With Net Neutrality facing it's largest threat yet, there has never been a better time to get prepared and look into virtual private networks.
So the natural place to start is by researching the best VPN services.
It's time to take control of your privacy and make sure internet service providers aren't able to throttle you based on which websites YOU choose to visit.
We will look at the pros and cons of using a VPN, which services are best and why, and understanding what a VPN is.
What is a VPN?
A VPN stands for Virtual Private Network, This is a service that enables you to connect to the internet via a proxy server run by the VPN provider allowing you to bypass your ISP (internet service provider).
Internet Service Providers are known for adding restrictions and throttling speeds but using a VPN allows you to bypass these restrictions and anonymize your location and browsing footprint by using encryption techniques.
Benefits of using a VPN
Increased privacy by hiding your activity from your ISP, government and other nefarious characters that might be eavesdropping.
Allows you to bypass censorship of different websites and online services.
Enables you to hide your location or "geo-spoof" this can help you access location-restricted content on the web.
Offers additional security when using the internet from public Wifi hotspots like cafe's, airports etc.
Allow you to safely use Torrent services and Peer to Peer sharing with increased safety.
To get all of the benefits you want to make sure you are using the best VPN available, this ensures you can browse without your connection being slow and have confidence in your VPN provider.
How to use a VPN
The first thing you need to do is sign up for a VPN provider. There are some services that offer a freemium model where there is a free and paid version of the tool but in my opinion, this is a waste of time and will drastically slow down your internet speeds.
Keep in mind, due to the very nature of how a VPN works, by pinging your connection via different locations you will experience a slow down in internet speeds even with the best and most reputable VPN providers, however, a free solution can make using the internet unbearable and streaming HD video a fantasy.
I selectively use my VPN based on where I am and what I need to do, this allows me to experience full speed internet when there is less need for a VPN to be in use.
When should I use a VPN?
This is debatable as some proponents of the free internet will claim the answer to this question is quite simply "always". My view, however, is that to balance the best user experience with privacy and security that the best times to make sure you are using a VPN are:
1) When you are using your laptop or phone in public places and on public WiFi hotspots.
2) If you wish to use torrent and P2P sharing services. If the VPN permits this.
3) If you want to spoof your location access location-restricted content on streaming sites like Netflix, YouTube etc.
4) If you are generally concerned about privacy and security online.
5) You want to shop on websites overseas and save money shopping online.
6) To geo-spoof when you are travelling so you can consume the news and other materials from your native country.
7) Great if you trade Bitcoin & Cryptocurrencies and want to access exchanges that don't work in the country you are in due to a firewall.
How does a VPN work?
Ordinarily, when you connect to the internet you start by connecting to your ISP (Internet Service Provider), which then allows you to connect to various websites and resources. All traffic goes through your ISP first and is completely visible to them.
Alternatively, when you connect to the internet using a VPN you connect to a server owned by your VPN provider using an encrypted connection. The result is that all traffic between your computer or phone and the VPN is encrypted and only visible to yourself and the VPN.
The result of this is your ISP can't see what websites you are browsing or see any of the data being sent because it is encrypted and any websites you visit will see the VPNs IP address rather than your own.
Recommended VPNs & Best VPN Services
So what VPN services do we recommend? Well, there are several out there that are trustworthy and offer a high-quality service. As mentioned there are some free services though most are limited and then there is the premium paid for VPN solutions.
Most free VPN services will give you a much slower web browsing experience and/or require you to wait in a queue before you are able to connect to the VPN's server.
Two of the VPNs we recommend also offer a free version CyberGhost which is one of the most popular names in the market as well as TunnelBear who also offer a free limited version of their popular VPN solution.
Professional VPNs (Paid)
There's no shortage of options when it comes to the premium paid for VPN services however you really need to select a reputable provider you can trust.
Ultimately you are trusting the VPN with some data instead of your ISP and as a result, you want to ensure they aren't going to use this information for profitable or nefarious reasons.
Nord is recommended by the likes of Wired, the BBC, Forbes, The Guardian, Buzz Feed & The Huffington Post.
Their monthly plan 1 month at a time is $11.95, however, a 2-year plan works out to $3.29 which is a massive saving.
If you aren't satisfied in the first 30 days you can get a full refund, they have also introduced a 3-day free trial.
Based in Panama NordVPN is safe from the NSA or known governments that spy on their citizens.
Nord also has servers in more than 60 different countries and also has a "double-VPN" option, essentially the digital equivalent of wearing two gloves.
Nord accept Bitcoin as payment allowing for additional anonymity, fast speeds, p2p is allowed, Onion over VPN is also permitted, user-friendly, double encryption, unlimited bandwidth, and they have a no logs policy.
NordVPN has apps for Windows, iPhone, and Android ensuring you can protect all of your devices.
ExpressVPN is based in the British Virgin Islands and has come to be known as one of the virtual private networks at the forefront of the sector.
A service that is very customer centric with 24 hours a day support and a no questions asked 30-day money back guarantee means you can't really go wrong trying ExpressVPN out.
ExpressVPN's encryption is state of the art and as close to perfect as perfect gets with no IP leaks on our tests and at no expense of your precious browsing speed.
The British Virgin Islands is another location in the world where you can legally avoid keeping detailed logs which is one of the biggest security concerns for anyone looking to start using a new VPN service.
That said some aggregated logging does take place which may put the extremely security conscious off however the professionalism of ExpressVPN is extremely high I don't think you have anything to worry about with these guys.
Paid monthly ExpressVPN comes in at $12.95 however if you pay 12 months up front you get 3 months free and a price of $6.67 - find out more.
Another bonus with Express VPN is that they have servers in 145 cities in 94 different countries.
Smart DNS feature includes technology that allows you to geo-spoof your location.
This is most useful for accessing streaming websites such as Netflix and BBC iPlayer, which are geo-blocked in various locations.
In our speed review:
Speed tests will vary for users depending on a number of factors but on my Virgin 100Mbit/s connection, I get a speed of 62.31 Mbit/s without VPN and 48.24 Mbit/s with NordVPN running so the speed loss is minimal.
VyprVPN is another one of our favourite VPN services as I have used and tested this over the longest duration with fantastic results and good speeds.
VyperVPN comes recommended by LifeHacker, Gizmodo and is a popular choice among those on Reddit.
VyperVPN have over 70 server locations around the globe and unlike many VPN offerings they own all of their own hardware rather than renting from others, which opens a potential for a security conflict.
VyprVPN is owned and operated by Golden frog who was founded in response to Room 641a, an infamous room in San Francisco where the NSA conducted surveillance on telecoms networks.
Vypr is based in Switzerland a safe haven for privacy and allows you to connect up to 3 devices on a standard package.
30-day money-back guarantee means you can try Vypr with no commitments and enjoy unlimited access to your favorite streaming sites.
Speed tests will vary for users depending on a number of factors but on my Virgin 100Mbit/s connection, I get a speed of 62.31 Mbit/s without VPN and 44.56 Mbit/s with NordVPN running so the speed loss is minimal.
Another one of our favorite VPN services that we have tried and tested is TunnelBear
One great addition of TunnelBear is that you can also pay with Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, which essentially allows you to pay anonymously for your VPN services. Apparently can also pay with jars of honey, something to note for beekeepers!
On a serious note, it is a major win for a VPN to accept Bitcoin and other anonymous methods of payment.
Bitcoin isn't 100% anonymous but when used correctly it can be used to keep your identity private from the VPN you are paying for services. It also shows that the company you are working with take privacy seriously.
Servers in around 20 countries, so not as many server locations as others on the list but still not too bad.
Makes up for the lack of servers with great privacy and strong OpenVPN encryption.
This way they VPN won't know your name and identity but keep in mind they will still know your IP address unless you also connect to your VPN using Tor.
Offering three packages, from free, to Grizzly and their full package, affordably priced comparative to the other recommended VPNs.
In our speed review:
Speed tests will vary for users depending on a number of factors but on my Virgin 100Mbit/s connection, I get a speed of 62.31 Mbit/s without VPN and 45.31 Mbit/s with TunnelBear VPN. This VPN is capable of high speeds at times but the average speed is a little slower than others in my experience.
One of the most known names in the VPN space, CyberGhost offer both a free and paid solution and offer a 7 day free trial of their full services for you to decide which package is for you.
Visiting the CyberGhost website is interesting as it will tell you if you are secure or not and if you aren't it will show your location, IP address and internet service provider at the top to prove it.
Additionally, it will display a popup to demonstrate what the VPN advantages are within your country.
CyberGhost is based in Romania another area outside of the spying zone and they also have a no logs policy.
The software is easy to use and intuitive with up to 5 simultaneous connections and 24/7 support via live chat.
For me, in the UK it notifies me and states there are high levels of government surveillance online and millions of insecure public WiFi hotspots around the country.
All of these services support use on Windows Desktops, Laptops as well as Macs and also mobile devices that run iOS or Android operating systems.
Keep in mind a VPN is not an alternative or replacement for an ISP, you still need an internet service provider to access the internet with a VPN.
In China and North Korea and a few other places in the world where the internet is heavily restricted, filtered or in some cases outright banned using a VPN to circumvent the legal barriers in that location is likely to be illegal and in a country with such strict rules could also land you with a hefty sentence.
Using a VPN will slow down your browsing experience, this is unavoidable though some VPNs offer faster connection speeds than others.
We would love to hear about your experiences using a Virtual Private Network and what you think is the best VPN available in 2018!
Here is a list of popular questions and answers about virtual private networks.
Question: What is a Proxy server?
Answer: A proxy or proxy server is a term used to describe another computer which serves as a proxy to allow internet requests to be processed.
This way, your computer connects to another computer which then connects to a website or internet service, making it appear as though your location is that of the proxy computer.
Many websites offer this service is a way of masking your IP address but unlike a VPN it doesn't encrypt all of your outgoing traffic.
Question: What is Smart DNS?
Answer: A Smart DNS masks your IP address but doesn't encrypt or change it allowing you to access geo-restricted content and websites.
This can be used to access certain content like Netflix or Hulu.
Question: What is a VPN Tunnel? What is VPN Tunneling?
Answer: A VPN Tunnel is another term used to describe the connection between two computers in an encrypted connection, so you can consider a VPN tunnel as the same as a Virtual Private Network.
Question: Which VPN is the easiest to use?
Answer: The majority of the main VPN service providers are very user-friendly, all of the options we have included need very little instruction though documentation and videos are provided.
Question: What's the difference between a shared IP and a dedicated IP address?
Answer: Most VPN providers offer shared IP addresses as default because it's not cost-effective to offer a dedicated IP for each customer when they are only paying a small amount for the service. You can get dedicated IP addresses by upgrading though.
Technically a shared IP is better for security and anonymity because lots of people are all using the same IP address making it harder to track down any individual user.
The benefit of a dedicated IP address is that you will have to fill out fewer ReCaptcha forms and validate yourself when logging into your email or bank account from what appears to be a new location.
Keep in mind, when you switch IP addresses, this looks like you just teleported halfway across the planet in 10 seconds if you are logging into the same account from both IPs.
Question: What's the benefit of a VPN for Gamers?
Answer: There are a number of reasons why you might want to use a VPN if you like to play video games.
- Play new games first (by changing your location and connecting to different regions servers)
- Traveling (Connect to your home countries server that you are used to so you can play with your friends)
- Access region specific exclusives from XBox & Playstation etc.
- Potential to cut ping times and latency.
- Prevent ISP Throttling
So which VPN do we think is the most Gamer-Friendly? We advise checking NordVPN here.
Best VPN Conclusion
Put simply. in the modern age, using a VPN is like visiting a dentist. An essential part of life, and if you don't have one you are leaving yourself wide open to be pwned.
Start taking your internet security and privacy seriously and invest in a high-quality VPN like NordVPN.
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Web Designer, Digital Marketer & Entrepreneur with over a decades worth of experience helping small and medium sized businesses evolve and adapt to the modern digital marketplace.