How do I go about choosing a Virtual Private Network (VPN) service?
So you've decided that you should start using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) but aren't certain what aspects of a service are important or if it will fit your needs. Here are some things you may want to consider.
What will I be using the VPN for?
Today, VPNs are used for more than just connecting to your work network from home. VPNs allow for protecting you from anyone snooping on you whether at home, the office or the coffee shop.
If you plan on only being able to connect to your home or small office, then you may not need a VPN service provider at all. You can purchase a router that includes a VPN option or you can use macOS Server to setup your own VPN service at home.
Some people may want to inhibit ISPs from selling their personal internet traffic data. Some users would like to be able to circumvent monitoring or censorship imposed by companies or governments. Some others may want to be able to file share anonymously. If you are more security and privacy conscious, then a full blown VPN service is what you may want to consider.
Should I get a free or pay-for VPN service?
As with anything, you get what you pay for. There are free VPN options out there but if you are truly interested in protecting yourself, you'd likely want to steer clear of free versions. Apple charges premium prices for their hardware. In that regard, you are the customer. Free services tend to use your data as recompense. If you're trying to keep your information private, then this isn't the way to go. As for pay services, the prices can vary as well as the service level they provide.
What kind of encryption does the VPN service provide?
There a few types of VPN encryption protocols available and they aren't all created equal. The short of it is that if the VPN provider only offers PPTP, then stay away. PPTP has been compromised for many years now and is not considered secure. Stick to providers that use OpenVPN, IPSec, IKEv2, L2TP or even OpenSSH.
What kind of access do I get to the VPN service?
Some VPN providers allow for a single point of access to their service. Others allow for 5 or more simultaneous connections. See what best fits your needs. I use a VPN service that allows for my home router, my phone and laptop to all be connected.
On top of connectivity, you'll need to consider if you want a provider that has a large number of exit nodes. An exit node is simply a server sitting someplace in the world where you'll be connecting securely to. Once connected you'll essential appear to be using a computer from that server's IP address no matter where it is in the world. You are in London but then you connect to your VPN provider's Buenos Aires server and will appear to be virtually surfing the internet from Buenos Aires. Some providers have a few exit nodes whilst others have many. The location of the exit nodes will also help you determine if it will provide you with the access you need to geo-blocked internet services.
Is bandwidth and speed important?
If you are needing security but also want to ensure the fastest bandwidth available to you, you'll want a provider with an exit node's geo-physical location near to your own geo-physical location. The further the server is globally from your current position, the more latency and slow down you'll experience whilst connected to the VPN. This has to do with the number of computers your data will need to connect through (number of hops) to get to the exit node of your choice.
Depending on your ISPs bandwidth that you have purchased, you may or may not max out your own bandwidth depending on the VPN providers capabilities.
Does the VPN service block or throttle certain internet services?
You may need a VPN service to allow external users to connect to your computer via a calendar service. Or you may want to make certain that access to VoIP isn't slowed down instead of another preferred service by the VPN provider. Look specifically for providers that do not throttle or block any service at all.
Although I won't go into recommending one provider over another, you're now armed with knowledge on what to look for when you perform your first google search for a VPN provider that fits your needs. If you have had experience with a VPN provider or have other suggestions on what to look for, please add a comment below!