A Virtual Private Network (VPN) is a service that secures your connection over the internet. It does so by encrypting
your traffic and hiding your Internet Protocol (IP) address from third parties, such as your government or your
Internet Service Provider (ISP).
Companies use VPNs to secure remote access of company data, but lots of individuals also need this type of service.
I’m talking about journalists who work with sensitive information and want to remain anonymous, or those who live
under authoritarian regimes and want to unblock access to various internet resources.
Even if none of the above applies to you, you might still need a VPN, especially when traveling. Below you will find
some of the most popular VPN uses.
Those new to this field may ask: “What can you do with a VPN?” It turns out, there are quite a few ways these tools
can help you on a daily basis. Here’s what you can do with a VPN:
- Protect your data. All reputable VPNs use military-grade encryption, which means that the
information you’re sending over the internet becomes virtually impossible to decipher for third-parties.
- Hide your online activities. A VPN hides your real IP address, so your government and ISP have
no way to tell what you’re doing online.
- Protect your identity. If you’re using a VPN to access a website or online service, e.g.
Google, this service will have no way of knowing your real IP and thus your location/identity (assuming you are
not connected to a Google account).
- Secure your wifi connection. Hotels and airports offer free but often unsecured wifi.
Therefore, hackers might be snooping on your traffic. Luckily, thanks to the VPN’s encryption, that is no longer
- Unblocking websites. Countries like China have a long list of blocked websites and other
internet resources. With a VPN, you’ll be able to bypass these blocks by connecting to a server in another
- Beating geo-blocking. I bet you’ve seen a message “This content is unavailable in your country”
at least once. Due to geo-blocking, you may not see the same Netflix shows that are available in the US or
another country. However, the best VPN services can unblock multiple streaming platforms, no matter where you
- Safe torrenting. P2P is legal in most countries, but that doesn’t mean downloading copyrighted
content is. A VPN will protect your identity and your location from both the ISP and the government.
These are only a few ways of using a Virtual Private Network. Others may include avoiding bandwidth throttling,
defending against malware, or finding the lowest prices when doing online shopping.
What makes a VPN secure?
There are a number of factors that make a VPN secure. Some of them, such as reputation, can’t be quantified easily
but are nevertheless important when assessing the services. Having this in mind, here’s what makes a VPN secure:
- Military-grade encryption. All reputable VPN providers have long switched to AES 256-bit
encryption used by banks and the military. It would take more than a lifetime to crack it, revealing what you’re
doing online with the VPN on.
- Modern tunneling protocols. Sometimes called security protocols, these are used to create a
secure connection between networks. WireGuard, OpenVPN, and IKEv2/IPSec are the current industry standard.
- Kill switch. This is an essential feature that every VPN should have. Its role is to disconnect
your device from the internet in case of VPN failure. This way, your location and IP won’t
- Leak protection. Some services might be leaking your IP address or location even when you’re
connected to a VPN server. A secure VPN shouldn’t have any IP, DNS, or WebRTC leaks that leave you vulnerable.
- No-logs policy. Those new to the VPN industry often ask what’s the point of all these security
and privacy features if the provider knows everything about you. In fact, many VPNs adhere to strict no-logs
policies, meaning they don’t know much about you at all. Top VPNs often make independent audits to
prove their no-logging claims, while some get the chance to prove that in court.
- Clean history. Some VPNs have had serious privacy issues, while others manage to keep avoiding
scandals. You should also be cautious when selecting a new VPN – there’s no way to tell how serious they are
about keeping your data safe.
Advantages and disadvantages of using a VPN
There are plenty advantages of using a VPN. Firstly, you get great online security and privacy that
almost no other tool can offer. Furthermore, you can access blocked websites and torrent
safely. Finally, you can find better prices for goods and services, some of which
might be unavailable in your country or with your country’s IP address.
Using a VPN has some cons as well. To start with, your connection will be slower, even when using
the fastest VPN. However, that doesn’t mean you won’t be able to, for example, stream in full HD or even 4K,
assuming you have a good internet connection.
Secondly, you might experience connection breaks. Most of the time you’ll be able to solve this by
switching to another server. However, sometimes it might take a while before your VPN provider fixes the issue.
How much does a VPN cost?
The VPN prices differ quite a lot, even among those services that offer a similar set of features. If we take the
cheapest plan of each provider, the cost ranges from approximately $1 to $10 per month. On average,
you’d be paying about $4.00 so anything
below this can be considered cheap.
I must point out that such prices are possible only if you take a long-term option, that can be from 6 to 36 months.
A one-year plan typically costs around $8.00/month and the monthly options are pretty expensive ($11.00/month).
To sum up, you should find a VPN that you really like, test it for one month and get the cheapest possible plan. The
prices are only going up.
How do I get a VPN?
Getting a VPN is really simple. You don’t even have to buy it to test it. Some providers have free
versions or a free trial. If that’s not an option, you will almost definitely get the chance to exercise a
money-back guarantee. Those can range from one week up to 45 days.
Here’s how to get a VPN:
- Visit the website of your chosen VPN
- Select the pricing plan
- Enter your payment details
- Use it until the money-back guarantee expires
- Either get your money back or continue using the VPN
How to choose the best VPN service?
There’s no one VPN that can do it all, so you have to set your priorities first. Do you want maximum security and
anonymity? Maybe all you need is safe torrenting? Or is it the price that matters to you most?
Below I’m going to cover the 7 essential features or characteristics that each VPN should have. I will also give you
some insights on choosing between the free and the premium services.
7 Essential VPN features and characteristics
What should you know before buying a Virtual Private Network? There’s more than a few things to check if you want to
choose the best option for you. Below is the VPN buying guide for 2020 with 7 crucial points to consider:
- Speed. Unless your ISP is using bandwidth throttling, your connection with a VPN will be slower
because of encryption, distance to the server, and other factors. That being said, it doesn’t have to be slow.
If top speed is a priority, search for a service that offers the WireGuard protocol and is often mentioned on
fastest VPN lists.
- Server list. Check if the VPN has enough servers around your location. Some concentrate their
resources in North America and Europe, but others have solid presence in Asia as well. Also, make sure there are
servers in the countries from which you’re planning to connect to. Finally, look for a VPN that has only
physical servers with RAM-only storage.
- VPN jurisdiction. You have to be a really bad girl or a bad boy to get noticed by the
intelligence agencies. Nevertheless, it’s still better when your VPN is in a privacy-friendly jurisdiction, such
as Switzerland and not in one of the Fourteen Eyes countries (US, UK, Australia, etc.) or, in the worst case, a
country like China.
- Streaming and torrenting. Some VPNs are unable to unblock Netflix and other streaming
platforms, while others prohibit P2P traffic. If that’s what you need, make sure you’ll be able to do both.
- Apps and supported devices. Most VPNs support the major OS types, but if you’re a fan of Linux,
the list narrows down. Furthermore, you would want to protect all of your devices, so make sure your provider
supports your router, game console, and smart TV. Finally, check if the number of simultaneous connections will
be enough for you.
- Customer support. Don’t settle for a VPN that doesn’t offer 24/7 live chat. It’s an industry
standard, not some premium feature.
- Bang-for-the-buck. Finally, make sure you’re not overpaying. There are many VPNs with similar
features and contrasting prices. Also, don’t forget to exercise your money-back guarantee – most providers give
one month to test things out.
Free or Paid VPNs?
In general, paid VPNs are better than the free ones. The latter have to rely on ads and selling your
data (which is not always anonymized), unless they are offered by a premium VPN provider. However, that doesn’t mean
you can’t find a good free VPN – it’s just that they will have one or more limitations that often are a
The most common free VPN limitations are as follows:
- Speed. Most free services are slower than paid ones. While you might be able to stream in full
HD using some VPNs, expect a serious drop-off in speeds.
- Servers. Free VPNs usually offer only a few servers in the US, the Netherlands, and some other
countries. Also, those servers tend to be overloaded and have high latency, which is bad for gaming and VoIP
- Data limit. Freemium VPN services will often give you a certain amount of GBs per month or MBs
per day. Therefore, downloading large files or streaming high quality videos will soon leave you blocked until
- Number of devices. Expect to get only one connection per account. This means that you won’t be
able to use a free VPN on both your computer and your smartphone.
- Geo-blocking and P2P. You won’t be able to use Netflix and other streaming platforms with most
VPNs. What’s more, some of them also prohibit torrenting, especially if they don’t have a data limit.
If you choose a solid paid VPN, you won’t have to deal with the issues listed above. You won’t see any ads either and
your data won’t be sold to third-parties. Also, you can expect priority customer support which will solve most of
the problems right away.
Can you be tracked if you use VPN?
In theory, you can be tracked even if you use a VPN. However, only governments hold such power and
they likely won’t spend the necessary resources to get you.
But doing that won’t be easy if
you use an anonymous payment and a throwaway email to create your account. The tracking also becomes much harder if
you use Tor over VPN and your chosen provider doesn’t keep any logs.
The bottom line
VPN is a great tool for enhancing your security and privacy online. It can also help access geo-blocked content
and torrent safely. Businesses use them to remotely access company servers and users can do the same with their home
computer while travelling or at work.
What’s more, you don’t have to get a premium VPN from the very start – there are some good free options and free
trials for up to 7 days. Even if none of these are available, the majority of providers offer a money-back
guarantee, making it easy for you to try any VPN that you like.