A virtual private network (VPN) can go a long way toward securing your web traffic and keeping your sensitive data private. That’s why we recommend that basically everyone should look into a reliable VPN service.
But if you decide that you need a VPN, how do you go about actually choosing one? It can be a daunting task, which is why we’ve collected a handful of features and characteristics that you should look for in a VPN before you decide to sign up for its services. Continue reading to learn 11 important things to look for when shopping for a VPN.
Make Sure It’s Legitimate
Like free antivirus software, there are less-than-legitimate VPNs that can prey on your privacy and security. You’ll want to research any VPN provider you’re considering to see if they’re an authentic service.
Non-legitimate VPNs run the gamut from straight up scams to more insidious forms, like Facebook’s Onavo VPN which actually just collected user browsing history.
You should look at free VPNs more suspiciously, but still, you shouldn’t blindly trust a service just because it costs money.
Solid Privacy and Security Policies
If you’re using a VPN to protect your privacy, you’ll want to make sure that the VPN isn’t jeopardizing it. Just think of it this way: you’re trusting a service with basically all of your internet traffic. You’ll want it to be trustworthy.
Pricing within Your Budget
Price, of course, is an important factor when considering any service. You’ll want to find a VPN that’s in your budget and offers a good suite of benefits for the price tag. Don’t pay for more than you need (and try to look for VPNs that offer a good money-back guarantee).
On the other end of the spectrum, you’ll want to avoid free VPNs for the most part — as we alluded to in the previous slide. Although there are some decent options, you’ll typically have to end up “paying for it” elsewhere if you’re not paying in money.
Speed and Reliability
No one likes a slow internet connection, which is why you’ll want to make speed and VPN performance two priorities when you’re looking at various options. Some VPNs can result in sluggish speeds or slow performance – others claim
Some VPNs, like those that offer different configurations based on usage, should be at the top of your list. Beyond speed, make sure that the VPN you’re looking at is well-rated when it comes to reliability and robustness, too.
It Uses Secure Protocols
Without getting into the weeds too much, you’ll want to find a VPN that uses a secure protocol for handling your traffic. That’ll go a long way to protecting your browsing data and history.
You’ll want to find a VPN that either offers OpenVPN and L2TP/IPSEC protocols. OpenVPN isn’t available on mobile devices, so look for the latter protocol. The cream of the crop will support both.
High or Unlimited Capacity
The last thing you want from a VPN is for it to cut off or throttle your data after you’ve hit a certain threshold. This is imperative for small business users, but it’s certainly something worth considering by any potential VPN customer.
We recommend that you comb through a VPN’s terms of service to figure out how much data they’ll allocate to you – unlimited data is always preferred. It’s also worth seeing if a VPN provider will throttle your bandwidth after a certain amount of data.
Ease of Use and Tech Support
Using a VPN should be easy. Maybe it won’t be effortless, but you don’t want to jump through hoops to protect your privacy. You shouldn’t have to become a tech expert to use a VPN, so avoid services that necessitate that.
Look for an easy and well-rated experience in user reviews. Similarly, it’s worth looking at VPN services that offer good tech support to its users. That way, if you run into problems or are just having trouble understanding it, you won’t be left in the dark.
A Good Track Record
Age may not equal wisdom, but when it comes to VPN services, an older provider may be a more attractive option. For one, you’ll be able to see user reviews and feedback for VPNs that have been around a while.
Newer VPNs won’t have a reliable history, either. For example, you can check older VPNs for a history of IP address leaks or other iffy signs. In other words, it pays to look for an established product in the VPN market.
A Static IP
A static IP address is something that many VPN veterans recommend. Essentially, a static IP means that you’ll be the only VPN subscriber that has access to a particular address. That can turn out to be crucial in many circumstances.
It will go a long way toward maximizing your IP’s security and accessibility. And you may not even need a static IP consistently. But it’s helpful to have a VPN that has it as an option, rather than opting for a provider that doesn’t offer it at all.
One thing that a casual VPN users may not consider when looking at a provider: the jurisdiction that they’re based in. For starters, you’ll want to avoid services that are based in countries with questionable government privacy policies.
But Restore Privacy notes that you may also want to avoid countries that are part of international surveillance alliances. That may include the U.S., U.K., Australia, Canada and New Zealand, among others.
Honesty and Transparency
It’s hard to categorize this one, but we’re going to try. Famed cybersecurity journalist Brian Krebs says he looks primarily at a VPN’s willingness to explain to customers the ins and outs of its service as a key indicator of its quality.
That may be a good measure of a top-notch shop. As Krebs points out, you’ll want to find a VPN that goes in-depth about various aspects of its service. A provider that is also honest about the limitations of VPNs is also an excellent sign.