Virtual Private Networks, or VPNs, much like a firewall protecting your data on your computer, work by protecting your data by allowing users access to private networks and the ability to share data remotely through public networks. In more simple terms, a VPN is discrete networks linked together over a public network, specifically the Internet.
Why You Need One
When working remotely and accessing sensitive data from your company’s private servers, you could put that data and your company’s business at stake—not to mention your job. Individuals use VPNs to gain access to network resources when not physically on the same local area network (LAN). When connecting to a VPN the user can click on a link on a special website or launch the VPN client on your computer. After logging in with your credentials your computer verifies with the secure server and all of the Internet communication is secured and encrypted. As a student or employee you likely use a VPN provided by your school or company, but as a security minded user you want your connections to be secure and free from the roaming eyes of the Internet.
To put it another way when you leave your house and go for a walk anyone can follow you. They can see where you went, how long you were there, and what time you walked into your front door. That is called stalking. A VPN service is like walking to your neighbor’s house, changing clothes and putting on a false beard before you leave again. People looking for you now won’t recognize the new you and won’t know where you went after your neighbor’s house.
How to Know a Good VPN When You See It
Everyone likes free, and VPNs are no exception. But even free have its downsides and restrictions. The key is balancing out the good with the bad. Things to consider when choosing the best free VPN for you are:
Logging: When you use a VPN, you trust the provider with your data, and while your data and communications may be out of sight from roaming eyes other systems on the same VPN could log your data. It is important to know the providers logging policy before using.
Anti-Malware/Anti-Spyware available: Don’t think you are invulnerable when using a VPN when downloading. HTTPS should be used whenever possible. When you’re researching, make note of which providers offer anti-malware protection when connected to the VPN.
Mobile Apps: A huge bonus when using a free VPN is the availability of a mobile app to ensure security on all your devices.
Protocols: When researching VPN providers’ terms like SSL/TLS, PPTP, IPSec, and L2TP will be things to consider. If you have concerns about the protocols being used, you probably already know the difference, but most users don’t and likely don’t need to be. Each protocol has its pros and cons, but note that SSL is commonly used.
The other challenge is figuring out when a provider is actually a secure service or if it’s using fancy terms to disguise an empty shell. If the provider offers paid service as well, it’s likely that they won’t risk their reputation with empty promises.
VPN providers usually fall into one of two categories: ad supported or restricted bandwidth. Those who are heavy online users could find themselves locked out long before the month is out with the network bandwidth capped services. The other side is an ad-supported version of the paid software.
So What ARE the Best Free VPNs
A large Romanian company, it has impressive security features including deleting your payment details after they’ve been processed. Some of its pros include no logs, they accept Bitcoin, and shared IPs. Things to consider are that multiple simultaneous connections are only allowed on the most expensive plan and there is a speed cap. Cyber Ghost is working on security technologies and is willing to support other promising security start-ups.
Next on the list is SurfEasy. They are a Canadian company, which also offers normal plans. While the free option is on par with the paid plan, there is a data limit of 500MB, with offer of an increase to 1.5GB after completing a few tasks. This makes it useful for only the occasional or “normal” usage. Because of the level of security it offers, they do not allow P2P. Its pros include great speed, simultaneous connections, easy-to-use software, and phone support. The download cap and the restriction of P2P seem to be its main cons.
VPMBook is a bit lower on the list due to its basic VPN service which gets the job done protecting your data when you are connected to wireless, makes your connection to bypass censors anonymous, and changes your location to access region-specific sites. The software is relatively small, which is a pro. Its PPTP support allows it to work on mobile devices and modern OS. It is unclear what encryptions are being used and there are extra steps to install the VPN, which are both concerning cons.
Tunnel Bear is also Canadian, easy to use, and P2P isn’t allowed. Three simultaneous connections are allowed and has an up to 1.5GB download limit. Reviews said it was entertaining, praised the minimal logs, and applauds its great performance and clarity. The cons are few: the download cap, no P2P, and has limited countries.
SpotFlux falls into the ad-supported category of VPNs. It is lauded as being easy to use and allows for easy web surfing. Because it is ad-supported there is no speed or bandwidth limits, and it is supported on multi-platforms. On the con side, you can’t manually select your servers, they are only U.S.-based servers and there are no cookie blockers.
While you can find VPNs for under $10 a month, the cost verses free benefits may not be much different. While there are always downsides with free for most users the pro of free outweigh the cost of the pay service VPNs.