The right way to choose a VPN provider
When it comes to choosing the right VPN for your needs, the options available may seem overwhelming. Here’s our easy guide to help you choose the right VPN quickly and easily. We break down the top, must-have features for any VPN, and the ones you can live with out if it means saving some money. We also break down which type of VPN provider you should pick depending on what you intend to use it for.
Let’s look at a few common mistakes people tend to make when shopping for a VPN provider the first time.
Common pitfalls when shopping for a VPN
People tend to focus on the wrong questions and features when looking for a VPN provider. Here are some examples:
Things people focus on:
- Which VPN is the cheapest (or free?)
- Which one has the most servers?
- Which VPN has the most features?
- Which VPN is at the top of google?
What they should be focusing on:
- Which VPN providers offer the best security and anonymity?
- Can I trust this VPN?
- Which VPN’s are the fastest?
- Does this VPN have a mobile app for iphone/Android?
- Do they have good customer support in case I have technical issues?
- Which VPN is the best value?
So you might be thinking, what’s so bad about focusing on the features in the first list? Let me show you…
The Problem with Free VPN’s
There are no altruists in the internet security business. That is to say, when it looks like you’re getting something for nothing, you better start wondering what the person providing the service is getting out of it.
There are a few “Free” VPN providers out there, and they might be rather popular (after all, what’s better than free?) but they all share one or more of the following characteristics:
- They severely limit speeds, sometimes as low as 500kb/s (that’s only 10% of the bandwidth required to stream netflix in HD)
- They keep extensive logs about your activity, websites visited, and files downloaded
- They may be ad supported, or install adware/crapware on your system
- Many of them only secure your web browser, and not your entire internet connection
- They offer limited features, few server locations, and constantly try to upsell you to an expensive service
When you consider that even an “expensive” top tier VPN service can be had for around $7 a month, free VPN’s hardly seem worth the hassle, or the privacy risk.
Why you shouldn’t choose a VPN by feature list or google rank
A VPN provider can list all the bells and whistles they want for their VPN service, but that doesn’t mean any of them work properly. Here at VPN Top Ten we have tested dozens of VPN providers, and there are plenty who’s software just plain didn’t work! There were several VPN’s we tested where the software would say you were connected successfully to the VPN tunnel, but the connection had actually failed our traffic was still being routed through our normal connection. Yikes!
Literally anybody can offer a VPN service to the public. The software to create the most common VPN types is all open source and free so the barrier to entry is pretty low. That being said, most people don’t have the technical know-how to pull it off correctly, and this includes of the VPN companies offering so called “Professional Grade VPN service.”
Why google rank isn’t good enough?
There are some top tier VPN providers at the top of the google rankings if you run a search for “best vpn provider” or something similar, but there are also some pretty crummy vpn services up there too. The reason is, google rankings can be bought (at least to a certain extent) by hiring SEO professionals to rank your company for specific VPN related keywords. This has been a major marketing strategy of one “Anonymous VPN Provider” who shall remain nameless.
What you should REALLY be looking for in a VPN…
By far the most critical factors when choosing a VPN provider are: trust, security, and reliability.
In other words:
- Can I trust this VPN provider to keep to protect my data, protect my privacy, and not harvest my data or log my information without my knowledge or consent.
- Is the VPN tunnel as secure as it needs to be and what other steps do they take to protect me as a customer.
- How reliable is the VPN software and the servers I connect to.
We’re going to examine these issues and more in closer detail, one by one…
What makes a VPN trustworthy?
VPN providers by definition tend to be less transparent than most corporations. A great number of them don’t even list an address or phone number on their website (something you would never tolerate as a customer of another type of business). So how can you as a consumer make an educated decision when it comes to picking a VPN you can trust? Well, there are a few things you can do:
#1 – Pick a VPN provider from a 1st world democratic nation with strong personal and internet freedom
Leading developed nations (like the United States) tend to have strong consumer protection laws to make sure that businesses do not take advantage of their customers and deliver on their promises.
If a VPN in a 3rd world country guarantees that they don’t spy on their users, can you really believe them if there’s no accountability? In industrialized nations like the U.S. Great Britain, Germany, The Netherlands, etc, there would be grave consequences for companies that consistently mislead their customers, meaning corporations have a strong incentive to deal honestly and fairly with their customers.
We specifically recommend VPN providers based in the United States, due to the combination of consumer protection laws and government oversight of businesses, as well as the fact that the U.S. has no data retention requirement for VPN providers, meaning that no VPN logs are required.
A couple of the best U.S. based VPN providers are:
- IPVanish (read our full review / or visit their website)
- Private Internet Access (read our full review / or visit their website)
- ExpressVPN (read our full review / or visit their website)
#2 – Choose one the most popular VPN providers
This may sound like generic advice, but the truth is that popular VPN’s are popular for a reason. As a rule, they tend to deliver excellent, reliable service, they have full time customer support staff, and they have way to much to lose if they were to betray their customers’ trust. Popularity is essentially a vote of confidence from thousands of other users, showing you that they trust the VPN provider. It’s a good place to start.
Here several of the most popular VPN providers in the world:
How Secure is this VPN?
In our testing of dozens of VPN providers, we have noticed some incredibly glaring security holes in some of them. Some VPN’s use outdated Tap drivers for OpenVPN, some leak DNS information, and some VPN’s even showed a “connected status” when the VPN connection had actually failed!
Beyond basic competence, you want your VPN provider to be able to deliver all of the following things:
Consistent, reliable connections – You shouldn’t have to worry about whether you’re actually connected to a VPN server or have to go digging in the VPN logs file to find out. Your VPN software should just plain work all the time.
Not leak identifying data – A well known windows security vulnerability is that it can be tricked into revealing a person’s true IP address during DNS lookups. This is called a DNS leak (we wrote a complete article on the subject). Your VPN should use it’s own anonymous DNS servers to make sure your privacy isn’t compromised as well has build DNS leak protection into their software.
Offer OpenVPN encryption at least 128-bit – OpenVPN encryption is now the industry standard for VPNs. It is an open-source protocol meaning the code is consistently inspected for security vulnerabilities which are patched immediately. 128-bit OpenVPN encryption is used by the U.S. government and is considered to be unbreakable by brute force attacks.
Your VPN should never log/monitor your online activity, and should keep minimal or no connection logs.
Your internet service provider (ISP) probably keeps a log of all your visited websites and downloaded files for 6-24 months. You’re choosing a VPN provider to protect your privacy and ensure that you aren’t being spied on, so make sure you choose a VPN that isn’t doing the same thing. There is no reason a VPN should record what websites you visit.
Connection logs on the other hand are a bit more harmless, but they still represent data that is being kept about your connection. A connection log usually just consists of general bits of data, including: Time/date of connection, incoming/outgoing IP address, and bytes of data transferred. They are still very common in the VPN industry. Even very privacy oriented VPNs may keep connection logs for a day or two in order to help troubleshoot problems. There are, however, several VPN providers that don’t keep any logs at all.
We give these VPN’s top marks for security and anonymity:
1) Private Internet Access – They offer up to 256-bit OpenVPN encryption and 4096-bit RSA keys, all for only $3.33/month. Even better, they keep no logs and have built in kill-switch technology as well as DNS leak protection. Read our full review, or just visit PIA to learn more.
2) Proxy.sh – They are the closest VPN to Private Internet Access when it comes to features an anonymity. They have 256-bit OpenVPN encryption, no logs, and DNS leak protection. They also have the industry’s first “transparency report.” Plans start as low as $3.33/month. Visit Proxy.sh to read about their vpn plans and transparency report.
3) IPVanish – IPvanish made a major move in 2014 when they stopped keeping connection logs, making them another top no logs VPN provider. We found no DNS leaks when testing their software and the speeds we experienced on their network were incredibly fast. IPVanish has the only tier-1 data network of any VPN provider. Also, they include Free NAT Firewall Protection with all active VPN accounts. Read our IPVanish review, or click here to learn more.
Finding the fastest VPN provider
We know speed is important, that’s why we do a full speed test in all of our VPN reviews. Let’s cut to the chase, though there are the 3 fastest VPN providers we’ve found:
IPVanish – They control their own tier-1 data network, which means you get incredible speeds unmatched by any other VPN provider.
VyprVPN – Vypr uses server clusters instead of individual servers to give their customers top speeds and maximum reliability (fewer dropped connections)
HideMyAss – There’s a reason HMA is one of the most popular VPN’s in the world. They offer top speeds along side incredible software and support.