Did you know that the things you do online are recorded and become searchable? No matter if you are using the Internet to do your banking, store documents, archive your photos, or Google your health concerns, you leave a trail of valuable information behind. This information could be collected, made searchable (maybe even publicly), or stored for eternity without your knowledge or consent.
Many people have never thought about the Internet in this way because data collection is done behind the scenes, purposefully hidden from our watchful eyes. Corporations may tell us the reasons they collect our information is to provide us with better services, while governments claim they need our data to keep all of us safe. It doesn’t matter if you believe this or not, like or dislike it, if you can’t find a way to opt out of this rampant data collection, your personal information is out of your control and your privacy lost.
Knowing your privacy is at risk is one thing, defending it is unfortunately another. An easy solution is to use a VPN – a Virtual Private Network – that encrypts your data and hides your real IP address, hence the real you. Even if you have never heard of VPNs before, they are inexpensive and relatively easy to use.
What’s a VPN?
A VPN establishes a dedicated and secure channel to transport your data from your device to a VPN server somewhere on the net. The VPN server then becomes your identity to the rest of the Internet, shielding your real information and activity from others. For a detailed explanation of how a VPN works, read “Why use VPN“.
How do you choose the best VPN for your needs?
Faced with the plethora of choices, choosing a VPN can be daunting; however, there are only a few key considerations and once you understand those, selecting the VPN which fits your need becomes easy.
How secure is the service?
A VPN encrypts your internet traffic and stops hackers (hackers = everyone who wants to access your internet traffic without your explicit permission) from intercepting it. Good encryption keeps the connection between you and the VPN server secure. HideMyAss, a popular VPN provider located in the UK, uses 128 bits data encryption compared to Private Internet Access – a popular no log VPN provider, which use AES 256 bits encoding. As a rule of thumb, higher encryption equals better security.
VPN server location is particularly important when you want to stream region restricted content. Fortunately most VPN providers cover the major regions like: US, UK, Canada, etc… If you have very specific geographical needs, verify that the service has an IP address in that area.
How secure is the service?
A VPN encrypts your internet traffic and stops hackers (hackers = everyone who wants to access your internet traffic without your explicit permission) from intercepting it. Good encryption keeps the connection between you and the VPN server secure. HideMyAss, a popular VPN provider located in the UK, uses 128 bits data encoding compared to Private Internet Access – a popular no log VPN provider, which use AES 256 bits encoding. As a rule of thumb, higher encryption equals better security.
How anonymous is the VPN service?
Whenever you connect to a VPN, the VPN provider naturally has access to your Internet traffic and your real IP address and location, which may be a concern depending on your circumstances. If anonymity is a major concern then you need to pay attention to a VPN provider’s information logging policies.
You shouldn’t be paying more than USD 10 a month for a good VPN service. Many providers of discounts and choosing longer subscription periods often significantly reduces the price. Check what devices you can install the VPN on and if you can use multiple devices concurrently. The ability to use a VPN on both your computer and your mobile device is desirable and many providers (such as: Hidemyass, Private Internet Access, PureVPN) accommodate this need.
If file sharing or streaming videos is the main reason for you buying a VPN, then a popular service like HideMyAss (HMA) is all you need, because it won’t matter much if the service logs or not. You can use Hidemyass on up to two computers or mobile devices concurrently without having to pay extra. Plus, it offers the biggest VPN network coverage of all VPN providers.
However, like many other providers, HideMyAss logs when subscribers connect to and disconnect from the service. This is not necessarily a bad thing as it may assist keeping “trouble makers” at bay, but it makes the service less anonymous. For those who want to ensure the highest level of anonymity, obviously a service that keeps logs is out of the question. Fortunately there are many non-logging VPN providers available to choose from.
Either way, using a VPN puts control over your information back where it belongs, into your hands. No matter if you choose to subscribe to a commercial VPN or set up your own, a VPN will provide you with two major benefits: online security and privacy.
Image Credit: Tom Thai