How To Choose A VPN?

You might use a VPN to access your corporate account, bypass government censorships to use Google, or just watch The Office on Netflix while sitting in a foreign airport.

In other words, wildly different goals or objectives with each use case. So it only makes sense that VPNs specialize in different aspects too. The setup you’d want for downloading a ton of files might not be the one you want for maximizing security and privacy.

The easiest way to evaluate a VPN is to analyze a mix of criteria that each share in common. This best VPN guide does a good job breaking down a VPN’s value, with three of the biggest considerations jumping out:

  1. Protocols
  2. Location
  3. Price

While the best VPN options will deliver some balance across each, some might specialize a little more and be perfect if you plan on using it heavily for downloading vs. avoiding censorship.

Here’s a quick rundown of those three main categories.

1. Protocols

Different VPN protocols — like SSL, IPSec, PPP, or PPTP that we discussed in the last section (you know – that boring part that you probably skipped over) — include their own encryption and tunneling options.

And each one will have it’s own benefits or drawbacks. This in-depth article from PC World does a good job helping you figure out which is your best bet. However here’s the Cliff Notes version to get a basic understanding:

Option #1. Secure Sockets Layer (SSL): Today’s biggest websites, like the Google and Amazon examples we reviewed earlier, use SSL certificates for encryption. These are by far the easiest to use because you don’t need a VPN client; establishing a secure connection almost immediately through your web browser.

Option #2. OpenVPN: Like the name, this open sourced version is built using SSL technology. However you will have to download and install a VPN client on your own desktop (or other devices including mobile) in order to connect and use. OpenVPN options are also among the most reliable and easiest protocols to use.

These first two are your best bets in most cases if you’re just looking to use a VPN service. Especially if you’re just trying to access a VPN as simply and quickly as possible as an individual (and not set up a complicated corporate or other large-scale networks.).

On the other hand, the Internet Protocol Security (IPsec) and Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol (L2TP) options, while popular, tend to be more complicated to setup. And Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol (PPTP) tends to be among the least secure options with multiples security vulnerabilities reported.

VPN Protocols

Don’t know, and don’t necessarily care which protocol to use?

Some VPN services will automatically choose for you, removing the guesswork and hassle by dynamically selecting the most efficient, effective option available at that moment in time.

2. Location

A second criteria when choosing a VPN is their location.

This has a few impacts.

The ‘exit location’, refers to where a VPN might have server locations. If one of your primary objectives is to get around different geo-restrictions for accessing content for example, you better make sure the VPN has servers in the ‘exit location’ of your choice.

For example, if you want to watch Netflix while overseas make sure your VPN has US-access or ‘exit locations’.

If you’re worried about the NSA accessing your laptop’s camera, you might want to consider choosing a VPN service based in a different country, however.

Please keep in mind though that most VPN companies will turn over data if requested by lawmakers. Some countries require these companies to hold onto more information than others.

Your VPN can also see your ‘exit location’ traffic as well as your IP address. So your actions aren’t always completely anonymous. They can easily protect you from other people, but they can’t cover up or mask illegal activities completely.

3. Price

There are many freely available VPN services. That doesn’t mean you should use them however.

Free VPN’s will more likely send you ads. They’ll more likely monitor your usage data (including any of those questionable sites you visited) and use that data for said ads.

Their privacy features might not be as secure. And they may sometimes log your data.

Logging refers to the VPN-itself monitoring and keeping track of your personal activities. (In other words, the exact thing you were trying to avoid by using a VPN in the first place.) So double check a VPN’s logging policies – especially when it seems like a ‘too good to be true’ free option.

‘Cause it just might be.

Paid VPN services, on the other hand, might only set you back a few bucks a month. And in addition to avoiding many of the aforementioned problems, you’ll also get additional features like additional privacy and a seamless browsing experience on mobile devices.

For example, some of the better paid VPN services, like ExpressVPN, work across multiple devices. A single subscription allows you to run on any three devices, and their software or applications are built for Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, iOS, iPhones, iPads, Routers, and even Blackberry (do people still have these?!).

VPN for different devices