HOW TO CHOOSE AND TEST A VPN SER­VICE

There are sev­eral fac­tors to con­sider when you’re choos­ing a paid VPN. Adam Mar­shall di­vulges his best tips on find­ing the right one for your needs.

APC Australia - - Software -

There are sev­eral fac­tors to con­sider when you’re choos­ing a paid VPN. Here are Adam Mar­shall’s best tips on find­ing the right one for your needs.

1 Does the plan have servers in ev­ery coun­try and re­gion you re­quire? Hav­ing more than one server in a coun­try can help spread the load, but doesn’t guar­an­tee im­proved per­for­mance, so don’t as­sume a plan with 500 servers will au­to­mat­i­cally beat an­other with 100.

2 Check the num­ber of si­mul­ta­ne­ous con­nec­tions sup­ported. Typ­i­cally, this is 3-5, which al­lows you to have a PC, mo­bile and tablet con­nected at the same time. But be­ware, many com­pa­nies say this is for a sin­gle user only, and they all have fair us­age poli­cies to pre­vent peo­ple hog­ging re­sources. If you let the en­tire fam­ily down­load and stream videos sep­a­rately then you’ll run into trou­ble.

3 Some providers list the con­nec­tion pro­to­cols they use. OpenVPN and IKeV2 are good choices, fast and se­cure. You might see SSTP and the older PPTP, as well as pro­to­col op­tions (TCP or UDP for OpenVPN). You don’t need to un­der­stand the low-level de­tails, but hav­ing the ex­tra choice can help the ser­vice make faster and/or more re­li­able con­nec­tions.

4 All VPN com­pa­nies say they don’t log what­ever you’re do­ing on­line, but in­evitably they col­lect a lit­tle data. Some ser­vices record the day your ac­count logged on, the amount of data you used, and delete any­thing else when the ses­sion closes. Oth­ers add items like your in­com­ing IP ad­dress and the server you used, and keep the data for months or years. If you’re con­cerned, check the Pri­vacy Pol­icy and Terms of Ser­vice to know more.

5 It’s im­por­tant to con­sider the client, the soft­ware which han­dles your con­nec­tions. Th­ese all have a list of servers and a Con­nect/ Dis­con­nect but­ton, but could you use more? Some clients dis­play server load and ping time in the in­ter­face, help­ing you choose the right server.

Reg­u­lar users might ap­pre­ci­ate a ‘Favourites’ sys­tem to save and re­call spe­cific servers. If you know what you’re do­ing, hav­ing ac­cess to low-level net­work set­tings will help you tune the whole sys­tem.

6 Fi­nally, there’s the price. Be­ware of ap­par­ently cheap deals: th­ese may have re­stricted fea­tures, ex­clude taxes, be dis­counted for the first billing pe­riod only, and re­new au­to­mat­i­cally, so that ap­par­ent one-off US$3.99 might be­come al­most US$15 next month. Look for a ‘Pric­ing’ link, read the small print, and if pos­si­ble use some­thing like PayPal where it’s easy to check and can­cel a sub­scrip­tion your­self.

Once you’ve found what looks like a good VPN can­di­date, be sure to give it a trial be­fore you spend big money. But a short trial can only tell you so much, so once that’s ex­pired, pay for a month, run as many tests as you can, then up­grade to a bet­ter value plan (usu­ally yearly) if you’re happy.

HOW WE AS­SESS VPNS (AND HOW YOU CAN TOO)

When re­view­ing VPNs, we start by look­ing at a provider’s range of plans. We’re look­ing for fea­tures, value, and clear and hon­est pric­ing. Free ways to learn more about a ser­vice — free plans, trial pe­ri­ods, re­fund pe­ri­ods — are im­por­tant, and we also look for com­pa­nies which main­tain your pri­vacy when you sign up (such as not re­quir­ing an email ad­dress, tri­als be­ing made avail­able with­out credit cards, and Bit­coin avail­able as a pay­ment op­tion).

The of­fi­cial prod­uct pages never tell you ev­ery­thing you need to know, so head off to the Pri­vacy Pol­icy and Terms and Con­di­tions pages to find the real de­tails. Does the com­pany log more data than you’d ex­pect, or keep it for a long time? When might it share in­for­ma­tion with oth­ers? Are there any re­stric­tions on who can sign up? (Some providers say you must be 18 or over, or that the ser­vice is for per­sonal, non-com­mer­cial use only.) Any other catches?

VPN per­for­mance is dif­fi­cult to mea­sure as there are so many vari­ables, but we use mul­ti­ple tech­niques to try and get a feel for each ser­vice’s abil­i­ties. We first use speedtest.net to mea­sure the la­tency, up­load and down­load speeds for a dis­tant con­nec­tion (typ­i­cally Aus­tralia to Cal­i­for­nia), then re­peat the test im­me­di­ately with the VPN turned off, and look at any changes.

We fol­low this up with a much shorter con­nec­tion (typ­i­cally Aus­tralia to Hong Kong) to see a more typ­i­cal peak per­for­mance, run a sec­ond bench­mark to con­firm our re­sults, and run some gen­eral brows­ing tests — in­clud­ing stream­ing HD video — to look for other prob­lems. VPNs will al­ways give you a new IP ad­dress, but some

“VPN per­for­mance is dif­fi­cult to mea­sure as there are so many vari­ables, but we use mul­ti­ple tech­niques to try and get a feel for each ser­vice’s abil­i­ties.”

ser­vices may have DNS or other leaks which give clues about your iden­tity. We visit IPLeak.net and other pri­vacy sites to look for prob­lems.

In terms of the client and in­ter­face, we look for good server se­lec­tion tools (by coun­try, re­gion, server, speed, with fil­ters, a Favourites sys­tem, per­haps with server load or ping time dis­played), with plenty of con­fig­u­ra­tion op­tions, but also a client which stays out of the way un­til it’s needed.

Many sites re­lated to peer-to-peer piracy are now blocked in Aus­tralia.

The best VPNs pro­vide servers across the globe, let­ting you pick a vir­tual lo­ca­tion to suit your spe­cific needs.

You can test whether your VPN is work­ing as ad­ver­tised by vis­it­ing sites like ipleak.net.

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