A Pew Reseach Center survey found out that more than half of internet users have taken steps to avoid being tracked and monitored by specific people, organizations, and the government. However, most have applied only perfunctory methods to hide their online footprints such as not using certain apps or adjusting privacy settings, instead of using more robust tools like anonymity software, email encryption, or “don’t track” plugins and features of modern browsers.
The internet is not a secure and private place even though you spend most of your time there for work, business, buying goods, and connecting with friends and family. Anyone casually online who doesn’t care about covering their tracks are vulnerable to data thieves, hackers, snoopers, and many others who track and monitor everyone else’s online activities.
One of the proven means to hide your digital tracks is through the use of VPN or Virtual Private Network. It doesn’t make you absolutely invisible online, but it provides another layer of security and protection against hacking and snooping. VPN services allow you to connect to the internet through a secure server operated by a VPN provider. All data that passes between your internet-connected device and the server is encrypted.
VPN services and software ever since have been default solutions by companies and businesses focused on securely accessing, transmitting, and protecting corporate data and other sensitive information. With the increasing awareness of regular internet users regarding its benefits, VPN services have surged in popularity lately, driving down its prices and ushering in its mainstream use.
How VPN Software Works
VPNs can be installed on the computer or by logging as a subscriber onto the website of VPN services. Your computer and the remote server exchange keys which encrypt all data traffic, keeping them safe and secure and enabling you to use the internet without being tracked, monitored, or identified. Furthermore, VPN can help you circumvent blocked and censored sites.
VPN services provide privacy and security to public and private networks like Wi-Fi hotspots and the internet since it can temporarily replace or mask the user’s original IP address with one it provides. For example, a user who lives in Paris can appear to live in New York or, for that matter, any gateway city or country the VPN service provides. For someone snooping, he can only trace you back to the location of the IP address the service provided. In the case of businesses, VPN services serve as hubs for connecting to and getting access to networks even if businesses are not physically on the same network. In addition, the service can be used to encrypt communications over public networks.
Benefits of VPN Software
If online security and privacy is of utmost concern for you, then VPN is the way to go. The following are some of the most important benefits you can gain from using VPN software.
- Privacy – Your ISP can see the websites you visit but with a VPN they are clueless to all your browsing and internet activity since these are routed through the VPN server.
- Security – All VPN connections and user activity are encrypted and unreadable while data signals are in transit, making them virtually unhackable.
- Anonymity – VPN constantly replaces and regenerates a user’s IP address. It keeps the user’s original IP address hidden, making the user unidentifiable and giving the illusion of being in another location.
- Access to Blocked Websites – VPN can go around censorship usually imposed by certain governments, allowing users to access blocked or restricted websites anywhere in the world.
- The Same Internet Experience – It will be the same internet browsing and activity although you may have slower connections since encrypting and decrypting data requires processing power and signals travel far greater distances than direct internet access.
Features of VPN Software
There are several VPN services and software currently available, and you may be hard put to pick the best one. It is wise to determine your security and privacy needs beforehand so you can narrow down your choices. To help you in your decision, here are the most important features and factors when it comes to a VPN solution.
- Privacy – Will you need it for simple and anonymous browsing and downloading, or scaling the Great Firewall of China undetected? Many VPN services are more than capable of doing all those and more.
- Security – VPNs are designed around the twin pillars of privacy and security, and VPN services can provide you different levels and modes of security to keep hackers and others from getting their hands on your data.
- Speed – Slow internet connection speeds are commonly encountered by VPN users since signals travel longer distances, while encryption and decryption consume more of your computer’s resources. Aside from making sure your computer has enough processing power, also ensure that the VPN service is fully capable of providing speedy connections.
- Number of servers and countries – The more VPN servers there are in more countries, the better it can provide you connections from virtually anywhere in the world and allow you to change locations anytime.
- Simultaneous connections – Some services allow you to use only one device at a time, while others let you connect multiple devices simultaneously from a single account.
- Other functionality – The VPN platform must be easy for you to use and carry other functionality such as kill switches and DNS leak prevention, among others. Avail of free trials offered by most services to give you a chance to acquaint yourself with its features.
- Multi-device compatibility – You should be able to connect and operate any device with the VPN software or service, and it should provide you with setup tutorials for different devices.
- Customer support – Customer support must be fast, accessible and reliable. A 24/7 customer service must be there when you need them for queries and technical assistance.
- Price – The cost of VPN is steep for corporate users, understandably so because they have more unique and special privacy and security requirements. But for regular commercial users, the good news is that there are many affordable plans available – from free to premium ones. Free ones will naturally have limited features while paid ones go for as low as single to double digit figures.
Examples of VPN
The following are fast facts and features of leading VPN services:
- 550 servers in 49 different countries
- Military-grade encryption to shield users from intrusive ads and malicious online threats
- Its Double VPN encrypts traffic twice to add an extra layer of online privacy
- Six-device simultaneous connection with one NordVPN account
- Mobile VPN with iOS and android apps
- Highlights include: are strict no logs policy; auto kill switch to protect user’s internet traffic even if VPN connection drops; DNS leak technology to protect private data all the time; combination of The Onion Router with VPN for maximum online security
- Offers four subscription plans with lowest price at $3.29/month for a 2-year period
Proxy.sh – Powerful VPN solution that supports most desktop or mobile operating systems.
- 300 servers in 57 countries
- Uses 4096 bit RSA keys and 128 bit Blowfish cipher for encryption that constantly regenerates every hour
- Keeps user’s IP hidden, their traffic encrypted, connections protected, and all restrictions lifted
- Can connect to any preferred network, set up shortcuts for faster connections, and allow users to view connection time and traffic volumes
- Has four flexible subscription plans including one that can be used for three days at just $2 with unlimited bandwidth and two countries
ExpressVPN – A feature-filled, easy to use and lightweight but powerful VPN software.
- 145 VPN locations in 94 countries
- Fast connections with unlimited bandwidth and no throttling
- Features 256-bit AES encryption, VPN split tunneling, apps for every device, IP address masking and anonymous browsing, and 24/7 live chat support
- Accepts bitcoins aside from traditional payment forms like PayPal
- Offers three pricing plans with the lowest pegged at $9.99/month
PureVPN – Noted for its advanced features, service quality and customer support.
- 450 servers located in 101 countries
- VPN service built on security, anonymity and speed
- Offers best in class features such as ultra-secure encryption, server level content filer, internet kill switch, app blocker, one-click antivirus protection, website filtering, DNS leak protection, and split tunneling
- Compatible with multiple gaming consoles, smart TVs and routers
- Provides users five multi-logins and 24/7 support on a single account
- Has three subscription plans starting $3.25/month discounted price for two-year period
IPVanish – One of the pioneers in the VPN service industry and rated as top tier VPN provider.
- 850+ servers in 60 countries
- Known for fast VPN speeds, secure connections, and competitive pricing
- Compatible with any computer and mobile device, and capable of simultaneously using different types of connections
- Supports torrenting through its zero logs policy and uses shared IPs, making it difficult to identify users
- Three plans are available with the lowest price at $6.49/month.