13 Tips on How to Choose a VPN

13 tips on how to choose a vpn

In case you own a company (medium sized or big), then you’ll most likely not worry about how to choose a VPN; your IT guy will take care of this if you’ll tell him.

But what if you just own a startup or a small company, and you’re in charge of all the things? Or if you want to use a VPN for personal use? Then you’d have to have some knowledge about VPN software: how do they work, what benefits they offer and how to choose one?

The fact is that using a VPN should be common among all people. It’s not like privacy was at a higher level back in the days, and nowadays it’s at a low level; quite the contrary. But in the past, there wasn’t so much use of the Internet, terabytes of information exchanged in a second, and hackers that are capable of breaking big networks.

Oh, and let’s not forget that learning how to hack a public Wi-fi network wasn’t so easy as it is now.

Of course, a VPN won’t protect you of your own bad decisions regarding weak passwords, single password to multiple accounts and many, many other situations. That’s your duty; your own online security should be on top of your list LINK. Here’s our article that explains more about how to protect yourself online.

Now in terms of VPN software, here’s our article that explains how it works. You’ll find things like: what is a VPN and how should you use it or what can you do with it.

In this article, you’ll find out some characteristics that you should consider when you’re choosing a VPN. Because the VPN software market is increasing, due to consumer demand, you might find yourself into a difficulty about choosing the best VPN. Or, as I said above, you might want to be sure that you’ll know how to choose a VPN based on what you need.


1. VPN Speed

A VPN software should be able to provide you decent speeds. As you may already know, navigating on the Internet means you’re constantly requesting and receiving information.

Adding a VPN to this process may slow it down because in the request/receive process there will be another link.

It’s like a chain to which you add another link. That is why you should make sure that you’ll choose a VPN that will not slow down your work.


2. Encryption

Further on this article you’ll see a tip about the protocols. Right now, I’ll have to mention about the encryption types, which nowadays can be of:

128-bit;

256-bit.

What does this mean? Encryption works on mathematical formulas, and the higher the bit number is, the better. Then comes the AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) and Blowfish, which are the most common ciphers vPN providers use. If your VPN uses something like AES 256-bit encryption, then you’re safe at the power of 1.1579x10. No one will be able to use a brute-force attack to crack this.


3. No DNS Leak

One of the key factors when it comes to choosing a VPN is DNS leaking; which should not exists. If it does, then the VPN is basically useless.

What does DNS Leak mean?

A DNS exists to make connections or link the URLs with you IP address. The Internet works in this way: you have an ISP (Internet Service Provider) and you have an IP. All the Internet navigation supposes information transfered back and forth. You request information about a specific website to the Internet, and the DNS is the one that will link the URL you are trying to reach with your IP. But it will firstly reach your ISP. You can be recognized through IP that you requested specific information (aka you are navigating on Internet) by the ISP.

Let me explain this process in a more visual and common way: imagine yourself standing in line to get something. You had to take a ticket number, which has written on it information regarding your name and what you requested. Your ticket gets to an employee (the DNS) which look on the number it got in his system and pairs it with your ticket, helping you to get what you want. The ISP is the company where that employee works, where you are waiting in line to get that specific thing. It knows what you requested and can trace your whole activity.

A VPN will make you become invisible to your ISP, because of the way it works . Basically, it will send your request further through an anonymous DNS; not directly from your browser.

Going further with my analogy above, this VPN is a ninja who gets firstly the ticket and the information about what you’re requesting. After that, it filters it and uses a code for your ticket, sending it further, helping you stay private.

There are cases when your web browser will ignore your efforts regarding your online privacy; it can “forget”/”omit” that you’re using a VPN, therefore there will be no anonymous DNS that can help you stay private; hence, your ISP or whoever’s watching you, can trace your Internet activity.

How to test if your VPN software has a DNS leak?

It’s a simple test, that requires an URL and some clicks. Without being connected to your VPN, go to www.dnsleaktest.com and check your status. Take a screenshot to remember the results, then connect to your VPN. Come back to the website and check again. Compare the results.

If the compared results are the same, then Houston, we have a problem! You should email the VPN provider, explaining what you found out. In the same time, while you’re waiting for a response, you should test out another VPN.

4. VPN protocols

As I mentioned before, any type of vulnerability of your VPN software is compromising your online privacy. In other words, it’s like you’ll be hiding before a sheer curtain - not entirely seen, but visible enough to recognize key features.

Basically, that ticket code I was talking about will be one that can be easily traced back to the original.

A good VPN will have an Open VPN protocol. A not so great one will have only the PPTP connexion, which means vulnerability.

To better understand, let’s answer to the following questions.

What is an Open VPN protocol?

This protocol is the one recommended for desktops (no matter what the system you’re using). It works also on mobile devices with Android. In case you have an iOS device, a good replacing option is the L2TP/IPsec connection.

At the second tip for how to choose a VPN I mentioned the encryption types. Here I’ll just say that an Open VPN connection uses the highest encryption, that is 256-bit; it also offers the 160-bit one.

The Open VPN Protocol is created in such a way that it basically combines the characteristics of a PPTP and of a L2PT/IPsec: it was the highest encyption, and it’s also fast even on unstable connections.

What is a PPTP?

PPTP stands for Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol. It is native in most desktop or mobile operating systems, but it offers the lowest encryption possbile: 128-bit. This low encyption comes with the benefit that it makes this protocol to be fast.

It’s also easy-to-use, because it has a simple setup process. In case your device doesn’t support an Open VPN protocol, than this one is still good enough. Better have something than nothing at all.

All the experts advise you to better use a VPN which has an Open VPN protocol, instead of a PPTP. The PPTP one has been implemented in Windows for a long time, in various forms. It has become old and vulnarable, which makes it easy for whoever wants to “watch” you.

The Open VPN is a newer type of protocol which is similar to the SSL technologies. Yes, it’s not native in desktops and mobile operating systems, which requiers a third-party app, but it’s definitely safer than the PPTP.


5. Kill Switch function

I always liked to explain things using real life examples and analogies. It’s a better way to help people understand what you’re trying to explain them.

So regarding the Kill Switch function, you should think of it as the fuse from the electric panel. Think of how that works. Whenever something in your house uses more power than it should, the fuse close itself. In this way it prevents the awful case of blowing up the entire electric system of your house.

The Kill Switch function in a similar way. There can be times when your internet connection drops. When it comes back, the VPN will no longer be activated, which means that you might navigate the Internet without knowing that your whole activity is exposed.

That is way some VPN providers added this Kill Switch function, which cuts your connection off if the VPN connection fails. Because there are still some VPN softare that don’t offer this feature, you should really consider it when you’re trying to choose a VPN.

Keep in mind that some VPN don’t have the Kill Switch activated by default. You’d have to go into settings and check it out.


6. Hide from Deep Packet Inspection (or DPI)

While everyone that want to “watch” your activity, can only see data like port numbers, IP addresses adn other metadata, with DPI is something else. Companies or Intelligence Agencies that want to identify what you’re reading/watching exactly are using DPI. Some use this type of analysation to identify content that infriges copyright.

DPI can be used in various ways, because it inspects and analyzes the internet traffic. It’s like your data will arrive into a microbiology lab where scientist are able to see almost everything.

This DPI can also detect VPN protocols (aka that there is VPN traffic), and they can block the software. Some organizations use the DPI tool (which is inexpensive and easy), in order to check if there’s unwanted traffic coming from VPNs. In which case, as I’ve said, they can block it or re-route it.

Some VPN software are making that encrypted data look similar to regular internet. It’s like an alien uses a human costume, just to blend in. This will help you navigate safely on the Internet, without worrying that your ISP might know that you’re using a VPN.

Now there is a small number of areas where you should worry about this DPI: Turkey, Iran, China or any other country that has strict laws and has forbidden people to use applications like Skype or Facebook.

So in case you’re really paranoid about your own online privacy or if you live in a country like those mentioned above, you should choose a VPN that has a feature like this: to help you and your traffic blend in the regular Internet traffic. Keep in mind that it may slow donw your connection, because it’s basically another layer of data processing, another link added to the chain.


7. No traffic logs

What do you want to get when using a VPN? No logs, rights? That means that your online trace shouldn’t be kept anywhere, because that’s a situation from which things can degenerate into weak security and privacy.

A good VPN shouldn’t keep your traffic logs and IPs. This is the best option because of two reasons:

You don’t want to be vulnerable to those that created the VPN. In other words, those that created the VPN you’re using shouldn’t have access to your logs because they might come up with the idea of selling your data, or just to make you pay them to not say things about you. Of course, these are extreme cases, but in this big world anything can happen.

Other hackers may know that your VPN keeps logs and data, hence they will try to break in and steal it. Which leads to the exact same situations described above, or even simpler: get access to your data and make use of it.

You read above the encryption types. They should be accompanied by this policy: “No logs”. Why? Because even if the VPN has a strong encryption, having logs means that your whole data is visibile to the VPN provider. And if an authority comes and requests that data, the VPN provider will have it and it will be obligated to hand it over. Your whole privacy? Gone.

It’s much like the saying: “what you don’t know, can’t hurt you”. As long as the VPN provider will not have your data, then even if someone will try to take it, it would be impossible; there’s no data to take!


8. Servers on multiple locations

Getting back to how does a VPN work, we can remember that it basically borrows old IPs from different countries, and replace your IP with those.

The more servers and countries, the better. This means that you’ll be able to access more content (see the benefits of using a VPN). And it will also be possible to simply be able to switch between servers whenever the speed is low.


9. Functionalities like “Run on Startup, Auto-Reconnect”

Some of the software we are using on a day-to-day basis have some functionalities that streamline your time. You may have heard of Run on Startup or Auto-Reconnect.

These two functionalities should be on your list when it comes to how to choose a VPN. Not necessarily mandatory, but quite extremely useful.

Being accustomed to not use a VPN, using one has to quickly enter your day-to-day life. Because your entire life has been without a VPN, starting to use one will mean that you’ll have to remember daily to open and connect to your VPN. You don’t want to be in a hurry and forget to open your VPN software, and just then to be a hacker’s victim.

Run on Startup will ease your way to using a VPN because the software will start immediately after the computer is on.

Auto-Reconnect should be there in case something happens with the VPN server and you are disconnected. It shouldn’t let you “out in the wild” with just a notification that “Hey, you got disconnected”. You may not see that notification, hence your online activity will be traceable without you knowing it. Therefore, the Auto-Reconnect function should be there to immediately reconnect you whenever something happens.


10. Devices number and availability

We live in a world where we are constantly changing our device: laptop, smartphone, tablet, then smartphone, laptop again and so on. Your online privacy should be taken care of everywhere.

This means that another key feature when it comes to how to choose a VPN is related to the question: Will it work on my smartphone/tablet? Of course, you can choose one VPN software for your laptop, and one VPN app for your mobile device, but don’t you want to keep things simple?

There are also VPNs that offer 1 to 5 (or more) devices that you can use with a single account. Which is great not only for companies, but also for personal use. For companies it’s easy to understand why. For your personal use - well, you might have two laptops, or each member of the family might have its own laptop. So it would be great to be able to create a single account and use it for multiple laptops.


11. Ads-blocking option

It’s all about efficiency: why use two different software when you can use a single one with all the functionalities? Indeed, blocking ads it’s not that important when you want to choose a VPN.

There are other features that are more important than this one. I mean you should trade one key-feature for this one.

But it will be a nice addition if you’re stuck between two similar VPN software, that offer you the same things, over the almost same amount of money. If one offers you the ads-blocking feature, too, then go for it.


12. User-friendly

I mean...do you really want to download a VPN that includes all of the features described here, but which is terribly hard to use? I don’t think so.

Us, users of the Internet, have reached that point when we want things rather simple, efficient, easy to use. We don’t want to waste any time at figuring out how to use a software that will be in our lives daily.

It doesn’t matter if we talk about an app, a desktop version or a tablet app. All of them should be intuitive and user-friendly.

A VPN software is not a thing that everyone knows about. Let me give you an example: let’s say you’re the IT person of a company and you just installed a VPN software on your colleagues' laptops. They most likely won’t know what this is all about, therefore the app should be easy to use, in order for you to easily explain them what it’s about. And how should they use it, of course.


13. BONUS TIP: Does your VPN work with Netflix?

Recently, Netflix became better and better in discovering the VPN software. This means that your solution to watching a Netflix show from the USA for example, using a VPN, might not work properly.

Netflix accepts only some VPNs, therefore if your main need of a VPN is to use app that is not available in your country, then you should inform yourself before downloading/paying/installing the software. You can email the company asking them directly about the relationship with the app you want to use.

You’ve reached the end! Indeed, there might me some VPN software that will not have all of the above-mentioned features. Or there might be ones that have all of these, but that could be a little too expensive for personal use.

If you want to choose a VPN, it’s important to know all of the features that a VPN can have, and then make a list of your own needs. Maybe you’ll not need some characteristics, hence it will be easier for your to choose the right VPN.

Sorina Lazar