Pakistan has been rated as “not free” by the Freedom House report on internet freedoms for the past 6 years. There are problems with extreme censorship, not only of pornography but also of political content and other material that is (arbitrarily) deemed inappropriate. There have also been incidents of whole areas having mobile internet simply cut off, such as the shutdown of mobile internet in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas in June 2016. In August 2016, the government introduced the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act which gave even more powers of surveillance and censorship over online activities, with a lack of oversight from non-governmental bodies.
Most concerning, however, is the intimidation and punishment of citizens by the government for opinions that they have expressed online. And it isn’t only those who write opinions online who are at risk: in September 2016 a teenager was arrested just for liking a post on Facebook that was deemed blasphemous. Bloggers and social media personalities have been arrested and jailed for criticising authorities, and there are even accusations of the torture of people for material posted online.
Due to these extremely harsh restrictions on internet use, a VPN is essential for internet users in Pakistan. A VPN can help to keep users safe and protected by obscuring their identities when they go online. In this article, we’ll discuss the uses of a VPN and then share our recommendations for the best VPNs for Pakistan.
Protect Yourself From Government Snooping With A VPN
One of the biggest concerns for internet users in Pakistan is that the government will see what they have posted and pursue some kind of criminal action against the user. This is why many bloggers or social media users choose to use an anonymous account instead of using an account under their real name. However, the government can track users through their IP address, even if they have an anonymous account.
IP tracking works through following the chain of servers that an individual has used to connect to the internet. Even if your name is not anywhere on your blog, for example, the government will still be able to trace the origin of that blog to your particular location and pursue actions against you. This is because whenever you connect to any internet network, your device is assigned a unique IP address (a string of numbers that refers to your particular device). When you post onto a website, your IP address is recorded, even if you do not have an account or if you use an anonymous account. Then the government can force websites to hand over the IP addresses of particular users that they want to investigate, and then use this information to trace back to you.
In order to keep yourself safe, you need to use a VPN as well as having an anonymous account. A VPN works by funneling all of the data that your device produces through a separate server before it is sent on to any website. The data is encrypted on your computer and is sent to the server in its encrypted form, which means that no one can trace it or see what you are doing online. Then, at the VPN server, your data is decrypted and you are assigned a new IP address. This way, when you post to a website, your real IP address is hidden and your activity can only be traced to your VPN provider. The government cannot know your real IP address or your real identity. This means that you can post on websites without being tracked by the government.
Access Censored Websites With A VPN
As well as people being worried about repercussions for what they post online, another major problem of internet freedom in Pakistan is when certain websites are censored or temporarily blocked. This happens when the government decides that they do not want people to be able to access a website – either because the content that it contains is deemed inappropriate or is critical of the status quo. Then, the government compiles a list of sites that they want to be blocked whether permanently or temporarily.
This list of websites to be blocked is then sent to all of the internet service providers in the country. These ISPs are then legally required to prevent their customers from accessing the sites using their connections. Usually, ISPs achieve this by redirecting any queries for the websites in question to either a blank page or a restriction notice. This means that if the government decides to block YouTube, for example, you can still open your browser and go to youtube.com. But the webpage won’t load. This is because your ISP has specifically disallowed connections to youtube.com and so your browser can’t access it. Even if you tried to use the internet connection of a neighbour, or a public internet connection such as free wifi, you still wouldn’t be able to access the site because all of these other internet networks are supported by ISPs who have to follow the same rules about blocking websites.
The good news is that you can still access blocked or censored websites using a VPN. You can use a VPN to connect to a server somewhere else in the world that has better internet freedom – such as Sweden or The Netherlands. Once you have connected to a server in another country, all of your internet traffic will be routed via this server. That means that you will browse the web as if you were in this other country instead of Pakistan. You’ll be able to access a blocked website as the site is available from this other country. In the example above, YouTube might be blocked in Pakistan but it is still available in Sweden. So you use your VPN to connect to a Swedish server, and when you go to youtube.com in your browser, this request is sent via Sweden where the site is available. Thus can content be displayed on your device even if it should be blocked?
Top Recommended VPN Providers For Pakistan
These are just some of the reasons that internet users in Pakistan may want a VPN. However, when you come to choose a VPN you’ll notice that there are a huge number of different providers out there. So how do you know which VPN provider is right for your needs? You might be tempted at first to use a free VPN, but you should know that these free VPNs have major security issues and often make you less safe. Instead, you should use a reputable paid VPN that meets the following key factors:
- Strong security. In order to keep you safe, you need a VPN with excellent security features such as the use of strong 256-bit encryption so that your data can’t be cracked by others. You also want a VPN with a no logging policy so that there is no chance that your data could be handed over to the government or other organisation.
- Fast connection speeds. When you use a VPN, it will have a small impact on the speed of your internet because the data has to go through an extra step of encryption and decryption. However, a good VPN will offer connections that are so fast you barely even notice that it’s there.
- Plenty of servers all around the world. When you want to get around regional restrictions or censorship, you need to connect to a server located in another country so that you can access the internet as if you were physically present in that country. This allows you to view even censored content. To do this, you need a VPN provider who offers servers in many different locations around the world. Also, you want plenty of servers to choose from so that you can find one which is fast and reliable.
- Software that can be installed on many different platforms. Your VPN isn’t just for your main computer – you can also use the same subscription to simultaneously protect your phone, tablet, second computer, or other device like games consoles or smart TVs. As long as your VPN provider offers software that is compatible with the device that you use, you’ll be able to protect all of the data generated by that device.
Taking all of these factors into mind, the following are the VPNs that we recommend to stay safe when using the internet in Pakistan:
1. ExpressVPN – Best Overall
ExpressVPN is a top choice among VPN providers thanks to its strengths in all the key areas. It has everything you need from a VPN to keep you safe: excellent security, easy to use software, and fast connections. In terms of security features, you’ll find the essential security tools like 256-bit encryption to keep your data safe and a no logging policy to keep your information private. Plus, in the software you can find additional security features like a kill switch to stop you from accidentally sending unencrypted data, an option for DNS leak protection to prevent anyone from tracking you through your DNS use, and an IP address checker so you can ensure that your VPN connection is working before you use it.
In total, the proxy network is expansive, including 1500 servers in 94 different countries. True to its name, ExpressVPN offers extremely fast connection speeds, ensuring a smooth and seamless experiencing when downloading or streaming. Dedicated applications are available for Windows, Mac OS, Linux, and Android, plus some games consoles and smart TVs. There are even browser extensions available for the Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, and Apple Safari browsers.
Read our full ExpressVPN review here.
2. NordVPN – Advanced Options
NordVPN is a VPN that is well suited to advanced users who want to be able to customise and tweak their VPN connections. As well as the basic features you look for in a VPN like the use of 256-bit encryption and a no logging policy, there are also advanced options like a CyberSec security option (which avoids ads and protects you from malware, phishing, and other threats), plus a general kill switch, an app-specific kill switch (which is ideal for torrent users) and the ability to change notification settings. The connections offered are fast and can easily handle HD video or large file downloads. And finally, in addition to the regular VPN servers there are also special servers which you can connect to for specific functions like P2P downloading, anti DDoS protection, or onion over VPN for the ultimate in anonymity.
All these features don’t complicate the user experience, however, which is intuitively organized and displayed. When you install the software on your device running Windows, Mac OS, Linux, iOS, Chrome OS, Android, or Windows Phone, you’ll find that it has an easy to use map interface which makes it a breeze to connect to whatever country or server that you need. Overall, you have a huge range of choices totalling 500 in 60 different countries.
Read our full NordVPN review here.
3. CyberGhost – Easist To Use
CyberGhost is ideal for those who are looking for a simple, easy to use app that doesn’t require you to have a lot of technical knowledge about how VPNs work. To use CyberGhost, you just open up the software and you’ll see a selection of icons for different kinds of connections. You just select the option that you want – for example, to browse the web anonymously, to unlock streaming websites, or to use torrents anonymously – and the connection will be automatically configured for you. You don’t need to worry about choosing a particular server or changing your settings. You can simply click and go, knowing that you are fully protected!
Matching the ease of setup is the depth of security offered by CyberGhost, with the use of 256-bit encryption and a no logging policy. The connections are plenty fast enough for streaming video or downloading files, and if you choose to connect to a server manually then you’ll find a network covering 1300 servers in nearly 60 countries. The software is available for iOS, Android, Windows, and Mac OS.
Read our full CyberGhost review here.
4. PureVPN – A Complete Security Package
PureVPN is not just a VPN, but includes a whole suite of digital security software. The VPN has the features that you need, like the ability to connect to servers located elsewhere in the world to keep yourself safe and to get around regional restrictions or censorship. The connections are speedy enough for everyday use, and there is an option for using strong 256-bit encryption on your data stream for unbreakable security. Perhaps most importantly, you can rest easier knowing there is a no content logging policy in place to protect your privacy. Finally, there are plenty of servers available for the VPN, with a total of 750 servers in 140 different countries.
In addition to this VPN service, a subscription to PureVPN also gives you access to a whole lot of extra security features such as anti-malware and anti-virus protection to keep your device free from unwanted software, an anti-spam filter for your email inbox, DDoS protection, app filtering, a kill switch, a dedicated IP address, and a NAT firewall. The software is available for Windows, Mac OS, Android, iOS, and Android TV devices, plus there are browser extensions available for the Chrome and Firefox browsers.
Internet users in Pakistan need a VPN to keep them safe and to be able to use the internet freely due to the restrictions and censorship on the internet there. With a VPN, the data about your online activities won’t be visible to the government or to any other outside observers, and you’ll be able to get around restrictions to access any page of the internet freely. We’ve recommended a selection of VPNs that are well suited to the needs of users in Pakistan.
Have you had issues with internet restrictions in Pakistan? And have you tried using a VPN there? Let us know about your experiences in the comments below.