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how to choose a vpn

Choosing a VPN: Everything You Need to Know

In our increasingly digital world, various components work together to help keep our online activities secure and private. One of the most important tools in this regard is the virtual private network or VPN. 

A VPN is a critical layer of protection, encrypting your internet traffic and masking your IP address as it travels between your device and the websites or services you access. This encrypted shield also allows you to bypass firewalls and access restricted online content in certain regions. A VPN service is particularly vital when using public Wi-Fi networks, which can leave you vulnerable to snooping and hacking. 

However, with numerous VPN providers on the market, each touting its own features and capabilities, selecting the right one can feel daunting. In this guide, we’ll explore VPNs’ fundamental importance in the modern digital landscape and the key VPN service providers. 

Zoom out: why a strong VPN matters in your tech stack

A VPN enhances your online privacy by creating an encrypted tunnel for your internet traffic, shielding you from prying eyes, including your internet service provider (ISP), hackers, and even government surveillance. Here are additional reasons why a VPN is essential.  

  • Bypassing Geo-restrictions: Many websites, streaming services, and online platforms impose geographical restrictions on their content due to licensing agreements or other regulatory concerns, known as geo-blocking. This can be frustrating when travelling outside your home country, as it may block access to your preferred websites and streaming platforms due to contractual license agreements. By connecting to a VPN server in a different location, you can bypass these geo-restrictions and access content unavailable in your region. 
  • Safeguarding public Wi-Fi: Public Wi-Fi hotspots, such as those found in coffee shops, airports, or hotels, are notoriously insecure, as they are often easy targets for cybercriminals. By employing a VPN while on a public network, your data is encrypted, making it inaccessible to would-be hackers. This ensures that critical information such as login details, financial records, and private messages are safeguarded from unauthorized interception. 
  • Protecting against censorship: In some countries, the government has blocked or censored certain websites, social media platforms, and online services. A VPN can help you circumvent these restrictions and access the content you need, ensuring your freedom of information and expression. Install a VPN application on your desktop or mobile device and connect to a server in a different country. Connecting to a VPN server diverts your internet traffic through a nation without such censorship. 
  • Securing remote work and telecommuting: As more companies embrace remote work and employ teams across different locations, securing remote access to company resources has become paramount. While the digital tools used for remote collaboration, such as video conferencing and online workspaces, often have built-in encryption, it is prudent to implement additional safeguards. VPNs act as an extra layer of security, especially when employees work from public networks or other untrusted environments. 

How VPN establishes a secure connection 

At the core of a VPN’s security capabilities is its ability to create an encrypted “tunnel” between the user’s device and the VPN server. This process begins when the user’s device connects to the VPN service. 

This encrypted connection is created through a process called a “handshake.” During the handshake, your device and the VPN server exchange encryption keys. This ensures that only the VPN server can decrypt the data sent from your device, and only your device can decrypt the data sent back from the VPN server. 

Once the handshake is complete, your secure, encrypted tunnel to the internet is established. Any data you send from your device is encrypted before it leaves and then passed through the tunnel to the VPN server. The VPN server decrypts the data and forwards it to the website or online resource you’re accessing. 

When the website or resource sends data back, the VPN server re-encrypts it and sends it back through the secure tunnel to your device. Once the encrypted data reaches your device, it is then decrypted so you can view the information. 

Top VPN players in the market 

The VPN market is highly competitive, with numerous providers vying for users’ attention. When selecting a VPN service, it is essential to consider the leading industry players who excel in critical areas such as security features, speed, reliability, user interface, and customer service. Here’s an overview of some of the top VPN players in the market: 

NordVPN: One of the most popular and widely used VPN services, NordVPN is known for its fastest connection speeds, privacy-focused features, consistent geo-unblocking for streaming services, and built-in antivirus tools. 

ExpressVPN: A longtime industry leader, ExpressVPN is praised for its fast speeds, easy-to-use interface and robust security measures.  

Surfshark: A relatively newer player, Surfshark has gained traction for its affordability, unlimited device connections, and advanced security features like ad tracker and malware blocking. 

ProtonVPN: Developed by the team behind the secure email service ProtonMail, ProtonVPN focuses on privacy and security. It offers a free plan, great privacy tools, a strict no-logs policy, and advanced features like Secure Core and Tor over VPN. A no-logs VPN policy means the provider doesn’t track or store your online activities. 

Distilled 

Mastering VPNs can significantly enhance your digital security posture. Remember, navigating the VPN landscape with an informed perspective can empower you to make the best choices for your needs. Stay safe, stay secure, and happy browsing.

Nidhi Singh

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