Are VPNs Still Worth It In 2023?
VPNs have become quite common in today’s world as internet users try to enhance privacy and security, circumvent ISP and government restrictions, and access geo-restricted content. However, these handy cools also come with a drawback in that the new connection introduced may have a negative effect on your network. Further, a reliable VPN costs money. So, is the investment worth it?
Well, to answer this question, you need to understand what a VPN does, as it is more than just security and geo-restrictions. This guide explores what VPNs are, how they can enhance your online experience, and why you may need one.
It also looks at:
- How VPNs work
- How to select a worthy VPN
- Top 5 Best VPNs
- Essential features to enhance your VPN’s value
Table of Contents:
- What is a VPN?
- 6 Ways a VPN can Help You in 2021
- How To Select a Worthy VPN
- Top 5 Best VPNs for 2021
- What About Free VPNs?
- 7 VPN Features to Maximize Your VPN’s Value
- Are VPNs legal?
- Wrap Up
What is a VPN?
A VPN is an online service that increases the security of your connections and protects your digital privacy over the internet. VPN security ensures that you keep malicious actors from your online connections and traffic, while privacy ensures that no one can know what you are doing online. And if somehow, they know, they can’t trace it back to you.
To provide security and privacy, a VPN relies on various technologies such as encryption, tunneling, secure protocols, privacy implementations, and an infrastructure of servers. In a nutshell, a VPN creates a secure and encrypted tunnel between you and the VPN server, then connects you to the online service you want.
The VPN server masks your IP address, so your destination only sees the VPN’s server IP address. This gives you anonymity in that online services can't tell who you really are. The encryption of your data provides privacy and security such that nobody can intercept your connection, and your IPS can't know what you are doing.
Image source - pixabay.com
Moreover, by connecting to a VPN server located in a specific country, you will bypass restrictions. For instance, if you are in France and you connect to a USA server, you will access content only available in the USA.
6 Ways a VPN can Help You in 2021
- 1. Securing your connection
- 2. Safeguarding your online privacy
- 3. Unblocking geo-restricted services and content
- 4. Bypassing censorship and blocks
- 5. Avoiding price discrimination
- 6. Torrenting safely and securely
A VPN’s benefits result from how it implements security, privacy, and its other features. Here are six ways in which a VPN can be helpful in 2021.
1. Securing your connection
The encryption and tunneling provided by a VPN ensure that nobody can eavesdrop on or even intercept your data. As a result, your ISP and government can’t know what kind of services you are accessing on the internet.
This kind of security is necessary when you are using a public WiFi hotspot. Such connections are mostly unsecured and are a haven for hackers. After joining such networks, hackers can easily intercept your traffic and even access your device to plant malware. A VPN’s encrypted tunnel prevents all this from happening.
2. Safeguarding your online privacy
By encrypting your connection and data, a VPN also safeguards your privacy. All data requests sent to your ISP will be encrypted, and the VPN will also change your DNS servers so that the ISP can’t know what you are accessing.
Apart from that, a VPN hides your actual IP address and ensures that only the VPN server’s IP address is visible to internet entities. Anyone who is tracking your activities will end up at the VPN’s door, not yours. And if the VPN doesn't keep any logs, they can't trace the activities back to you.
3. Unblocking geo-restricted services and content
Online content providers use geo-restrictions to limit their content to a specific location. This is common practice with streaming services, and there are also websites that limit their content to a particular locale.
Although content providers do this due to distribution and licensing agreements, it’s unfair to miss out on content you have already paid for just because you traveled to another country. A VPN can help you bypass such restrictions by simply connecting to a server in your home country. For example, if you have an HBO Now account, you only need to connect to a compatible server in the US.
In the case of other streaming services that provide localized content such as Netflix, you can use a VPN to unlock more titles. Some libraries are ten times larger than others, and all you need is a good streaming VPN to access them.
4. Bypassing censorship and blocks
Many governments worldwide impose restrictions on content that their citizens can access, and others even restrict what outsiders can access. ISPs are usually coerced to enforce the blocks and censor various types of content. They do so using various techniques such as IP and DNS filtering, firewall rules, and even Deep Packet Inspection (DPI).
A good VPN can help bypass such blocks. Through the VPN’s encryption, the ISP won’t see what type of data you are accessing.
However, highly censored countries also block VPNs. In such a case, you will need a VPN that offers obfuscation or scrambling technology to bypass DPI.
5. Avoiding price discrimination
Like the online entertainment industry, online retailers also offer different prices for their services/goods depending on geographical locations and other factors. For instance, car rentals, airlines, hotel bookings, and other online subscriptions offer different pricing plans based on the location of the user.
By changing your geo-location, a VPN can help you avoid price discrimination and save money. However, you should also clear your cookies, turn off GPS functionality, or use incognito mode alongside your VPN for the best results.
6. Torrenting safely and securely
Torrenting is frowned upon due to its association with piracy and frequent copyright infringement. In some countries, ISPs block torrent sites as a result of government or court orders. In countries where they don't, they tend to throttle torrent connections if you are using a lot of bandwidth.
Apart from that, when you are torrenting, it’s easy to infringe copyrights without knowing. In such a case, copyright trolls can track you since they can see your actual IP address when torrenting.
To torrent safely and securely, you need a VPN. The encryption will eliminate throttling as your ISP can’t throttle your connection if they don’t know you are doing. You also get to avoid copyright trolls as they will only see the VPN’s server IP address instead of your actual IP address.
How To Select a Worthy VPN
Since the demand for VPNs is on the rise, the market is flooded with many VPNs. However, most of these VPNs don’t deliver what they claim they claim to offer. Selecting the wrong VPN may end up being a bad investment, so you need to choose yours carefully.
Here are some factors that you should consider to ensure that your VPN provides bang for your buck.
- An Extensive Server Network: Servers determine what content you will be able to access. A good VPN should have a decent-sized server network with servers geographically spread all over the world.
- Unblocking Ability: Besides having an extensive server network, a good VPN will also allow you to bypass geo-restriction blocks and access various blocked content. Note that most VPNs are blocked by streaming services such as Netflix and BBC iPlayer.
- Unlimited Bandwidth and Fast Speeds: The VPN should also allow you to access the content without lags or buffering. Reputable VPNs offer the highest possible speeds coupled with unlimited bandwidth.
- Security: A good VPN should use AES-256 encryption and properly implement secure protocols. It should also offer additional privacy and security features such as a kill switch, leak protection, and obfuscation technologies.
- Privacy: A no-log policy VPN will keep your activities and connections private. It won't have anything to compromise your privacy, even when coerced by authorities. Some of the best VPNs in the market have also had third-party auditors confirm their no-logging claims.
- P2P Support: P2P traffic such as torrenting is commonly blocked by ISPs worldwide. Most VPNs also don’t allow such traffic either. To torrent safely and securely, you will need a VPN with dedicated P2P servers or ones that don’t block P2P traffic.
- Device Compatibility: A reputable VPN should be compatible with a wide range of devices and platforms and offer multiple simultaneous connections. It should work on Windows, Macs, Android, iOS, Linux, and browsers. Some even provide a Smart DNS service that can be used on gaming consoles, Smart TVs, media streamers, and routers.
- Value for Money: At the end of the day, worth depends on what you get versus what you give. A worthy VPN should meet all your requirements, whether that’s streaming, bypassing censorships, or anything else you want to accomplish. The pricing should justify the services, and the VPN should have a money-back guarantee, excellent customer support, and straightforward, easy-to-use apps.
Top 5 Best VPNs for 2021
At CoolTechZone, we regularly test the best VPNs and rank them according to what they offer. Here are the top 5 best VPNs that are worth using in 2021.
Surfshark is a budget-friendly VPN with excellent value for your money. The VPN offers unlimited simultaneous connections on a single subscription and is jam-packed with features. Despite being relatively new on the market, Surfshark has claimed its spot as a top-notch VPN service.
Surfshark has a server network of 3200 plus servers in 65 countries. This distribution makes it possible to unblock content from anywhere in the world. This VPN service can access almost all Netflix catalogs and other streaming services like HBO Now, Hulu, Disney Plus, DAZN, and BBC iPlayer.
The servers are optimized to offer super speeds with unlimited bandwidth, so you won’t experience buffering or lagging when streaming content. The servers also allow you to torrent safely since they support P2P traffic, and they are also configured with a private DNS service.
Surshark’s prominent features include the unbreakable AES-256-GCM encryption, multi-hop, leak protection, split tunneling, Smart DNS, RAM-based servers, kill switch, and a blocker for ads, trackers, malware, and phishing attempts. The VPN also has a NoBorder Mode for bypassing censorship and a camouflage Mode, its form of obfuscation.
Surfshark is a no-log VPN with a favorable British Virgin Islands jurisdiction, so you won’t have to worry about your privacy. The VPN is compatible with desktops, streaming devices, smartphones, routers, browsers, and gaming consoles, and there’s also a Smart DNS service. A subscription plan comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee, and you get 24/7 live chat support.
NordVPN excels at safeguarding your online privacy and security, and it is also suitable for unblocking geo-restrictions and gaining access to different content. The VPN boasts a well-balanced performance, reliable speeds, and a combination of security and privacy-focused features.
NordVPN is suitable for your everyday online tasks, from light web browsing to streaming on Netflix. Its raft of features includes next-generation AES-256-bit encryption, double VPN, Onion over VPN, Obfuscation servers, and P2P servers for torrenting.
To ensure privacy, the VPN doesn’t log any connection or usage data. Further, the VPN is based in the friendly jurisdiction of Panama, and it runs RAM-only servers to ensure all data is deleted after a reboot. The VPN’s privacy claims have also been verified via a PWC audit.
NordVPN’s server network comprises 5,200 plus servers spread across 60 countries. These servers offer unlimited bandwidth, and you can use them to bypass geo-restrictions and gain access to Netflix, Hulu, Prime Video iPlayer, HBO, and many other services.
NordVPN supports almost all popular computing platforms, and it also provides a Smart DNS service for devices that don’t support VPN installation. You can use one subscription on up to 6 devices simultaneously, and it comes you a 30-day money-back guarantee. In case of anything, support is available 24/7 via live chat.
ExpressVPN is a reliable VPN service preferred by millions of users worldwide. The VPN offers stellar security, privacy, and unmatched blocking abilities. It is suitable for both advanced and novice users, and you can use it for various online tasks as it has a knack for being able to accomplish pretty much everything.
ExpressVPN offers watertight privacy with impeccable security. The VPN has an offshore BVI jurisdiction, which is excellent for its no-log policy. PWC has also audited this policy, and the company proved ExpressVPN's claims to be valid. This includes the VPN’s use of RAM-based servers for ultimate privacy alongside a private DNS server.
The VPN uses best-in-class AES-256-bit encryption to ensure your connection is always secure. It also offers a kill switch, fast protocols, split tunneling, and leak protection.
ExpressVPN has a server network that consists of 3,000 plus servers spread across 160 locations in 94 countries. All the servers allow torrenting, and you can unblock Netflix, HBO Now, Disney Plus, iPlayer, and pretty much every other service. There’s also a SmartDNS service known as MediaStreamer that allows you to set up a dynamic IP address and avoid the inconvenience of updating it every now and then.
ExpressVPN is compatible with most platforms, and you get a simultaneous connection of up to 5 devices. It has friendly 24/7 customer service, and its subscriptions come with a 30-day money-back guarantee.
CyberGhost has a reputation for protecting online security and privacy. The VPN is based in Romania, and it isn’t required by law to log any user data. This makes its no-log policy effective.
CyberGhost has a network of 7,100 plus servers spread across 113 locations in 91 countries. The huge network ensures excellent speeds, and there are specialized servers for torrenting, streaming, and greater privacy. This means that you can torrent safely and bypass geo-restrictions without a hassle. CyberGhost can unblock over 35 streaming services, including Netflix, BBC, Hulu, Prime Video, sporting events, and many others.
One of the VPN's standout features is its NoSpy server. These are servers maintained by the company with no input from third parties, which ensures maximum privacy and reliability. The VPN also offers solid security through its AES 256-bit encryption, secure protocols, kill switch, leak protection, Smart Rules, and ad and tracking blocker.
CyberGhost can be installed on most devices and computing platforms, and it supports up to 7 simultaneous connections. The long-term subscriptions offer a 45-day money-back guarantee, while the 1-month plan has a 14-day money-back guarantee. The VPN also provides 24/7 live chat support in case you face any issues.
5. Private Internet Access
Private Internet Access, popularly known as PIA, is your go-to VPN if you are looking for a service that has proven its no-log claim in court. Even though the VPN operates under US jurisdiction, it doesn’t keep any logs. For this matter, PIA has been considered among the best VPN for privacy. Many Reddit users also prefer to torrent with PIA, and P2P is allowed in all servers.
PIA uses state-of-the-art encryption that keeps your connection secure and private. The AES-256-bit encryption is coupled with a kill switch, secure protocol, NAT firewall, split tunneling, and open-source apps. The VPN also has a DNS-based blocker that takes care of ads, trackers, and malware.
PIA has next-gen servers in 78 countries with a focus on the US. These servers are optimized to offer lightning-fast speeds and unlimited bandwidth, aspects that are good for streaming and filesharing. The VPN is also compatible with most devices and offers a simultaneous connection of up to 10 devices. Each subscription comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee.
What About Free VPNs?
As they say, there's no such thing as a free lunch. Although free VPNs typically don’t require you to pay for a subscription, they can end up being even more costly. The VPNs still have to meet their operational costs and make a profit, and they often do so through unscrupulous means. Most of them collect data and sell it to any interested third parties, and those that don’t will bombard you with intrusive ads and even adware.
Moreover, free VPNs come with various limitations. They have limited bandwidth, and they implement speed caps. These limitations make them unsuitable for data-intensive tasks such as streaming, online gaming, downloading, or torrenting. Their limited server selection also makes it hard to unblock content.
Other free VPNs have a poor implementation of security and privacy. Some of them provide weak encryption, and others lack security-enhancing features such as a kill switch and leak protection.
Nonetheless, there are reliable free VPNs that offer good privacy and security. However, all of them suffer from limitations such as server locations, limited bandwidth, and speed caps. These free VPNs are offered by providers who also offer premium services, so the free plan is an enticement for you to upgrade to their paid services.
7 VPN Features to Maximize Your VPN’s Value
- 1. Kill Switch
- 2. Leak Protection
- 3. Split Tunneling
- 4. Double VPN
- 5. TOR over VPN
- 6. Obfuscation
- 7. Adblocking
1. Kill Switch
VPN connections can temporarily drop due to various reasons, and before the reconnection is made, your online traffic will be visible to your ISP and other third parties. This advanced security feature ensures that your connection and data are secure whenever the VPN connection drops. The kill switch protects you by cutting off your connection to the internet until the VPN tunnel is restored.
A kill switch is available in all the VPNs listed above, and it should be enabled when torrenting.
2. Leak Protection
Some devices, especially Windows PCs, have a security flaw where your DNS or IP address leaks outside the encrypted tunnel. Your ISP will service your DNS queries when this happens, and so you won’t be private as they can see the sites you access. Online services will also be able to see your real IP address.
With leak protection, the VPN provider ensures that all DNS queries are forced into the encrypted tunnel and serviced by the VPN’s DNS service. This is a useful feature that you should ensure is allows turned on.
3. Split Tunneling
This feature lets you use the encrypted VPN tunnel and access the internet via your ISP at the same time, and it comes in various implementations. Mainly, the VPN app allows you to choose which apps’ traffic you want to protect with the VPN connection and those you want to leave out of the VPN tunnel. This way, you can protect what’s essential while accessing the internet normally.
You can use split-tunneling to secure sensitive apps such as torrenting clients or exclude others such as banking apps. If your VPN supports the feature at the router level, you can als0 decide the devices you want to encrypt and those you want to leave out. For example, you can secure your laptop while leaving your mobile device unencrypted to get local news and use banking websites.
4. Double VPN
As the name suggests, this is like using two VPNs at once. The feature allows you to tunnel your traffic through two VPN servers, and it provides double encryption, more privacy, and layered protection of your actual IP address.
By shielding you behind two servers, you also avoid online tracking.
However, double VPN results in a higher encryption overhead. We do not recommend it for streaming or online gaming, and it's only suitable for highly sensitive tasks. Double VPN is also commonly known as multi-hop or VPN server chaining.
5. TOR over VPN
The Onion Router (TOR) is synonymous with providing anonymity. The service uses several volunteer servers, and your traffic is tunneled through an entry node and an intermediate node before exiting through a third node. In this random maze, your connection and data undergo layers of encryption (like an onion).
The exit node doesn’t know where the connection or data originated from, and the first node only knows where it's coming from, not where it's heading. When used with a VPN, you add the anonymity of Tor to your VPN security, and you can access the dark web without using the Tor browser. However, your connection will be quite slow, and so you can only use the service for light browsing.
This is a feature that conceals the encryption of a VPN. It makes your VPN connection look like regular internet traffic to avoid VPN blocking in highly censored countries. In some VPNs, the technology used is known as scrambling, but they all offer the same functionality.
If your ISP restricts VPN usage, activate obfuscation or scrambling, and you will stay undetected.
Each VPN has a different name for this cybersecurity feature. Activate it, and you’ll get to block ads, phishing attempts, trackers, and websites hosting malware.
Are VPNs legal?
Yes, VPNs are legal even in most countries where they are not available, like China. This is because VPNs provide a means of protecting privacy, securing connections, and safeguarding online traffic over the internet. If VPNs were illegal, lots of businesses would suffer, particularly those with remote employees.
At the end of the day, the legality issue only comes down to what you do with the VPN. If you commit a crime when using a VPN, you will still have committed a crime. Authorities will reach out to the VPN and request all information that can be used to know the perpetrator. The VPN will then be forced to provide any data that they have about the usage of that IP address during the time the crime was committed.
It’s important to note that some VPNs collect user data while others don’t. Even if you are not planning to commit a crime, it’s important that you ensure your VPN doesn’t collect any data about your online activities. An ideal VPN should be in a friendly jurisdiction, not keep any connection or usage logs, and use RAM-only servers.
Other than legality, you should also be concerned about the consequences of whatever you do. For instance, if you get caught using a VPN to unblock your school’s restriction, you might be suspended. If you use it to commit a crime and the authorities join the dots, you may end up in jail. Some logging VPNs may also ban your account if you use the network for illegal activities.
All in all, be sure to check out the laws and regulations regarding commercial VPN use in your country.
VPN uptake is on the rise as ISPs and governments continue to encroach on internet freedom. A good VPN allows users to restore freedom while enhancing privacy and security. These, among various other uses, make VPNs totally worth it.
However, the value you get from a VPN depends on the VPN and your specific needs. Determine what you need and choose a VPN appropriately to get the best value for your money.
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