You may already know what a VPN, or Virtual Private Network, is, but you probably don't use one regularly. The advice is that you really should be using a VPN whenever you access the internet, particularly on public WiFi. Don’t wait for something bad to happen before you get into the habit of protecting your data.
So the question is, “Is it possible to download a good and completely free VPN that does the job you need?”. The answer is…maybe - depending on the limitations that all free VPN downloads usually come with. Ultimately if you're looking a hassle free easy to install, Ad free service, that offers tech support, you will certainly need a pay a small monthly fee, whereas if you need a VPN for ultra casual use, and don’t mind getting targeted with Ads you may find something that may meet your needs.
We do know a few things about VPN service providers. Firstly, being the "best" is a big claim for VPN providers, and that can mean being the best at certain aspects of VPN provision. Second, there are so many VPN providers that it's difficult to choose a provider that ticks all of your boxes. Not all VPNs are created equally, and in this post, we're going to look at what a VPN is, why you need one, and how to pick the best one for you.
Put simply, a Virtual Private Network or VPN, is a group of private computers or servers networked together over a public network—namely, the internet. For example businesses use VPNs, Governments use VPN’s and Banks use VPN’s to to get access to network resources when they're not physically on the same LAN (local area network), or as a method for securing and encrypting their communications when they're using an untrusted public. Encryption scrambles your data, and depending on the level of encryption, you make it very difficult for your data to be intercepted.
When you connect to a VPN, you usually launch a VPN client on your computer, log in with your credentials, and your computer exchanges trusted keys with a far away server. Once both computers have verified each other as authentic, all of your internet communication is encrypted and secured from eavesdropping.
The most important thing you need to know about a VPN: It secures your computer's internet connection to guarantee that all of the data you're sending and receiving is encrypted and secured from prying eyes.
Whether the VPNs you're familiar with are the ones offered by your school ,business or workplace to help you work or stay connected when you're travelling, or the ones you pay for to get you watching all your favourite TV shows from wherever you are in the world...they're all doing more or less the same thing. For much more detail on what VPNs are, how they work, and how they're used read on.
A VPN alone is just a way to bolster your security and access resources on a network you're not physically connected to. What you choose to do with a VPN is a different story. Usually, VPN users fall into a few separate categories:
The Student/Worker has jobs to attend to, and uses a VPN provided by their school or company to access resources on their network when they're at home or travelling. In most cases, this person already has a free VPN service provided to them, so they're not exactly shopping around. Also, if they're worried about security, they can always fire up their VPN when using airport or cafe WI-Fi to ensure no one's snooping on their connection.
The Downloader doesn't want to be on some company's witch-hunt list just because they have a torrenting app installed on their computer. VPNs are the only way to stay safe when using something like BitTorrent. Better safe than trying to defend yourself in court or paying a massive fine for something you may or may not have even done.
The Privacy minded and security advocate may be in a in a strictly monitored environment or a completely free and open one, this person uses VPN services to keep their communications secure and encrypted and away from prying eyes whether they're at home or abroad. To them, unsecured connections mean someone's reading what you say
The traveller wants to watch TV programming live, or on catch-up from their home country. They want to check out their favourite TV shows as they air instead of waiting for translations or re-broadcasts, or watch subtitled versions aired in other countries. They want to listen to location-restricted streaming internet radio, or want to use a new web service or application that looks great but for some reason is limited to a specific country or region.
Most people fall into a combination of all of the above. The chances are that even if you're not one of these people more often than not, you're some mix of them depending on what you're doing. In all of these cases, a VPN service can be helpful, whether it's just a matter of protecting yourself when you're out and about, whether you handle sensitive data for your job and don't want to get fired, or you're just watching online TV from home.
Even if none of the above really sound right to you, you can still benefit from using a VPN. You should definitely use one when you travel or work on an untrusted network, that’s basically one you don’t have control over. That means opening your laptop at the coffee shop and logging in to Facebook or using your phone's Wi-Fi to check your email at the airport all potentially put you at risk .
What Makes for a Good VPN?
The best VPNs offer a solid balance of features, server location, connectivity protocols, and price. Some are great for occasional use, others are geared towards getting around the location restrictions companies put on their apps and services, and others are targeted at people who do heavy downloading and want a little privacy while they do it. Here's what you should look for.
Protocol: When you're researching a VPN, you'll see terms like SSL/TLS (sometimes referred to as OpenVPN support,) PPTP, IPSec, L2TP. All of these protocols will provide a secure connection, and most solutions are invisible to the end-user anyway. Strictly, each protocol has its benefits and drawbacks, and if you're concerned about this you're probably already aware of them. Most users don't need to be concerned about this—corporate users on the other hand, are probably all using IPSec or SSL clients anyway.
Server Locations: Depending on what you're using a VPN for, your service's location—and the exit locations you can choose—are important to consider. If you want to get around a location restriction and watch live TV from the UK for example, you want to make sure your VPN service provider has servers in the UK. If you're concerned about privacy or state-sponsored snooping, you may want to pick a service operated outside of your home country.
Logging: When you connect to a VPN, you're trusting the VPN service provider with your data. Your communications may be secure from eavesdropping, but other systems on the same VPN—especially the operator—can log your data if they choose. If this bothers you make sure you know your provider's logging policies before signing up.
Anti-Malware/Anti-Spyware Features: Using a VPN doesn't mean you're invulnerable. You should still make sure you're using HTTPS wherever possible and you should still be careful about what you download. Some VPN service providers—especially mobile ones—bundle their clients with anti-malware scanners to make sure you're not downloading viruses or trojans. When you're shopping, see if the providers you're interested in offer anti-malware protection while you're connected.
Mobile Apps: You should be able to get a consistent experience across all of your devices. Most prominent and reputable providers offer desktop and mobile solutions for individual users, and while corporate and school networks may be a bit behind the curve here, they're catching up too. Make sure you don't have to use two different VPNs with two different policies and agreements just because you want to secure your phone along with your laptop.
Subscription VPN Providers usually take your privacy a lot more seriously, since you're paying for the service. It's unusual for them to show ads, although whether they do logging or store data about your usage varies from company to company. They usually offer free trials or a money back guarantee so you can give the service a shot first, but remember: just because you're paying for a service doesn't mean you shouldn't do your homework.
A mix of features and price make a good VPN, but plenty of bad VPNs masquerade as good ones. Look for articles written by trustworthy sources that discuss the merits of each service based on its features, check for valid testimonials or Feefo ratings
When it comes to free VPN offerings, you very often really do get what you pay for…
- For starters, the security of your data is questionable, as many free VPN services provide only one kind of VPN connection: the Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol (PPTP), which is supported by most computers but is no longer considered secure and some free mobile VPN Apps don’t encrypt your data at all. PPTP is fine if you don't care about strong encryption and really just want to watch streaming video from other countries, as the lower encryption level actually increases your streaming speeds.
- Paid subscriptions usually have more options, such as OpenVPN (an open-source protocol that uses SSL encryption) or the Layer 2 Tunnel Protocol (L2TP) and IPsec combination. (L2TP itself is not encrypted, so IPsec adds the encryption layer.
- If you're paying for a good quality VPN, you can get 256-bit data encryption, compared to a free VPN, which is likely to only have 128 or 56-bit encryption. However if you want to watch streaming TV with your VPN a lower encryption rate will be best for you.
You probably should avoid VPN services that don't tell you which protocols they use or support. If a free service supports OpenVPN and on or two do, that's much better — but it still doesn't mean the service is OK to use.
Quality of service - Free services have to pay for their overhead costs somehow. That revenue sometimes comes in the form of selling your browsing activity to third parties for advertising purposes this means your data isn't 100 percent private, your web experience can be riddled with ads, have bottle-necked bandwidth speeds, lack data encryption, and even have monthly capped data usages. You will not get tech support with a free VPN. Most free VPNs pay the bills by displaying ads, which in and of itself isn't nefarious, but as we all know can be very annoying.
Ironically a free VPN service could even make you complicit in cyberattacks. One popular free VPN service, for example, in 2015 was used in an online attack against a website, using customer bandwidth to deploy a botnet.
By contrast, fully paid VPN services usually provide much better quality-of-service, and you can check this by raising a Support ticket query and gauging their response. They offer unlimited data and have servers in many countries and generally don't throttle delivery rates.
Paid VPNs tend to be more robust than free VPNs and less vulnerable to outages and meltdowns. You will also be have tech support available from a paid service, and you won’t for a free service. A paid service will protect user interests and sensitive data at much higher speeds, whereas a free service could outsource to a third party to write its code, monitor systems and operate servers,
So, free or paid ?? We all like to avoid paying for internet services if at all possible, but skimping on you VPN provider may cost you a lot more in the long run. Our advice would be to find an affordable and reputable paid solution, that delivers your security or online TV watching requirements. If you really cannot afford to pay, you should try to find the VPN that fits your requirements as best as possible. but in all cases using a VPN whenever you access public WiFi is a must.