VPN’s – What, why and how much

by MaddOx
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Having posted purely about gaming related content for the past few days, I thought I’d mix things up and bring something to the table for the techies. More specifically I wanted to talk about VPNs, better known as Virtual Private Networks.

I’ve tested a few VPNs recently, from those that are free (or claim to be) and those who charge monthly, quarterly and yearly subscriptions. In the end, I chose to go with NordVPN but before I explain why I’ll answer some questions that I’m sure many of you have. And what better place to start than with…

What is a VPN?

A VPN or Virtual Private Network can be used in two ways; firstly, businesses use them to create a network to link their computers together, even when their datacentres are located remotely from one another. The second use for a VPN is to increase your security, as not only are these virtual networks more secure than untrusted public ones, they also encrypt your data to stop people from seeing things like what porn it is you’re browsing on the web.

There is a cost of doing this though, and not just in terms of money. By signing up to a VPN, they will actually take some of your broadband speed and use it for their own services. So where you may be subscribing to 300mb broadband, a VPN could theoretically cap you off at 50mb. It’s still enough to fulfil most peoples needs, but something you should be wary of if you do think about getting one.

What is a VPN diagram

Why bother getting one?

Good question. Until recently, they haven’t been too popular outside of the business world, but the number of private users who are purchasing VPNs is on the increase and there are a number of reasons why.

  1. A VPN can manipulate your IP address, so despite living in the UK, to those who know how to track your IP, it could show you as being in Belgium, Finland or the United States. This means you can get around geographical enforcement on services like Netflix which offer different films and TV Shows in one region compared to another. It also works the opposite way where if you’re travelling the world, you can make your connection think you’re from the UK so you won’t miss out on the latest episodes of Casualty or Holby City.
  2. Whilst it is a type of filesharing many detest due to those who use it to break copyright infringement, P2P is hugely popular, but it’s not entirely safe and your actions can be traced. A VPN allows users to download and upload content anonymously and to avoid the authorities.
  3. Ever noticed that something you searched on Bing or Google has started popping up in adverts on Facebook and on random websites you visit? It’s because big brother is always watching you. Get yourself the protection of a VPN though and it will allow you to use search engines without your history being tracked.
  4. If you’re very paranoid, or just prefer your privacy and don’t like a lot of these internet safety laws that are being brought in, then a VPN will stop prying eyes from viewing what you’re doing over your internet connection. Just make sure you lock the bedroom door so the other half doesn’t walk in on you shopping for their birthday presents.

How much is it going to cost?

As with most things in life, you tend to get what you pay for with VPNs. There is a range of services available, from those that offer a free service, to those who charge the earth to keep you feeling safe.

The problem is, with free services you often see bigger drops in internet speed, limits on the amount of data you can encrypt, fewer servers available and a few will actually use your data and sell it on to third parties. That’s not to say free ones are all bad, it depends on what you use them for. For years I’ve had a VPN extension called Hola on my Chrome browser, and for the odd little of web surfing here and there, it was more than useful.

When it comes to paid services though, there is a lot that you can look out for. Things like double VPN, which manipulates your IP address twice to offer double the encryption, and services that prevent intrusive ads from popping up on your screen without the need to buy an antivirus with adblocker (which never works anyway). These services can usually be found from around £10 per month, but if you buy longer subscriptions the prices do tend to drop and you can always find discounts around too, allowing you to pick them up for less than £50 per year.

Why I chose NordVPN

I had tried many different services; Vypr VPNCyberGhost and Pure VPN just to name a few. Most of them worked fine, and you’ll normally be able to get a free trial to test them out for yourselves. But for my needs, they just didn’t quite cut the mustard.

When it came to speed drops, I was constantly getting buffering on streams and I went from having a 50mb connection to sometimes less than 10mb. I would jump from different servers but rarely found little improvement. I also found that some restricted the number of devices you could connect, which although Nord does too, it allows a decent number of connections and for you to use it in multiple properties at the same time, so you can theoretically share a subscription with friends.

That wasn’t the only reason I went with Nord though, the offers they had on compared to most were spectacular, with their best value offer working out at just over £2 per month for their three-year subscription, which is a massive saving in the long run. Oh, and as for speed drops, I lost just 10% dropping from 50mb to just over 45mb.

Hopefully, having read this you’ll have a little better understanding about VPNs, and maybe will even think about beefing your own security up with one. Just be sure to shop around if you do, because what may be good for me, may not suit someone else.

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