Cybersecurity is a hot topic, but you might not be exactly sure who should use a VPN. Spoiler: if you value your privacy and go online with any frequency, you need a VPN! Today we’ll show you the reasons why a VPN is an essential tool, as well as introduce you to the two best VPN providers on the market.
There are several reasons why someone should use a VPN, and the reasons are not the same for everyone. It has to do with what each person is doing and what they’re trying to accomplish. VPNs offer a solution to several issues. Today, we’re answering the question “Who should use a VPN?” The simple and easy answer to that is simply “everyone” but different users have different reasons for using a VPN and this is what we’re going to look into.
We’ll begin our discussion today by trying to explain what a VPN is, how it works and what its most important features are. Don’t worry, we’ll keep it at a high level and won’t go into too many technical details. We will then explore the different needs of several groups of users and see how a VPN can benefit them. Before we conclude, we’ll briefly introduce some of the best VPN providers currently on the market.
An Introduction To Virtual Private Networks
Before was can have a look at who should use a VPN, let’s first try to explain what Virtual Private Networks are. The Internet is a huge mesh of millions of computers all interconnected through various types of telecommunication links. Within a home or an office, computers interconnect via local networks, wired or wireless. Between local networks, the interconnectivity is provided by Internet Service Providers or ISPs. The service from an ISP is inherently unsecured exposing any data transmitted or received to be intercepted.
Virtual Private Networks secure your data by encapsulating any data in and out of your computer inside an encrypted tunnel. Since the tunnel uses strong encryption, anyone intercepting your data would only see meaningless gibberish. At the far end of that virtual tunnel is a VPN server that receives your data and decrypts it before sending it out on the Internet. When the response comes back, the reverse process happens and the VPN encapsulates it before sending it back to you through the same tunnel.
Some of you may ask “If the data is decrypted at the far end of the tunnel and sent out on the Internet, how is it secure?” Well, to be totally honest, the part between the VPN server and the destination is not secure. However, it does not matter much. Someone who’d want to spy on you and intercept your data will do it from your end. They can’t do it otherwise as they wouldn’t know where to look for your traffic. And even if someone was intercepting traffic at the other end of the tunnel, they’d see requests coming from the VPN servers and responses going back to it but not to you or your computer.
Two Great VPN Providers We Can Recommend
We’ve evaluated and tested several VPN providers against our important criteria (please read below). And while there are many great ones out there, two suppliers that stood out and that we’d recommend are ExpressVPN and CyberGhost.
Some of ExpressVPN‘s best-known features are its strong encryption protocols, the blazing speed of its servers, and their worldwide server pool of over 3,000+ servers spread across 94 countries. With so many countries and so many servers, it’s a top pick for bypassing geo-blocking.
ExpressVPN uses the OpenVPN protocol with 256-bit AES encryption and perfect forward secrecy. It uses 4,096-bit DHE-RSA keys that are protected by a SHA-512 algorithm. As far as logging policy goes, they only have a partial no-logging policy. However, the only data they keep are the servers users connect to and the dates they connect. It provides a reasonable level of privacy protection. Their Network Lock feature will block all internet traffic if the VPN drops. An ExpressVPN subscription lets you connect from three devices simultaneously. There are desktop clients for Windows, MacOS, and Linux plus iOS and Android apps.
Read our full ExpressVPN review.
- Works with US Netflix, iPlayer, Hulu and other services
- Reliable and fast connections
- Supports ALL devices
- No personal information logs kept
- 24/7 Customer Service.
- Limited configuration options
- High cost for month-to-month users.
CyberGhost has whopping 5,900 servers in some 90 different countries. Among them, 1,043 servers are located in the US. This makes CyberGhost an excellent option to unblock American geo-blocked content.
By default, CyberGhost uses the OpenVPN protocol with 256-bit AES Encryption and 2048-bit keys. For ultimate security, CyberGhost uses perfect secrecy. Generating a random key for each session makes intercepting the connection much harder. They have a strict zero-logging policy. They don’t even keep user’s email addresses. CyberGhost chose to have purchases processed by resellers so the only personal information CyberGhost they ever have about users is their usernames. Other important features of CyberGhost include an Internet Kill switch that will automatically disconnect your network if the VPN connection goes down, as well as DNS and IP leak protection. On the client side, they have apps available for Windows, MacOS, iOS and Android.
Read our full CyberGhost review.
- Unblocks US Netflix + BBC iPlayer
- P2P allowed on any server except in US and Russia
- No leaks detected
- Private: Strong no logs policy
- 24/7 Live Support.
- Doesn’t unblock all streaming services.
Different Users Have Different Needs
There are many benefits to using a VPN. But what’s beneficial to one user is not necessarily to another. Let’s have a look at different types of users, what their specific needs and concerns are and how Virtual Private Networks can benefit them.
Users Wanting To Watch Geo-Restricted Content
Have you ever found yourself in a situation where want to watch some video content only to find a message that says that it is not available in your area? Or perhaps you’re on vacation abroad only to find that you can’t access Netflix from where you are.
Geographic restrictions are commonplace on the Internet. They are particularly popular with broadcasters and content providers but other sites use them as well. They have to do with copyrights, distribution contracts and advertisers revenue protection.
Let’s take Netflix for example. In the US, CBS won’t let them run The Big Bang Theory. It’s understandable as they get considerable advertising revenues from the show. On the other hand, in markets where CBS is not present such as the UK or Netherlands, Netflix does carry the show. Now to implement these restrictions, Netflix uses geo-blocking to only allow users to connect to their local version of Netflix.
Content providers and websites extrapolate the location of users from their IP addresses, a unique addressed that is used to route data over the Internet. So, masquerade your location, you need to appear to be originating from a different IP address, one in the authorized zone.
Users Wishing To Safeguard Their Privacy
This is a motley group of users. Some are working from a public WiFi hotspot in a library or a café, even at McDonald’s. Other are just extra careful–sometimes verging on paranoid–with their personal information. They want to safeguard it as much as possible and at all times, even at home.
If you want to make sure that no one can intercept your data, you’re a member of that group of users. The only problem, though, is that there’s really no way you can stop people from intercepting your data. However, with a VPN and its strong encryption scheme, any data one would intercept would be encrypted and useless to the interceptor. Just let them intercept your data, it is meaningless garbage to them.
With a VPN, you’ll be free to enter any type of personal information on web forms. Passwords, usernames. account numbers, all information will be protected. You’ll be free to do your online shopping or even banking with no worries whatsoever.
RELATED READING: What to do if your identity is stolen
Users Living In Or Travelling To A Restrictive Country
Some countries impose strict usage restrictions on the Internet. The Chinese government, for instance, exerts a total control on information media in general, and that includes the Internet. Western social networks like Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest or Twitter can’t be accessed from China. Even Google search results in China are not those you’d see in another country. In fact, Google is not that popular over there and many people prefer to use local search engines. And China is only one of many countries with limited or restricted Internet access.
There are a few methods used by governments to implement these restrictions. Sometimes, they’ll use destination IP address filtering and simply block access to known IP addresses of the services they intend to block. They also use transparent proxying where they force all traffic through proxy servers that not only analyze the destination address but also several other elements like protocol used or even the actual content of the data.
Virtual Private Networks help users circumvent national restrictions. They do it by changing the destination address to that of the VPN server and encrypting all data, effectively rendering it unidentifiable. A word of caution if you’re travelling to such a country. In these places, local legislation can be very different from here and bypassing restriction can be considered a very serious offence. You should check the local laws before you take any unnecessary risks.
Workers Looking To Bypass Corporate Access Restrictions
When companies started offering WiFi Internet access to their employees, they quickly realized that it was very popular. Too popular. It started causing all kinds of problems. Corporate internet connections started being overloaded, employees started spending time on the Internet rather than doing their job and corporate data was at risk of being exposed.
To address this issue, businesses started restricting Employee Internet access to what they consider “acceptable use”. Concretely, corporate networks often block access to pornography, hatred, weapons, violence. Not only that, they will often only permit web connections and will block file transfers or video streams.
Corporations use the same type of methods to restrict Internet access as governments do. Therefore, what is effective to bypass national restrictions will also bypass corporate restrictions. Actually, corporations tend to use similar systems but usually implement them as strictly as countries. For example, some countries will block VPN traffic whereas corporations rarely do. There’s still a risk associated with bypassing corporate blockages and you certainly should familiarize yourself with your employer’s Internet usage policies before taking unnecessary risks.
Students Who Want To Use Social Networks From School
Schools often impose restrictions on Internet usage, albeit for different reasons. It”s not uncommon to see access to most social networks blocked in the school system. It stems from a desire to limit the number of distractions in class. Some bigger schools will have different restrictions in different locations and could, allow social networks in the cafeteria but not in class, for example.
No matter what content is restricted and what the reasons are for the restrictions, the means employed to implement them are the same a the national and corporate restrictions. They’re either based on destination IP address or deep packet inspection, as the analysis of the data is called.
Considering that the same methods are used to block some traffic, it’s easy to conclude that the same methods can be employed by users to circumvent them. And just like in the previous example, by encrypting data and sending it to a VPN server rather than its true destination, most filtering systems will be fooled, making a VN the perfect tool for this group of users.
Important Features Of Virtual Private Networks
With so many VPN providers to choose from, picking the best can be a challenge. Each advertises many different and sometimes confusing features that often do nothing but complicate matters. To make the selections process easier, we’ve identified some of the most important features of Virtual Private Networks.
- Performance And Stability: No matter what, a VPN will adversely impact network performance as the VPN client and server need to encrypt and decrypt data. You can minimize this by choosing a VPN provider with fast servers. And to make sure the service is available when you require it, a reliable provider with high uptime figures is essential.
- Location And Number Of Servers: When using a VPN to bypass geographic restrictions, the location of the servers is possibly the most important factor. Some providers have over a thousand servers in a hundred countries. But the number of available countries it not necessarily the most important factor. You need a provider with servers in the right country. Before you pick one, make sure the provider has servers in the country or countries you need. The number of servers in each country also has some importance. The more servers there are, the more simultaneous users can be accommodated. Each server can only support a limited number of users before it becomes too busy to be useful.
- Strong Encryption Parameters: For users with privacy and security in mind, this will certainly be the most important feature. Most VPN providers today use the OpenVPN protocol which is very secure and interoperable. But the encryption parameters used can vary from supplier to supplier and also between subscription levels. Of course, higher encryption means that your data will be harder to crack. Don’t use anything below 128 bits but try to get at least 256 or more.
- Available Software For Your Platform: This is an obvious but often overlooked feature. To take full advantage of all the advanced features offered by a VPN provider, you should use their client software. You should preferably pick a provider who offers software for all the devices you intend to use.
- Provision For Simultaneous Connections: If you’re going to be using a VPN from multiple platforms at the same time, you need to make sure your selected provider allows enough simultaneous connections for your needs. This can vary from provider to provider and also between subscription levels.
- Strict No-logging Policy: For the privacy-conscious users, this is an essential feature. With a no-logging policy, even if your VPN provider were hacked or were forced by the authorities to reveal information about you or your online activities, you’d be protected if they didn’t have any.
No matter what group of users you are a member of, a VPN can address your concerns. Whether they are security-oriented or have to do with circumventing different types of restrictions, national, corporate, or institutional, a VPN is the right tool for the job. And with the information we’ve provided, you’ll be able to see clearly through the maze of VPN providers and pick the best one for your specific needs. If you prefer to take the easy route, you can simply choose one of our recommended providers.
How about you? What are you using a VPN for? Are you a member of one of the user types we identified? Use the comments below to share your experience with the community.
If you need a VPN for a short while when traveling for example, you can get our top ranked VPN free of charge. ExpressVPN includes a 30-day money-back guarantee. You will need to pay for the subscription, that’s a fact, but it allows full access for 30 days and then you cancel for a full refund. Their no-questions-asked cancellation policy lives up to its name.