HOW TO CHOOSE A VPN HOST
In case you have been living in an ice cave (and how many of my discussions have started with that phrase), the US congress has authorized Internet Service Providers (ISPs)–such as AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Comcast, Time Warner, Verizon, dishNET, Windstream, etc.–to collect your Internet browsing history. This history includes exactly which pages you visit, what you have clicked on, how long you stayed on a page, and any other data and metadata they can see (which is everything you can see).
Your ISP is then able to use this personal information as they please, including–and most importantly–sell the information.
This allows your ISP and anyone willing to pay to know more about you than your mother.
Luckily, there is a way to shield your Internet activities from your ISP, the government, criminals, and your whackadoodle ex. It's called using a Virtual Private Network (VPN).
When using a VPN, all of your outgoing and incoming Internet traffic is encrypted. This provides as close to the ultimate Internet security one can have. The problem is that there are hundreds of legitimate–and thousands of illegitimate–VPN hosts. How to make the choice?
Start with this information: Although there are many "free" VPN hosts, nothing in life is free. These free VPN hosts are not providing a service out of the goodness of their hearts. They are making money on you somehow. Perhaps it is off of inserting ads in the web pages you visit. Or, they are harvesting your data and selling it. Unfortunately, you will never know. So, stay away from the freebies.
Step 2 is to prioritize what you are looking for in a VPN host. The features you may look for include:
- Privacy Jurisdiction. Does the VPN host have to comply with US National Security Letters, or other governmental requirements for disclosure of your information? If you don't care about the government access to all of your Internet information, this doesn't apply. If you do care, the geographical location of the host headquarters becomes important.
- Logging. Does the VPN host maintain any type of log. If they do, governments or attorneys may be able to force the host to make them available. Logs may track all of your Internet. I recommend using a host that maintains zero logs.
- VPN Protocol. There are several network protocols that may be used for encryption. There is only one that is open source, and constantly evaluated for security–OpenVPN. I recommend using a host that uses OpenVPN.
- Availability. Does the host have servers in your own country (best for speed), as well as servers in countries that support privacy?
- Pricing. This is sometimes directly related to the quality of service, and occasionally directly related to the greediness of those running the business. Look for reasonable pricing for the services offered, as well as how many concurrent connections you are allowed. Some hosts allow only 1 connection. Others offer 6 or more. This would allow for you to have your computer, phone, tablet connected via VPN, as well as those of a family member.
- DNS Leak Protection. If your DNS records are recorded, so are your travels. You want a host that offers DNS leak protection so that your DNS records are encrypted as well as your traffic.
- There are other factors that may be of importance to you.
Step 3 is to list the providers that meet your needs criteria. Don't trust the online reviews, or the "10 Best VPN Hosts" sites. They are almost all paid advertising. An independent review of almost 200 hosts is available at https://thatoneprivacysite.net. They have created a sortable rating table to help you make a decision. Screenshot below:
Step 4 is to sign up for a VPN host, install their software, and test how well it works within your system setup. If it works well, with good speeds, you've found a keeper. However, if you have problems, and the host tech support doesn't resolve it, or if speeds are not acceptable, it's time to request a refund, and then repeat this step with the next candidate.
Step 5 is to keep VPN active continuously. Understand there is a downside to VPN–throughput. The encryption/decryption of all Internet traffic, plus the added distance of having all traffic go through the host, introduces a reduction of overall Internet throughput. In most cases, your perceived speed will be 25-50% of that without VPN. In this age of privacy erosion, this may be a small price to pay.