Here at VPNRadar, we regularly review VPN service providers, provide answers to VPN-related questions and for the same reason I think VPNRadar deserves a mandatory post on the subject – “Do I Need a VPN?”. We often get asked this question, and I think before buying a VPN, you should find out if you need one. In this post we’ll be looking at the following three things:
- What is a VPN
- Why do you need a VPN
- 7 Categories of VPN Users
- How does a VPN work
- How to choose the best VPN
- And a few VPN recommendations
What is a VPN?
It’s a common question that is closely related to the subject we’re talking about, and thus, I believe you should know what a VPN is before knowing whether you need one or not. So what’s a VPN?
In layman’s terms, a Virtual Private Network or a VPN is a group of computers or private networks networked together over a public network that in most cases is the internet. Confusing, huh?
Put simply, a VPN can be thought of as a service where devices can exchange data with other computing devices over the internet as if they’re a part of the same private network. Good enough? Let’s make it simpler. A VPN is a service wherein you can connect to a different network on any part of the world provided it is connected to a public network like the Internet and exchange data securely through the use of encryption (encoding messages or data to make them unreadable to people who shouldn’t be accessing them).
OK, so what? Well, VPN’s provide extra functionality like added security, speed (in some cases) and ability to bypass restrictions. For these reasons, VPN’s are getting increasingly popular among personal and business users alike. Companies have been using them for long since it enables them to connect to their remote servers & exchange data securely. In the last few years due to raising privacy concerns, the number of people using a VPN for personal use has increased since it enables them to access resources on a network while being on a different network of course securely. Oh yes, it’s business for VPN service providers. We’ll learn some more uses of a VPN in the following section.
Why Do You Need a VPN?
While a VPN may not be the only security mechanism you need, it surely can enhance your security while enabling access to remote resources i.e. the resources to which you are not connected physically.
Bypass Internet Censorship
The Great Wall of China was recently renamed to The Great FIREWALL of China. Jokes apart, the Chinese government blocks access to majority sites on the internet which includes but not limited to Google, Facebook, and YouTube. Thus, the Chinese are forced to use a VPN to bypass the government restrictions and access what they want without alerting the government. Lately, the government has even started to interfere with VPNs, but they have been unsuccessful in their attempts so far.
Access remote resources (Business / Home)
With a VPN, you can easily connect to your remote server and manage the same. You can access your business network securely using a VPN. With a VPN, you can access the files and folders on your business network without exposing it to the internet. This improves the security of your business network and prevents your resources from being leaked & misused by the people whom you do not trust. A VPN acts like a tunnel that connects you to your private network, and all the data that flows is encrypted and is between you and the network. No one else can see it. Even if someone does, it’s nearly impossible to decrypt the data.
Similarly, if you’re a home user, you could set up a VPN to access your home network even when you are away. This allows you to access remote Windows desktop from anywhere in the world and open, modify, delete your files and folders. You can even run your local applications or games remotely. Imagine playing GTA V on your local computer in China from the USA using a VPN!
A lot of people use VPN to download files from the web. Typically, the most downloaded files include torrents and pornography (being frank). Yes, VPNs are often used to download pornography where such sites are blocked either by the government or by the ISP. Another common use of VPN is to download torrents. Several ISPs limit the speed available for torrent downloads. If you download torrents over a VPN, you can easily override the speed cap because the torrents that you download over the VPN will appear like any other regular file available on the web. That should help you download torrents faster if your ISP imposes a speed limit on torrent downloads.
Using a VPN may negatively impact torrent speeds as well. Many ISPs in India and other developing nations offer higher rates while torrenting. So in this case, if you use a VPN to download torrents, your speed may reduce, and you will be able to download them at regular speeds that your ISP offers for browsing which means that you will not receive any additional speed while torrenting even if your ISP provides it.
While this is something I do not recommend, VPNs can also be used to download illegal stuff from the web. In majority countries, there’s a ban on downloading movies and songs that are often copyrighted. You can download them without a VPN, but there’s always a risk of being caught. Instead, if you use a VPN, you can protect yourself from being tracked.
Access websites and apps not available in your region
Sites like NetFlix, YouTube and BBC iPlayer, are not accessible everywhere in the world. So what do you do if you wish to access them? You use a VPN! A VPN can easily help you to hide your real location and change it to something else. So if NetFlix is available in the USA, but not in Pakistan, you can simply use a VPN to change your location to USA and access NetFlix. Similarly, if BBC iPlayer is available in the United Kingdom, you can change your location to the United Kingdom and access BBC iPlayer from whichever country you belong.
Well, like I said earlier, a VPN can enable you to stream content over the internet if it’s originally blocked in your place. For example, in countries like China where YouTube is blocked, a VPN can be used to access the same. Similarly other audio and video streaming sites can be used in locations where they’re either unavailable or blocked.
Secure yourself on a public WiFi network
If you’re using a public WiFi network, you may be exposed to eavesdroppers who may have access to everything that you do on that network. They can see the sites that you visit, the data that you share, the files that you download, your personal information (like your credit card number, social security number, etc.) and more. I am sure, no one would want this to happen to them. With a VPN, you can browse safely while assuring yourself that everything that you do over the public network can’t be seen by anyone else.
Simply for privacy
For the privacy cautious, a VPN is a perfect tool allowing access to any website or a web service or application without anyone else knowing it. No one except you knows that you visited a particular site. Not your ISP, not some hacker and not even your government. So if you worry about your privacy and don’t want to be tracked or spied by someone, consider using a VPN.
7 Categories of VPN Users
VPN users fall into a bunch of categories typically students, downloaders, hackers, travelers, professionals or a mixture of any or all of the above categories.
VPNs are often used by students to access media streaming sites like NetFlix and YouTube if they are unavailable in their location. A lot of privacy cautious students tend to use a VPN while downloading torrents. Apart from that, VPNs are also used by students to access their university servers remotely. Computer Science students, especially the ones specializing in security also use a VPN.
Hackers are prone to be tracked down by the police and to conceal their real location; they often tend to use a VPN. Advanced hackers use Tor to hide their location. FYI, Tor is a tool that changes your location every few seconds and spoils all attempts to track your real location. This moment you are in New York while the next moment you are in Chicago or Tokyo or somewhere in Japan! Some VPNs also provide automatic location changing ability.
A significant number of VPN users are travelers. VPNs are commonly used by travelers who are on business trips but need access to their work servers, those who need access to their home network and those who are missing their favorite online show because it isn’t available in the country they are right now. Moreover, while traveling, we often tend to connect to public WiFi networks exposing our private data. With a VPN, we could just encrypt everything that we do over the internet, so that even if someone is eavesdropping, he won’t understand a bit. Moreover, we will also be able to access our home and work networks while keeping ourselves secure.
Work professionals need a VPN to access their work systems while on the move. Work systems are usually allowed access only over secured channels like a VPN to avoid confidential data being leaked and misused over the internet.
It’s good to worry about your safety and privacy because the world is no longer a safe place as it seems to be. Those who do, fall into this category of people who are ready to do whatever it takes to protect their privacy over the internet from spying ISP’s and governments.
Criminals need a VPN to protect themselves online. A majority of them prefer using Tor to safeguard their online activity, but a lot of them still use VPNs. To be frank, they prefer working from locations beyond government reach.
Mixture of any or all the above categories
A person may fall into multiple categories listed above. For instance, a working professional could be a hacker at night or a traveler on weekends. So even this breed of people uses VPNs.
How Does a VPN Keep You Secure?
Well, this question is better answered with an illustrative diagram.
So, what do you understand from the above picture? Nothing? Something? Let me explain.Without a VPN, you follow the red colored channel (the
Without a VPN, you follow the red colored channel (the insecure one). You are exposed to all kinds of risks. Your government can see what you are up to; your ISPs can throttle your speed, hackers can see your personal data (credit card information, passwords, OTPs.. just name it!)
After enabling a VPN, you are routed via the green colored channel. Your data is encrypted and first sent to a secure server located in the location of your choice that is then sent to the website or application you are trying to connect which means that all your communication is routed through a protected server somewhere in the world. Each time you connect to the VPN you are automatically routed through a different server owned or rented by your VPN provider. You can call these two communication paths – first between you and the secure server, second between the secure server and the internet as tunnels, VPN tunnels. No one can see what’s being passed through the tunnel thus securing your online activity. So when you use a VPN, this is what your ISPs and government can see.
What Makes a VPN Good?
There are several protocols you could use while connecting to a network with a VPN. To name a few, we have the following widely known protocols: PPTP, L2TP, OpenVPN, IKEv2 & SSTP. All of them have different features. PPTP is insecure and was recently abandoned by it’s founder Microsoft, L2TP also known as IPSec is a good solution you could use for operations that are not critical, like using a public WiFi network or gaming or streaming content over the web. OpenVPN is an all-rounder protocol that not only offers better speeds but better security and protection as well. IKEv2 and SSTP are few other protocols that are available and work on some devices. Not all VPN service providers offer all the protocol choices. A majority of them support PPTP, L2TP, and OpenVPN. Some of them have support for just the first two. Thus, you must make sure that the protocol you need is supported by the provider that you choose. Some VPN providers that support most of the protocols are IPVanish, PureVPN, and VyprVPN.
There are some VPN providers out there you should try to avoid because they log everything that you do. A VPN provider who logs everything totally defeats the purpose of using one. We use a VPN to prevent our data from being leaked, to avoid spies and to prevent our ISPs & the government from knowing what we are up to online. But if your VPN provider itself logs everything that you do, it makes no sense. So make sure you go through the Terms & Conditions and the Logging Policy of a VPN service provider before choosing it to avoid regretting later.
Choice of Location
Most VPNs that I’ve tried in the past couple of years allow me to choose the location of the server that I connect to. This usually isn’t a problem with most providers. However if you want to access from a particular location, you must go through the list of countries supported by the VPN provider. If you cannot find such a list, it’s a good idea to ask it to their sales team.
Performance & Reliability
It’s important for a VPN to be available when you want it. Their servers should always be up and you should be able to choose the server you want. Moreover, it’s important that a VPN doesn’t slow down your browsing speeds. If it throttles your speed, there’s no reason you should be using it. Thus, make sure you go through some VPN reviews before choosing one.
Security (Antimalware and Antispyware support)
Some VPNs provide antimalware and antispyware add-ons. While they aren’t necessary, you could buy those at an additional price. I will recommend you to install an antivirus on your local machine rather than purchasing an add-on.
Imagine having a Mac and buying a VPN, which supports only Windows. Sounds terrible right? And that’s why you should go through the list of platforms that your VPN service provider supports before choosing it. Most vendors support Mac, Windows, Linux, iOS, and Android. Some even allow the VPN to be simultaneously used on multiple platforms. So if you plan to use the VPN on more than one device, make sure that simultaneous access from multiple devices is allowed. If concurrent access from different devices isn’t allowed, check if the VPN provider supports your router or any router for that matter. If it supports your router, you can setup the VPN over it and enjoy secure access from all your devices. And if it doesn’t support your router, you can buy a compatible router and setup VPN on it. Rather than buying separate VPN connections for multiple devices, it’s smarter to buy a compatible router and set up VPN on it.
No matter how good a product is, pricing plays an important factor while deciding whether to buy it or not. The same case is with VPNs. Not all VPNs cost the same and, therefore, do consider the price before choosing one. It’s always a good idea to look out for alternatives that offer the same features at a lower price. You can alternatively set up your VPN connection for free, but I won’t recommend you doing it since the procedure is complicated and not very secure.
Which VPN Provider Should You Opt for?
Well now that you know how a VPN works, what factors to consider before choosing a VPN and why using one is important, here are some VPN recommendations. We have tried all of them so do not worry about their reliability.
Out of all the VPN’s we have tried, we found IPVanish to be the best. IPVanish supports OpenVPN, PPTP, and L2TP. They have more than 400 servers in over 100 locations across 60+ countries. They also have a total of 40,000 unique IP addresses. They’re ever-evolving and add new features and locations to their catalog every month. From the time I joined IPVanish, they have already added more than two hundred new servers. In our tests, we found that IPVanish is fast, offers a variety of location choices, unlimited location changes, free NAT Firewall, no logs policy, simultaneous access from two devices, encryption, and world-class support. However, they surely can improve their support by introducing 24×7 live chat worldwide and not just during EST working hours, by offering dedicated IP addresses as add-on’s to those who need it and allow more than two devices to connect simultaneously to IPVanish VPN at no extra cost. All their plans come with a 7-day money back guarantee. So, if you ever feel that IPVanish has let you down, ask for a refund, and you will have your money back. You can try IPVanish here.
VyprVPN is another paid VPN service that we recommend. Upon testing, we found out that it has the best-designed applications. They’re not only easy to use but also feature-rich. VyprVPN is fast, offers PPTP, OpenVPN, L2TP/IPSec and Chameleon protocols, supports a broad range of devices, comes with a 3-day free trial and also offers a free plan. VyprVPN has a rich knowledge base and expert support team. We tried asking them a few questions that they answered satisfactorily. You can check our experience with their support team here. VyprVPN allows a maximum of three devices to connect at once, but if you have a router supported by them, you can instead use it and enjoy secure access to all your devices.
Hotspot Shield (free)
I use Hotspot Shield’s Chrome add-on, and it works very well. Whenever I have to access a web page that is not available in my location, I just click the Hotspot Shield icon beside the address bar, choose a location and enable Hotspot Shield. The free version offers a choice of 5 locations which are US, Canada, France, Netherlands, and Denmark. You don’t need to create an account with Hotspot Shield to use their add-on. It’s available free of charge without any limitation or registration. I performed a speed test on it and witnessed regular rates that I otherwise receive. There’s no information on the protocols that it supports, but for normal browsing, you don’t need to think about it. If you are looking for a free solution, Hotspot Shield is what I will recommend to you. It doesn’t offer wide location choice like IPVanish and PureVPN, but you anyways cannot expect much from a free VPN. If you are looking for a firewall, protocol changing ability, more location choices you should consider getting a premium VPN.