April 28, 2017

How to choose a VPN

Privacy Products Tips

A new buzzword is echoing all over the world, and it consists of only three letters: V, P, and N. VPN. Do you know what a VPN is? If not, we have you covered. Do you know why do you need one? If not, we have covered that topic as well.

OK, so you’ve learned what virtual private networking is and decided that you need a VPN. But there are dozens of VPN providers, some offering free solutions, others charging a significant amount of money, still more in between. Which one is right for you?

In the provider we trust

The easiest way to describe a VPN in lay terms is to call it a tunnel. Your computer sits at one end of the tunnel, and the server is at the other end (aka the VPN’s exit node). Your computer belongs to you, so you are responsible for its security. But the exit node belongs to the VPN provider, and the provider chooses its encryption algorithms and VPN protocols, so the security of the server and the tunnel is up to the provider.

The provider also has control over all of the data you transfer via VPN. So you have to trust your provider as much as you trust yourself. You need to know that the provider isn’t sniffing or modifying your traffic, that it doesn’t log everything, and that it uses reliable protocols and strong encryption. Let’s talk about that in a bit more detail.

1. How do I know which VPN provider I can trust?

As a starting point, look for players that are not new to the market — the longer the company has been in business, the more reliable it probably is.

2. Which VPN protocol should I choose?

We discuss some of the many available VPN protocols in this blog post. Some protocols are more secure than others and some are faster than others, but discussing all of the differences here seems like overkill. It really boils down to one point: Try to avoid PPTP (Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol) and look instead to solutions that are based on OpenVPN.

PPTP is an old protocol, and it’s widely considered insecure. By contrast, OpenVPN is a relatively new VPN implementation. It’s secure and reliable — and it’s open source, so it’s frequently assessed for security holes.

3. Should I care about the number and location of exit nodes?

Typically, VPN providers offer a number of exit nodes in various countries, but in some cases the exit node is chosen automatically. Should you care? That depends on what you actually need the VPN for.

If you want to ensure privacy and security while using free Wi-Fi in some café, any exit node will do. But if you want to access a website or service that is not available in the country you’re in (say, Facebook or Wikipedia during travel in China), you obviously need an exit node in a country that allows access to that website. Sometimes you might even need access to something from a specific country, and in that case you have to be sure that your provider has an exit node in that country. So, the more servers in different countries the better.

Another point about using a VPN to change your apparent country: Automatic selection won’t work 99% of the time — in most cases, the VPN automatically selects the server that is geographically closest, and that’s probably in the same country you’re in.

4. What if the VPN provider logs my traffic?

Some VPN providers log the sites you visit and store that information. Sometimes they even share it with third parties, basically selling your profile to someone to aim their ads at you more precisely. Do you want that? Probably not.

Here’s where you have to do something few people usually do — read the license agreement. Look for three things:

  1. Does the VPN provider log your traffic?
  2. If so, does it keep those logs?
  3. Does the provider share those logs with anyone?

The safest choice is a provider that doesn’t log anything at all.

5. How much does a good VPN cost?

Some providers offer a VPN connection free, some have limits on free connections, and some make you pay from the start. Which should you choose?

First, you already know that there’s no such thing as free lunch, and VPNs are no exception — you pay for a free VPN with your data. For example, Opera Software now offers a free VPN in its browser, but it’s not exactly a VPN and it logs your browsing data, which is used to serve you ads. If you value your privacy, a free VPN solution seems like the wrong choice.

Try a free trial if one interests you, but then give one a try, and pay up to continue service if you exceed the time or data limit and it works well — that’s the point of the free-trial model, anyway.

Reliable choice: Kaspersky Secure Connection

Now that you have the list of requirements a VPN provider should meet, you can choose a reliable product that suits your needs with the help of this comparison chart. For those who don’t want to invest a lot of time in research, we can recommend our own solution: Kaspersky Secure Connection is built into Kaspersky Internet Security and several of our other security suites, and it’s now also available as a stand-alone solution. It meets all of the criteria we mentioned above.

  1. Kaspersky Lab has been in business for more than 20 years.
  2. Kaspersky Secure Connection uses the reliable and secure OpenVPN protocol.
  3. It has exit nodes in about two dozen countries. With the paid version you can select the country from which you want to access websites.
  4. It doesn’t log your traffic. At all.
  5. It’s relatively inexpensive at £3.99 per month or £19.99 for a whole year. There’s also a free version that is limited to 200MB of data per day, or potentially 6GB per month.

It’s important to remember that, regardless of the provider and its logging practices, a VPN provides privacy only, not anonymity. If you’re seeking anonymity, then you’re looking for murkier options such as TOR, or a combination of TOR and VPN. And don’t forget to take control of browser cookies and other things that might give you away when using VPN.