Worried about your online security? You should be. 2017’s shaping up to be the worst year in history when it comes to data breaches. From the Wanna Cry ransomware attack in May to the Equifax hack last month to ride-sharing app Uber’s recent privacy fiasco, there’s never been a better time to use a VPN.
However, with new VPN providers cropping up every day, choosing the right service can be tricky. While most VPNs pride themselves on being anonymous, some are anything but. At best, these fly-by-night VPN companies provide a mediocre browsing experience; at worst, they record and sell your data.
How VPNs work
Short for virtual private network, a VPN makes it possible to browse securely by providing an encrypted tunnel between your network and all the sites you’re visiting.
By using a VPN, you’re able to shed your real IP address as you take on another in the location of your choice. If a person in Chicago uses a VPN to connect to a secure server in Paris, they’re able to browse the web as if they were actually in Paris. It’s a great (and safe) way to browse anonymously, and it’s also become an increasingly popular tool to unblock restricted sites.
If you’re new to VPNs, or even if you already have one, here are a few quick and easy tips to determine whether a particular service can be trusted.
Make sure the VPN doesn’t keep logs
While VPNs are supposed to keep your network private, a large percentage of VPN users who think they’re browsing anonymously are actually completely exposed, thus negating the purpose of having a VPN in the first place.
Take popular VPN provider PureVPN for example. While the company’s website states that they don’t monitor user activity, they’ve recently come under fire for keeping detailed data logs, which the FBI was able to use to arrest a Massachusettes user. Turns out, the company DOES keep detailed user logs, which in this particular case included real IP addresses and detailed timestamps.
Whether or not this person was committing criminal acts is moot; the fact that PureVPN promised an anonymous service while keeping data logs is a shady business practice. What’s more, this isn’t the first time a seemingly “logless” VPN provider has been found to record data history.
Last year HotSpot Shield, a free VPN service that reportedly has more than 500 million users worldwide, found itself in the hot seat over not only keeping detailed user logs but also injecting deceptive ads into people’s browsers.
TurnOnVPN, a leading advocacy group fighting to promote a safe and censor-free internet, says this is a common theme among free VPNs. “When you pay for a VPN, you’re essentially paying for the bandwidth. This not only results in more stable connections, it also gives the VPN provider the opportunity to mask your network,” the group states.
While most VPN providers will list their logging policy in their terms of service, it’s also worth doing a little research to see if a particular provider has a history of keeping logs.
Check if they offer a subscription-based service
Another easy way to check if a VPN is trustworthy is to look at their subscription services. Paid VPN services require a monthly fee to host their own servers, thereby affording them the ability to provide an encrypted, anonymous service. Because free VPNs use public servers, they’re not able to provide this type of protection, so even if they promise anonymity you can safely assume it’s a lie.
Going a step further, a handful of VPNs have also started offering what they call a “lifetime service,” which means the user pays a one-time sum (usually around $40) for unlimited use.
This is a clear warning sign, as it could mean the VPN provider will likely soon go out of business and wants to make as much as they can before they shut the doors.
Hosting and maintaining reliable VPN servers is both time-consuming and expensive, which is why offering a lifetime subscription simply doesn’t work. While they may sound like a good deal, users are better off with a VPN that offers a more reliable monthly subscription-based service instead.
Make sure the apps use OpenVPN
Another simple way to see whether a VPN provider is legitimate or not is to check which protocol options they use. Most VPN apps today use what’s known as OpenVPN by default, which is an open-source VPN protocol. That means it’s constantly being optimized to provide the best encryption settings that are currently available.
Because a growing number of users are turning to VPNs to unblock torrent sites like Netflix and Facebook in China and other countries, OpenVPN is the go-to protocol for streaming, browsing and even downloading. It’s the most versatile VPN protocol and is widely considered to be the safest.
P2PP and IPSEC are two other solid VPN protocol options, and while each has its own particular uses, together they pale in comparison to OpenVPN. As a VPN is meant to offer security and anonymity, choosing a provider that uses OpenVPN is a must.
Do you agree with these tips? Leave your comments below.
Shruti is a blogger & a digital marketing consultant with lots of passion to write about technology, startups & other niches. She has contributed to a number of famous websites. She live and breathe in digital marketing. Her aim is to spread her thought-provoking ideas to all generations. Stay tuned with her at @shruti_gupta01 or via skype : shrutigupta2811