Many internet users are becoming increasingly concerned about their privacy. User enquiries to NordVPN have tripled since the Investigatory Powers Bill launched. By using a VPN, traffic is encrypted and routed through a secure channel between the computer and the remote VPN server. No unauthorised person can access the data passing through and it becomes invisible to everyone, including hackers, identity thieves, government snoopers and ISPs. However, there is so much conflicting information about VPNs out there that it is hard to know exactly what to look for when selecting one. If your VPN is located in a country with less than adequate privacy laws, they could be collecting your data and selling it on. Also, there are proxies that hide IP addresses but do not encrypt traffic, which adds to the confusion.
Here is a list of questions you should ask before choosing a VPN. A lot of the information relates to avoiding government surveillance, which we’re sure our law-abiding readers have no need to do! The advice below is for information purposes only.
Ease of Use
Perhaps the most important thing to look at is whether it’s easy to navigate the website. Is it as easy to use as clicking a button and selecting your destination country or is it more complex?
Free or Paid
A VPN offering a free service will be making money in other ways, such as selling your data to third parties. Any safe VPN will require payment.
Logging of Internet traffic
There are some VPN providers who are required to log Internet activity by law. It all depends on the country where they are based. When information is logged it could easily be shared with the government or any other party. Choose a VPN provider who will not log Internet activity and is not legally bound to do so by the country in which they are based.
Slowing down the Internet
Using an encryption tunnel can sometimes slow down the Internet and using a paid service means they will normally have a bigger choice of servers to connect to. When one is at full capacity it will connect to another. This issue could be solved by connecting to a server that is geographically closer.
A good question to ask if whether it will unblock streaming services such as Netflix or BBC iPlayer in your country.
In which countries are the servers?
Anyone concerned about government surveillance and privacy should choose a server outside of their country. We have all had that embargo on a YouTube video we really want to see, so to by-pass geo-blocks on restricted content, connecting to a server in exit node in a country where the content is allowed can resolve this.
VPN or proxy?
How much encryption?
A VPN protocol will establish a secure tunnel with the private network but not all are to be fully trusted. It is a good idea to avoid PPTP protocol which is pretty insecure. It is much wiser to use VPN protocols like OpenVPN and IKEv2/IPsec since they have strong cryptographic algorithms.
Using on different platforms
Some VPNs will only work on one platform but a good one will work across iOS, Android, Mac and Windows.
Mobile devices contain some of our most sensitive and treasured data so it is vitally important that it’s not just your desktop computer being protected. Do some investigation into a VPN’s mobile apps to check how they work on your smartphone or tablet.
You can read one of our VPN reviews here. If you use a VPN, what was the most important feature for you?