Last July 2019, the personal data of 100 million American and 6 million Canadian Capital One credit card customers and card applicants were compromised due to a security breach. This personal data included all the information Capital One collected during credit card application, such as names, phone numbers, physical addresses, email addresses, zip codes, dates of birth, and income.
This is just one of the biggest security breaches this year. Unfortunately, cyberattacks and data breaches are becoming common occurrences. According to a World Economic Forum report, the number of cyberattacks and data theft incidents higher than average in 2019. And monetary gain is the motive behind 75% of these attacks, as revealed by Verizon’s Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR) for 2019.
This just shows how dangerous it is to browse the internet without any sort of protection. Though common security measures, such as using strong passwords and using HTTPS websites, can help minimize the risks, they are nowhere enough to protect your data. Hackers and other malicious attackers are getting smarter in thinking of ways to steal users’ data and they are now equipped with more advanced hacking technology. Ordinary security measures no longer work, and the only way to ensure your internet sessions remain private is by using a VPN.
What Is a VPN?
A virtual private network or VPN gives internet users the freedom to go online without being tracked, monitored, and identified. This level of privacy is getting harder to find these days, with more and more threats lurking in the world wide web.
A VPN is a service that protects your internet traffic and your personal data so that you can stay anonymous online. It also helps you get around restrictions and access blocked websites or content. For example, you can use a VPN to check your social media accounts or other banned websites in school or in the office.
Basically, a VPN lends you a temporary IP address that you can use and hides your real IP address from every website or web service you connect with. All you need to do is choose a reliable VPN service provider, subscribe to their service, and download their VPN client, if necessary. Turn on the VPN whenever you want to connect to the internet to make sure you are protected.
How Do VPNs Work?
VPNs allow users to safely access websites and share data without having to worry about it getting stolen and used by someone else for malicious purposes. Just like how your firewall protects the data on your computer, a VPN protects your data online.
Normally, when you connect to the internet without a VPN, your “naked” data is transmitted directly from your device to the public internet. Anyone with basic hacking skills can intercept your traffic, steal your data, or gain access to your device.
But when you connect to the internet via your VPN, you get a double-layered protection. When you initiate an internet session, your VPN encrypts your data, making it unreadable for those with unauthorized access. The encrypted data is then transmitted through a secure digital tunnel also known as the VPN server. VPN providers usually have multiple VPN servers located in different countries.
Once your data reaches the VPN server, a temporary IP address that matches the location of the server is assigned to you. You might be living in the US, but it might seem like you’re currently in Japan or in Russia, depending on the server you are using. The websites you are visiting will see the VPN server’s IP address instead of your real IP address. And this brings a lot of benefits, which will be discussed in detail below.
Why Use a VPN?
The main reason for using a VPN is privacy. You can go about your online activities without worrying about your internet service provider, government agencies, marketers, and hackers monitoring your every move. You can check your email, send messages, post on social media, do some online shopping, and complete online banking transactions with some peace of mind.
But aside from online security purposes, here are other cool uses of VPNs that you might not be aware of:
Stream videos without your ISP slowing you down.
YouTube , Netflix, and other streaming sites are huge bandwidth hoggers. In 2015, Netflix was consuming 37% of internet traffic and this number has significantly increased over the years as the streaming service became popular. Because of this, ISPs tend to throttle the internet connection speed once it detects high bandwidth usage due to streaming. When you use a VPN, all your streaming activities are hidden from the prying eyes of your internet service provider. Since your ISP doesn’t know what you’re doing, it won’t be able to detect your streaming activities and won’t slow down your internet connection speed. You can stream all the YouTube and Netflix videos that you want without interruption.
Play games without being throttled by your ISP.
Streaming websites are not the only services getting throttled by internet service providers. Playing online games can also get you on your ISP’s radar. Aside from the high bandwidth usage when playing, game developers also send out a lot of updates that eat up too much data. When your ISP detects this, you can expect some seriously slow internet connection speed. To prevent your ISP from ruining your gaming experience, you can use a VPN to hide your activities.
Stream TV and video content from other websites.
The rise of Netflix and other streaming services has revolutionized the way people watch all over the world. Instead of waiting for the content programmed by the channel, users can now choose what they want to watch themselves. Users can basically choose whatever TV shows or movies they want to watch. However, the only limit is the type of content available according to your region. The content available to US Netflix is different from Asian Netflix or UK Netflix. And this is true for other streaming services. If you want to watch content from a different country, you can use a VPN and connect to a server located in that country. For example, you can use a US VPN server to access US-locked Netflix content.
It is very easy for snoopers to spy on your internet connection when you’re not using a VPN. The possibility of someone eavesdropping on you is minimized when you’re connecting to your home or office network, but the danger becomes more apparent when you connect to public Wi-Fi networks. When you connect to the WiFi hotspot of the nearest cafe or the hotel’s guest WiFi network, anybody can snoop on your internet traffic because it is not encrypted. Public WiFi don’t have any layers of protection because anyone can connect to it. Using a VPN minimizes the dangers of spying because your connection is encrypted.
Research competition anonymously.
If you’re running a business, knowing about your competitor gives you an advantage. You want to know what your competitors are doing and how they are promoting their business. Unfortunately, they can easily discover your spying activities if you’re using a regular internet connection. Every website logs all the IP addresses of every device that visits it, as well the pages visited and how long you stayed on those pages. The webmaster can then trace the digital trail back to your device, thanks to your IP address. If you want to do your research without being detected, you can use a VPN to hide your IP address.
In countries like China, UAE, Cuba, and Iran, using a VPN is more like a necessity than an option. This is because citizens have limited access to the internet due to the nationwide internet censorship. Some governments even monitor and track the online activities of every user. The only way to escape the monitoring of the government and to access blocked websites is by using a VPN.
Unblock restricted websites.
Social media websites, such as Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube, are usually blocked at school or in the office. Streaming websites are also banned. The only way to access these blocked websites is by routing your connection through a VPN server. When you use a VPN, your network administrator won’t be able to see what websites you are visiting.
Torrenting is a legitimate application by itself, but the controversy lies in the type of content being shared. Initially designed as a method of sharing files among businesses, torrenting has now become a popular way of distributing pirated content, such as movies, music, games, TV shows, and other pieces of software.
Choosing the Best VPN
When you search for VPN in the App Store, Google Play Store, or even in Google, you’ll get hundreds of search results. Some are paid VPNs, but a lot of them are free. How do you know which VPN is the best for you?
The easiest way to find out is to look for a VPN service that matches your needs. But what do you look for in a VPN? We’ve listed below some factors you need to consider when choosing a VPN so you don’t have to blindly search for what you need.
1. Figure out why you need a VPN.
You should never buy the first thing you see, and this rule applies to VPNs as well. Analyze first what you need a VPN for so you know what to look for. If you want a VPN for the whole family, you can choose a router-based VPN or one that supports multiple simultaneous connections from different devices. If you need a VPN to stream videos or play online games, choose one with good connection speed and unlimited bandwidth.
Once you’ve figured out what you’re going to use the VPN for, write down the features that you need to help you narrow down your options.
2. Compare each VPN.
Each VPN focuses on something. Some VPNs focus on encryption, while others put more emphasis on speed. Others highlight some features that make them unique. For example, some VPNs specialize in unblocking Netflix content, while others are designed for gaming. Get to know each of your options and list down the features of each VPN you are considering so it is easy for you to compare.
3. Test the speed.
The speed of your VPN service can make or break your online experience. If the connection is agonizingly slow, you’ll probably be stressed out all the time and there’s not much you can do. So think about what speed you need for your activities. There are three factors you need to check: download speed, upload speed, and ping time.
Download speed is how quickly you receive the data, while upload speed is how fast data is sent from your device when using a VPN. If you watch a lot of videos or share large amounts of data, you might need a VPN with fast upload and download speeds.
Ping time measures how long it takes for a packet of data to be transmitted from your computer through the VPN server to its final destination, and then back to your device. The smaller the number, the better. Ping time is important for playing online games, doing Skype calls, VoIP communications, and other real-time applications.
Once you’ve identified your metric needs, you can choose the VPN that matches the speed that you want.
4. Check compatibility.
Most VPNs support major platforms, such as Windows and macOS. However, not all VPNs have mobile support. When choosing your VPN, keep in mind the devices you’re going to install the VPN on and make sure your VPN has a client for each platform. For example, if you have a Mac and an Android phone, you might need to find a VPN that supports both.
It is also a practical idea to check how many devices you can connect to at once. Some VPNs allow up to three devices, while others allow five or six. There are even VPNs that allow unlimited devices.
5. Check out the VPN’s privacy features and logging policy.
For many VPN users, online privacy is the main reason why they use a VPN. If your online security is important to you, the first thing you need to find in the fine print is the VPN’s logging policy. Make sure that the VPN service you are subscribed to does not keep logs, also known as a no logging or logless policy.
Keep in mind that there are different degrees of logging. Although this data may not be enough to identify you, but when you throw your ISP’s log of your activities, you might be surprised about the various possibilities.
Aside from the logging policy, you might also need to pay attention to the information your VPN service provider is asking from you during sign up. Are you being asked for your address and phone number? The less information you provide, the better.
6. Check the user interface.
VPNs can be quite complicated to work with, particularly for non-tech savvy users. When you install the VPN client, check out the user interface to see if it is easy to navigate and set up. We all want something that’s easy to configure and has simple installation procedures.
7. Find a VPN with more servers.
The number of servers and their locations can affect the performance of the VPN service. Make sure that the VPN you subscribe to has a server in the countries that you need. The closer the servers to your location, the better the quality of the connection.
8. Consider the price.
The subscription fee is one of the important things to consider when choosing a VPN. Prices differ according to the VPN’s features and subscription length. You can choose between monthly, bi-annual, or annual payments. You should also check the payment options available. Most VPNs accept credit cards and PayPal . But some VPNs accept completely anonymous payment systems, such as BitCoin and other cryptocurrencies, so you don’t need to reveal your personal information.
It might be tempting to use a free VPN, but you have to consider the risks associated with these types of VPN. You might not be paying with money, but you might be paying for it in another way.
9. Test the VPN’s customer service.
Another important factor you need to consider is how the customer service of your VPN works. Do they offer 24/7 support? What are the channels through which you can reach them? How fast is their response rate? It is important to know these details so you know how fast they can help you and what type of customer support you’ll receive when you encounter issues with your VPN. A VPN that offer live-chat support is more preferable compared to those that offer only email and phone support.
10. Do they offer a free trial and money-back guarantee?
One of the advantages of choosing a VPN service with a free trial and money-back guarantee is that you won’t be stuck with something that you don’t want. If you happen to subscribe to a VPN service, but decide it is not fit for you, getting out of the contract won’t be a problem. With a money-back guarantee, you can even get back your money within a specific period.
Top VPN Service Providers for 2019
There are a lot of VPNs on the market today and finding the perfect one is like finding a needle in a haystack. Here’s a list of the top VPNs today according to online reviews and the features that make them stand out among the rest:
1. Outbyte VPN
If you’re looking for the best all-around VPN service, Outbyte VPN is the best option. It has reliable VPN servers in multiple locations around the world, providing great connection speeds and stable service. It is compatible with most platforms, including Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS.
Outbyte VPN uses military grade AES-256 encryption to protect your data. It has an anti-leak feature, kill-switch, torrenting support, and 24/7 customer support. You can enjoy up to six simultaneous connections from any device to maximize the service.
ExpressVPN is another good option. It has more than 3000 servers from 160 locations worldwide and could run on almost any platform. Its enterprise-level encryption provides sufficient privacy and security to its users. ExpressVPN is great for everyday internet use and for unblocking Netflix content. However, it can only support up to five simultaneous connections per user.
NordVPN is an ultra-secure VPN provider with more than 5300 servers in 60 locations. It uses 2048-bit encryption and has strong DNS leak protection, kill switch, and proxy extensions for Chrome and Firefox. NordVPN has mobile and desktop clients for various devices. Unfortunately, the app is a bit inconvenient to use because some menus are difficult to find.
This VPN is designed for torrenting and other P2P activities. It has more than 1200 servers in 60 locations. It owns and manages its VPN servers that support unlimited P2P traffic. It has speedy live chat support, easy-to-configure apps, and excellent download speeds. It can support up to ten simultaneous connections per account. Unfortunately, IPVanish doesn’t offer a free trial.
5. Hotspot Shield
Hotspot Shield is the perfect VPN for browsing online privately and anonymously. It has more than 2500 servers in more than 80 locations. It has a free version, but the commercial version provides a more comprehensive protection. You can get unlimited bandwidth, good download speed, user-friendly interface, and 24/7 support. You can download the Windows, Mac, Android or iOS apps according to your device. However, this VPN is unable to unblock US Netflix and some configuration options are missing.
How do you choose the best VPN? The key to finding the one that suits you the best is by analyzing what your needs are and choosing the VPN that has all the features that you need. We’re hoping that the guide above can help you figure out what you need to look for before subscribing to a VPN service.