VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) are no longer just for work. VPN prevents snoops from eavesdropping on your online activity, whether that’s marketers, someone malicious, or even the government.
People just want to be able to surf the Web or access remote services without worrying about attackers and rogue hotspots. A VPN service protects them if they accidentally connect to a rogue hotspot or if someone is sniffing all the data flowing through the network. Most services also act as an anonymizer, reassigning IP addresses to hide the user’s geographic location and other identifying information. For the privacy-conscious Web user, a VPN connection gives them peace of mind, knowing that Websites can’t figure out where they are located and also that all the data going to and from their computer is encrypted.
A VPN service would allow a visitor in China to still log in to Facebook and German users would be able to watch YouTube by getting an IP address from a US-based server. The reverse is also possible, with users selecting servers in other countries in order to access sites blocked to American users. Unlike corporate VPN clients, setting up and using a VPN service is as easy as just downloading the client and installing it. Some services don’t require a username or password, making it a true click-and-go experience.
The services below are all premium versions, offering paid users a wide range of servers, extra security features, and better speeds. Some of them offer a free version, which may either display ads or cap your bandwidth usage. One thing to remember: a VPN service will let you spoof your location to make it seem like you are connecting from some other location. This is useful for accessing region-specific services. This isn’t the same as connecting to TOR (The Onion Router) which would bounce you from server to server and anonymize your location, but not necessarily set your location to where you want it to be. A VPN service is pretty much just for connecting to Websites and services. It wouldn’t be used to create a true VPN tunnel between two computers. While most VPN connections generally slow down connections, the drop is not that bad. They are still good enough for watching videos and live Webcasts.
A Word of Caution
Whatever VPN service you may consider, bear in mind that only the traffic going from your computer (or mobile device) to the VPN service provider’s servers is encrypted. When the service provider connects to the actual Website you are looking for, if that site is not using HTTPS, then the connection is unencrypted. Anyone who is sitting at that point of exit can see information being sent, and there are fairly complicated timing algorithms that can try to identify user activity. Using a VPN service doesn’t mean you can stop using common sense—you still need to think about what information you are sending online. I would feel safe using a VPN service to share sensitive healthcare records or financial information, provided the recipient Website is using HTTPS. Otherwise, I would be careful about the kind of wireless network I was on and the Website I was connecting to, before relying on the VPN connection.
If you are looking for a VPN service to secure your Web experience, click the links below to read our full review.