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Best VPNs

Preview:

What is a VPN? Who should use one? Which ones are good? All this and more.

What are VPNs and why would you want one?


A VPN, or virtual private network, is a technology that creates a secure and encrypted connection between your device and a remote server. I think of them as being of two types:
  1. A company has a VPN setup on their server and you can log in from home to work on their computers.
  2. A company provides a service allowing you to connect to them securely anytime you want then continue to general Internet access.
For this article, I'll be discussing type 2, a general-purpose VPN Service. It hides your IP address and encrypts your Internet traffic. It prevents your data from being intercepted, providing you with a layer of protection and anonymity. Since everything is going through this other company, you are adding the risk that perhaps the company is not serious about privacy and security or they are incompetent. Many VPN services are just collecting all your traffic and selling it. For that reason, audits and company reputation are essential.

What Can a Good VPN Service Do?


Online Privacy and Security

By encrypting your Internet traffic, a VPN prevents hackers, ISPs, and other third parties from monitoring your online activities and accessing your personal information. It adds an extra layer of protection. It could be useful for a tower computer, to protect you from your ISP, but I only recommend it for traveling when you don't know who controls the router you connect through at a restaurant or hotel. So, mobile devices and laptops should all have VPNs.

Bypassing Geo-Restrictions

A VPN can also help you bypass geo-restrictions imposed by websites and streaming platforms. For example, a streaming service may only show some programs within certain countries and you can't access your programs when you travel outside the United States. VPNs allow you to choose servers in various countries, so this can sometimes bypass those Geo-restrictions.

Enhanced Online Gaming Experience

By choosing a server in a country close to the gaming server, you could improve your speed.

What are the problems?

  • As I already mentioned, there are crooked VPNs who despite promises of privacy and no logs, etc. collect and sell your information. So, audits and company reputation are critical.
  • They cost money, but there are some limited VPNs which provide a small amount of data or slower access for free. These are saying, for the first 500 MB per month, you can use it for free. Or, you can use it for free, but with advertising or at a slower rate with restricted servers. This might be all you need if you don't travel much.
  • In general, they will slow you down. To go through your ISP up to the VPN servers then to your destination is normally slower than going through your ISP directly to your destination.


My recommendations. All of these should be fine.


PC Magazine:
PCMag has several Editors' Choice winners in this large category, but Mullvad VPN and Proton VPN stand out for their excellent privacy practices and collection of features.
Proton Free slowed my Internet connection to 25% of normal. However, that is fine for most stuff I'll do while traveling. I don't travel enough to warrant a VPN, however, here are some good ones that are from reputable companies and were audited multiple times and are open and transparent about the audits and privacy protocols. All these services have applications for Windows, Mac and mobile devices. One subscription covers multiple devices.

Many anti-virus programs to appear more complete and sell their product for more money, have added someone else's VPN. For example Bitdefender uses Hotspot Shield and McAfee uses Tunnelbear (which they bought). However, it is hard to figure out whose service most anti-virus companies use and normally impossible to read their privacy policy. I don't recommend any of them. Buy a VPN from a VPN service.

Kape Technologies owns all three of these services. They are all good and audited.

  • Express VPN: They have a 30-day money back guarantee. $80/year last time I checked.
  • PIA (Private Internet Access) $40/year. 30-day money back guarantee. 100% open source. This is the cheapest I've seen for a quality VPN service.
  • CyberGhost: $57/yr. with a 2-year subscription. 45-day money-back guarantee.

Nord Technology Owns These Two Good Services

  • Surfshark: Starter Package is what I recommend for $48/year. 30-day money-back guarantee.
  • NordVPN: $60/yr. for their standard plan. That is all I recommend. It has a 30-day money-back guarantee.
These are both good and have been audited.


Mulvad and Firefox!

Mulvad VPN: $5.25 month (actually 5 euros). Swiss-based. Mozilla uses them for their VPN. Malwarebytes uses them for their VPN service. Open source. Multiple audits. You can also buy this branded as Firefox VPN for $60/year. Despite being called Firefox VPN, it is installed on your computer, not your browser. You can use it with mobile devices and Mac, Linux and Windows computers, though it does require a Firefox account. It'll work with any browser.

I use this:

  • Proton VPN: 30-day money-back guarantee. A fully free, no advertising version is available. It is much slower than the paid version, but otherwise not restricted. The system is fully open source. $72/year. Swiss-based. They have many services and I wrote about them in an article in July 2022. I use their Proton Drive service to share files securely and their free VPN for occasional uses at restaurants.

Removed From My Recommendations

I used to recommend Tunnelbear, and wrote about it here. However, since then it was purchased by McAfee and hasn't been getting annual audits or innovating, so I've stopped recommending them. I don't like McAfee as a company either so that's another reason to be wary of them.





Date: November 2023


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This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

 
 
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