What Is the Best VPN to Keep Me Safe Online?

VPN isn't perfect

VPN enhances your security by scrambling the transmitted data so only you can read it. VPN offers some anonymity by masking your IP address, which makes it difficult for others to discover your location and identity. However, VPN alone can’t deliver impenetrable security and anonymity.

In fact, when Edward Snowden shocked the world by revealing the NSA’s extensive, intrusive and sophisticated spying operations, he showed all of us how naive it would be to believe VPN is capable of completely defending anyone’s privacy. Aside from state sponsored actors like the NSA, we have to remain vigilant against criminals, hackers, and so on. There are many spying eyes; VPN alone can’t blind them all.

Still, while VPN cannot guarantee absolute security and anonymity, it is one of very few effective options available, and the technology itself is mature. A solid, trustworthy VPN adds a strong layer of protection to guard your online safety. Here’s the question: which VPN is the best?

Currently there are no official guidelines to evaluate a VPN service. Some VPN reviewers offer their list of “the best” VPN services, but most of their recommendations favor the VPN providers that pay them more, so trusting those reviewers is not advisable. However, it’s not difficult to evaluate a VPN service by looking closely at three key features: security, anonymity, and network resources.

Security

When it comes to security, most VPN companies support the OpenVPN protocol, an open-source technology that uses the encryption, authentication, and certification features of the OpenSSL library. You can find out if a VPN service supports OpenVPN, and easily evaluate the security features of various VPN services by comparing the technical features listed on their websites.

Here is a list of VPN providers that offer pretty good security, and support OpenVPN.

From IPVanish:

  • Encryption: 256-bit AES encryption
  • We support multiple VPN connection types: OpenVPN, PPTP and L2TP/IPsec VPN protocols.
From TorGuard:

  • Encryption: 256-bit AES encryption
  • Supported VPN protocols: OpenVPN, PPTP and L2TP/IPsec VPN protocols
  • TorGuard has engineered special “Stealth” connections that are guaranteed to bypass Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) firewalls and provide “invisible” VPN access in countries like China, Iran, UAE, or behind strict corporate wifi networks.
From ExpressVPN:

  • Encryption: Our network is SSL secured with 256-bit encryption.
  • Supported VPN protocols: OpenVPN (TCP, UDP), L2TP-IPsec, SSTP, and PPTP protocols.
Anonymity

But, when users ask VPN providers questions like: “To what extent will your company defend a user’s anonymity?”, “Do you keep logs of user activities?”, or “Do you allow torrenting?” things become much less clearcut. These are legitimate concerns for most VPN users. Many want to know whether their VPN providers will ‘rat them out’ when they are accused of downloading copyrighted content. Of course, VPN providers have their own concerns about these questions. On one hand they have to protect customers’ privacy, while keeping their network free from suspicious or unlawful activities. In many jurisdictions they also have a duty to satisfy legitimate requests from Police and security agencies for information about specific users’ activity. Without saving at least some user information (such as IP addresses and timestamps), how can a VPN provider be expected to prevent malicious activity or comply with law enforcement agencies? Given these concerns, many companies avoid giving clear answers to their users’ questions, and some prefer keeping their answers private.

Some VPN providers say they won’t monitor your online actives, and other so-called ‘no-log’ providers claim they don’t retain any user data, but the question remains, can you believe them? There is no satisfying answer to that question. You can contact the VPN companies and directly ask them about your concerns. If you don’t get an answer back you can assume they don’t care; if you do get a reply but it doesn’t exactly answer your questions, you’d be well advised to choose another provider. To simplify this process, here is a list of VPN providers I believe you should consider first.

From IPVanish:

  • No. We do not monitor, record or store logs for any single customer's VPN activity. We have a zero log policy. Our users' privacy is our main concern. For complete details, please see our Privacy Policy.
  • We do allow P2P or bittorrent traffic over our VPN. Please see our Terms of Service and Acceptable Use Policy for more details.
  • Jurisdiction: USA
From TorGuard:

  • Q: Does TorGuard keep logs?
    A: Absolutely not - never have and never will!
  • Q: Would TorGuard ever share my information with a third party?
    A: We don’t share any information with anyone regarding our network or its users and won’t even consider communicating with a 3rd party unless they’ve first obtained adequate representation within our legal jurisdiction. Only in the event of an official court ordered ruling would we be forced to hand over blank hard drives. There’s nothing to hand over but an operating system. (No Logs)
From ExpressVPN:

  • Q: Does ExpressVPN log my data?
    A: ExpressVPN does not track or monitor user activities while connected to the VPN. For more details, view the Privacy Policy section in the Terms of Service.
Network Resources

Speed, speed, speed. Speed is everything. Google search considers speed an important factor in ranking various websites. Who waits more than 2 or 3 seconds for a web page to load, and who doesn’t get frustrated when their Netflix keeps buffering? Yes, speed is everything. If a VPN connection is painfully slow the user will likely switch to a different service. Most VPN services lease network resources from web hosting companies, but a few companies maintain their own network infrastructure so they have complete control. This allows them to upgrade and optimize their network as needed – without sacrificing speed. For example, IPVanish hosts their VPN service on their own Tier 1 network that connects directly to the internet backbone. That’s speed.

VPNs offer acceptable privacy and anonymity for most users, but there is no perfect solution. The best VPN service is the one that fits your specific needs.
If none of the commercial providers give you an acceptable degree of security, your best option may be to set up your own VPN server. Yes, you can do that, and yes, it’s pretty straightforward. Follow my step-by-step guide and you’ll soon be enjoying all the security, anonymity and network performance you need. If you encounter any problems configuring your VPN setup, post your question at VPNtips’ forum so everyone can help and learn.

Happy hacking!

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