VPN has spread across markets owing to the high risks involved with online privacy. This is because of the increase in the number of cyber attacks. Hackers and malicious users constantly employ sophisticated techniques to intrude into networks. Today, a lot of people understand the importance of VPN and how VPN can encrypt data and provide security to the users while online. However, there is no specific guideline available for a VPN buyer. Not every VPN will suit your personal requirements and hence there is a comprehensive checklist that we have compiled to help you guide through buying a VPN.
- Free vs Paid VPN
Free VPN as the name suggests offers the service free of charge while paid VPN has a monthly or annual fee. The market is filled with several free VPN providers; however, roughly 88% of the users opt for paid VPN. The reasons for opting in for paid VPN services are reliability, performance, bandwidth, and security.
Security and data privacy are a major concern with free VPN. There is no guarantee on who could be using your data. Since these are free services, the providers are not bound to any legal contracts. This leaves more room for your data to be handled inappropriately. With free VPN, your data privacy is put to stake since most of the VPN providers share the data to search engines and other marketing platforms to run extensive analysis on your data. This data is in turn used to display the appropriate advertisements whenever you are online. Again ends up in a situation where your data privacy is compromised. In case of free VPN services, the authenticity of the provider cannot be verified. Home users can explore popular free VPN providers such as CyberGhost, OpenVPN to name a few.
Paid VPN solves most of these issues since they have tighter controls over security and data privacy along with legally bound commitments. We recommend Hide My Ass, VyprVPN, ExpressVPN, and PureVPN. For a comparison of all paid VPN providers, please visit VPN Comparison.
- Simultaneous Connections
Most VPN providers provide a detailed configuration guide for router configurations. This also has specifications about the number of simultaneous connections allowed from different devices. Most popular VPN providers allow 2 to 8 connections per user. This could be across multiple devices or same device with different protocols. Another point to be checked is the maximum number of concurrent VPN sessions allowed.
- Payment Options and Pricing
If you're opting in for a paid VPN service, you'll need to check for provider's payment options. Most VPN providers allow monthly and annual payment options. Some VPN providers also allow you to explore their services over a short trial period.
There are some VPN providers that charge users for a stipulated time frame while some which charge based on gigabytes of data usage. The payment options could vary from a credit card, debit card to PayPal or bitcoin.
Another point to be considered is the setup fee (mostly waived nowadays) along with renewal costs. Different VPN providers have different plan options.
- VPN encryption and authentication Protocols
VPN standards include IPsec, L2TP, and PPTP, PPP, Open VPN, SSH. In order to provide end-to-end encryption, VPN will employ one of these or combination of these protocols. PPP and PPTP connections are available only if MS-CHAP v2, MS-CHAP or EAP-TLS is the authentication protocol. While L2TP connections require IPsec.
Authentication protocols help in providing access to the users. The different authentication protocols used by VPN providers include- PAP, SPAP, CHAP, MS-CHAP, MS-CHAP v2, EAP, EAP-MD5 challenge, EAP-TLS, RADIUS.
An overview of the supported connection/ tunneling protocols, encryption mechanism, and authentication channel will help in understanding the VPN compatibility to the existing infrastructure.
Certain VPN providers maintain logs for a specific duration. These are specifically categorized as transaction logs and data logs. Most VPN providers do not store data logs. However, some VPN providers store transaction logs for backtracking and audit purposes.
The type of logging policies will be clearly mentioned in the VPN provider guidelines and will be a part of the terms and conditions specified.
- Operating System
Each VPN comes with certain in-build OS support capabilities and support only specific versions of the OS. Before buying a VPN, it is best to check the available list of OS support along with the OS versions. Same applies to using VPN across Mobile devices or for router configurations.
- Kill Switch System
Kill Switch System defines the behavior of VPN in case of a downtime. VPN secures your connection and protects your data, but there could be a situation when VPN itself experiences downtime. In case VPN does not have a kill switch system, then your alive connection will be thrown over the internet the moment VPN faces downtime. Practically killing the whole purpose of having a VPN.
In order to avoid such scenario, VPN provider should have kill switch mechanism which will by default terminate transactions in case of the VPN system failing at any point.
- VPN architecture
VPN can be placed behind a firewall or front of a firewall. Based on the architecture, it supports certain inbound and outbound connection protocols. So if you have a specific architecture requirement, it is recommended to check the feasibility of using any specific VPN before buying it. This also holds true for remote access VPN or site-to-site VPN or Internet-based VPN. Some VPNs support double encryption while some also support two-factor authentication.
- VPN Speed
VPN increases network latency and hence could impact performance. Some of the factors which affect VPN speed include: the number of users using the same VPN, the overall performance of the VPN, geographical location of the server, level of encryption, firewall settings with restrictions, ISP limitations, network bandwidth, the connection between ISP and VPN server, routing mechanism and supported VPN protocols.
These are some of the parameters which need to be checked and evaluated before nailing down any specific VPN.
Commonly used VPN reviews are openly available on the internet. It is best to rely on any community supported forums, and check on the performance and downsides of VPN being evaluated. The review needs to consolidate all checkpoints including architecture compatibility, pricing, reliability and any additional features you may be looking for.
This completes our consolidated buyer's guide for VPN. Along with this checklist, one needs to ensure the right fit of any VPN service into existing architecture. VPN solutions are long-term investments and changing them frequently might not be a very feasible option.
Disclaimer: We receive compensation when a purchase is made from the referred link. Our recommendation is based on our research and positive feedback we received from the users who've used the services.