07 November 2018
A Virtual Private Network, or a VPN, is a private network, which is virtually located inside of an existing public network, that being the internet. On the internet, there are trillions of MBs of data being sent and received simultaneously. Unfortunately, as much as we keep our personal lives guarded, the internet takes little to no care of online users’ privacy.
In an ideal situation, people should be able to communicate with each other freely and anonymously over the internet, without ever having to worry about someone eavesdropping into their private conversations. It takes no hard research to know that the internet is infiltrated by thousands, maybe millions of hackers and cyber criminals who prey on our private information.
Here’s what can go wrong. Say you are in another country for a business meeting. You have some time to kill, so you decide to stay in the hotel lobby and mindlessly scroll through your social feeds. To access the internet, of course you need the hotel’s Wifi, because you want to avoid international data charges. You ask a bellboy for the WiFi password, he nods, taking your phone from you and enters the password.
There are a hundred things that could go wrong from this point. For starters, what if there is a hacker sitting in the hotel lobby who has already infiltrated the hotels WiFi network and is harvesting data from all the connected devices? Or what if the bellboy who entered the password on your device was actually a social engineer working with a hacker, who connected your device to his fishy network, which just happens to not only provide you with internet so that you don’t feel suspicious, but also hijacks everything that’s on your device?
There are countless other things which could go wrong, and it would be inaccurate to list them all. This is because hackers and cyber criminals keep evolving and getting better every day. The best we can go is to keep our digital guard up all the time, just in case something bad happens.
This is where a VPN comes in. As described, it’s a secret network within a public network. Staying connected to a VPN at all times, whenever you connect to the internet from a public place can help protect you. The secrecy of the network and the anonymity of everything you do on is ensured by encryption protocols. All of your data, communication, and any other information that you send over the internet is treated with end-to-end encryption, ensuring that only the intended recipients are able to decipher the code.
But that is not all; there is a lot more to VPNs and why people are increasingly using them. To name a few, people use VPNs to mask their online identity, hide their activities and digital trails, secure their financial transactions, and keep their personal data safe from hackers and cyber criminals.
There are a lot of added advantages to a VPN which will be discussed in detail in this guide.
Before you decide which VPN client you want to download and install on your device, take some time to ask yourself a few questions, the most important of them being “what exactly do I need a VPN for?” Regardless of the platform or firmware that your devices operate on, certain aspects of a VPN are critical, and should be considered before making the purchase.
For most users, the connectivity speed is the most essential part of a VPN service. Smartphone users want apps to refresh and fetch new data faster, while the desktop users want a VPN with good download speed and stable connectivity, so that torrenting and streaming can be done with ease.
While it is impossible to know how good the provided speed is for every VPN that you are considering as an option, new users can start by reading reviews online. If that doesn’t suffice, download trial version of the VPN you are interested in and see if it has an affect on your connection.
Some people only want a VPN to protect their online activities while using their smartphone. Some are more inclined toward protecting browsing sessions that they engage in from their PC browser. As an aspiring VPN user, you first need to determine if the primary purpose of purchasing the subscription is to protect a smartphone, a desktop or laptop. Once that has been established, making the next choice becomes easier.
Different VPN providers boast different and unique features which set them apart. Some specialize in providing the ultimate protection for your PC, while others are good protecting your Mac, so make sure you get one that fulfills your requirements. Some of the more reputable providers even offer multi-device subscriptions, which basically allows you to use the same subscription on multiple devices, at the same time.
Category Winner: Both PureVPN and ExpressVPN have exceptional VPN clients and apps. PureVPN also has dedicated apps and patches for Kodi, Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Firestick and many other devices.
Most VPN providers have limitations on the default bandwidth that they provide to their users but will offer more or unlimited bandwidth if their users pay up an additional amount. This can be a major turn off for users who want a VPN for Mac or Windows, as these platform use more data and are dependent on fast and stable download speeds to optimize their online experience.
Some people believe that since they do nothing wrong on the internet, and all of their interests and preferences are within legal boundaries, they are safe. But they fail to realize that they may also be up against governments and monitoring authorities on the lookout to ban specific content and apprehend users trying to access such content. Privacy and security on the internet has also become a major problem in many countries such as China, which enforces one of the most stringent internet policies. The same is true for Saudi Arabia, where more than, 400,000 sites are blocked, most of which are media sites which discuss international political, social, and religious topics.
Internet surveillance is not just limited to these countries, but rather encompasses almost the entire online human population. The National Security Agency (NSA) is known to have developed programs and software that can be used to monitor emails and personal messages. For example, the famous whistle blower, Edward Snowden, was the architect of the NSA’s top notch surveillance program, called the Heartbeat. This is a search engine that could show results from people’s personal messages, emails, and chats, based on keywords.
Category Winner: PureVPN is best at keeping user’s privacy and security intact.
The internet has connected people from around the world in the most sophisticated way, giving life to the phrase that “the Earth has become a global village.” Everything is easily accessible within fractions of a second. While many people know this already, the internet also has borders. These borders decide what content is available in which region and which users should be blocked from accessing that content. This type of content filtering based on users’ location is known as geo-restriction. A great example to understand geo-restriction is this: Facebook is banned in China, and this means that if anyone from China wants to access Facebook.com, they will see an error message like “The following website is blocked in your region.”
All of this is made possible because of your IP address. This unique string of numbers acts like an address for every device that can access the internet. Without an IP address, internet connectivity is practically impossible. Changing the actual IP address of a device is not possible in most cases, however it can be masked with another IP address. This allows your device to assume a pseudo identity for getting online. With a pseudo IP, the freedom to access any content is limitless.
To understand how this process is made possible, think about an imaginary secret passage that can be used to move between two places without getting noticed. To go from one place to another, you can opt for the regular route which everyone is taking, or you can opt for the secret passage, where no one can see you. Here, the secret passage works the same way for you as a VPN.
Category Winner: ExpressVPN often crashes when accessing restricted content, which makes PureVPN the category winner.
Professional users from around the world are always over concerned about the privacy of their official documents and other sensitive material. Many organizations from around the world avoid sending and receiving files over the internet for many reasons.
The primary reason for avoiding this relatively easier medium of transferring documents is that internet is a very unsafe place. Data can easily be intercepted by a hacker or any other malicious individual. For example, if this data involves unreleased company products, a data leakage can jeopardize a company’s business prospects and halt its growth. Things can get even worse if the data intruder decides to contact a competitor and sells the data to them. This can give the competitors an upper hand in the market and insight into what is under the covers. In such a scenario, a company can lose its profit for the foreseeable future.
To overcome this hazard, it’s always recommended that employees encrypt their data before sending it over the internet. When sensitive documents are encrypted, the data contained gets scrambled and can be hard to make sense of, even if it gets intercepted by an intruder. It can only be put together in a meaningful way with the decryption key. Since the decryption key is transferred separately, it is impossible for any hacker to get hold of it. Hence, the data will remain safe, even if it is stolen.
A VPN is the easiest way to secure all such data via encryption. By default, it encrypts all data that it sends and naturally decrypts it upon receipt. There are multiple encryption protocols which different services use, and each encrypts data in a unique way. The most commonly used encryption protocols are PPTP, L2TP, and IKeV6.
Category Winner: Both PureVPN and ExpressVPN’s encryption protocols are good.
It’s not just social platforms that may be region specific, there are many other content types which may be region restricted. These can include new movies, games, music, TV shows, and a few streaming services as well. It defies the concept of net neutrality and global citizenship when someone tries to access a website and gets denied because the region he is trying to access the content from limits it. Obviously, the server you’re requesting data from knows your precise location and is preventing your full access to the desired content as a response.
Out of 10 users who subscribe for a VPN service, it is safe to assume that eight of them do so in order to stream content not available in their region. Most users want to stream TV shows on popular streaming services such as Netflix, which is currently available only in certain regions. In regions where it is not available, the only way to use it is through a VPN. A VPN changes the IP address, assigns a new location, and allows users to bypass geo-restrictions.
Furthermore, there are other types of content that people want to stream every now and then. This can include live sports matches and other live shows which are region restricted. While most such content would ultimately make its way to YouTube where people from all over the world can watch it, nothing beats being the first one to watch it live via a VPN service.
Category Winner: PureVPN, as it is optimized for streaming. Has dedicated browser extensions for Chrome and Firefox that help in streaming US Netflix.
A VPN can provide you with only some degree of anonymity; it is just one tool in the fight. It’s important to know beforehand who you are trying to be anonymous from.
A VPN is great at masking the location you are trying to access the internet from. For instance, if you go to www.whatismyip.com without using a VPN, you will notice that the website is able to retrieve many location details, such as coordinates, city, along with other significant details such as the OS you are using. When you connect to a VPN, your internet traffic is routed through a different server in a different country (often of your choice). Once you have connected the VPN, you can check if it is working by going to the same website again, www.whatismyip.com. If your VPN is not faulty, you will see that your IP and location has changed. Now, if someone tries to track you online and trace your location, he will only be able to see the pseudo location allotted to you by your VPN, and not your actual location.
The first thing this stops is your ISP from monitoring you. Some ISPs will block you or cancel your account if you are doing file sharing, for example. It also allows you to access websites in certain countries which are not open to residents of your country, because you appear to be in the second country instead of your own. Having an anonymous connection helps to ensure that your online activities will not get monitored or tracked by your ISP, government or monitoring authorities. However, being safe from the eyes of these entities is only half the deal. Major websites and platforms can still know your identity.
For example, if you change your IP and location to another country, but have logged in to your Gmail account or Facebook profile, you have not only exposed your identity but have also allowed these tech giants to link your pseudo IP with your original one. Once that connection has been made, these websites will profile your pseudo IP and know that you are online each time you use your pseudo IP.
As for banking websites, when using a VPN to change your location for anonymity, you may have to go through multiple factor authentication. This is because, while your bank is, let’s say in China, but your VPN server is in Canada, the bank server will know that the incoming data request is originating from Canada, hence it will have to be extra cautious before granting you access.
This is the idea behind anonymity, the ability to browse the internet without making your identity public. While some people believe that they have nothing to hide and that they don’t need to mask their IP and go all anonymous, they may not fully understand the repercussions of making themselves so “visible” online.
Category Winner: ExpressVPN, as it has no known cases of compromising its user’s anonymity.