VPN Comparison 2015
What is the point of a VPN?
In the cyberworld, any typical user’s location can be pinpointed using their “Internet Protocol” address – anyone looking, which includes ISPs, website owners, law enforcement, national security, and criminals, can backtrack on your IP and target your computer and its physical location. Have you ever noticed how you search on, let us say, “luxury vehicles” and suddenly you’re getting ads for luxury car dealers in your own town? Or how all the “lonely lovelies” dying to make your acquaintance are also in your town and have names the same as people on your contact or friends list? Your IP is the trigger for these ads.
IP adress? What’s that?
You can’t use the internet without an IP adress – it’s how the internet knows to where it needs to send data. It’s a set of numbers similar to map grid coordinates. Unfortunately, your IP is also used to control your movement on the internet and your usage of various resources. Netflix, for example – for UK users, everything is in british pounds and the category list includes “British shows”. If you are in Germany, however, you cannot access those great British shows.
How does a VPN help?
Think of the Paris Métro: to anyone watching you enter Arts et Métiers station, as far as they know, that’s where you are. They can’t see that you’ve actually re-emerged over at Billancourt and are freely and anonymously wandering the city.
Most VPNs give you the ability to freely switch countries so you could be in France one minute, then Spain the next. You can access video content, live sports events, and other geo-blocked content by logging into a server located in the appropriate country. Because you’re using the same IP address as dozens or even hundreds of other users, there’s no way to sort the data.
Is it safe to use a VPN?
VPNs also provide an extra layer of security to your data stream. Many countries require ISPs to keep a copy of everything sent and receives. Right now, a stranger could be reading those emails you and your significant other sent back and forth. If you live in a socially progressive country, that may not be a problem; but if you live in a country that is repressive, such information could cause trouble. A VPN encrypts your data stream so that without the key, there’s not only no way to determine what the contents are, but it’s impossible to even tell if it’s an email to your grandmother on her birthday or an x-rated video.
Now, just because you’re surfing anonymously doesn’t mean you are free from legal restraint. In many countries, VPN providers do, by law, have to keep records of your usage. Usually, they log the username, the time logged in, the time logged out, and the total bandwidth used. They can, they will, and they have turned these logs over to law enforcement when crimes are involved.
Are there more practical benefits to using a VPN?
Imagine getting to watch your favourite show’s latest episode as it airs instead of being stuck with your country’s episodes which could be up to three seasons late. Because of licensing restrictions, only Americans can watch streaming video – a VPN acts like a passport: since you are using an American IP address, you are welcome to watch anything you want.
What if I’m not at home? Does it still work?
Go ahead and bring your laptop – a VPN is accessible anywhere in the world. You can watch your duly-licensed British live television or your HBO subscription from anywhere in the world. Also services like Netflix, Pandora, Hulu, Skype, Facebook and all the Google Apps are accessible in countries where their government blocks the usage of them. Hoooray!
The government has blocked my favourite website! Can a VPN help?
Absolutely, it can! Logging into a VPN means government officials cannot tell what you’re accessing. They know you’re accessing a server somewhere, but they can’t tell which one.
If the VPN is encrypted, will that affect my banking and shopping encryption?
Over a standard, unencrypted connection, your transmissions can be copied before they are encrypted. VPN connections are encrypted end-to-end, so data packets are left with nothing to detect.
What about copyright warnings and the like?
If you are in the habit of viewing porn sites or downloading software over sites like piratebay with bittorrent / p2p, every so often you may have received a letter demanding payment of a fine to escape prosecution. Such warnings are usually worded in bad English but because nobody wants to risk standing up in front of a judge and publicly discussing his or her viewing habits, a surprisingly large number of people simply pay the fine.
With a VPN, where there is no way to figure out if you were the user on the porn site or if you were the user reading the biography of Pope Francis, you can safely ignore such letters.