A VPN app shields your passwords, bank account info and browsing activity, but how do you choose the right one?
So what’s a VPN app and what can it do for you?
A Virtual Private Network (VPN) app or service is a versatile, inexpensive tool that can decrease your chances of being hacked and prevent unwanted entities from watching everything you do online. It’s like a security wrapper or a private tunnel for your data only as it travels through the internet to its final destination. It can shield your browsing activity on public Wi-Fi networks (so no one can grab your passwords or bank account information) and much more.
Let’s look at five things you should know before choosing a VPN app or service.
- Privacy vs. Anonymity
There’s a big difference between a private connection and being anonymous. VPN providers almost always know who you are and can see what you’re up to on the internet. With that said, most VPN apps or services go to great lengths to protect their customers’ privacy, and you’ll want to look for one that has a “no-logs” policy and monitors user activity in real time only when there’s a technical issue to troubleshoot. Your data is still protected when using a VPN, but these services do not (typically) make you anonymous.
- Free vs. Paid Services
Yes, there are free VPN apps on the market, but most of them have some severe limitations. Also, in most cases you cannot trust that they won’t sell your personal information (for marketing purposes, not the actual data you’re running through the VPN app). It all comes down to their business model. If a business is giving something away for free, you have to ask yourself how they stay in business. In almost all cases they sell either ad space on their service or, in the case of free VPN apps, the personal information you give when you sign up. This is your “cost of admission” for the “free” service, and you can almost always assume that information will be sold.
- VPNs and Encryption
A VPN connection protects your data by using encryption. Here is a quick primer on encryption. While there are different types and strengths of encryption, I’d recommend using a VPN app or service that provides either OpenVPN or L2TP/IPsec. Here’s a good article on the subject.
- Speed Bumps
One thing to remember is that in most cases, a VPN app or service will slow down your internet connection at least slightly. This is because you’re adding a layer of security around your transmission (a good thing) but that layer has a speed cost. If you decide to use a free service (not recommended), the speeds can be more severely impacted because their infrastructure isn’t as robust (again, you get what you pay for, and when that price is free…it’s never really free) and it will slow down the transmission of data even more.
- How to Connect to a VPN
This one is a bit tricky because there are so many VPN apps and services out there, but a good one will offer instructions specific to the operating system you’re running. Here is a good article on how to connect to a VPN featuring most of the current operating systems in use today.
Further reading: Keep your gadgets secure with these 8 easy data security tips.