How to choose the right VPN service for your needs
Virtual Private Network, or what you know as a VPN, is a wonderful resource to switch online location.
These services not only change your IP address but also ensure data security. Thus, you will likely remain protected from common cyber attacks.
But the problem with using a VPN is, how to choose one?
Today, so many VPNs are available in the market offering different features and bearing different price tags. Some VPN providers offer free services too. But they are not as vigilant as the most paid ones when it comes to performance and security.
This abundance of VPN services has made it difficult for an average user to pick the right option.
So, here we present a detailed VPN selection guide for you. We will not only explain how to choose the right VPN but will also review the purposes a VPN would serve you.
Why do people use a VPN?
Before moving on, let’s discuss quickly why people use VPNs.
Since the VPNs allow changing the IP address location by rerouting your data via your chosen VPN server, they are mostly used for people who work remotely, more specifically, in the corporate sector.
For instance, many companies limit access to their sensitive systems of anyone outside the company network. In such cases, VPN services help the employees access those systems even when they are not in the office.
This useful feature significantly contributed to keeping the economy running during the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of VPNs, people could continue working.
Also, the option to safely change online location facilitates the journalists and students to bypass geo-restrictions. They can access blocked or restricted material to gain information.
Whereas, gamers and general users also use VPNs for similar reasons – bypassing content restrictions, such as Netflix.
Besides, the encryption technology offered by VPN providers attracts privacy-savvy users. They remain protected from prying eyes, snoopers, ISP throttling, government spying, and more.
Also, the same security feature of VPNs protects users from cyberattacks when connected to public WiFi. Whether you are at the airport, in a coffee shop, or simply want to connect to free WiFi on the go, you can easily do so while using a VPN.
In brief, a robust VPN service plays a role whenever a user wants to mask the real IP address.
Evaluate your need(s) to use a VPN
As we explained above, people use VPNs for plenty of reasons. We might even have missed mentioning many advantages of VPNs.
So, the point is, no one can specifically recommend a virtual private network to all users. Since people have different requirements, it is likely that a VPN would work perfectly well for one person, but would fail to satisfy another.
Perhaps, that is the reason why we have so many VPN service providers available today.
Therefore, before you start wondering how to choose the right VPN, you should first assess your needs. When you are clear about why exactly you need a VPN, you can decide better.
Here we list a few main questions to ask yourself to evaluate your need for a VPN.
1. Are you a frequent traveler?
Frequent travelers, tourists, and expatriates often face connectivity issues.
Naturally, when they can’t arrange an internet connection on their own, they would have to depend on the service available in that region.
In fact, they are the ones who use free WiFis the most during their stay at hotels.
During this use, they have to agree to all the terms and conditions of the internet service provider in that area. It means if the country has strict data retention policies, the foreigners would eventually lose their privacy.
Nonetheless, VPNs help them in securing their internet connection.
So, if you’re a traveler or are planning a visit to another country, you definitely need a VPN.
Nonetheless, before your visit, make sure that VPNs are legal in your destination state. Otherwise, for places like UAE where VPNs are highly restricted, find a workaround or professional help to access this facility.
2. Do you need a VPN to protect your home network?
While VPNs work well in protecting your identity online, they may not be as effective at the app level for securing your home network.
It’s because when you connect to a remote VPN server, you actually connect to a remote network, and not to your own. Thus, you get protection from online threats only. Whereas your network remains vulnerable to local attacks.
So, if this is your sole purpose to get a VPN, better drop the idea. Or, make sure that the one you buy effectively meets your needs.
Precisely, a VPN can protect your home network only when applied at the router level. So, either opt for a VPN provider that offers such service, or purchase a router with a built-in VPN server.
3. Do you need a VPN service for safe browsing?
Using a VPN is a general safe browsing practice as well. From connecting to public WiFis to using the internet at home, with a VPN, you remain secure.
In fact, you are immensely protected with a VPN from most cyber-attacks even if you are connected to a compromised network. It’s because the data you generate is encrypted.
Although, some public connections also claim to offer security as they prevent unauthenticated device connections. Nonetheless, these networks are still not secure since the password is known to many.
Also, you can never trust the security of the router, even if the WiFi on its own is unharmed. In case the router firmware isn’t updated, is vulnerable, or hacked, all users connected to it, including you, will be at risk.
However, with a VPN, you can prevent any problems to a greater extent. Although, a VPN-router is a great option to address this issue, however, you can certainly not apply it to a public network. Thus, you can simply install a VPN on your device(s) that you connect to public WiFi networks.
For this, you don’t have to go for a costly VPN service. Rather any modest VPN provider with optimum speeds and secure operations will suffice.
4. Are you looking for a VPN to access blocked content?
Whether you’re traveling to another country and want to access local content, or you want to access content from another country at your own place, hiding your IP address doesn’t always work. It’s because the websites or content providers use other strategies to detect false IP addresses.
However, if you use VPN services, you will likely succeed in bypassing content restrictions.
This is not only true for accessing content not available in your area from the vendors’ end. But also applies to evade censorship implemented by the authorities in your area.
For example, if you want to unblock Netflix USA while you’re present in India, you can use a VPN to connect to a US server. Likewise, you can access BBC iPlayer in the United States with a UK VPN server.
Content restrictions aren’t always at the country level. Rather employers and educational institutions also block many websites on their networks. That is done seemingly in an attempt to remove distractions.
However, if you need to access blocked content, such as social media platforms, in your school or office, keep your device loaded with a robust VPN.
5. Do you live in a restricted-internet country?
Countries like China, Iran, Russia, and UAE have strict internet regulations in place that curb internet freedom.
Thus, for the people living, arriving, or temporarily staying in these countries, accessing the desired information online is a troublesome activity.
Do you think a VPN would help in this case?
Technically, yes. Practically, …? Well, it depends on your choice.
In these countries, since they expect the people to use VPNs to bypass censorships, they have restricted or legally banned VPNs as well.
So, either you cannot download a VPN at all. Or, if you could, you are likely to get caught. The authorities here implement deep packet inspection and similar techniques to detect VPN services in use.
Hence, unless you are an expert on how to pick right VPN to use in such regions, you should not use a VPN.
While almost all VPNs work pretty well to evade censorship, for countries with internet restrictions in place, most VPNs do not work as they can appear on the radar of surveillance authorities such as the NSA’s PRISM Program.
Therefore, you should choose a VPN provider that seamlessly operates in these locations.
Also, the VPN should offer Kill Switch to prevent any accidental exposure of your internet data packets online following a server disconnection.
6. Are you over-protective of your data?
Just like censoring VPNs, some countries implement strict laws for data retention.
While these regions may not apply harsh internet censorship and would also allow VPN providers to serve the customers there, the authorities bound the VPN companies to log users’ data.
Although, these nations advocate for data logging given that cybercriminals usually exploit VPN services to stay under the radar. Hence, when VPN companies log users’ activities, such as IP addresses, browsing data, and more, the authorities can trace down the criminals by asking them to handover suspects’ data.
While that sounds good, it is still problematic because of the eventual breach of users’ privacy.
Of course, when VPNs log every detail of the user, the purpose of anonymity and security fails right there.
So, if you want to use a VPN because you don’t want your data to be logged, choose a VPN that comes with a proven no-logs policy. (We’ll talk about this in detail in the later section.)
7. Do you want to go anonymous online?
The more avid privacy advocates, cybersecurity experts, and investigative journalists often need to stay anonymous online. Because of their sensitive nature of work, such people cannot even afford an accidental exposure of their IP addresses for milliseconds.
If you’re one of them, you can surely use a VPN to mask your online existence. But it won’t suffice the purpose.
VPNs, like any other program, are prone to technical glitches, the most common being a VPN connection drop. Though, most vigilant VPN companies apply the Kill Switch feature for that.
However, you still can’t be sure of VPNs’ reliability. So, you need to use Tor along with a VPN connection. This is just an additional step required to protect your privacy.
How to choose a VPN that’s right for you? Here’s what to look for!
After going through the above section, you must have found why we emphasized on evaluating your requirement before selecting a VPN.
As you now know, not every VPN service would meet your desired purpose of using it. Hence, you should jot down why, when, and how often you need a VPN before investing in any service.
However, your efforts don’t just end here!
You also need to research about the VPN companies, assess their performance and features, and check their policies. If you find them in-line with what you want and expect from your virtual private network, go for it. If not, look up for some other service.
But how to select a VPN that’s perfect? We hear you ask.
Don’t’ worry and read along as below is a guide on picking the right VPN.
1. Encryption protocols
Different VPNs apply different encryption protocols. Most VPN companies also offer more than one protocols from which you can use one at a time.
These differences in encryption protocols explain that you shouldn’t trust a service if it uses the word ‘encryption’. Not every encryption is indecipherable. In fact, some protocols are extremely weak to protect anyone.
Since encryption and security is the prime reason for using a VPN, you should only choose VPN service after going through its encryption protocols.
Some commonly offered encryption protocols include OpenVPN, L2TP/IPsec, and PPTP.
Among these, OpenVPN is the most secure encryption protocol.
It is an open-source protocol that remains under the review of cybersecurity experts. Hence, any probable vulnerabilities will likely receive quick fixes. Most good VPN companies support this protocol. However, it might affect the browsing speed.
Whereas, PPTP is way faster than OpenVPN. Nonetheless, it is also vulnerable to attacks as it is the weakest.
The other one, L2TP/IPsec, is an intermediate of the above two protocols and is currently present as a built-in feature in most mobile devices.
So, although you can choose a VPN with PPTP if you merely want mild ciphering of data with fast speed. However, if your security is your priority, then stick to the OpenVPN protocol.
2. No data-logging policy
When you connect to the internet, you directly expose your device with accurate details to ISP tracking and other online trackers. But, with a VPN, you authorize the service to take control of your device and re-route all the traffic to and from your device through its own servers.
In this way, VPNs mask your identity by serving as the middleman between you and the internet. This is where the problem exists.
Certainly, a good VPN serves as your armor to the online world.
Conversely, it becomes the sole entity that knows everything about you.
In simple words, VPN knows your IP address, device details, browsing history, and a lot more information.
Thus, it can log this data, either partly or completely, and can use it in any way.
For instance, many free VPNs sell your data to advertisers and third-parties. That is how they make money.
Whereas, the paid one may or may not monetize your data. Nonetheless, they can still record your data and share it with the government and other relevant authorities when needed.
So, what’s the purpose of using a VPN in the first place if you are eventually exposed?
Well, some top paid VPN companies respect your privacy to the extent that they employ strict no-logs policy. It means they will never record even the non-identifying details. Even if they do, they record it for a few hours at maximum, that too, for service maintenance and improvements.
Therefore, before investing in any VPN, go through the company’s data-logging policies. Verify that the service implements strict no-logging. Only then you can trust the service.
Today, the prying eyes of some regions strive to track almost every individual’s online activities. Known as Five, Nine, and Fourteen Eyes, these groups of countries extensively spy on their citizens. Plus, they also share the information with one another when required.
These countries, owing to their surveillance, implement harsh data retention policies for service providers, including the VPN companies.
Although they would never publicly admit such measures, you can’t be sure about the no-log policy of VPNs based in these countries.
Nonetheless, if the VPN service providers explicitly state no-logging despite their base region’s policies, then you may perhaps go for them.
However, we still recommend you to opt for VPN providers headquartered in neutral zones with minimal legal obligations.
4. Global coverage
Another important thing you should consider before choosing a VPN is the number of servers. The larger a VPN’s coverage is, the better will be its performance.
With the ‘number of servers,’ we don’t mean that your VPN should necessarily offer more countries. Though, it’s a plus. But it’ll eventually be of no use if the VPN provider hosts very few servers in each country.
Rather a VPN with more servers in the same country offers more stable connections, avoids server congestion following huge traffic, and ensures fast speeds.
Also, such a VPN works better with services like Crackle US and Netflix that frequently block VPNs. You can quickly switch your server without changing the country the moment you detect a ban.
Besides, you should look for the number of servers available in your desired country. For example, a VPN with thousands of servers in Asia won’t benefit you if you basically want a VPN to unblock a USA site.
Hence, before choosing a VPN, analyze your requirements for the VPN servers, and see if the VPN provider meets your needs.
5. DNS and IPv6 Leaks
A common problem that the users face while using a VPN is that they fail to unblock sites restricted content. It appears that some websites figure out that you’re faking your IP address, hence they still block you.
But how is it possible?
It’s because VPNs are vulnerable to two main leaks – DNS leak and IPv6 leak.
Through these two sources, a VPN leaks some differences between your visible online location and your computer behavior.
These differences allow the target websites and web trackers to understand that you have employed some method to mask your online location.
In brief, a DNS leak happens when your device’s request still route through your ISP’s DNS servers. Hence, there would be a visible conflict between the DNS server and the VPN server. Whereas, an IPv6 leak happens when the VPN masks your IPv4 IP address but fails to handle IPv6. Hence, some websites can track the conflict between IPv4 and IPv6 to detect a VPN.
(To know details about how these leaks happen, check out our detailed guide on IP leak protection.)
To avoid these leaks, some VPN providers apply various techniques. For instance, they would block IPv6 or would mask IPv6, too, alongside the IPv4. Whereas, for DNS leaks, they would use their own DNS servers instead of relying on a third-party DNS.
So, whether your purpose is to bypass content censorship or to remain anonymous online, make sure that your VPN prevents such IP leaks.
6. VPN features
Lastly, check the availability of the following features with the VPN services.
- Kill Switch: These VPNs disconnect your internet connection following connection dropouts, hence, preventing your privacy.
- Bandwidth and Throttling: If you wish to use your VPN for streaming, make sure that it doesn’t cap your bandwidth. Please go through the VPN’s terms and conditions, read fine prints, and Google a bit to know them.
- The number of simultaneous device connections: The higher the number, the better.
- Compatibility with multiple platforms: Your VPN shouldn’t limit support for mobile phones and PCs only. Instead, it should also support smart appliances, routers, and other devices.
- Payments methods: Choose a VPN with more payment methods so that if you face problems while paying with one option, you can choose the other. Also, look for the availability of payments via cryptocurrency if you wish to make anonymous payments.
- Subscription costs and packages: Free VPNs, though, sound attractive, they are likely to breach your privacy by monetizing your data. So, go for the paid ones that offer affordable packages.
- Customer support: 24/7 support with live chat is ideal. Otherwise, make sure that the response time isn’t long.
- Customer reviews: A larger number of positive customer reviews gives an idea about the overall impressive services of a VPN provider.
Can I choose the right VPN by going through the VPN reviews?
If you search online about the best virtual private network services, you will come across numerous VPN reviews. Often, these reviews contain a lot of praise for specific services. Does it mean that those VPNs are always outstanding?
Mayne, no! Instead, what it hints is that the reviews are actually paid promotion.
Many blogs and review websites serve as VPN affiliates. That is, they make money for redirecting leads to the VPN providers through their content.
Since it’s about business, they will persuade you to opt for those services, and sometimes, might even lie to you in their reviews. They would hardly touch the problems with the VPN and would highlight the pros to the extent of making them appear flawless.
Such reviews are a problem because you can’t really trust their recommended services.
Although, there are some ethical VPN affiliates as well that, despite earning commission for redirecting leads, never go for biased promotions.
Such reviews would not typically advocate for an ABC VPN; instead, they would highlight the problems as well. Hence, you get a better idea about the VPN providers’ performance.
To identify the genuineness of a VPN provider, check out their affiliate program. Go through their policies for marketers and resellers, and choose the one that condemns boastful promotions.
I’m confused. Can you help me choose a VPN?
After you’ve reached this point, you would certainly have a pretty good idea about which VPN to choose.
However, some of you might still be nervous after going through this how to choose VPN guide. Especially if you haven’t used a VPN before, you would be confused about where to begin.
So, here we advise the three best VPNs for you.
(Though, we do run an affiliate program at our site to keep helping you/our readers for free. We never go for paid reviews. So, our VPN recommendations here are not affected by monetary gains.)
These three VPNs are our choice because not only do they offer superb performances, but they also take care of your privacy.
So here, we wrap up our guide on how to choose the right VPN for your needs.
As you can see, choosing the best VPN from a bunch of substandard services isn’t trivial. It requires your time and effort to assess your preferences and research about suitable VPNs.
Nonetheless, once you spend some time on it, you will cherish your decision.
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About the author
Abeerah is a passionate technology blogger and cybersecurity enthusiast. She yearns to know everything about the latest technology developments. Specifically, she’s crazy about the three C’s; computing, cybersecurity, and communication. When she is not writing, she’s reading about the tech world.