A virtual private network (VPN) has become an essential online privacy and security tool for many internet users. VPNs allow you to create a secure, encrypted connection to another network over the internet. They can hide your internet protocol (IP) address, making you more anonymous online and letting you access websites or streaming content that may be blocked or censored.
However, VPNs vary widely in features, reliability, and security. Not all VPNs are equal. Choosing the right one and using it properly is key to enjoying the benefits while avoiding the potential downsides. Our detailed comparison below analyzes the pros and cons so you can determine if a VPN meets your needs.
One of the biggest benefits of a VPN is it hides your real IP address which can be used to identify and track you online. Your IP address can reveal your internet service provider (ISP), location, websites you visit, and more.
A VPN masks your IP by routing your traffic through an encrypted tunnel to another server. This hides your traffic from your ISP, wifi network, government agencies, hackers, and advertisers. The remote VPN server’s IP address shows instead, preventing linking of online activity directly back to you and your devices.
Certain websites, shows, sports events, or video content may be geo-blocked in your country or region. For example, Netflix libraries vary by location and over 1,000 sites are blocked in China via the Great Firewall .
A VPN can bypass these restrictions since your traffic gets routed through another location. Connect to a VPN server in an uncensored country to access sites and content unavailable locally.
VPN connections utilize strong encryption to scramble your traffic into gibberish while in transit between your device and the VPN server. This prevents your online activity and sensitive information like passwords, emails, communications, and financial transactions from being intercepted or tracked.
Standard internet and public Wifi connections rarely encrypt data sent over them. VPN encryption ensures a secure, private connection protecting you from hackers, surveillance, and other cyber threats on public networks.
Some internet service providers intentionally throttle traffic speeds for high bandwidth activities like streaming video. This limits quality and can make streaming sites buffer excessively.
A VPN masks what type of traffic you are sending and receiving from your ISP. It encases all activity in the same VPN tunnel keeping the ISP in the dark about your online behavior. This can allow you to bypass throttling for smooth, consistent media streaming.
The distribution of copyrighted material without permission via peer-to-peer file sharing and torrenting networks is illegal. Your downloaded content may be monitored by copyright enforcement agencies who detect infringement by tracking IP addresses on these networks.
A VPN hides your real IP address providing anonymity while torrenting. This allows you to download files more securely without revealing your identity or location on a torrent swarm. Just be aware that VPNs do not condone piracy or illegal file sharing which is best avoided.
VPNs are available as software services that can be used across all your devices – desktop PCs, laptops, tablets, smartphones, streaming gadgets, gaming consoles, and more. Top providers like ExpressVPN allow simultaneously connecting 5-10 devices using one account.
This means you can route all internet traffic in your household through the VPN tunnel for consistent security and privacy without needing to purchase multiple VPN packages.
The best VPN providers typically charge for subscriptions either monthly, annually, or a mix of both. Good VPNs invest heavily in infrastructure, servers, bandwidth, customer support and obey no user logging policies which can make them pricier than subpar options.
Entry VPN costs average $6-12 monthly. Yearly plans usually discount 12-months to $2-3 per month. Additional connection slots, dedicated IPs, port forwarding, and higher simultaneous device allowances can increase costs more but add functionality for advanced users.
routing traffic through intermediate VPN servers adds distance which can increase latency versus your normal unprotected connection. This impacts speed reliant activities like 4K streaming, gaming, large downloads/uploads.
VPNs also funnel many user connections through shared systems so bottlenecks around peak usage times can slow speeds for all users simultaneously connected. Top services maximize bandwidth to minimize this but if many customers route traffic via the same overloaded server, lags are inevitable.
To use a VPN service you need to download and install a client app that handles encrypting data and routing your traffic through the VPN network tunnel. Typically apps exist for all major platforms but the software needs periodic updating as bugs get fixed, features added or internal processes improved.
While hiding your IP address anonymizes online activity to a degree, VPNs have vulnerabilities that compromise privacy if misused or poorly understood. DNS, WebRTC, and IPv6 leaks can still reveal identifying information about users despite being connected via VPN.
Overly intrusive governments may also pressure VPN providers in 14 Eyes countries to start logging user activity. This data gets shared with security agencies nullifying privacy promises. So knowing your VPN provider’s jurisdiction and logging policies is key.
Latency sensitive applications like online multiplayer gaming perform poorly when routed through distant VPN servers. The long distance trip and extra encryption tend to lag game data exchange speeding up ping rates.
This impacts responsiveness and can negatively influence key performance metrics like kills, deaths and destruction ratios. VPN gaming issues may force players to disconnect privacy features to better compete unless latency optimized servers exist nearby.
Video sites like Netflix and BBC iPlayer aggressively combat VPN usage to bypass licensing restrictions since they hold regional streaming rights for shows. To manage costs, they buy rights for territories individually at varied rates rather than globally.
VPN detection algorithms identify server locations letting streaming services block subscribers circumventing their systems via VPN trickery violating terms of service. This cat and mouse game continues though as VPN providers obfuscate networks identifying VPN IPs to combat streaming site crackdowns.
I put together the table below comparing VPN features across top 10 providers to help summarize the main pros, cons and differences:
|Private Internet Access
|Some session logs
- Server Count: More servers provide faster speeds, less crowding, diverse locations and expanded unblocking capability
- Server Locations: Wider country presence increases geo-spoofing abilities and reduces latency
- Simultaneous Devices: Concurrent multi-device VPN access across your internet connected electronics
- Money-back Guarantee: Trial length to evaluate service risk-free before committing
- Pricing: Monthly and annual subscription rates for VPN access
- Logging Policy: Whether usage data gets recorded impacting privacy promises
Q: Why would I want to use a VPN?
A: There are many good reasons to use a VPN. The top ones include enhancing your online privacy and anonymity by masking your IP address, accessing blocked or censored websites and content unavailable where you live, securing your internet traffic via encryption, bypassing ISP bandwidth throttling for better streaming, and staying protected when using public wifi hotspots or while torrenting.
Q: Does a VPN protect me fully online?
A: VPNs provide a significant boost in privacy and security but they cannot guarantee full anonymity or make you completely untraceable when online. VPN encryption has vulnerabilities that can still reveal some activity details depending on how carefully you minimize exposing data leaks. Overly intrusive governments may also legally compel even no logging VPN providers to start recording user activity limiting privacy through jurisdiction pressures.
Q: Can I trust VPNs not to log my activity or data?
A: Reputable top tier VPN providers clearly state zero logging or non-logging policies in their terms of service and have these promises audited by independent third party privacy organizations. However, not all VPN provider policies are equal. Checking logging specifics, jurisdiction headquarters and trust certifications are advised to validate marketing promises match backend business practices.
Q: Will using a VPN slow down my internet?
A: In most cases, VPN speeds are marginally slower than your raw uncensored internet connection. However, for activities like video streaming, large file downloads/uploads or online gaming, the impacts can be more pronounced. This results from traffic taking inefficient paths to distant VPN servers, the extra encryption burden and technical bottlenecks if you and other users overwhelm specific VPN nodes by simultaneously connecting to the same overloaded resources.
Q: Can I access Netflix or other streaming sites from anywhere with a VPN?
A: In theory yes, but in practice VPN spoofing capabilities get blocked aggressively by streaming platforms wanting to enforce geographical licensing restrictions. Specialized VPN services do exist that work reliably for Netflix and BBC iPlayer access but require research as bypass effectiveness changes constantly due to anti-VPN crackdowns.
Q: What is the best VPN for torrenting?
A: All VPNs provide a base level of IP address masking that can help hide your identity on torrenting networks. However, advanced users should consider VPNs that allow port forwarding connections for better speeds, offer robust customer support, connect many simultaneous devices, and ideally even provide dedicated IP addresses – especially if doing heavier peer-to-peer downloads. Top options particularly suited for safe torrenting include ExpressVPN, NordVPN, CyberGhost and Private Internet Access.
A virtual private network can be an incredibly useful online tool when chosen and utilized properly. It provides a way to bypass filters, unblock geo-restricted sites, beef up wireless security and conceal your digital tracks across the internet for improved anonymity. However, VPNs have drawbacks around cost, speed, software needs and limitations accessing streaming platforms. Not all providers offer equal quality either when it comes to infrastructure scale, simultaneous device support and importantly zero logging privacy policies. Do your due research to determine if getting a VPN makes sense based on your browsing behaviors, technical ability and internet freedoms required.