Perhaps the biggest reason that people opt for a virtual private network (or VPN) is to afford them greater privacy when online. No one likes to feel that their privacy is being violated with VPN you can easily mask your online activity and throw Big Brother off your scent.
What VPNs Do
VPNs have become more popular than ever with everyday internet users because they make monitoring your online activity a whole lot harder.
A VPN is a group of computers that operate as a network and which you can access from your computer or mobile device. Your traffic is then funneled through the VPN, which takes your private network and extends it across a public network, keeping your IP address and data are encrypted and hidden.
All Internet connections have an IP address that is associated with information like your Internet service provider and your physical location. This means that the typical user is alarmingly easy to monitor and track online.
The idea of a VPN is that it blocks access to your IP address information, essentially giving you a blank slate while you browse.…In theory, at least.
Yes, a VPN will prevent the website you’re accessing from knowing exactly who you are, but that’s not going to do your overall security much good if the VPN service itself is monitoring and logging information about your activities online.
When shopping for a VPN online, a term you’ll come across again and again is “zero logging policy.”
There are two types of logs kept by VPN companies - connection and usage logs.
The connection log is a basic record of your connection to the VPN server, including your IP, your time spent online and the amount of data transferred. This data is kept in order to help with technical issues, and is typically kept anonymous.
Usage logs on the other hand, go deeper. These logs show which websites you’ve visited, the files you've downloaded, and more. Some VPN companies have sold the data from customer usage logs to outside third parties.
If you’re worried about your VPN monitoring you for keeping records of your online activity, make sure to look for a provider that has a strict no usage log policy.
Due to the large number of users who employ VPN services on a daily basis, usage logs are rarely kept indefinitely. If a VPN service engages in logging activities, those logs are typically disposed of after a period of 30 or 60 days.
How Pervasive is the Tracking?
According to one recent investigation, of the 115 most popular VPN services, 26 collect information that could be personal and/or identify you. These include your IP address, bandwidth data, location, and connection timestamps.
Last year, data kept by a VPN provider - which has a no-logging policy - was later used by the FBI to track down and arrest a man wanted for stalking.
The same study found that only 9% of the logs contained the websites users visited, and that over 90% had payment info. It also stated that a quarter of the logs contained IP addresses and nearly a third of the logs included users’ personal details.
What You Can Do
Before you sign up for a VPN service, take a long hard look at the site’s frequently asked questions section, as well as the privacy and terms and conditions content on the VPN company’s website. This is true even if the site states that it has a no logging policy.
Typically on these sections of the website you will see a description of their logging policy and really get to see what the fine print says. You should be able to learn what the logging entails and how long the logs are kept before they are automatically deleted. Companies like NordVPN and Hotspot Shield have strict no-logging policies.
See to what extent you can opt out of any sort of logging and if you can ask for your logs to be deleted.
Also, look at where the VPN company is based. Jurisdiction is key because the company will need to adhere to the data retention laws of the country in which it is located. If this country requires strict data retention, this will nullify the no-logging policy of the company.
Another principle you’ll want to adhere to is - you get in what you put in. Don’t assume that a free service will be able to provide you with the same level of security and anonymity. After all, if the company isn’t charging anything for the service, then there is less of an obligation (and perhaps less resources) to protect their customers’ security. In addition, the fact that it’s free could indicate that selling or using customer data is a big part of their business model.
The bottom line is, you signed up for a VPN in order to give yourself greater privacy and security online. You signed on the dotted line to avoid being tracked - not to get monitored by the company itself.
Where to Start
There are a number of good VPN providers out there and settling on one isn’t as simple as checking off boxes. Two VPNs with equally strong privacy standards may differ in other unique ways that make them suitable for a certain type of internet user. Below are 2 well-established providers who meet some of the criteria outlined in the article above and have been singled out by the larger VPN community as solid choices for anyone looking to evade prying eyes.
- No connection or user logs
- Based in Panama, outside of EU and US jurisdictions
NordVPN has been a go-to for privacy advocates since its inception. For one thing, the company is based out of Panama, a territory that’s free from all US and EU jurisdictions. For another, their no-logging policy is refreshingly clear-cut: absolutely no connection or user logs. Nord also offers an extra feature called Double VPN, which utilizes VPN server chaining to provide even more safeguards against monitoring.
Though many champion NordVPN for its privacy features, the company has plenty else to boast about. That includes more than 5,000 servers, stealth mode and automatic kill switch, and one of the more reliable customer service teams in the industry.
- Compatible with torrenting and Netflix streaming
- Advanced encryption
Another well-established provider within the VPN community, Hotspot Shield is especially favored for its torrent and Netflix streaming capabilities. It operates on a no-logging policy that, while not as clear-cut as Nord, promises no activity logs (according to the website, the only data it collects is anonymous, aggregate data for troubleshooting purposes). Hotspot has also gained major points for using TLS 1.2 with perfect forward secrecy (ECDHE), and 128-bit AES data encryption. Hotspot’s real bread and butter is with torrenting and streaming, making it a favorite for P2P sharing and Netflix users.