Virtual Private Network (VPN) providers supply downloadable apps that enable you to connect to a VPN from your computer or hand-held device. Once you have downloaded and installed the app, and provided you have an Internet connection, accessing your VPN is straightforward — simply click and your connection is established.
Most VPN providers will charge a monthly or annual fee for the service (although there are some free options available), and will provide back up and support should you have difficulty in installing an app or getting connected.
The best VPN providers offer apps for all major operating systems, and installation is generally very straightforward — anyone who’s ever updated or installed an application will be able to do the same with a VPN app.
A wide variety of people may need or want to use VPNs:
• Expats — For expats, a VPN can be essential. If you’re living abroad in a country where authorities control the Internet, you may not be able to access the services you can at home. Think of trying to watch BBC News when in china as an example.
• Travellers — When you use public or unsecured networks, a VPN ensures that anything you do online remains secure.
• Downloading — If you regularly download media via a torrent app, using a VPN will prevent you being tracked.
However, you don’t have to fall into one of these categories to use a VPN. Many people do so as a matter of course because they like the additional security and privacy it provides, especially when carrying out online banking or money transfers.
How to Choose a VPN Provider
Protocols and security
When you’re trying to find the best VPN provider, look at the different protocols they offer, as this will affect the level of protection you get and the connection speed. Higher-end VPN packages include 256-bit protocols that scramble metadata, and prevent both throttling and VPN blocking.
For additional security, look for VPN providers that operate their own server clusters, as opposed to third-party servers. This generally makes for faster speeds and greater reliability, as well as more efficient trouble shooting if something goes wrong.
For absolute privacy, ensure that your VPN provider does not log your Internet activity; if they do. this can also lead to some sites remaining inaccessible from some locations.
What’s a fair price for a VPN? It depends on the value you put on security and anonymity.
Providers will offer packages with different features, but when you’re looking at plans, you should consider:
• Is there a limit on data?
• How many connections can you have simultaneously?
• Do you get a discount if you pay annually, rather than monthly?
If you’re not sure about making the decision yourself, try a virtual private network comparison site to get some expert advice to determine what you need and what you should expect to pay.
Most VPN providers will enable you to download apps that are designed specifically for particular devices and operating systems. This includes Windows, Mac OS, Android and Linux, as well as network attached storage (NAS) systems, secure phone systems and privately focused routers. Some high end VPN apps are designed for use with smart TVs, to improve speeds and to overcome access to streaming services being prevented through geo-blocking.
You’re likely to get the best speeds if your VPN provider has their own servers rather than going through a third party. This is also likely to lead to better security. Check too whether your physical location will impact on the ultimate speed of your VPN connection. When you open your VPN app, you should have the option to connect via the current fastest server.
When you’re making comparisons, check that there are no speed limits imposed, no throttling, and no bandwidth restrictions in place.
What’s New with the Best VPN Services?
One of the biggest growth areas in VPN services is encrypted messaging. There is growing demand for this as people have realized that SMS messages, or messages sent using messaging apps, are not secure, and can easily be intercepted. Many VPN providers will offer this as an additional service (very often free), but make sure it is zero-knowledge — that is, the provider can’t access, decrypt or read your messages.
Many VPN providers are also moving towards a more cloud-centric VPN, so that businesses and individuals can access public cloud services with the same security a VPN provides.
The VPN provider market is a very crowded space, both in terms of services and prices, but the above should help you to understand what’s available. And although sorting through the various offers and technical configurations can be daunting, remember that it’s a buyers’ market and this means good deals for the consumer, if you’re prepared to look.