Photo from Unsplash
Originally Posted On: https://usesecurevpn.com/is-a-vpn-worth-it/
If you’ve ever wondered, “is a VPN worth it?” then this article is for you.
In this article, among many topics, I will explain why is a VPN worth it considering, what are the pros and cons of using it and will present how you can choose the best VPN using 10 selection criteria for beginners.
Nevertheless, even if you already have a VPN service, you might still be interested in reading about “is a VPN worth it” to discover how the VPNs evolve or what alternatives to VPN services are available. In addition, the legal aspects of using VPNs might interest you.
You will also find an extended section of Frequently Asked Questions explaining almost all of the common questions that might help to answer whether is a VPN worth it.
Most importantly, you should check from time to time if your VPN’s jurisdiction is still in the same place or if the owner of the VPN service didn’t change to ensure that the privacy regulations didn’t change since you signed up for their service.
Although the title is “Is a VPN Worth It“, you can treat this content as a kind of compendium for beginners still wondering if a VPN will be helpful to them.
The online privacy rules should require Internet Service Providers (ISP) from all over the world (Comcast, Charter, Fiberglass, Play, etc.) to get your permission before selling your browsing history to advertisers. Right now, in many countries, the companies providing internet connection can track you without restrictions and sell that information without problems.
They use different techniques to acquire that data, even tracking your communication with a Domain Name Server (DNS).
Additionally, with your direct connection to the free public hotspot, you risk being connected to a fake one used for phishing your sensitive data.
Summary of the article, if you don’t have time to check the complete list of topics:
Anyone concerned about privacy, internet freedom, security, unblocking content, torrenting, or wishing to bypass censorship should sign up for a virtual private network called a VPN service.
A VPN technology uses encryption to create a virtual tunnel that shields your browsing information inside the tunnel. Therefore, nobody between you and the VPN server can capture your data, even if you use public, unsafe hotspots that hackers could prepare to phish your information by providing crafted websites. Those websites look almost the same as the original but are used to get what you are typing in and forward it to the server, so you will not recognize that someone stole your credentials because you will be logged in without problems.
Is a VPN worth it?
Definitely yes, if you don’t want to be a victim of cybercriminals, don’t want anybody to see what you are doing online, or you wish to geoshift your real location to avoid restrictions. Moreover, VPN is worth it to bypass censorship and have online freedom.
Is a VPN worth it to call it the most powerful privacy app – not exactly. VPN is not a golden solution to all problems but is one of the required elements of a secure system that should defend your privacy online.
Nevertheless, as discussed in the article, a VPN coupled with some security settings, additional software, and proper use of the internet and network devices make it a solid system that provides many security benefits.
List of topics
- Why you should trust us
- For whom this article is intended
- Preliminary steps before considering a VPN
- Is a VPN worth it for changing your location – Geoshifting?
- Why would you try to bypass Geo-blocking?
- Can you trust a VPN
- VPN Limitations
- Are VPNs legal?
- Where is it illegal to use a VPN?
- Can I be fined or prosecuted for using a VPN?
- How do we choose VPNs
- Why would you use a VPN?
- Is a VPN worth it to be installed on a router?
- VPN speed degradation
- PureVPN speed test video
- Which VPNs are worth a try?
- HTTPS vs. VPN – What does HTTPS mean?
- What is HTTPS in simple words?
- What a snooper can see when you are browsing?
- TOR network for browsing
- What about the proxy?
- VPN vs. Proxy vs. TOR
- What if you make your own VPN?
- Alternatives to VPN
- In summarizing, is a VPN worth it?
- How to choose a VPN – 10 selection criteria for beginners
- Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Why you should trust us
We combine 25+ years of experience in IT, software development, and implementation of new technologies not only in the military and governmental institutions but for civilian customers as well.
We use our knowledge and experience to analyze articles, documents, white papers, forums, and customer reviews to create comprehensive guides, explanations, and recommendations for our readers. In addition, we prepare articles and hands-on guides regarding VPN services, VPN encryption protocols, transparency, trustworthiness, and security information, which are the key elements of your online protection.
Our main objective is to create content on how to use the best way privacy-enhancing technology in daily online activity, whether work, fun, or hobby related.
Our articles explain how to use encryption tools to protect your identity and privacy while having a public presence online. Moreover, we show how to circumvent national firewalls for your freedom when you need to access some geographically restricted content from abroad.
While VPNs become increasingly popular, we help our readers by clarifying how they work, why use a VPN, and how to choose a VPN based on different features and personal requirements. We also prepare articles as an answer to the most challenging questions to help not only one user but everybody who would seek the same solution.
For whom this article is intended
We intend to answer basic questions regarding VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) we receive from people who would like to add a layer of privacy or security to their online browsing or get access to geo-restricted content. After reading this article, you should know how to use secure VPN to stop your computer, smart TV, gaming console, or mobile devices from revealing your IP address to websites or services you connect to.
Protection of your real location is one of the reasons not to give away your IP address. Almost anyone could use it on various websites to find you (city, state, country). So please, open our page to check what is your IP and what others can see without any problems. Furthermore, tracking techniques evolve constantly, and apps can track your devices by getting your public IP address, which is quite well known on public hotspots. By the way, I don’t mean an internal IP from the LAN – local area network; it’s all about the public IP. Therefore, it’s possible to correlate your public IP address with a hotspot location and create a map of your activities with exact locations.
Let’s clarify that VPNs work by routing your online traffic through an encrypted tunnel established between your device and the VPN’s server. Therefore, your complete traffic comes directly from the VPN’s IP address, not the one provided by your ISP, whether at home, office, coffee shop, airport, or hotel. Using this technique, you can hide your actual IP address from anybody who would like to record your online activity.
Nevertheless, your traffic has to be public at some point. Therefore, you use a VPN server and his IP address to access the public part of the Internet. Fortunately, the VPN server is used by multiple users. If the VPN server doesn’t log anything, it’s impossible to assign specific activity to anybody who used the VPN server at that time. It’s important to mention that this is the case only if there are no tracking signs in the log files and the VPN service provider has implemented a no-logs policy.
See our featured articles to get more information on how VPNs work and whether you should use them.
Remember that your public IP address from ISP is recorded by the websites, online services, or even embedded in your emails. Therefore, opening an email and loading images embedded in that email can also expose your IP to someone who owns the server with images.
There are different examples of how your IP can put you in trouble. For example, some court documents present a case where a well-known newspaper reporter accidentally caused a major investigation of one of the companies just by visiting its website too often. Nevertheless, it doesn’t require being a journalist to protect your identity from the sites you’re visiting.
Unfortunately, standard VPN services may not provide sufficient privacy in some instances. Therefore, this guide will provide some indicators of how to verify if a VPN provider is trustworthy.
Preliminary steps before considering a VPN
The best way to decide if is a VPN worth it is to create a list of your expectations or requirements you have regarding the VPN service.
Our list (How to choose a VPN – 10 selection criteria for beginners) will help you determine if the VPN will solve your problems or if you might need a better tool or method.
To choose the best VPN and be satisfied with your privacy and security improvements, you should address all areas of vulnerability before signing up for a VPN. With that list, you can check if there is a VPN that provides everything you are looking for. You might also want to check our VPN Reviews.
List of steps to secure yourself before getting the VPN:
- Use a password manager – creating secure and unique passwords is essential because reusing passwords exposes all your accounts in case one of them gets compromised. Therefore, you might be interested in additional protection offered by a PureVPN, a PureKeep (available only for registered customers), or NordVPN, a NordPass – Password manager that generates unique passwords and remembers them for you. You can access your passwords on any device or browser at any time.
- Enable multi-factor authentication, which increases the level of security. Many sites implemented this feature, and it’s preferred instead of SMS.
- Encrypt your device to protect it in case of being lost or stolen. With an effective passcode, iOS and newer Android devices are automatically encrypted.
- Protect yourself from ad networks using browser add-ons like Privacy Badger and uBlock Origin. They will block or at least minimize tracking of you from websites and ad networks.
- If you use Firefox, turn on a DoH function – DNS over HTTPS. This option will protect you from tracking your DNS traffic and browsing history. To turn it on, go to Preferences. Next, go to Network Settings at the bottom of the page, and then Enable DNS over HTTPS and Use Default.
- DoH (DNS over HTTPS) function for Google Chrome Users can also be configured. To enable DoH in Google Chrome, go to Settings. Next, click on “Privacy and Security”, and then click on “Security”. There you will find the sub-section labeled “Use secure DNS”, where you can click the slider on the right to turn it “On”.
You also have an option to specify which DoH provider to use because secure DNS may not always be available with your current ISP DNS service provider. To change it, use the next option called “With” and choose from the drop-down box, or enter an IP address in the “Enter custom provider” text box.
- If possible, use a WiFi router with a disabled or blocked function that allows administration over a web interface and turn on auto-updates. In addition, make sure to use a strong admin password, regularly update the firmware, and disable all remote administration features. This will protect your router from hackers, which could potentially take over your entire home network.
- TOR Browser might be helpful to protect your sensitive data like medical information, but be cautious because TOR has a bad reputation. Keep reading to find out why you might be at risk while using the TOR network.
Although the above tools and tweaks can minimize your digital footprint, they have some limitations. VPN combined with proper configuration might be an excellent solution to cover most, if not all, of the privacy and global freedom topics.
Is a VPN worth it for changing your location – Geoshifting?
Besides privacy, one of the main reasons people tend to use VPNs is to change their geographical location (Geolocation). It’s useful when you want to access videos or other content available only to users from, for example, the United States. So, if you are in Spain, Germany, or Poland and want to watch content from US Netflix, you must use VPN to bypass the restrictions. Therefore, it’s essential to choose a VPN that provides many servers from various locations to avoid crowded servers and connect to the one that is not blocked by streaming services.
It’s important to mention that not all servers might unlock Netflix or any other streaming service. Therefore, a VPN with many servers in different locations is a good option because it allows you to instantly switch between the servers to find the proper one.
To change your location, simply use the native app from a chosen VPN service provider and pick a server in a country and city you want to use as your source IP address. Then press connect button, and that’s it; you should be connected to the desired server. Finally, you can check your IP to confirm how you are recognized publicly.
Why would you try to bypass Geo-blocking?
Geo-blocking is a type of discrimination assigned to a specific region or country. It can make you feel discriminated, especially when you have paid for a service or would like to get one but what you get is only a blank page stating: ‘This content is unavailable in your location.’
In Europe situation is changing because the European Commission considers geo-blocking as a form of discrimination. Nevertheless, these types of restrictions are very common around the globe, and many streaming services block some content, e.g., YouTube TV, Netflix, Disney+, Hulu, HBO Max, Spotify, etc.
The most problematic situation is when you travel and can’t use your streaming account to watch your favorite series because of geographical restrictions.
Moreover, this blocking activity in the business world can prevent access to consumer reviews and feedback or even generate problems with an ad verification process.
Therefore, VPN is worth it to be used to bypass these restrictions.
Can you trust a VPN
Your total traffic goes through the VPN server when you use a VPN connection. Therefore, VPN service providers see everything you are hoping to protect, which is why trustworthiness is the most important quality factor of a good VPN. The second factor is security. Unfortunately, these are not easy to ascertain.
Independent companies conduct security audits of VPN networks to confirm their no-logs policy, level of security, and privacy claims. Most of the audit results are available publicly.
As you can see, while all your internet activity will pass the VPN server, you need to trust that company more than you trust the network, whether you use free WiFi at the airport, hotel, corporate, or your ISP at home.
There are known cases where people who traveled and used unsecured free hotspots were attacked by malware that rerouted their traffic through ad networks, injected supercookies to track them online, etc. It’s possible that some services might be using fake HTTPS certificates and capturing your credentials or other private data, pretending you use secure HTTPS protocol. It’s also proven that some cybercriminals used counterfeit hotspots in coffee shops to provide phishing websites to those who connected through their router and acquired logins with passwords to different websites and services.
Past events confirm that our freedom as internet users is under threat. For example, various ISPs have long collected customer data, especially traffic, and visited websites to present targeted advertisements. Moreover, broadband service providers are not open about how they use your data, which poses a significant threat to your online privacy. This is also the case due to the fact that many options for opting out of privacy in relation to the information collected by default and made available to third parties are included in the contracts. Still, the confusing content of the contracts means that customers do not even read them. Therefore, an alternative solution is to use a VPN to hide your activity from nosy internet providers, advertising networks, and even cybercriminals. (FTC released the results of an investigation – A Look at What ISPs Know About You).
Therefore, there are reasons to trust some VPN providers over ISPs and use all possible techniques to defend our privacy.
Nevertheless, some VPNs were caught lying regarding the privacy rules and how they handle users’ data. Those untrustworthy VPNs were sharing data with third parties to increase revenues, and some even had poor configurations leading to data leaks. A serious problem with VPNs lies in promising privacy and security because evaluating those promises is complicated.
A study conducted in 2016 found plenty of VPNs embedding third-party tracking codes, allowing access to sensitive Android permissions, having encryption and traffic leaks, or even being infected with malware. You can check the study (PDF) to learn more about this problem. The study reveals that among 500K installs, 25% received at least 4 stars while containing some malware. It proves that users without sufficient knowledge and experience recommend to each other software that is insecure and will impact their security. When some user of a forum or social networking site with no experience in security or software development claims that a VPN is good just because he uses it and everything works, he creates a huge problem. This is the worst support or suggestion someone can get. The problem is even more significant if the new user also starts repeating the same mistake by recommending software he doesn’t know or even understand.
Users often complain that their VPN doesn’t work or even blocks their internet connection. Unfortunately, in most cases, the problem is caused by the user who doesn’t understand the software or its configuration. The most surprising is that he never even tried to fix it by contacting support and only wrote a negative comment which basically is about himself. Don’t get me wrong; there are also supportive users who find a solution and later try to help others with the same problem, but it’s not so common these days.
Let’s focus on VPNs that revealed information to governments or security agencies. Sometimes, a VPN service provider’s past mistakes can positively affect his future. After recognizing a problem with regulations, some VPNs have even moved their headquarters to a region where regulations do not allow logs to be kept and governments do not enforce information sharing. There are fewer and fewer such companies and places where it is possible not to collect data about VPN users because governments impose the obligation to collect and store data on online activity, like in India.
Moreover, companies are changing their owners, which can negatively impact your privacy and online safety. Such a change of ownership may cause the rules for existing users to change, and suddenly our web traffic data will be collected and transferred to third parties or government agencies. That is why controlling the history of VPN is worth it, as not all changes are positive.
Another problematic area of a VPN evaluation is the published security audits conducted by reputable third parties. Those audits have become more common among VPNs, but those audits aren’t perfect. Independent auditors evaluate as much as possible but are limited in their efforts. Moreover, there is no assurance that the result of the audit presents the actual status of the network and implemented technology because the software and configuration can be changed easily within even one day. Therefore, always-on audit and no-log companies present one of the highest levels of trust because they can expect audits anytime.
To highlight some key issues that auditors report:
– they are not familiar with a company,
– they don’t check code line by line,
– they are, in many cases, limited in time that is dedicated to the audit activities,
– they don’t know the technology used and have a short time to familiarize themselves.
However, a will to conduct those audits and publicize the results is a good step in trust. As I mentioned already, the best approach that some VPNs present is to have a no-logs policy always on audit, which means that the audits are unannounced and can be conducted whenever an independent auditor decides to do it. This is a significant advantage of those VPNs.
As you can see, privacy and security are pretty challenging problems. At the same time, costly audits, not even mentioning the infrastructure, software, and configuration maintenance costs, require payments for VPN services. Therefore, if you try to save on privacy and security using potentially free services, you might even worsen the situation by being tracked or infected by malware.
To make it even more complicated, some VPNs are located in “offshore” areas for the benefit of not being part of so-called Fourteen Eyes countries (14 countries, including the US). Those alliances actively share intelligence data gathered about the users. Unfortunately, the same lack of regulations can have a negative impact on privacy and security because it leaves users unprotected against fraudulent activities.
Therefore, FTC protections can be beneficial if the service deceives its customers. So, you need to assess if that type of protection is sufficient to risk your data being shared among allied countries.
VPN will not protect you from your own mistakes. VPNs are not a gold solution for everything, and you should know that VPN providers can see your traffic, and in some cases, third parties can trace your identity regardless you use a VPN or not.
That risk is not related to VPN or its flaws. Let’s look at a scenario where you log in to your Google account without a VPN from your home. So you already revealed your IP provided by ISP, which was assigned to your profile. Next, if you use a VPN and login into your account, google can now see both IPs, the previously used home IP address and the new from VPN. That’s how you can be tracked by making simple mistakes.
Moreover, VPNs can’t protect you against the browser’s cookies and fingerprinting techniques that can be used to track you even if you don’t log in. So at some point, if you don’t clean your browser and system, you will log in somewhere, and that activity can be traced back to you.
You can test how the websites assign your activity by reading the New York Times (https://www.nytimes.com/). You are allowed to read only one article. After opening any second article, you will see a window blocking the content with the statement: “Thanks for reading The Times. Create your free account or log in to continue reading.”
By using VPN and adequately cleaning the browser tracking cookies, you can continue reading the articles for free. Still, if you don’t clean the cookies, even VPN will not unblock the content because the blocking information was already saved in your cache on your device.
Remember, VPNs are only partially a solution and require knowledge of how to use them in combination with other security and privacy techniques.
It’s also important to mention that the US government, in the case of criminal activity, has mutual legal assistance treaties with many countries. Therefore, VPN also requires additional software or techniques to protect you, which might not be easy. Nonetheless, criminal activity shouldn’t be protected anyways.
Are VPNs legal?
VPNs in the United States and most Western democracies are perfectly legal to use, but it doesn’t mean you are allowed to conduct illegal activities with a VPN. Even though a VPN protects your privacy, you should expect pursuit for unlawful purchases, theft, or any other crime according to the law of your country.
Nevertheless, VPN use is illegal or at least restricted in some countries.
Where is it illegal to use a VPN?
VPNs are illegal in countries that don’t respect civil rights and free speech and are ruled by authoritarian governments. So, is a VPN worth it to be used in those countries? I think yes. Therefore, regardless VPN ban, citizens of such regimes will always try to use VPNs to avoid restrictions and monitoring of online activities.
Completely illegal – Belarus, Iraq, North Korea, and Turkmenistan ban VPNs, and you will be punished if they catch you using them.
Legal, but must be registered – Oman and Russia. You can use a VPN service, but the government must approve it. It’s important to know that the government regularly forces VPN companies in those countries to give up confidential data and logs. Therefore, many VPNs have moved their servers out of Russia for fear of being seized. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has further worsened the situation.
Legal, but controlled – India’s new data law (effective September 25, 2022 – postponed from June 27, 2022) requires VPN companies to store information like IP addresses. Instead of banning VPNs, India wants to control their use, making it impossible for VPNs to provide privacy as intended. Therefore, VPN companies like Surfshark, Proton VPN, NordVPN, as well as ExpressVPN, Atlas VPN, and PureVPN have shut down their servers in the country, replacing them with virtual servers based in other countries, still providing the IP addresses from India.
Restricted – In China, VPNs are commonly used, even though the government tries to prevent citizens from using them. However, if you plan to travel to China, you should download VPN before entering the country because the government removed VPN apps from the China App Store.
Illegal or restricted:
- China (heavily restricted)
- United Arab Emirates – UAE (legal with restrictions)
- Egypt (legal with restrictions)
- Turkey (legal with restrictions)
- Russia (legal with restrictions)
- Oman (legal with restrictions)
- Turkmenistan (legal with restrictions)
- North Korea (illegal)
- Iraq (illegal)
- Iran (illegal)
- Belarus (illegal)
Can I be Fined or Prosecuted for Using a VPN?
You will not get fined or prosecuted if you don’t live in a country where VPNs are banned or restricted. Nevertheless, you could face prosecution if you use a VPN for unlawful activities.
How do we choose VPNs
Now we will explain how we analyze the VPN offers and service providers, so if you agree that VPN is worth it, you can check our Best VPN ranking and choose the best VPN for you by using the proposed requirements list in the “How to choose a VPN – 10 selection criteria for beginners” that is at the end of this article.
First, let’s explain how we do it. During the technical analysis of the services provided by VPN network providers, we were guided by the knowledge and many years of experience in configuring VPN services. Therefore, technical analysis and infrastructure review were not so complex.
We then tracked most of the online content and user feedback, paying attention only to the valuable ones that presented the technical expertise of the reviewer.
Ultimately, we turned our attention to the support offered by VPN service providers, as well as how they solve technical problems and the level of customer satisfaction. We also analyzed VPNs’ steps to improve their transparency and security levels.
Next, we performed tests to verify usability, speed, ease of use, and effectiveness while unblocking restricted content. Finally, we checked the VPNs against data leaks and compared the offer with reality.
This way, after combining all these elements, we could assess the quality and reliability of the selected VPNs. However, we would like to draw your attention to the fact that the analysis performed in the past does not reflect the situation in the future. Therefore, you should periodically verify the VPN you choose to ensure that nothing has changed regarding security and privacy and the handling of your data.
Additionally, UseSecureVPN, for your convenience, contains reviews written by our experts who follow strict reviewing and ethical standards. Each review requires an independent, honest and professional analysis. We do our best not to make any mistakes, but if you find some inconsistency in our reviews, please let us know. We promise to correct them ASAP. We are only humans.
Why would you use a VPN?
Main reasons why VPN is worth it to be always on:
- Hide your online activity from ISP (Internet Service Provider);
- Bypass firewalls and restrictions at work or school;
- Protect your data from cybercriminals hunting you on free hotspots;
- Geoshift your location – change your IP to an IP from a chosen city/country;
- Unlock content locked for a specific area or country;
- Avoid throttling by your ISP – no more slowdowns while watching video;
- Get access to essential documents in your home country while traveling.
As previously mentioned, when you browse the web, an ISP routes your device’s internet traffic to the destination website. Each device has an identifier – an IP address. Therefore, ISP can recognize which device visits which sites. In this situation, the option you have is to cloak your activity online. Use a VPN and implement some other security techniques with proper browser configuration, additional security software, and periodically cleaning your system from any tracking files like cookies.
When you use VPN software, your device establishes an encrypted connection to a VPN server. Encryption hides the information inside a VPN tunnel that can bypass firewalls and convoy your encrypted data. The encryption starts at your device, so it’s protected from the beginning and transferred to the VPN server. Then, the VPN server decrypts that information and sends it over the Internet with its IP address as an initiator. That way, VPN acts as your virtual terminal for online activity.
Therefore, if your ISP or some admin at work or in school would like to capture your traffic, all they would see is the encrypted data being exchanged between you and the VPN server.
Thanks to the encrypted tunnel and the fact that encryption is performed on your device before the data gets sent to the network, VPNs are essential security elements while using public hotspots. Cybercriminals can create a small router that will act as an access point offering free connection and, at the same time, have a fake copy of the most popular login websites to phish for your credentials. When you try to use that hotspot without a VPN and open a login page to your email or social media account, you might put your login and password on a fake website. Later, you will be forwarded to the proper server and correctly logged in without even knowing that your data was already exposed, and hackers can use it against you.
This is why you should use a VPN whenever you use public WiFi at a coffee shop, airport, or hotel.
Additionally, by changing your IP address to their own, VPNs make it appear as though your device is connecting from their location. So if you travel and would like to stream content only available in your home country, you could connect to a VPN server located in the country and city close to the streaming service, pretending you were close.
Definitely, VPN is worth it to prevent ISP from throttling your connection. ISP can implement throttling to block overwhelming connections like streaming or torrenting to provide higher bandwidth to other users. There might also be other reasons to slow down your connection. Still, with a VPN, your connection is encrypted and impossible to recognize whether you stream or download using a torrent network.
Related article: Why use a VPN – Best beginners guide from an expert
Privately, I use VPN to fill out necessary documents that are available through my account on the governmental server but are blocked from being accessed abroad. That is why I could not access them without a VPN server located in my home country. Thanks to VPN, I can be wherever I want and still be able to, for example, fulfill my tax obligation by filling out forms or documents.
Is a VPN worth it to be installed on a router?
Let’s consider two scenarios:
- VPN router for home
- VPN router for travel
VPN router for home – if you configure your router to use a VPN, you can use only one VPN connection to cover all your home devices, family, friends, and potential guests. In this scenario, you might have multiple users who would like to stream restricted content. Therefore, anybody connected to your router you can easily bypass those restrictions.
Additionally, a VPN router for home will protect all devices connected to that router with a VPN for privacy and security. It’s a great advantage for you, your family, and friends who visit you but remember to choose a VPN with unlimited bandwidth and not to pay extra for data use. This is important in case you would like to set up your own VPN, then you might have to pay monthly for the data your VPN will use. Therefore, it’s not free to install your own VPN.
VPN router for travel – it’s a convenient tool for travelers but not only. Even if you use public free hotspots, you might benefit from a VPN router for travel. You prepare this type of VPN router and connect all your mobile devices, and you do it only once. After that, they will connect to your router whenever it becomes available and stay connected. You can use a Power Bank to have the router always on and keep all your mobile devices connected while you travel.
Next, you configure the VPN router to connect to the public hotspots automatically, whether at hotels, airports, or restaurants. Whenever you come close to one of those hotspots, your router will automatically connect to the free network, log in to the VPN, and start sharing that internet connection with your mobile devices. That way, you will have an internet connection on all your devices, and none of them will use the free public hotspot directly. Instead, they will stay hidden behind the VPN router’s firewall. This configuration will add a layer of protection to an already secure VPN connection.
There is also additional benefit if you travel, for example, as a nomad.
First, you can have all your mobile devices configured only once to use your VPN router as a hotspot.
Next, wherever you travel, you need to configure only one device to use available WiFi, and that’s your VPN router. That way, you will save yourself the hassle of connecting multiple devices to different networks. In addition, you will never forget to connect to your VPN because automatic settings will do it for you.
Here we are only touching on the topic, but you can read more on how to install VPN on router.
VPN speed degradation
VPNs have some downsides, and one of them is speed degradation. Unfortunately, some users think that it’s only because of the VPN network, but your device impacts the encryption process that VPN uses to protect you. Therefore, two users connected to the same VPN server, opening the same websites simultaneously but using different mobile devices and home network routers, might have totally different speed results. This is the reason why answers to questions about VPN speed like “why does my internet speed slow down when using VPN” in many cases, might surprise you.
There are multiple reasons for VPNs slowing down your internet connection:
- data has to be encrypted on your device
Encryption takes time and depends on the CPU and encryption protocol used. A faster and more efficient device will lower the latency caused by encryption.
- data has to be decrypted on the VPN server
Like your device, decryption takes CPU time and might take longer than expected in the case of crowded servers.
- a number of servers and users
Small but popular VPN networks with a limited number of crowded servers might have bigger latency compared to the big VPN networks with thousands of servers.
- the distance between your device and the VPN server
The number of devices impacts the speed because every hop represents a network device that takes part in routing your packages. At the same time, each device introduces latency to your connection speed.
- your ISP
VPN can speed up your connection in some situations. For example, suppose your ISP uses throttling techniques for services like streaming or torrenting. In that case, using a VPN can increase your connection speed because ISP will not be able to impact your connection while he will not recognize what you do online.
- home router – poor quality hotspot at home might impact the connection, adding latency time to the packet’s route between you and the VPN server.
Speeds will vary depending on the VPN provider’s infrastructure, the time of the day, the network distance between you and the VPN server, and your device efficiency. Nevertheless, the stability of a VPN connection is crucial because a choppy connection will feel much slower than the same but stable. Of course, this relates to the transportation protocol, but this might be a good topic for another, more technical article. Whenever you want to know the VPN speed, check the speed test comparison of the same VPN on the same device but with different VPN server connection distances. This will give you a rough picture but will not assure you of achieving the same speeds with your devices.
We prepared a video that will give you an overview of the different results you can get using the same VPN and device. Therefore, performing a VPN test yourself, from your location, and with desired VPN server locations is crucial. Those tests, performed on different days and different daytimes, will be the most accurate for you. So, reading or asking other users how fast their VPN is doesn’t make sense if they will not provide you with all the information. Even if they will, there will still be a significant variable – the number of users using the chosen VPN server at that moment. For example, the same test performed an hour later will have a different result.
So, choose one VPN and test it for 30 days to determine if it satisfies you.
The first speed test starts at 2:00 (PureVPN Speed Test)
Which VPNs are worth a try?
Currently, VPNs are getting increasingly popular, and you can choose from hundreds of VPNs, but the number of providers might be overwhelming.
What is more, choosing the correct one might be difficult regarding trustworthiness, as explained above. Therefore, you should be scrupulous while reading privacy policies, checking the ownership, jurisdiction, or past incidents and how the VPN provider handled them.
We will emphasize once more that you should choose the VPN that has a transparent no-logs policy with always-on (unexpected) audits. In addition, I recommend a VPN that improves over time, getting lessons from the past because that gives more trust for the future.
Next, focus on functionality that should be useful for you. So, create a list of your requirements to compare them with the Best VPN ranking offers.
HTTPS vs. VPN
What does HTTPS mean?
Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS) is an extension of the Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP). Recently, most websites implemented HTTPS to support secure communication over the Internet.
- HTTPS’s communication protocol is encrypted and uses Transport Layer Security (TLS). Therefore, it is also called HTTP over TLS.
- HTTPS using bidirectional encryption of communications protects you against man-in-the-middle attacks, eavesdropping, and tampering.
- HTTPS requires a trusted third party to sign the server-side digital certificate. Therefore, in the past was expensive.
- Currently, most pages use HTTPS instead of the original non-secure HTTP. The main reason is to protect user communications, identity, and private web browsing.
What is HTTPS in simple words?
Let’s compare HTTP and HTTPS to postal services. If you send a postcard, you reveal all the information the recipient should receive. A similar situation is with HTTP browsing. Anyone can read the content while it travels along the network. With HTTPS, your communication reminds the same postcard but this time enclosed in an envelope which hides the content that should be visible only to the recipient. For example, if you visit https://usesecurevpn.com/category/vpn-tips/, thanks to HTTPS, the owner of the WiFi connection, network administrator, or ISP will see only the domain (https://usesecurevpn.com). On the other hand, if we didn’t implement the HTTPS and instead had only HTTP, then everybody would be able to see the complete URL (https://usesecurevpn.com/category/vpn-tips/) and its content.
What a snooper can see when you are browsing
Some readers claim that HTTPS is enough to protect you, and up to some point, they are correct because even without a VPN, websites using HTTPS give you extra privacy online.
Nevertheless, browsing with HTTPS can still reveal domains and habits that might be sold to ad networks.
As you can see, HTTPS significantly improves online privacy at no extra cost. But like most security standards, it’s not perfect. So whenever you check the little lock icon in your browser, you trust that CA (Certificate Authority) is trustworthy and competent. That way, you rely on a certificate “signed” by someone. It might be a recognized or some least-competent authority. So there is always a possibility that you will see that lock, but the domain might not be 100% secure.
TOR network for browsing
Tor is a free service that attempts to preserve anonymity by bouncing connections through 3 relays and is considered the dark web browser.
The Onion Router network elements are called Nodes:
- Entry/Guard Relay – entry point to the Tor network working as guard relay.
- Middle Relay – middle nodes transport traffic between the guard and exit relay, preventing both from knowing about each other.
- Exit Relay – exit nodes of the Tor network which send traffic to the final destination.
A guard and middle relays see encrypted traffic, but exit nodes have special responsibilities because they send traffic directly to the destination. Therefore, online activity appears to come from the exit relay, creating a rare possibility of raids, abuse notices, or more.
Nevertheless, TOR is a tool that helps you to stay anonymous and uncensored. Although TOR cannot protect you from targeted government surveillance, it does not leave a trail back to you because it does not write any history to the disk. Therefore, with some limitations, you can use TOR to access online content without your activity being traced back. In addition, each tab uses a different IP address and nodes to increase the difficulty of linking browsing activity and you. Unfortunately, hops (routing devices) slow down the connection, and also some websites block the TOR network.
Unfortunately, governments globally are aware of the TOR network because it facilitates criminal activities. Therefore, please don’t use it often because you might end up on security agencies’ radar because there are techniques that agencies use to find you. In addition, you often leave traces by accident, like staying logged in to the Google account when switching between TOR, VPN, Proxy, and your regular ISP.
In case you thought about using a VPN in conjunction with a TOR network, you need to remember that this will significantly impact your connection speed but will work and provide an additional layer of protection.
What about the proxy?
A proxy server is used as an intermediary server that you use to forward your web requests. Proxy modifies those requests and sends them on your behalf. The modification performed by proxy is limited to only your IP address, similarly to VPNs. Proxy servers are also used as caching services to speed up web browsing or limit online content access. These limitations are very common in the industry – employees are not allowed to access, for example, Facebook, Instagram, or YouTube from the corporate network.
Unfortunately, proxy servers have drawbacks, one of which is that they do not support encryption. Nevertheless, proxy servers are faster than VPNs because they also cache the content and do not perform any encryption of the network traffic. So, if you access a website that someone already did before you, you will get partially cached content directly from the proxy server.
VPN vs. Proxy vs. TOR
You can find comments that proxy is enough to reroute your traffic before it reaches the web server and will hide your real IP without encryption. That’s true, but you need a little bit more than that for your privacy. Another alternative is the TOR (The Onion Router), as mentioned above, a network that reroutes encrypted traffic through nodes before going out with a public IP address.
Let’s compare VPN, Proxy, and TOR to determine which of the three options is better.
What if you make your own VPN?
One of the solutions to issues with trust is to set up your own VPN server. Sounds interesting? Unfortunately, that’s not an ideal option for everyone, and it sometimes costs more than the commercial VPN. Moreover, you still will have to trust a hosting company providing the server to run your VPN.
You have a couple of options to get the server. For example, the Amazon Cloud service is a possible option with a high level of trust. To set up your VPN server, you can use online available projects that can help you turn any old server into a VPN. For example, you could use Streisand open-source project and install it on a Linode server. With Streisand, you set up a new server running your choice of WireGuard, OpenConnect, OpenSSH, OpenVPN, Shadowsocks, sslh, Stunnel, or a Tor bridge.
In most cases, those projects provide you with scripts that you can use to set up a VPN on the desired server. Unfortunately, it requires some knowledge, a little bit of experience, and time. Moreover, you must pay monthly for the server and the bandwidth you use. Many cloud providers offer plans for $5 a month. You can choose from Digital Ocean, AWS, or Google Cloud.
There is a disadvantage to free open-source VPNs. The software is free, but, as you can see, you have to pay for the server and bandwidth that you will be using. So, the monthly amount you will have to pay depends on your online activity and VPN usage. Of course, the cost and bandwidth differ, but you can estimate to pay around $5/month for one terabyte of data. In comparison, on average, you might expect to pay for a commercial VPN about 3.5/month. Which is much cheaper, and the best VPNs offer unlimited bandwidth, so you will not have to pay extra for data usage.
In addition, when you use your own VPN, you must maintain it. So potentially, you will have to deal with legal regulations that the country could impose on you, depending on the server location. Still, you will also lose the extra layer of privacy, the traffic mixing.
What does it mean? When you use a server that you share with hundreds or thousands of other VPN users, it is much more difficult to attribute online activity to you. Especially when the VPN provider doesn’t store any logs, it’s impossible to track you.
Therefore, your own VPN might sound like a good option, but it’s not 100% the best solution, and you still have to pay for it, sometimes even more than for a commercial VPN with unlimited bandwidth. So everything depends on what you need and how you use the VPN.
Alternatives to VPN
If you still don’t know if is a VPN worth it, then at least secure yourselves online with basic protections.
First, keep the software on your devices up to date to get the security fixes that protect you against the latest vulnerabilities.
Second, use accounts with two-step verification to protect your data if your password gets stolen.
Next, if you don’t want to use public WiFi, use your smartphone as a hotspot. Then, enable sharing of your cellular data connection with other devices. Remember that the mobile hotspot counts against the monthly data allotment in your cellular plan.
In summarizing, is a VPN worth it?
As explained earlier, VPN is only a partial solution that you can use to keep your data private. However, even if you hide your activities from your ISP, online services like Facebook or Google can use tracking techniques to identify your online activities.
Moreover, trackers follow ads, but the problem is more significant than you think. Ads are fully functioning programs, making them really dangerous because they can carry malware. So if you are truly concerned about privacy and want to protect your web browsing history, you should use a VPN with an ad blocker like uBlock Origin or a tracker blocker like Disconnect that allows you to see the ad.
Additionally, you can use it when it seems necessary based on your requirements list and simply turn off VPN whenever it’s not needed. It might be a workaround for potential slowdowns, but based on our VPN test, good-quality VPNs with a vast number of servers should not significantly impact your connection speed.
Now we come to the primary use scenario that makes VPN worth it – public free WiFi networks at coffee shops, airports, hotels, etc. If you prefer to use available hotspots, you should consider getting a VPN for your mobile device. In this particular situation, VPN will protect you from fake access points prepared by hackers who are phishing for your sensitive data.
That’s not all. Even at home, you might not feel secure, while in 2017 in the US, Congress confirmed ISPs’ “rights” to listen in and sell customer data without permission. Moreover, this situation is not limited to only the United States. Governments from different countries are trying to control the Internet. Therefore, you need a VPN at home as well.
VPNs are great options in authoritarian countries where citizens can use a VPN to make it look like they were in other locations. That helps them bypass limitations and access web content they cannot usually see.
If you are still not convinced about VPNs, you might also like to check other our articles that potentially explain the topic in a little bit different way or test your chosen VPN yourself.
How to choose a VPN – 10 selection criteria for beginners
Use presented criteria to find the best VPN for you
1 – Trust and transparency
Search for a VPN with recent, published back-end security audits performed by a reputable third-party company conducted unannounced whenever an independent auditor decides to do it. Make sure that the company has a public-facing leadership or ownership.
2 – Privacy and terms-of-service policies
Next, there are two types of opinions about the company location. One prefers the location in a country with solid consumer protections like the USA, and the other chooses the location without censorship. Both have pros and cons. Therefore, consider how you will use the VPN and if you accept minimal information logging.
Nevertheless, if you want to protect your privacy and don’t want anything to be tracked, choose VPN in offshore countries like the British Virgin Islands or Panama.
3 – Trial or refund policy
The best is to get the full version of the service to test everything. So, a paid trial or a 30-day money-back guarantee are the best options because they will not limit offered VPN service, and you will test complete functionality. Moreover, VPNs work differently in different locations and on different computers and networks. Therefore, a full version of a VPN can allow you to test it to determine if it fits your needs.
4 – Server network
The best offer to look for is the one with more than 1,000 servers because the number of servers close to your locations will provide you with high-speed connections. Therefore, if you travel, even occasionally, you want to have a local server wherever you are.
In addition, if your VPN server feels slow, potentially it’s crowded, and you might want to switch to a different one. That is why you look for plenty of locations to choose from.
What is more, a VPN with a wide variety of locations helps geoshift your location to bypass restrictions.
5 – Security and technology
Encryption of the VPN tunnel defines the level of security and how it impacts the speed of the VPN connection.
At a minimum, look for an OpenVPN with SHA-256 authentication, RSA-2048, or better handshake, AES-256-GCM or AES-256-CBC data encryption.
If you need the best currently available encryption, look for RSA-4096, Curve25519, P-256, P-384, or P-521, but remember, the higher the encryption, the slower connection. Of course, it depends on your device.
For a high level of security and fast connections, you should look for open-source WireGuard, a new lightweight protocol. It’s already available on Windows, macOS, and Linux kernels.
6 – Kill switch
The VPN software will protect your privacy by blocking any traffic if you lose connection with a VPN server. However, without a kill switch, if you have any encrypted connectivity issues, your VPN will not be able to secure the traffic. Therefore, you want to block any packets leaving your devices in that scenario, and a kill switch should be effective and activated with one click.
Additionally, Split Tunneling could be handy to define which connection (data packets) should be routed through the VPN and which one should be sent directly to your network without encryption. That helps you use your local resources without problems while connected to the VPN server.
7 – Platforms
At a minimum, look for the support of the primary device you use to access the Internet, especially when you travel. So, VPN should offer native apps for Windows, Mac, Android, or iOS.
That’s not all. You might also need a VPN on other devices at home. Therefore, a VPN with support for other operating systems, routers, gaming consoles, and smart TVs would be a good choice.
Moreover, native apps for your operating system are necessary because they are easy to use compared to open-source or third-party VPN apps.
The native apps for iOS and Android are required because the manual configuration of a VPN on your smartphone is not a user-friendly process.
8 – Number of connections
Look for a VPN with multiple simultaneous connections.
Five or more simultaneous connections are a good option because they allow you to use the same VPN account on multiple devices or even share it with your family. That way, you protect your complete home network.
If you choose a VPN with poor connections, you might want to use a portable router with the VPN configured on it. That way, you would use only one connection shared among your devices or your home network.
9 – Support
VPN support is important because VPN is software used for communication, so you might expect it to be operational 24/7/365. Therefore, live online chat support with humans, not bots, is essential.
Additionally, you might look for email support, with responses sent within 24 business hours and some how-to website sections with answers to basic questions.
Let’s make it clear. If you can’t reliably use a VPN, it’s useless to you.
10 – Extra features
Some VPNs offer extra features that might look interesting to you but consider them after all of the previous steps of this how-to.
Therefore, if a VPN fulfills all of the requirements and has an interesting extra feature you were looking for, then it’s definitely a good VPN for you.