VPNs offer the best solution for securing your network traffic to protect you against hackers, snoops, and many other cybercriminals.
You need a VPN (Virtual Private Network) to safeguard all your online activities because you expose yourself to many risks and threats whenever you go online unprotected. Governments continually spy on their citizens; hackers, on the other hand, are on a mission to steal your personal information. Hence, using the internet without a premium VPN is being outright unreasonable.
Short on time? Here is a summary of the best VPN’s
- NordVPN-The VPN offers great features including huge server coverage, and robust security
- ExpressVPN-Excellent VPN service for streaming and torrenting because of its blazing fast speeds
- CyberGhost-The most easy-to-use VPN for beginners
- Surfshark-Cheap VPN that gets the work done
- IPVanish-Fast VPN speeds excellent for gaming
What is a VPN?
A VPN (Virtual Private Network) is a technology designed to protect and safeguard your online activities from hackers, snoops, and many other cybercriminals. VPNs are essential today because they also help you to unblock streaming sites like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, and many others. Suppose you reside in a county with internet censorship. In that case, you can use the VPN to bypass the restrictive firewall and access all international websites regardless of your location.
Why do you need a VPN?
Privacy – a VPN allows you to stay anonymous over the internet. Neither your ISP nor the government can view your activities on the web.
Censorship – many institutions such as schools, the workplace, the government and even your ISP can censor what you can access on the web. By using a VPN, you can evade all that and have the freedom you desire regardless of the network.
Geo spoofing – some services on the internet are denied to users based on their geographical locations. VPNs are the best way to overcome these restrictions as they mask your location and allow you to change your IP address thereby giving you the access you need.
Prevent hackers – time and again we hear that you shouldn’t use your devices over public Wi-Fi hot-spots. Public Wi-Fi hot-spots open you up to hackers and malicious people who would want to steal your data. A VPN solves this problem by providing you with the proper encryption to stay safe from such people.
Downloading – for those who love torrenting-downloading files from the internet be it movies, software, and many others, having a secure connection is critical as this helps prevent an attack and keeps your identity anonymous.
Is using a VPN legal?
Closely related to the question of what a VPN is is the question as to whether the use of VPNs is legal or illegal. Using VPNs is legal. In most democratic countries in the world, every citizen has a right to privacy. And VPNs do just that. They make sure your activities on the internet remain private.
After extensive research on the subject, we couldn’t find a single democratic nation that has made the use of VPNs illegal. However, there are regimes such as Iran, Turkey, and China that censor what their citizens can and can’t access online. China is notorious in this aspect with its ‘Great Fire Wall’ and the banning of VPN services.
In as much as these countries have sophisticated systems to censor internet use in their countries, these mechanisms are usually just slightly successful. People in these countries still use the best VPNs for their countries to bypass censorship.
Due to the recent terrorist attacks on European nations, they have implemented surveillance laws that aim at keeping the citizens safe. In countries such as the UK and France, the law requires a VPN service provider to maintain a log of user activity. Therefore, if you want to continue using a VPN, you should consider using one in a country where the law does not require the VPN service to keep user activity logs.
Is a VPN safe to use?
A VPN is safe to use provided you choose a reliable service. VPNs provide a safe way to use the internet as they prevent hacking and government snooping. The technology encrypts your online traffic and replaces your IP address making your browsing activities completely safe and anonymous. Most premium VPN services come with anti-malware, ads, and phishing protection.
Are free VPNs any good?
Free VPNs can’t offer you a reliable service because they limit the servers you can connect to. Crowding users to few servers results in poor connection speeds. Also, free services usually limit your bandwidth. For example, TunnelBear limits data use to only 500MB-I.5GB per month on its free version. Hotspot shield limits mobile users to only 2mbps in addition to the 500MB daily limit. Apart from free VPN versions of premium services, there are other lots of free VPN online which come with risks to your privacy. One question to ask yourself is if they are offering absolutely free services, how do they manage to stay afloat without an income. They could be selling your data to marketers.
How to choose the best VPN
While knowing a VPN is important, knowing how to choose the best VPN is the difference that makes a difference. A good VPN service is critical to your security and anonymity online. Top-tier VPNs give their users a good balance in features between connectivity protocols, server locations, and pricing, among others.
Many VPNs are designed with a certain type of user in mind. There are those that focus more on removing Geo-location restrictions, while others focus more on heavy data downloading and content freedom. Therefore, when you are contemplating which service best suits your needs, here are a few things to look out for;
1. The Protocols a VPN service uses
In your endeavor to find out what a VPN is, you will most likely come across many terms such as OpenVPN, SSL/TLS, L2TP, PPTP, IPsec, and other types of VPN protocols. All these protocols might seem confusing for the non-techies.
It’s important to note that all these protocols give the users a secure connection on the internet. However, OpenVPN is highly recommendable as it not only provides the highest encryption for your data but also uses digital certificates to authenticate the data.
2. How many servers and server locations does a VPN service provide?
This is an important aspect of choosing the right VPN. Depending on what you want to use a VPN for, the VPN locations are critical to making the decision. When you are concerned with Geo-restrictions, you have to find a service that has servers in the desired location.
For example, if you want to watch live TV in the US, you should make sure the service provider has multiple servers in that area.
If your concern is ISP or government snooping, it’s a good idea to choose a service with servers outside the said country. Some apps restrict usage to certain geographical locations.
Getting a service that has host servers in the region you want will give you unfiltered access as though you were there.
3. Does a VPN service log your online activities?
Data logging is a grave concern for many people. As such, finding out what a VPN is is not enough. You need to go ahead and find out whether a particular VPN logs your data. When you use a VPN service, you transfer your trust from the ISP to the VPN service provider. Your communications are secure from hackers and eavesdroppers, but the service can choose to log your data.
Before choosing the right VPN service, you should conduct proper research into the logging practices of the service provider.
Some people say that VPN services based in the US are required by law to log their user data. This is quite untrue. However, it’s critical to note that the government can request whatever data they want to have, whether they log or not. Today, the most reliable VPN service providers purge records of your activity.
4. Anti-malware/spyware capabilities
As much as VPNs provide a lot of protection, it doesn’t mean that you are bulletproof. You should make sure that you are using HTTPS as much as possible and be careful of what you are downloading online.
Top-tier VPN providers have anti-malware/spyware scanners to make sure you don’t download files that might harm your devices. This is especially true for mobile clients. These Anti-malware/spyware scanners filter every download to ensure that you do not download Trojans and viruses disguised as genuine files.
5. Mobile apps
A good VPN service will always cost you money. Let no one tell you otherwise. As such, the service provider should be able to provide consistency over all your devices, from your computer to your smartphone to your tablet.
Any VPN service worth its salt has mobile apps for all these platforms. This ensures that whichever device you use, you get protection when accessing the internet.
The question of what is a VPN is closely followed by wanting to know the price of subscribing to a competent VPN service. Some service providers offer their VPNs for free, while others require you to pay a subscription fee.
Before deciding on the appropriate service to use, make sure you read the service’s privacy policies. The policies will show you the true difference between paid and free service.
Free VPNs – these VPN providers do not charge you for their service. As such, they have to look for other ways to generate income for the upkeep of their servers and staff. This is the reason why free VPN providers always have ads on their apps. Apart from that, they also have fewer exit locations and lenient policies concerning privacy. They usually do not have many features, but some are excellent. However, if privacy and activity logging is crucial for you, you might want to go premium or avoid them entirely.
Paid VPNs – since you are paying for this type of VPN service, the providers take your security and privacy more seriously. For the paid services, there are usually no ads on the apps, but whether or not the company stores your activity logs varies from one provider to another.
The best thing about paid VPNs is that they usually offer a free trial period which can run from a week to a month so that you can decide whether or not you like the service. Also, most of them offer a money-back guarantee that allows you to test the service risk-free. Many paid VPN services are usually subscription-based. The customers pay on a monthly basis but usually get some discounts for annual purchases.
7. Internet speeds
When you are using a VPN, your speed will slow down. This is because data transmitted over a VPN is usually encrypted. As such, encrypting and decrypting the data needs some processing power. However, given that today’s computers and devices have more processing power, this usually isn’t a problem.
The second aspect that affects internet speeds is the distance that your data must travel to get to you. As we said earlier, VPNs allow you to choose the location of the servers you want to use. As such, this increases the distance in which the data must travel to reach you.
When you choose a server that’s close to you geographically, you should expect a slight decrease in speed. However, when you select a server that’s halfway across the world, you can expect a more significant dip in your internet speed.
This does not mean that you cannot enjoy super-fast internet while using VPNs. Speeds vary across multiple VPN service providers. There are a few factors that dictate this, such as available bandwidth, server processing power, and the number of people currently using a particular server.
8. Customer Support
Many first-time users of VPNs have many questions that need addressing as fast as possible. Therefore, getting a VPN service with proper customer support is essential. The customer representatives should be able to respond to issues on time and have answers that work. Having good customer service means that you will solve problems faster without struggling.
Best VPN Services in 2021
Now that you know what is a VPN and the elements that comprise the best VPN, we provide you with our list of the best VPN services that we have tested. These VPNs provide you with the best security and anonymity features to keep you safe while you browse the internet.
1. NordVPN: The best overall VPN service in 2021
NordVPN is arguably the best VPN service in the market. It provides you with 5460 servers in 62 different countries, unlimited bandwidth, and allows simultaneous connection of up to 6 devices. NordVPN supports a wide range of protocols ranging from OpenVPN, PPTP, L2TP, IPsec, and IKEv2 protocols.
The VPN does not log user traffic and is based in Panama, a country with no metadata laws and spying. NordVPN has a kill switch that protects your traffic from exposure should the VPN disconnect. It also implements DNS leaks to make your browsing truly anonymous and secure. For enhanced security, the service provides a double VPN where your traffic goes through two VPNs for double encryption. It also offers Onion over VPN servers to help you access the dark web safely and anonymously.
NordVPN unblocks 400+ streaming services globally, including Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, Disney+, Fox Sport, HBO Max, and HBO GO, Sling TV, ESPN, Crunchyroll, and more. The service offers exceptional speeds on all its servers which make for lag-free streaming and gaming. NordLynx, its new WireGuard proprietary protocol, gave us fast speeds and HD streaming on all servers that we tested.
We also like its CyberSec feature, a built-in ad blocker that also blocks infested websites and trackers. The loading of ads takes a toll on your speeds; hence, blocking ads means increased speeds and bandwidth for your online activities.
Read full Review
2. ExpressVPN- Excellent for streaming and torrenting
ExpressVPN is another excellent service provider with blazing fast speeds and robust 256-bit encryption. They have 3,000+ servers in more than 94 countries, in 160 locations, unlimited bandwidth, unlimited server switches, and works on all devices.
ExpressVPN is excellent for streaming and works with Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, BBC iPlayer. The VPN is also excellent for gaming. We subjected it to resource-heavy MMO like Soul & Blade, and we didn’t experience lags or buffering.
ExpressVPN uses 256-bit AES encryption with a 4096-bit RSA key and SHA -512 HMAC authentication. Such encryption is highly safe for data transfer, and there is no possibility of getting hacked. It implements protection against DNS and IPv6 leaks, keeping you safe. Also, it supports Tor over VPN for enhanced security and anonymity. Its location is far away from the spying 5/9/14 Eyes Alliance. So, when you torrent with ExpressVPN, you can be sure no unwanted party is tampering with your files.
ExpressVPN VPN uses a kill switch to keep your IP and network traffic safe should it disconnect. The kill switch is available for Windows, Linux, Mac, and Routers. We like its Split Tunneling feature that allows you the freedom to select the apps you wish to go through the VPN tunnel.
ExpressVPN is excellent at bypassing Geo-restrictions and works in China via its Hong Kong servers. The VPN’s obfuscation servers disguise your VPN traffic to avoid detection by China’s Great Firewall.
Above all, you get a 30-days money-back guarantee, an excellent opportunity to test its service risk-free.
Read full Review
3. Cyberghost- Most user-friendly VPN
CyberGhost is the most user-friendly service currently. It has easy-to-use apps for all your devices and has a huge network of servers, adding to 6800 servers in 90+ countries. The VPN is excellent at bypassing geoblocks and works with Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Hulu, and 35+ more streaming services.
Cyberghost gave me fast speeds, especially when I connected to my nearest servers. I was able to play games and stream content in HD without lags or buffering. The VPN supports and allows P2P activities on its network.
On security, it uses 256-bit encryption and is a strictly no logs service. CyberGhost is based in Romania, a VPN-friendly location, and implements all leak protection. It offers a kill switch and an ad blocker to protect you when you browse the internet.
4. SurfShark VPN-Cheap VPN that works perfectly
Surfshark is the most budget-friendly VPN on the market. It works on all devices and offers excellent speeds for streaming. Surfshark features 3200 servers in 65 locations and supports P2P on its network. Surfshark unblocks a broad range of services, including Netflix, Hulu, BBC iPlayer, Amazon Prime Video, SKY GO, HBP Max & GO, Sling TV, Peacock TV, Hotstar, and many more.
The service is excellent at bypassing censorship; its obfuscation servers and its NoBorders feature will help you to bypass restrictive firewalls, including the Great Firewall of China. Surfshark offers robust encryption, including AES 256-bit encryption. It implements protection against all leaks and has an automatic kill switch. The Surfshark MultiHop feature passes your traffic through two servers instead of one for increased privacy, more so if you reside in a country with internet surveillance. It also comes with the CleanWeb feature for blocking ads and malware.
5. IPVanish-incredible speeds
IPvanish is a VPN service that campaigns for an open and safe internet. They are a tier1 VPN service with 850 servers in more than 6o countries and allow up to 5 simultaneous connections. IPVanish is compatible with Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android, Chrome book, Fire TV, Windows phone, and Router. They provide incredible speeds, unlimited bandwidth, and allow Torrenting. IPVanish offers apps for all devices and provides 256-AES encryption.
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6. VyprVPN- excellent for bypassing Deep Packet Inspection
VyprVPN is a VPN service that is based in Switzerland, a country with one of the best privacy protection laws. It uses OpenVPN, PPTP, L2TP/IPsec, and the Chameleon protocols. The Chameleon protocol has the capabilities of scrambling OpenVPN Metadata to bypass Deep Packet Inspection. The service exhibits fast speeds and has servers spread across the world.
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In conclusion to the important question of what is a VPN? We’d advise you to make use of reliable services to secure your online activities. Though transacting online brings about convenience, it also involves risks such as hacking and snooping. If you need more information before using a VPN, you can read our comprehensive review of some of the best VPN services. If you have a limited budget and thus not able to spare a dime for purchasing a VPN, don’t lose hope; read our guide on the best free premium VPN services and secure your online activities for free.