Five questions to answer before paying for a VPN

VPNs are great for privacy and jumping regional restrictions, but not all VPNs are created equal.

If you work on a computer or mobile device away from home, you probably use Wi-Fi hotspots in hotels, cafés, restaurants, airports, or on campus. The problem is, there is no way to know exactly how secure those networks are.

The best ways to stay safe on a public Wi-Fi network is to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN). A VPN is basically an encrypted tunnel between your device and the Internet that makes all your online interactions safe from prying eyes lurking on the same network.

There are many free VPNs around, and they may serve your needs initially. Eventually, you really should consider paying for a VPN.

Paid VPNs tend to run faster, aren't ad supported, and don't have the same bandwidth limits that some free options do. Plus, VPNs are relatively cheaply priced around $5 per month or less--depending on the payment plan you choose.

But before you dive in and sign up for a VPN, here are five key questions you should ask your prospective new service provider.

Exit America?

Hulu, Netflix, Amazon on Demand or whatever other favorite service may be blocked when you're outside the U.S. Many people turn to a traditional VPN to get around these regional restrictions. The key is to make sure your VPN has exit servers in the U.S. that will make it look like you are just a regular U.S.-based user and not some guy sitting in a hotel room in Paris.

If all you need a VPN for is consuming video content overseas, you might be better off with Media Hint. Unlike a traditional VPN, Media Hint is a Chrome browser extension that you install with no configuration required. For $4 per month or $39.50 per year, it offers access to streaming content in the U.S. and the U.K.

Are you using it for torrents?

Just like some Internet Service Providers (ISPs), a number of VPNs actively block torrent traffic. You'll want to read over the service's frequently asked questions and policies before you download all those various Linux distributions you've been meaning to try out.

Is it cross platform?

Your VPN should work across all your devices, not just your PC. Mobile access to a VPN may seem like a frill, but with tablets and smartphones a regular part of our daily lives, it's an important consideration.

Any limits?

Ideally, you want a VPN without bandwidth limits so that you don't have to worry about how often you're connecting. Most major VPNs don't enforce bandwidth limits, but you may find a service that does, so it's worth verifying before you buy.

What's their anonymity like?

Some VPNs keep usage records for short periods (anywhere from 10 minutes to thirty days or more). Depending on how you feel about privacy, you may want to look for a VPN that doesn't keep any records of activity whatsoever.

For the services that do keep logs, records generally include the time you connect, and sometimes an IP address. Torrent Freak recently did a detailed rundown of several VPNs and how they handle your privacy.

VPNs are a great tool for privacy and getting around regional restrictions, but not all VPN services operate under the same conditions. For savvy shoppers, a little research is required.

Join the CSO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags managementHuluNetworkingsecurityvpnNetwork managementnetflixprivacy

More about Amazon Web ServicesLinuxNetflix

Show Comments

Featured Whitepapers

Editor's Recommendations

Solution Centres

Stories by Ian Paul

Latest Videos

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Will your data protection strategy be enough when disaster strikes?

    Speakers: - Paul O’Connor, Engagement leader - Performance Audit Group, Victorian Auditor-General’s Office (VAGO) - Nigel Phair, Managing Director, Centre for Internet Safety - Joshua Stenhouse, Technical Evangelist, Zerto - Anthony Caruana, CSO MC & Moderator

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: The Human Factor - Your people are your biggest security weakness

    ​Speakers: David Lacey, Researcher and former CISO Royal Mail David Turner - Global Risk Management Expert Mark Guntrip - Group Manager, Email Protection, Proofpoint

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Current ransomware defences are failing – but machine learning can drive a more proactive solution

    Speakers • Ty Miller, Director, Threat Intelligence • Mark Gregory, Leader, Network Engineering Research Group, RMIT • Jeff Lanza, Retired FBI Agent (USA) • Andy Solterbeck, VP Asia Pacific, Cylance • David Braue, CSO MC/Moderator What to expect: ​Hear from industry experts on the local and global ransomware threat landscape. Explore a new approach to dealing with ransomware using machine-learning techniques and by thinking about the problem in a fundamentally different way. Apply techniques for gathering insight into ransomware behaviour and find out what elements must go into a truly effective ransomware defence. Get a first-hand look at how ransomware actually works in practice, and how machine-learning techniques can pick up on its activities long before your employees do.

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Get real about metadata to avoid a false sense of security

    Speakers: • Anthony Caruana – CSO MC and moderator • Ian Farquhar, Worldwide Virtual Security Team Lead, Gigamon • John Lindsay, Former CTO, iiNet • Skeeve Stevens, Futurist, Future Sumo • David Vaile - Vice chair of APF, Co-Convenor of the Cyberspace Law And Policy Community, UNSW Law Faculty This webinar covers: - A 101 on metadata - what it is and how to use it - Insight into a typical attack, what happens and what we would find when looking into the metadata - How to collect metadata, use this to detect attacks and get greater insight into how you can use this to protect your organisation - Learn how much raw data and metadata to retain and how long for - Get a reality check on how you're using your metadata and if this is enough to secure your organisation

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them Featuring: • John Baird, Director of Global Technology Production, Deutsche Bank • Samantha Macleod, GM Cyber Security, ME Bank • Sherrod DeGrippo, Director of Emerging Threats, Proofpoint (USA)

    Play Video

More videos

Blog Posts

Market Place