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Why encrypt your online traffic with VPN ?

Hackers, the MPAA / RIAA, Government, and your ISP snooping on your online activities ?
2013-07-15 (updated: 2022-02-18) by
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VPN, or a virtual private network, is an Internet privacy technology that allows you to surf anonymously by encrypting all your online traffic at the IP level. In essence, VPN is a group of computers networked together over a public network (namely, the Internet). Businesses use VPNs to connect and use network resources remotely, when they're not physically on the same LAN, as a method for securing and encrypting their communications over untrusted public networks.

Anti-virus software and firewalls may protect the information on your computer, but a VPN is invaluable for protecting your data while online. Your IP address leaves a trace on every website you visit and reveals information about past websites you've visited, your ISP, and even your location. Even if you have not considered using a VPN, at some point in the future you probably should, and it may become as important as choosing an Internet provider if you value your privacy and the security of your online traffic.

More than 2 billion people are regular Internet users currently. Typically, this includes transferring some very confidential information such as banking info, business communications, passwords and general account data. What many people don't realize is that the majority of the time, this information is passed over a public and unsecured Internet. It's very easy, even for a novice, to set up programs to catch all this information as it passes over the open Internet (think "Free Wi-Fi" scams where travelers in an airport or cafe patrons fall victim to a fraudster's "free Wi-Fi hotspot" connection).

One simple and cheap solution to this is using a VPN, or virtual private network. This is a secured network that you sign into with your Internet-enabled device, which in turn encrypts and tunnels all your online traffic as it's carried over the public Internet. In short, it allows your computer or mobile device to send data over the public Internet as it were on a private, secure network, making it practically impossible for even the most sophisticated criminals to uncover your Internet traffic.

The most important aspect of VPNs

In short, a VPN secures your computer's Internet communications to guarantee that all of the data you are sending and receiving is encrypted and secured. It is a group of computers networked together over a public network. It allows you to get secure remote access to network resources over a public network, such as the Internet.

Sample VPN uses

  • Students and workers use VPN provided by their organization to access resources on that network when they're at home or traveling.
  • Downloaders use VPN for privacy reasons with torrent downloads. This is especially relevant with the recent implementation of "six strikes" warnings by major ISPs. Just glance at Scan Eye to see how public your p2p downloading can be.
  • Privacy and security advocates use VPN services to keep their communications secure and encrypted at all times.
  • International media streaming can be achieved using VPN to avoid local firewalls and restrictions and watch original media content that is geotargeted (for example live streaming UK video from the US).

Even if you do not specifically fit in any of the above categories, any combination of the above is a good reason to protect sensitive data online.

Additional Benefits of using a VPN

In addition to providing an encryption layer to pass all your Internet traffic through, VPNs offer a number of other benefits:

IP Switching
Your IP address is a unique number that identifies you when you're connected to the Internet. This address is easily traced by 3rd parties and can be used to identify you and all your associated online activity. Many VPN providers have thousands of IP addresses available that you can adopt and switch between on the fly, making your activity and identity untraceable Many VPN providers like IPVanish offer a free interface that sits on your desktop and displays all the servers in different countries around the world that you can choose from. With the click of a single button, you can be assigned a London IP address which in turn shows the public Internet that your origin point is from the UK. With another click, you can adopt a Netherlands-based IP address, and so on. To bring another layer of protection, services like IPVanish offer "shared" IP addresses. This means that 1.000 people could be using the same Netherlands-based IP address, making it impossible to identify a single person for any online activity.

Bypass Region Restrictions - access blocked sites
Many local governments, particularly outside of the US, block access to websites like Facebook, Twitter, Pandora and Netflix, even if you're a paying subscriber to those services. Censorship in some countries limits access to sites such as WikiLeaks as well. However, you can assign yourself a new IP address from a country where those sites are permitted, to easily get around local firewalls. Although your origin point might be in China, you'll look as though you're in the US, for example, and will be passed through to the requested site with no issues.

VPN Protocols

As an end user, you should probably not worry much about the different encryption protocols (PPTP, L2TP/IPsec,SSTP, SSL/OpenVPN), as most of them have their benefits and drawbacks. It is probably enough to say that there have been some vulnerabilities found in the PPTP protocol, however, the most widely used ones are IPSec, SSL and OpenVPN. There is some variation in speed between the protocols, as newer ones may require more processing power, or have more header overhead.

To read more about the different options, check out our VPN Protocols article here: VPN Protocols Explained and Compared

How to Choose a VPN Provider

There are many VPN service providers out there, and they all were not created equal. Many will try to throttle your speed and will limit you to the number of times you can switch IP addresses. The best VPN providers should offer most of the following list of key features:

  • privacy - your online activity should not be logged in any way, as it defeats the purpose of VPN
  • adequate infrastructure - stable servers and adequate bandwidth should be a priority. IPVanish, for example, offers unlimited/unthrottled bandwidth in 60+ countries.
  • protocols - SSL/OpenVPN (or IPsec) protocols should be supported
  • competitive price - many companies offer affordable packages in the range from $5 to $15/month
  • multiple OS support and mobile apps (Windows, Linux, as well as Android and iPhone devices) - you should be able to get consistent experience across all of your devices.
  • multiple server locations - reputable VPN providers should offer servers in different countries

It is probably worth mentioning that there are even some free VPN providers. A word of caution, however, is that free VPN providers have very weak commitment to your privacy, they offer fewer exit points, log your activities, serve contextual ads while you're connected, and track your usage to tailor future ads to you. All this defeats many of the key features in using a VPN service in the first place.

With all those considerations in mind, and short of  rolling your own VPN, below is a list of some top VPN providers.

Top VPN Providers

Below is our take on the current top VPN providers that offer solid servers in multiple locations, OpenVPN/SSL, all major OSes support (Windows, Linux, as well as Android/iOS mobile devices), and all the key features mentioned above.

IPVanish VPN

IPVanish VPN
is a very solid Tier-1 Global VPN provider, meaning that they own and manage their own private network (no aspect of their service is rented, insuring good quality of service). They have excellent network management, IP services and content delivery services experience and are constantly upgrading their service for customers. The service costs between $10/month, and as little as $6.49/month for a multi-month service plan. In addition to free VPN software, the company provides unlimited IP switching, unthrottled VPN speed, OpenVPN support, and up to 2 simultaneous connections, so you can encrypt your home computer and mobile device simultaneously. IPVanish is US-based, and currently has more than 300+ servers using a pool of 40,000 anonymous IPs in over 60 countries! What all that means is more unblocked anonymous service with plenty of bandwidth and redundancy to back it up. The IPVanish network is optimized for unblocking streaming sites (i.e. Netflix, Pandora, YouTube, etc.) and they also offer a light-weight custom software that shows interactive map of servers and latency to them. We definitely recommend them.

Namecheap VPN - Namecheap's new VPN service seems to share the same network as IPVanish VPN at a very competitive price for longer term periods. Both providers seem to use the servers. Prices vary between $5.88/month and less than $2/mo for a 3-year plan. Namecheap is one of the biggest registrars on the Internet managing over 10 Million domains, so they stand behind their services.

VyprVPN - a Goldenfrog partnership with Giganews, a well-known Usenet provider. The service costs as little as $10/month for the basic PPTP service, a bit more for OpenVPN/SSL and L2TP/IPSec support.

StrongVPN - a solid company, the PPTP service is cheaper, however, you can get OpenVPN for about $10/month. Solid service, servers in 20 countries, supports all major OSes and Android/iOS mobile devices.

Hide My Ass! - UK-based VPN provider with servers in 53 countries, OpenVPN, L2TP and PPTP support. Cost is between $7 and $11 per month.

PureVPN - operated by Hong Kong-based GZ Systems, Ltc. Good VPN services since 2006 and often ranked as a top VPN provider. Costs about $10/month for their "personal" plans.

See Also

VPN Protocols Explained and Compared

  User Reviews/Comments:
by Val - 2013-03-10 05:26
I had to access Facebook while in China. I found this blog post and gave it a try. I used Terasurf. Check it out for yourself. (hidemyass was not working in China while I was there).
by Mandee - 2013-05-01 07:01
Yup, VPN is the only way to go. But you sho9uls be using SSL based openvpn if y9u want to be sure you get security and reliability, I've found ExpressVPN ( to be the best provider if you're overseas.
by Alex - 2013-05-31 10:06
What about SunVPN ? I've been using them for 2 months and it's a steady ride so far.
by lalapark01 - 2013-09-18 06:50
I have had the same experience with ExpressVPN. I found them through and decided to try them since the content was sincere and not just promoting a product. I have used them for years and never found a better service. Some servers can be slow, but that will happen when you connect from across the globe.
by Sherell - 2014-01-24 08:39
With SunVPN I got Full Internet Access from any location. Bypass those restrictive Internet filters in China, Oman, UAE, Qatar or even those from your company or university network!
I also unblocked VoIP applications like Skype or Google Talk, instant messengers like MSN or many other programs that were blocked in my network environment. Highly trained network engineers will help you setup and use your very own VPN service.
by AlexisB - 2014-09-18 02:24
Since I travel to China often, and you can't access Facebook in China, it's always a challenge trying to find a proxy that works. I find that the free ones are usually blocked quite quickly, and a VPN is not an option for me since I don't want to have to download the software onto my computer. On my most recent trip I actually used . A friend of mine happened to be in China and was already connected to them and recommended it to me. I feel that everyone should know about their great service. It was really helpful to not have to download anything, since it is web based. They also provide a free trial for whoever wants to try it out.
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