VPNs are heavily advertised for their ability to protect your web surfing and secure your internet connection. Here’s what the experts say about when to use one and what to look for in a good VPN.
VPN stands for Virtual Private Network, think of it as a street on the internet that’s reserved for you and you only.
“What the VPN does is it creates an encrypted tunnel so that way your information stays private between you and the VPN provider,” explained Tony Cinotto, a product manager at Mozilla.
Once you activate a VPN, no one, including your Wi-Fi or internet service provider, can see the sites you connect to.
That means a VPN can protect your browsing history or let you access sites that might be blocked by a government or organization.
“With the disadvantage that now you’re trusting the VPN because the VPN does know the websites you are connecting to,” explained David Huerta, a Digital Security Trainer at the Freedom of the Press Foundation.
This is why you want to look for a “no log” VPN, one that promises not to keep user data.
“This means that that they’re not going to take all your different website information and sell that,” said Cinotto.
But don’t take the VPN’s word for it. Check for an independent audit result on the VPN’s website.
You can activate your VPN anytime you want your connection to be more private – especially if you’re doing banking or other sensitive transactions on a public network. Hotel, airport and public hotspots are good examples of places you might want to turn it on.
One downside: VPN’s can slow down your connection. Look for a provider that supports the WireGuard protocol, which is faster than the OpenVPN protocol.
Other things to look for in a VPN: make sure it works on all your devices, has lots of servers in different locations and no bandwidth caps. You don’t want to use your work VPN for personal reasons since your employer can monitor what you do.
As for specific recommendations?
“Mullvad has a pretty consistent track record of checking all the boxes that I look for,” said Huerta.
He also recommends IVPN, Surfshark and TunnelBear.
“I think Mozilla is a really great brand that provides a VPN that’s been supporting online security and privacy for over 20 years,” said Cinotto.
I tried out Mozilla’s VPN on a test account and it worked well. It is easy to use, stayed connected for long periods of time on my iPhone and has servers in lots of different locations.
Be prepared to pay about $5 to $10 dollars a month for a VPN subscription, you want to stay away from the free offerings.
“Free VPNs are notoriously sketchy. If you don’t pay for the product, you are the product and I think that applies to free VPNs,” concluded Huerta.