In the past two decades, internet usage has exploded. Following on-going innovation across consumer electronics and technology, connecting to the internet is easier and more accessible than ever. In 2021, Statista estimates that there are 4.66 billion active internet users worldwide — approximately 60 percent of the global population!
With these facts and figures in mind, online security is more important than ever. While there are many programs and gadgets that can keep you safe online, the number one tool that you cannot live without is a VPN.
However, not all VPNs are created equal. Whether you have never heard of the term before or are looking to upgrade on your current VPN provider, continue reading to discover what makes the perfect VPN.
What is a VPN?
Let’s start at the very beginning — what is a VPN? Well, VPN stands for virtual private network. A VPN is a type of secure, encrypted connection that prevents prying eyes from accessing your internet activity and private information. It does this by connecting your device to a remote server, rather than the internet connection supplied by your internet service provider. All your online traffic passes through an encrypted tunnel and is not associated with your IP address.
People often use a VPN for purposes other than security. Being able to connect to a server located outside of your country can allow you to by-pass geo blocking laws, meaning you can stream and access entertainment not available in your location.
Are free VPNs safe?
Nothing good in life is free, including VPNs. There are many free VPN options out there and while they might seem like an appealing option, these free services aren’t something you want to rely on for the long-term. Think about it — without money, how is a free VPN provider going to be able to supply a secure service?
VPN companies need to make money somehow. To offset their free service costs, these providers often sell the logged data to third parties for profit. VPNs work by funnelling all internet traffic through an encrypted channel to the VPN’s server. While some VPN providers do not log any of your information (known as a no-log policy), others keep track of every aspect of your online behaviour — information that is very valuable to advertising companies.
Free VPNs are also often targeted by cybercriminals, who know that the provider will not have invested time or money ensuring that their customer’s details are kept safe on a secure server.
Finally, free VPNs are often embedded with malware that has the potential to cause significant damage to your device.
How to choose a good VPN provider
When choosing a VPN server, you should start by thinking about what is most important to you. While some people may value connection speed over anything else, others might prefer to have multiple server connection options.
Other factors that should be taken into account include:
Most VPNs are compatible with the major platforms including Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS. Check that your provider supports all your device platforms and ideally, supports multiple users. There is no point protecting your laptop activity if your mobile phone is completely unsecured.
Like all technology, VPNs can be prone to breakdowns. When that happens, you want to be sure that there is a real person that you can turn to for assistance. Before signing up to a provider, make sure they have a dedicated customer service team available that can answer any questions you might have.
If you are wanting to shift your location so that it appears that you are in a particular place, you will need to find a VPN provider with servers in that country. For example, many people want to be able to access the U.S Netflix library. If this is your goal, check that your provider has VPN servers located in America.
You know why you should steer clear of free VPNs, however it’s also important that you work out how much you are prepared to spend on securing your online activity. VPNs are available at a range of price points — be sure that you are getting value for your money.
Ultimately, a VPN is a must for any internet user who cares about their privacy and security. Despite all the fun and convenience that the internet provides us with, the threats associated with being online cannot be ignored. Significant data breaches, government surveillance, and targeted cyber crimes are becoming increasingly common. Using a high-quality VPN is the simplest way of staying safe and secure while exploring the online world.
About the Author
Bridget is a writer and editor, currently living in Melbourne. She is a copywriter for Newpath Web and loves working with words of all shapes and sizes. When not playing around with punctuation and grammar, she enjoys travelling and curating her Spotify playlists.