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How to choose a VPN

A virtual private network (VPN) is a tool that helps you stay safe and keep your privacy intact while surfing the web. Many VPN providers offer VPNs with different features, making it harder to decide which one to pick. So let’s discuss what you should consider before choosing a VPN best suited for your needs.

How to choose a VPN

Why do you need a VPN

The main reason for using a VPN is to stay safe online. VPNs create an encrypted tunnel for your data, protect your online identity by hiding your IP address, and allow you to use public Wi-Fi hotspots safely without anyone being able to track your activity online. With a VPN, you can securely share your files at work or home. It also helps avoid online censorship and enables you to use your home network abroad.

Determine your VPN needs

To get precisely what you need from a VPN, it’s essential to define situations in which you’ll use it the most. Because many VPN providers offer services with a wide range of functionalities, determining your needs will help you see what outcome you are aiming at.

If you’re a casual internet user, you’ll benefit most from VPNs that focus on keeping your internet connection private and secure at all times. In most cases, this means your IP address is hidden, and powerful encryption that hides your network activity is intact. For a hassle-free connection, you should always consider choosing a VPN service with an easy-to-use operating system and a number of simultaneous connections for different devices.

If you’re an avid traveler, you should take notice of how many servers a VPN provider has: the more servers, the smoother the secure streaming of your home content when you are abroad. Gamers should search for the fastest VPN because high speed is crucial for gaming, whereas working from home requires next-level encryption and a strict no-logs policy.

13 things to consider while choosing a VPN

Many factors can contribute to your satisfaction when using a VPN. Knowing what you want and need is the key to bringing your user experience to the next level. So let’s take a closer look at the features that contribute the most to the quality of a VPN service.

1. Security and privacy

One of the main reasons VPNs came into existence was to ensure a superb level of security when users spend time online. VPNs are here to make your network traffic impenetrable and unavailable to prying eyes, hide your IP address, and make you invisible online. However, it is not so rare for a VPN to leak your data when the connection to the VPN servers drops. It’s vitally important to choose a VPN with reliable security features and no tolerance for information leakage.

If you’re intrigued by a free VPN, keep in mind that its providers tend to make their money by selling user data to advertisers and third parties. In contrast, paid VPN providers can afford to operate huge research and development teams to deliver secure and well-designed services.

To ensure robust privacy and security, choose a VPN that is regularly audited by independent auditors, proving the company keeps its promises.

2. Speed

Even if you’re not a gamer, your web connection while using a VPN will lag and buffer non-stop if the VPN is not fast enough. Every VPN slows your internet connection at least a little, so your task is to choose a provider with a proven track record of good performance even when you connect to far-away servers. If you search for a VPN for gaming, speed is your top priority.

On the other hand, using a VPN when engaging in a bandwidth-heavy activity, such as gaming, can actually allow for better internet speed. Using a VPN, you become invisible to your Internet service provider (ISP), which at times can attempt to impair your internet speed depending on your traffic. In this way, ISPs try to regulate network traffic so it will be distributed evenly among users. However, in more questionable cases, ISPs can try to form your internet habits to steer you toward their partners’ websites. A reliable VPN safeguards you against such schemes.

3. Strong encryption

Encryption is the process of converting all the online data you send and receive into a code only you can read. It’s the main feature that helps you become invisible online. Choosing a VPN with next-generation encryption will ensure maximum privacy against prying eyes and hackers while browsing on public Wi-Fi or home networks.

For instance, Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) with a 256-bit key is one of the strongest possible encryptions, approved and recommended by many governments, cybersecurity experts, and cryptography enthusiasts. The number of the encryption key refers to the length of the encryption used to code a data stream or file. AES supports three keys: 128-bit, 192-bit, and 256-bit key sizes, the AES 256-bit encryption providing the highest level of security. Breaking a 256-bit encryption message would require a hacker to sift through 2^256 code combinations, which is essentially unachievable even with the fastest computers.

4. Easy setup and use

You should also consider prioritizing a VPN with a user-friendly operating system already pre-configured — it will save you the trouble of a complicated setup and connect you to the network within seconds. Easy access to different devices will also make your life easier, so pick a provider with VPN apps for the most popular operating systems.

Another function to look for in a VPN is the possibility of configuring it on the router. This way, all of the online activity within your house will be encrypted automatically without you having to install an app on each of your devices. A VPN set up on a router could also cover all your consoles for easy access to the VPN on a console.

Head to our blog post on how to set up a VPN for further guidance.

5. Simultaneous connections

A VPN with multiple device connections should be your go-to if you have a large household. A solid number of simultaneous connections means you don’t need to disconnect from one device to connect to another and can easily switch between devices you use for work and leisure.

6. Number of servers and their locations

The higher the number of VPN servers, the faster the web connection and speed. More servers mean less load per server, potentially making your bandwidth better. More servers also mean broader global coverage and more reliable connection: when one server goes down, plenty more are available to take its place. Servers in different locations also give you more options for spoofing your virtual location and remaining invisible to your ISP.

7. Supported VPN protocols

A VPN protocol is a collection of guidelines that specify the method of how data is enclosed and sent through a private network. These protocols create VPN tunnels for your data to travel through. Some protocols are formed to boost your safety and use heavy encryption, which might result in slower data delivery. Others are using less complex encryption and can deliver data faster but at the cost of online traffic being less secure.

Here are several most popular protocols:

  • OpenVPN: Considered the most secure protocol.
  • IKEv2/IPSec: Good for mobile usage as it can swiftly handle network changes.
  • WireGuard: Popular for its simplicity and speed, resulting in better performance.

When it comes to specific purposes, for instance, when security is less important than speed and vice versa, it is best to be able to use different protocols. This is the reason why some VPN providers work with various protocols — they aim to give users exactly what they need at a specific moment.

8. Logging policy

A VPN’s logging policy refers to the data the VPN provider collects and stores about its users’ activities. There are four possibilities for logging your data:

  1. No-Logs policy. A no-logs VPN doesn’t collect or keep any records about its users’ activity and so cannot identify them. This makes the user unknown even to the VPN provider.
  2. Connection logs: Some VPN providers keep connection logs, which record your sessions but not your activity, such as when you are connected and disconnected or how long you were online. Connection logs are usually kept for troubleshooting and ensuring service quality.
  3. Usage or activity logs: These are the most intrusive types of logs because they include details about your online activity when you are connected to the VPN. Keep in mind that the most reputable VPNs don’t keep usage or activity logs.
  4. Anonymous or aggregated data: Some VPNs may collect data in a way that can’t be linked back to individual users. This is often used to improve the service.

It’s crucial to be familiar with VPN’s logging policy: Just because a VPN is in use doesn’t automatically mean total privacy is assured.

9. Additional features

A robust VPN service usually comes with an array of functionalities to ease users’ life online. These additional features vary from provider to provider, so as a reference point, let’s look at them from NordVPN’s point of view:

  • Kill Switch. A function popular among reputable VPN providers. It takes your devices offline if your connection to the VPN unexpectedly drops. With Kill Switch, users’ online traffic is never exposed. NordVPN took one step further and introduced app-specific Kill Switch, which lets users manually pick the apps that will be blocked if the VPN connection unexpectedly drops.
  • Threat Protection. A security solution that scans your files while you’re downloading them, identifies threats, and blocks them before they can harm your device. Threat Protection also blocks trackers and intrusive ads and stops you from landing on malicious websites.
  • Meshnet. Software for secure file sharing directly between peers. Meshnet lets you create your own secure network for both internal and external devices. This means you can easily retrieve files from a work laptop while working on your home computer.
  • Double VPN. An advanced VPN security feature, better known as a multi-hop connection, which routes your traffic through two VPN servers instead of one, encrypting your data twice.
  • Onion Over VPN. A special category of NordVPN servers that lets users access the Tor (The Onion Router) network with increased privacy and without the need for a separate Tor browser.

10. Customer support

Quality customer support from a VPN provider is essential for successful troubleshooting and guidance. VPNs are complex pieces of software that sometimes face issues, from connection problems to software bugs. Setting up a VPN and configuring it for optimal use can also be a challenge, especially for less tech-savvy users. For the best VPN experience, consider choosing a provider that can easily be reached through various channels — live chat, email support, phone support — and has an established FAQ section on the company’s website.

11. Payment methods

A wide range of payment options for a VPN means that the provider takes user convenience, accessibility, and privacy seriously. For instance, if you want to maintain your privacy when paying, you may search for providers that accept cryptocurrencies or prepaid debit cards, or if you seek more convenience, you should look for automatic payment options, such as paying with a credit card or through your digital wallet. Some payment methods may not be available to you because of your geolocation, so accessibility is another key element in choosing a provider.

12. Money-back guarantee

Whether the VPN services you got weren’t as good as you expected or your VPN needs changed, it’s important to have an option of easily getting a refund. A money-back guarantee allows you to test out the VPN service thoroughly and see if it meets your needs and expectations without the risk of losing money. A VPN provider that offers a risk-free money-back warranty shows confidence in the quality of its service, proves its credibility, and cares for customer satisfaction.

13. Multilingual app

From the VPN provider’s perspective, a multilingual app enhances the accessibility of the service and can appeal to a broad user base. It’s an indicator that a company values its customers from different parts of the world. Users can navigate and use the application more efficiently and effectively if it’s in a language they understand well and might even troubleshoot successfully without needing customer support.

Conclusion

Even though a VPN is a product created primarily to make you safer online, thanks to its many functionalities, it can significantly improve your online experience. It can build extra layers of security and comfort through various additional features and make your connection safer and hassle-free with an easy-to-use system. Determining your needs will let you choose a VPN service that would benefit you the most and provide the best user experience.

However, it remains crucial for a VPN provider to handle your personal data and online presence with the highest security measures. Even a fast network or free services are not worth the risk of jeopardizing your sensitive information.


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