The first line of de­fence

If pri­vacy and se­cu­rity mat­ters to you when us­ing the in­ter­net, then get­ting high-end en­cryp­tion is key, writes David Court.

The Timaru Herald - - Weekend Technology -

Vir­tual Pri­vate Net­works (VPNs) of­fer a quick and easy way to add an ex­tra layer of pri­vacy when us­ing the in­ter­net. Be­low, I’ve de­tailed some things to look out for when buy­ing a VPN and also listed five of the best providers you can use this year.

Note that all the VPNs fea­tured be­low of­fer a 30-day money-back guar­an­tee, so if there’s some­thing you don’t like about a ser­vice, you can ask for your money back and try an­other, risk-free.

Try to pic­ture a VPN as a vir­tual tun­nel that en­crypts and reroutes your in­ter­net traf­fic to a lo­ca­tion (server) of your choice.

The ben­e­fits of us­ing a VPN

A VPN is a great tool to have if you’re se­ri­ous about pro­tect­ing your on­line pri­vacy. This is be­cause all VPNs of­fer some­thing called end-to-end en­cryp­tion, mean­ing your data is en­crypted from de­vice-to-des­ti­na­tion (lap­top-to-web­site) and the same on the jour­ney back to your de­vice.

This may seem like a pretty sim­ple fea­ture, but it’s only made pos­si­ble by VPN providers that have in­vested in a global net­work of servers.

The ben­e­fit it brings is to­tal pri­vacy from in­ter­net ser­vice providers (ISP), gov­ern­ments, or even ma­li­cious users on a shared net­work (think free wi-fi in a cafe) as your data is en­crypted from ‘‘endto-end’’.

VPNs also of­fer the ben­e­fit of al­low­ing users to vir­tu­ally spoof their lo­ca­tion, mak­ing VPNs pop­u­lar with fre­quent trav­ellers (pre-Covid) who want to use their home coun­try’s ver­sion of the web, and also peo­ple who want to ac­cess dif­fer­ent coun­tries’ stream­ing li­braries (Net­flix).

How do VPNs work?

A VPN is a com­bi­na­tion of high-end en­cryp­tion and a net­work of servers. Users can ac­cess this net­work by in­stalling a small piece of soft­ware that en­crypts all their de­vice’s data.

Pack­ets of en­crypted data are then sent to a VPN server, in a lo­ca­tion of the user’s choice. When the en­crypted data reaches the VPN server, it is de­ci­phered and re­layed to the server’s lo­cal ISP.

The data that is re­turned from the server’s lo­cal ISP is en­crypted again and sent back to the user where the process is re­versed.

If this all sounds con­fus­ing, try to pic­ture a VPN as a vir­tual tun­nel that en­crypts and reroutes your in­ter­net traf­fic to a lo­ca­tion (server) of your choice.

Five Eyes

For (even more) pri­vacy, it’s rec­om­mended to choose a VPN with an HQ based out­side of the Five Eyes (FVEY) in­tel­li­gence al­liance. That’s Aus­tralia, Canada, New Zealand, United King­dom and the United States, by the way.

The logic here is solid enough. VPN com­pa­nies that op­er­ate from in­side an FVEY coun­try could the­o­ret­i­cally be sub­poe­naed and forced to hand over all their user data at the re­quest of the govern­ment.

No logs

Which is also why it is rec­om­mended to choose a VPN that has a rock-solid ‘‘no logs’’ pol­icy. Un­for­tu­nately, this is also where things get a bit murky as it’s hard to check if a VPN’s ad­ver­tised ‘‘no logs’’ pol­icy is true or not.

So try to look for a VPN that has in­structed a trusted third-party to au­dit its in­fra­struc­ture.

Con­nec­tion type

There are mul­ti­ple VPN con­nec­tion types. I’d ad­vise buy­ing a VPN that of­fers OpenVPN and IKeV2, as these are fast and se­cure. It’s a good idea to pick a VPN that also pro­vides the older PPTP and SSTP con­nec­tions too, as this gives you a greater level of flex­i­bil­ity should you want to set up some­thing a bit more per­son­alised for your needs.

The 5 Best VPNs of this year

Ex­pressVPN

■ Servers: 3000+

■ Cities: 160+

■ Coun­tries: 94+

■ De­vices sup­ported: 5

■ 24/7 sup­port: Yes

■ 30-day money-back guar­an­tee: Yes

■ 12 months: US$6.67/mth

■ 6 months: US$9.99/mth

■ 1 month: US$12.95/mth

There’s a rea­son this is the most ex­pen­sive VPN on the mar­ket. It’s also the best. Ex­pressVPN boasts thou­sands of servers, in de­sired lo­ca­tions, around the world. And im­por­tantly, its servers are fast and re­li­able.

Ex­pressVPN has opened its RAMbased in­fra­struc­ture – which means data is never stored – to third-party au­di­tors, Cure53 and PwC, to ver­ify its pri­vacy and no-logs claims.

Its head­quar­ters are also pur­pose­fully based out­side of FVEY, mean­ing it can’t be forced to share any user in­for­ma­tion with sur­veil­lance agen­cies.

NordVPN

■ Servers: 5400+

■ Cities: 80+

■ Coun­tries: 59+

■ De­vices sup­ported: 6

■ 24/7 sup­port: Yes

■ 30-day money-back guar­an­tee: Yes

■ 2 years: US$3.71/mth

■ 6 months: US$9/mth

■ 1 month: US$11.95/mth

If you want to spend a lit­tle bit less, NordVPN comes in a close sec­ond. Like Ex­pressVPN, it also has a great rep­u­ta­tion in the in­dus­try as be­ing one of the fastest and most sta­ble VPN providers.

NordVPN is a Panama-based VPN (not an FVEY coun­try) and states in its pri­vacy pol­icy that the only data it col­lects is a user­name’s ses­sion time. And this is deleted within 15 min­utes.

Like all good VPNs, the NordVPN app is avail­able on all main­stream app stores and de­vices, and is sim­ple to op­er­ate.

Pri­vate In­ter­net Ac­cess

■ Servers: 2500+

■ Cities: 65+

■ Coun­tries: 45+

■ De­vices sup­ported: 6

■ 24/7 sup­port: Yes

■ 30-day money-back guar­an­tee: Yes

■ 2 years: US$2.69/mth

■ 1 year: US$3.33/mth

■ 1 month: US$9.95/mth

This is the best op­tion for those look­ing for a qual­ity low-cost VPN. Pri­vate In­ter­net Ac­cess (of­ten re­ferred to as PIA), like Ex­pressVPN, has had its pri­vacy claims au­dited and con­firmed by cy­ber­se­cu­rity firm Cure53.

The Bri­tish Vir­gin Is­lands-based VPN of­fers a gen­er­ous 10 si­mul­ta­ne­ous-de­vice limit, mean­ing you can prob­a­bly share it with a friend or two and still en­joy al­ways-on VPN pro­tec­tion on your main de­vices.

Else­where, its app is clean and sim­ple to use, and of­fers the lat­est con­nec­tions tech­nol­ogy, in­clud­ing the new WireGuard com­mu­ni­ca­tion pro­to­col.

Sur­fShark

■ Servers: 1700+

■ Cities: 10+

■ Coun­tries: 63+

■ De­vices sup­ported: Unlimited

■ 24/7 sup­port: Yes

■ 30-day money-back guar­an­tee: Yes

■ 12 months: US$2.49/mth

■ 6 months: US$6.49/mth

■ 1 month: US$12.95/mth

There are two rea­sons that Sur­fShark should ap­peal to you. Firstly, the price and se­condly, unlimited de­vices. If you’re se­ri­ous about your pri­vacy and you want an al­ways-on VPN, this is a big deal – es­pe­cially if you in­tend shar­ing your VPN con­nec­tions with close friends and fam­ily mem­bers.

Else­where, Sur­fShark ticks all the boxes that will ap­peal to the ma­jor­ity of peo­ple.

OpenVPN UDP and TCP, IKEv2 se­cu­rity pro­to­cols, AES-256 en­cryp­tion, a kill switch, and Bri­tish Vir­gin Is­lands HQ.

Like most high-end VPNs, the Sur­fShark app is easy-to-use, and the trans­fer speeds are fine (most of the time).

Cy­berGhost

■ Servers: 6300+

■ Cities: 110+

■ Coun­tries: 90+

■ De­vices sup­ported: 7

■ 24/7 sup­port: Yes

■ 30-day money-back guar­an­tee: Yes

■ 1 year: US$2.75/mth

■ 6 months: US$7.99/mth

■ 1 month: US$12.99/mth

As you’ve prob­a­bly dis­cov­ered by now, most high-end VPNs have sim­i­lar fea­ture sets, mak­ing it hard for them to stand out in a crowded mar­ket. Cy­berGhost suf­fers as a re­sult of this, with its most no­tice­able unique fea­ture be­ing the 45-day, rather than in­dus­try-stan­dard 30-day, trial pe­riod.

Every­thing else here is pretty stan­dard. But in a good way: non-FVEY HQ, well-de­signed, good trans­fer speeds, solid pri­vacy fea­tures, and a sen­si­ble pric­ing struc­ture.

In­for­ma­tion about prices and avail­abil­ity was cor­rect as pro­vided at the time of writ­ing.

GETTY IM­AGES

If you’re brows­ing on a com­puter us­ing a public net­work like a li­brary, you re­ally should be us­ing a VPN. But which is the best, and how do they work?

The best VPNs pro­vide an even eas­ier way to se­cure your brows­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

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