curse of throttling from providers.
One closely followed case is AT&T, who are being sued by the FTC for the practice. As VPN traffic is not routed through your ISP’s filtering system this effectively makes it undetectable, unless they’re using something called Deep Packet Inspection (DPI).
If you just want something for anonymous browsing and you’re not too fussed about all the gubbins then these alternatives might be more suitable to your needs.
DO IT YOURSELF:
Another option is to do it yourself. If you have a VPS or dedicated server you can set up a VPN with fairly limited technical knowledge, putting you firmly in control of your security and data logging. For maximum security you’ll need a spare IP address assigned to you by your host and SSL encryption and it is recommended that you are comfortable working in server environments such as Linux or Debian.
Tor is a free bundled version of Firefox which secures your browsing and traffic data via a network of virtual tunnels and relays. Tor also adds a host of security functionality via it’s script blocking feature to secure areas where websites might be able to learn your information. The best part is it’s all free and is a strong alternative to consider instead of a VPN, especially if you just want to secure your browsing.
For optimum online shopping though (such as through Amazon, Ebay or your local supermarket) I would recommend using your regular browser since TOR effectively changes your IP and location and sometimes (depending on the site) it might trigger security features when you try to log in from a different IP & location.
Our online privacy is becoming increasingly important in a world where people want to know who you are, where you’re from, what you post on Facebook or what you ate for breakfast. Whether it’s to target you with carefully targeted ads, nosey sods, authorities or something much more sinister your unsecured data is like an all-you-can-eat buffet for them. Hopefully you’re now a little more aware of some of the benefits using a VPN service can bring, as well as some of the downsides. Remember, your privacy is your right!