The rate at which we have become connected to one another has grown at rapid pace in the last few years. You can watch movies on demand, work remotely and learn about important issues through podcasts or blogs.
However, with a fully digital society, there is always a question of who controls our data, who has access to it and what it is used for?
As technology advances, so do legal and ethical problems. Often, where a service is free, then your data is being collected and sold to advertisers. Users can choose whether this trade off is acceptable, but for some it isn’t and they would prefer to pay a subscription. Thankfully, services like duckduckgo for searches and protonmail for email has led to a shift in how people use technology. Privacy focused services are a good start, but what about your connection? It is widely known that public wireless is insecure and that any bad actor could position themselves between you and the connection to intercept your traffic. Everything from email, banking and health records can be collected to create the perfect storm of identify theft.
At least your home connection is safe, right? Sadly not. Aside from the often unsupported and outdated software of your router, your ISP is compelled to log traffic by Governments for law enforcement. Whilst the majority of users act within the law, what you browse reveals your political views, your shopping habits, your heath issues, even your sexual preferences.
Privacy is a key factor in maintaining our individuality and identity. This is especially important in countries where human rights abuses frequently happen. The ability to bypass internet shutdowns allow democracy to continue.
This is where a VPN can help. In simple terms, a VPN creates a secure tunnel between you and the provider so all your traffic is hidden from bad actors, your ISP, Governments and alike. There are a growing number of VPN providers that all offer different levels of service to suit different needs. It can be complex and confusing with terms a beginner may not know.
However, below are some of the features you should you look for when choosing a VPN service
Check the terms and conditions of the service, do they log all data, metadata or nothing at all? It is important to make the distinction between staying anonymous online and private. A VPN does not make you anonymous, the provider has access to all your traffic and could, if compelled by law, reveal that traffic and subscriber information. A service with, “no logs” should keep that traffic collection minimal. It is a matter of how much you trust what providers claim.
Country of operation:
Along with logging, a provider that is based in a neutral country like Switzerland has a greater degree of protection over countries that have agreements to reveal subscription data and usage. *
Speed and Cost:
Using a VPN will be slower than your standard ISP connection. The traffic has to route through multiple countries before it reaches your favourite website. Thankfully, many services offer a free trial so you can perform tests. For instance, some VPN providers allow torrents or access to Netflix, some don’t. Use this to weigh up the speed against the monthly subscription. No one wants to pay a premium for a fifth of their ISP package speed.
Ease of use and platform:
Not everyone is tech-savvy enough to set up a VPN from scratch. Thankfully, many providers have clients available for major platforms that connect with one click. In addition, extra features such as, “kill switches” where a loss of connection to the provider stops all traffic, and, “DNS leak” protection mean that users do not accidentally reveal their real IP address, are available.
Hopefully this post has given some insight to the mystery of VPN services. Research the best solution for your needs and if you like, leave a comment.
(*I avoid political debate on this blog but as a side commentary, obviously, if someone is breaking the law, you would expect and want law enforcement to act. However, the problem arises where the definition of what is illegal changes. An example within the United Kingdom states, “Terrorism is the use or threat of action, both in and outside of the UK, designed to influence any international government organization or to intimidate the public. It must also be for the purpose of advancing a political, religious, racial or ideological cause.” Now, ask yourself if googling and posting dissent about the state of Government legislation or the making plans for your next extinction rebellion protest, could be classed as political or ideological?)