Virtual private networks (VPNs) are no longer seen as a whim. More and more people have started to realize the importance of using a VPN and to embrace the benefits VPNs bring to the table.
The importance of connecting through a VPN
Online security is the most common concern people have when connecting to the Internet, and for good reason. All the stories and scary news have made us more aware and cautious than ever. Who wants to have their bank account hacked, money, identity or valuable data stolen? Online threats can lurk from every corner of the Internet so you want to make sure your privacy and safety are always protected when you surf the web.
VPNs are great security and privacy tools, because they encrypt all your internet traffic (between your device and the VPN server) so that no one can use your data, even if they were to access it (although that’s a hard job as well, when you are using a VPN). VPNs use encryption protocols such as OpenVPN, L2TP/IPSec and others, to encrypt your data. Not all protocols are equally good when it comes to security. Read more about VPN protocols.
There are other benefits to using a VPN as well:
- A lot of people use VPNs so that they can access websites that are restricted in their area. Streaming services such as Netflix, etc. are a good example. In order to be able to access such sites, you have to have the proper IP address. VPNs can easily help you in that matter, by offering you hundreds or even thousands of servers to connect to, located all around the world
- Another common use for VPNs is to create an anonymity wall when you are downloading torrents. We all know that torrenting is frowned upon, to say the least. When you are using a VPN, your real IP is hidden and you can look like you are connecting from a totally different location than in reality
Features to look for when choosing a VPN
Before getting to the most important/useful features to look for in a VPN, we also want to advise you to opt for a paid VPN provider rather than a free VPN service. While there are a few reliable and trustworthy free providers out there, a lot of others are misleading and don’t respect your privacy. And even if you do find a decent free VPN service, you will miss on a lot of features: you will have limits in your bandwidth, you won’t be allowed to access all the servers, you risk having your personal data sold to third-parties for advertising purposes and more. Read more on the topic of free vs. paid VPNs.
There are several features/factors you should pay attention to when choosing a VPN. Depending on your needs, some of them might be more important to you than others. Without further ado, here they are:
- The number of available servers and their location. Having a good coverage is important and you should opt for a provider that offers a high number of servers. The biggest VPN providers out there have thousands of servers spread throughout the entire world (NordVPN, ExpressVPN, CyberGhost, PureVPN and others). It is also important for those servers to not be located in the same area, but in as many areas/countries in the world as possible
- Is the VPN service secure enough? This is probably the most important factor to consider when choosing a VPN, because the main reason why you want to use a VPN is to protect yourself online. Pay attention to the security features offered by the service: how many protocols it supports (OpenVPN is generally the best one), what kind of encryption it uses (aim for military-grade AES – 256 bit encryption), are there any additional security features included such as double encryption, automatic kill-switch, DNS leak protection, etc.
- Unlimited bandwidth. The included bandwidth is one aspect in which paid VPN services are better than free ones. Most providers that offer free VPN services limit your monthly bandwidth, and some even impose daily limits. That’s not the case with reputable, paid providers. A good VPN service includes unlimited bandwidth, so you can download and stream in peace
- High speed. VPNs are known to slow down your Internet connection. However, that decrease is somewhere around 5-6%, in the case of good VPN providers. Read reviews, do some research or opt for the free trial before signing up with a provider, so that you can test the speed for yourself. If the VPN service is bad, you can experience a worse degradation in speed, fluctuations and other issues
- Free trial. Not all VPN providers include a free trial with their service, but the most reputable ones do. A free trial is a great way to ‘test drive’ the VPN service, see how it works, how fast it is, how the interface looks like and so on
- P2P support. P2P support is a nice feature to have if you are into torrenting. While not all providers allow torrenting on their servers, a lot of them do, even if not on all their servers (in some countries torrenting is strictly forbidden)
- Support for as many types of devices as possible. Good VPN services offer support and apps for all major operating systems
- Number of simultaneous connections allowed (the average is 3 devices, but a lot of providers offer 5 simultaneous connections or even more)
- The ability to unlock geo-restricted content is another important feature. Aside from security reasons, a lot of users sign up for a VPN so they can stream Netflix and access other restricted websites
- 24/7 customer support. Customer support is always crucial and the best companies offer it around the clock, at least via live chat, if not by phone, too
A strict no-logs policy. A good VPN provider will always respect your privacy and will clearly state on its website that it doesn’t keep any logs on its customers. It is very important for those claims to be 100% true. There are some VPN providers out there (especially among those that offer free services) that store and use VPN logs. Those logs contain information about your online activity (such as websites you visited), your real IP address, your data transfer (uploads and downloads). If you want to maintain your anonymity and privacy on the Internet, make sure you choose a VPN provider that has a ‘zero-logs’ policy.