What’s a VPN? How Do You Select One?

What is a VPN?

For years, I thought that having an office was a good investment… it provided my clients with a sense that my business was stable and successful, it provided my employees and contractors with a central location, and it was a source of pride for me.

The reality was that my clients didn’t visit the office and, as I downsized my client list and increased the throughput for each, I was onsite more and more and my office sat empty much of the time. That was quite an expense… office space is far more expensive than a mortgage.

I now work between coworking facilities, airports, hotels, coffee shops, and onsite with my clients. One of my clients even provided me my own station to work out of.

While my clients maintain a healthy network that’s closed to the public, that’s not the same with the coworking sites and coffee shops. The fact is that most of those shared networks are quite open to snooping. With the credentials and intellectual property I work on day to day, I simply can’t risk my communications being open to the public. That’s where Virtual Private Networking comes into play.

What is a VPN?

VPN, or virtual private network, is a secure tunnel between your device and the internet. VPNs are used to protect your online traffic from snooping, interference, and censorship. VPNs can also act as a proxy, allowing you to mask or change your location and surf the web anonymously from wherever you want.

Source: ExpressVPN

For a detailed walk-through of what a VPN is, you may also want to check out Surfshark’s interactive lesson, What is a VPN?

Why Use a VPN?

By ensuring all of your Internet communications are both encrypted and tunneled through other destinations, there are multiple advantages to utilizing a Virtual Private Network:

  • Hide your IP and location – Use a VPN to hide your IP address and location from destination sites and hackers.
  • Encrypt your connection – Good VPNs uses strong 256-bit encryption to protect your data. Browse from Wi-Fi hotspots like airports and cafes knowing your passwords, emails, photos, bank data and other sensitive information can’t be intercepted.
  • Watch content from anywhere – Stream all your shows and movies in blazing-fast HD on any device. We’ve optimized our network to provide the highest speeds with no bandwidth limits. Download anything in seconds, and video chat with minimal buffering.
  • Unblock censored websites – Easily unblock sites and services like Facebook, Twitter, Skype, YouTube, and Gmail. Get what you want, even if you’re told that it’s not available in your country, or if you’re on a school or office network that limits access.
  • No surveillance – Stop snooping by governments, network administrators, and your ISP.
  • No geolocated targeting – By hiding your IP address and location, ExpressVPN makes it harder for sites and services to charge higher prices or display targeted advertising based on location. Avoid getting overcharged for a vacation or an online order.

Because the VPN hides my IP address and location, it also provides me with a great way to test my clients’ sites to ensure anonymous visitors are getting the appropriate user experience.

How to Select a VPN

Not all Virtual Private Network services are created equal. There are several reasons to select one over another. With hundreds of different providers, reading a Tunnelbear review and choosing the right one means achieving the right balance between services, ease of use and pricing. 

  • Geographic Locations – When you access the Internet using a VPN, all data packets coming from a remote server to your computer or mobile device must pass through the servers of your VPN provider. For maximum performance, choose a VPN for PCs with servers around the world. Of course, VPN’s promises about global reach does not guarantee excellent performance, but it is an essential sign that the provider’s infrastructure is advanced and capable of delivering high performance.
  • Bandwidth – Most enterprise businesses offer an internal VPN. If they’ve got plenty of bandwidth, that’s fantastic. However, working with a VPN that doesn’t have capacity will slow everyone that’s connected to it to a crawl.
  • Mobile Support – VPN configurations used to be a bit of a pain, but modern operating systems have integrated VPN capabilities. Make sure you’re working with a VPN service that has both desktop and mobile capabilities.
  • Confidentiality – You should always know for sure that your provider does not collect or share your personal information and does not track your activity. Keep in mind that the promise of absolute confidentiality and zero journals does not mean that it happens for sure. In the past few years, there have been several scandals on the network. It is advisable to choose a VPN for PC from a provider headquartered not in Europe or America.
  • Speed – Top VPNs protect your privacy, but allow you to continue doing what you like online, including watching high-quality videos, playing online games, browsing the web, and learning more about technological achievements. Do not believe advertises. Always check online reviews and do your own tests. When testing the VPN service speeds for a computer, conduct several tests at different times of the day.
  • Price – You must be prepared to spend some money to use the best VPN. Free services may be suitable for one-time use, but they leave much to be desired if used daily. Free VPNs for Windows and Mac computers usually have strict traffic or speed limits. The good news is that most VPN providers for PCs allow you to test the service, evaluate its performance, and if something goes wrong, you will get a refund. 

Customers’ and professional reviews can be beneficial when choosing between several very similar offers. Some of the most important things that determine whether a VPN service is good or bad become apparent only after several weeks and months of use. Look for the pros and cons, and be critical. There is no 100% perfect service, but you still should choose the most appropriate one because VPNs are future technology.

I chose ExpressVPN because it has 160 server locations across 94 countries, utilizes 256-bit encryption, has apps that optimize your location, and has great pricing and support. As soon as I open my Mac or connect to a network on my iPhone, I see the VPN connect and I’m up and running! I don’t have to do anything to configure or connect at any time… it’s all automated.

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Disclosure: I get 30 days free of ExpressVPN for each person that signs up.

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