How to Choose the Right VPN to Protect Your Online Privacy in 2017

A VPN is a kind of super proxy, hiding your true IP address and encrypting your entire Internet connection. The one major drawback of using a VPN is that they are rarely, if ever, free and are usually premium in nature (requiring a subscription fee).

Unlike the web proxies just discussed, a VPN creates a tunnel of secure data between your device and the VPN provider’s servers. This can mean that all of your Internet traffic, including web browsing, social media activities, torrent file-sharing (discussed in chapter 16) as well as chatting and messaging are channeled through a secure (encrypted) tunnel, preventing monitoring and surveillance.

Anyone snooping your Internet connection (your ISP or an adversary) while you are using a VPN will only see a stream of undecipherable encrypted data. This also makes VPN services a complete answer to the risks discussed in chapter 8 when using Wi-Fi hotspots, public wireless Internet access points.

Most VPNs nowadays are easy to install and use. Depending on the VPN you choose, you may have to set up your web browser app or Internet settings in much the same way as for a proxy by entering the VPN service’s address and port. But it’s usually more common that there is only a small app to download and install, which you then simply enable with a single click whenever you want to be anonymous online.

The Best VPN Services of 2017

Compare the top VPN providers of 2017 with this side-by-side VPN service comparison chart that gives you an overview of all the main features you should be considering.

Most VPNs nowadays are easy to install and use. Depending on the VPN you choose, you may have to set up your web browser app or Internet settings in much the same way as for a proxy by entering the VPN service’s address and port. But it’s usually more common that there is only a small app to download and install, which you then simply enable with a single click whenever you want to be anonymous online.
Ranking by EditorsProviderFeaturesMonthly Costs Client-SoftwareVisit
1.



NordVPN

👍 No logs are kept and anonimity is embraced
👍 P2P friendly
👍 Up to 6 simultaneous devices
👍 Supports Bitcoins
👍 Company Location: Panama
👍 Coutries: 50+
👍 Servers: 650+
👍 IPs: 2000+
👎 Monthly subscription not that affordable
1 Year Plan (per month): $5.75
1 Month Plan: $11.95
Windows
Mac
Linux
Android
iOS
2.Hidemyass👍IP addresses and servers in 190 countries
👍Bitcoin accepted
👎Logs username and IP address
👎Most servers are in USA
1 Year Plan (per month): $6.55
1 Month Plan: $11.52
Windows
Mac
Linux
Android
iOS
3.Ivacy👍No log files
👍Bitcoin accepted
👎No free trial
👎Limitations in money back guarantee
1 Year Plan (per month): $1.83
1 Month Plan: $9.95
Windows
Mac
Linux
Android
iOS
4.HideIPVPN👍No Log Files
👍Bitcoin accepted
👎Small number of countries & servers
1 Year Plan (per month): $4.16
1 Month Plan: $16.99
Windows
Mac
Linux
Android
iOS
5.Private Internet Access👍Many payment methods
👍Special modes for video streaming
👍Bitcoin accepted
👎Only 256 bit encryption
1 Year Plan (per month): $2.95
1 Month Plan: $10.95
Windows
Mac
Linux
Android
iOS

How a VPN Works

When you visit websites (or make other Internet connections supported by the VPN), the traffic is first routed to the VPN service and then to your device. Therefore, similar to a web proxy, it is the VPN’s IP address that is visible at the other end of the connection. Your own IP address is kept hidden by the intermediary VPN, acting as a proxy.

Using a VPN also means that all of the subsidiary details obtainable from an IP address – such as your geographic location, the pages you previously visited, how long you stayed on a page, the site you just came from (the referring site), the operating system and web browser app you use and more – are also kept safe. When you use a VPN it keeps hidden all this information from trackers, profilers, hackers, snoops, Big Brother and adversaries alike.

As with a proxy, you should carefully choose any VPN service. The benefits described above are only as assured as the integrity of the provider you deal with. For example, how long have they been in business? Also, check whether the VPN keeps logs of your activities and whether they share your data with third parties (advertisers, partners, affiliates etc.). As tedious as it may sound, read the provider’s terms of service and privacy policy (usually in the website’s ‘Legal’ or ‘Terms of Use’ section).

There may also be certain advantages for choosing a VPN service based in a specific country as some jurisdictions have stronger privacy laws than others. For example, some countries are often cited by commentators as having stronger privacy protection for consumers, but always do your own homework especially as laws are subject to change.

As an added bonus, a good VPN also acts like another line of firewall-type defense for the devices you use with it. This is because your Internet traffic will first be routed through the VPN’s servers which are protected by hardware, software and other resources more advanced than your own.

Many VPNs also now offer more advanced features. These can include being able to select exit gateways (servers) located in specific countries. Being able to select which country your Internet traffic appears to be originating from enables you to access content that would be otherwise subject to geographical restrictions such as watching online TV programs or streaming video.

Some VPN features automatically find and use the fastest exit gateway servers at any given time. Yet other features let you choose the apps whose traffic is routed through the VPN while your other apps continue to use your regular, non-VPNed Internet connection.

The features, appearance and operation of each VPN service differ, but later in the chapter I will provide some recommendations and detailed examples of how to use them.

How to Choose the Best VPN for You

Relying on any third party, including a VPN service, to act as a shield and protect your Internet activities requires a high degree of trust. For example, services purporting to offer anonymity may state that they are not keeping tabs on your activities, but how can you know for sure? You should only use reliable and time-tested services, but this is not always easy to determine.

In this section, I will outline how to choose the best VPN for you. A little later, I also provide some of my own recommendations for VPNs, but of course you are free and in fact are encouraged to conduct your own research and decide for yourself as everyone’s circumstances and needs are different.

Emotions run high when talking about which VPN service is the “best”. Everyone seems to have an opinion. But remember, the assessment depends on lots of factors and everyone’s situation is different. The following are some factors for you to consider.

Cost

The price each service charges is an obvious factor in your choice and a very personal one. Some people can afford or are willing to spend more, others are not. However, as many of the services are similarly priced – on average, usually about $5-10 per month (about £3-7 or €4-8) depending on the length of the contract you choose – the decision often comes down to features and reliability. That said, these services sometimes have time-limited promotions and usually offer discounts for longer contract periods, so keep an eye out for deals.

Although different from cost, perhaps payment options are important to you. Some people are not comfortable paying by credit card and want to see PayPal or other payment options, such as BitCoin.

Before signing up to a longer-term plan, consider starting with a short-term one first to make sure that everything works well for you. Many services offer monthly plans. Some even offer free trials or money-back guarantees.

Exit Gateway Locations

Most VPN services will allow you to choose the location of the exit gateways you use. These are the countries in which the service’s proxy servers are located. This gives you some control over which country the IP address your Internet traffic appears to be coming from. So, if you wanted to watch content that is only available to people based in the US and you live or are travelling outside the US, being able to choose your VPN’s exit gateways would enable you to watch the content.

In addition, anyone snooping on your Internet traffic will think you are based in the location of the exit gateway, rather than your actual location. If the snoop traced back the traffic to the proxy servers where the exit gateway is located, this would lead them to the VPN service, rather than you. If you want to make sure that that’s where the chain of discovery will end and cannot be further traced back to you, read the VPN service’s Privacy Policy to learn about what information they log about customer (your) activities and for how long.

Generally speaking, you want a VPN that has exit gateways in many different locations; the more, the better.

Advanced Features

Other features offered by VPN anonymizing services might include allowing you to automatically select the fastest exit gateways at any given time.

A kill switch is a feature that disables your Internet connection should your VPN unexpectedly disconnect. This helps ensure that your true IP address is not compromised due to any technical glitches.

DNS leak protection ensures that some special connections your device makes over the Internet at a very low technical level are also routed through the VPN, ensuring the maximum level of privacy and security possible.

Yet other features will even let you “split” your connection so that the Internet traffic for some apps, such as a specific web browser or torrent file-sharing, are routed through the service and anonymized, while the traffic for your other apps continue to be routed through a regular (non-anonymized) Internet connection.

More About: Why split?There may be times when you do not want to route your Internet traffic through foreign exit gateways, because many websites, such as search engines or online retailers, automatically redirect you to their country-specific sites or restrict the content you can stream or access.

A Word about Technical Specifications

Sometimes you will see a long list of various technical specifications included among a VPN service’s features. These technical terms may include PPTP, L2TP IPSec, SSTP, OpenVPN, SSL and TLS. Don’t let these confuse you. The bottom line is that they all provide a secure, encrypted connection keeping your activities safe from eavesdropping and monitoring, whether from online trackers and profilers, your ISP or from other potential snoops.

So you do not need to get wrapped up in what these are. You also don’t need to worry about which one of the technical specifications is “best”. Each one has its intricacies, but not enough for us to worry about for web browsing or even torrent file-sharing (discussed in chapter 16). What is important is that it provides a secure (encrypted) connection and hides your true IP address, masking it with a decoy one – all of those technical specifications listed above will do that.

Top Tip – Please keep in mind that, though these services anonymize your Internet traffic and help ensure your online privacy, they do not make you invincible to things such as viruses, malware and other similar threats. So keep practicing good habits on your devices, such as using anti-malware apps and being careful about the downloads, attachments and links you open.

Customer Experience

Customer experience should also be a factor that weighs on your choice of an anonymizing VPN service. While the service provider’s website will tout lots of satisfied customers and testimonials (what else would you expect?), some research is in order.

You can also Google around to find information about customers’ experiences. However, make sure that the advice is from a trustworthy, ideally independent source. For example, there are lots of websites purporting to “review” anonymizing VPN services when really these websites are not quite as unbiased as they claim. Too often, these sites are acting unethically and posing as independent reviewers without disclosing their affiliations to the services they are “reviewing”, all in an attempt to lure you into signing up for services that generate commissions. Ethical practice dictates that reviewers should disclose when they are serving up potentially commission-generating affiliate links

Recommended VPN Services

Not all VPNs are created equal. Some perform admirably and deserve a place in your privacy tool arsenal. Over the past several years, I have come to trust a handful of VPNs to help protect my privacy. In my humble opinion, here are the best VPNs on the market today at the time of publishing.

Remember that you can often use a VPN for a number of Internet activities ranging from web browsing, social media, chat and torrent file-sharing. Carefully check the features of any VPN service as you may be able to get more bang for your buck!

I am comfortable recommending the following services to you based on my own personal satisfaction with the factors I believe are most important, including:

  • Ease of use (installation, setup and day-to-day use)
  • Breadth (lots of different exit gateway locations)
  • Privacy (customer protections regarding logging)
  • Reliability (minimal downtime and connection drops)
  • Speed (fast downloading)

The Best VPN Services of 2017

Compare the top VPN providers of 2017 with this side-by-side VPN service comparison chart that gives you an overview of all the main features you should be considering.

Most VPNs nowadays are easy to install and use. Depending on the VPN you choose, you may have to set up your web browser app or Internet settings in much the same way as for a proxy by entering the VPN service’s address and port. But it’s usually more common that there is only a small app to download and install, which you then simply enable with a single click whenever you want to be anonymous online.
Ranking by EditorsProviderFeaturesMonthly Costs Client-SoftwareVisit
1.



NordVPN

👍 No logs are kept and anonimity is embraced
👍 P2P friendly
👍 Up to 6 simultaneous devices
👍 Supports Bitcoins
👍 Company Location: Panama
👍 Coutries: 50+
👍 Servers: 650+
👍 IPs: 2000+
👎 Monthly subscription not that affordable
1 Year Plan (per month): $5.75
1 Month Plan: $11.95
Windows
Mac
Linux
Android
iOS
2.Hidemyass👍IP addresses and servers in 190 countries
👍Bitcoin accepted
👎Logs username and IP address
👎Most servers are in USA
1 Year Plan (per month): $6.55
1 Month Plan: $11.52
Windows
Mac
Linux
Android
iOS
3.Ivacy👍No log files
👍Bitcoin accepted
👎No free trial
👎Limitations in money back guarantee
1 Year Plan (per month): $1.83
1 Month Plan: $9.95
Windows
Mac
Linux
Android
iOS
4.HideIPVPN👍No Log Files
👍Bitcoin accepted
👎Small number of countries & servers
1 Year Plan (per month): $4.16
1 Month Plan: $16.99
Windows
Mac
Linux
Android
iOS
5.Private Internet Access👍Many payment methods
👍Special modes for video streaming
👍Bitcoin accepted
👎Only 256 bit encryption
1 Year Plan (per month): $2.95
1 Month Plan: $10.95
Windows
Mac
Linux
Android
iOS