Do you trust your VPN provider- A guide to avoiding bad VPN providers
If there’s anything the infamous Hillary Clinton email scandal teaches us is that how important cybersecurity is and how unaware general public is about it. She was investigated twice.
The reopening of that investigation just a few days before the Election Day was the sole reason for her loss to Donald Trump – despite having won the popular vote by over 3 million votes!
On the deep/dark web, hackers sell these for major profits – and buyers use these details to steal your identity and carry out financial transactions online on your behalf.
With so many threats lurking online, are you wondering – how do I secure my internet browsing? You might be interested in exploring VPN (Virtual Private Network).
Why sudden interest in VPN
As soon as he came to power, Donald Trump opened a much larger already-closed security loophole. He completely dismantled FCC’s internet privacy rules within the United States. It allowed Internet providers to freely spy on you and sell your usage data to third parties without your consent.
This alarmed millions of users, who had previously used internet nonchalantly. Internet searches for the term “Virtual Private Network” spiked overnight to 5-year high numbers.
Why use VPN when you have SSL
The Secure Socket Layer (SSL) transforms your good old but insecure communication channel into a secure block with the help of encryption within the HTTP protocol.
So it’s simple, right? You can use SSL and get your connection secured. Some might ask, why use VPN when you have SSL?
There are 2 reasons for it:
- SSL is implemented by the Website, not by you. If the website doesn’t offer an HTTPS connection, there’s nothing you can do about it.
- For implementing SSL security you need to buy an expensive “SSL CERTIFICATE”. Many websites do not consider free SSL certificatesreliable. Some websites, especially news sites, don’t consider SSL a priority because they don’t storeuser’s private data. As a result, SSL becomes either a setup overhead or an unnecessary expense.
If a website offers SSL security, it may not offer it for all the pages. So while you might see https on the login page, you won’t see it on any other page.
Google’s pushes for SSL by including it as one of its search engine ranking factors,but it hasn’t been able to expedite the SSL adoption rate.
Beware of a FAKE VPN
A simple Google search reveals a bunch of VPN services that are “free”. All are marketing articles meant to make a sale. Whether it’s an affiliate sale or a direct sale, you can never fully trust its claims.
When shopping for VPN, check for following red flags
- Any kind of logging is bad. But some VPNs only log your email address. Ideally, the lesser the logging, the better VPN service
- IP leaks
- Lack of Kill Switch (this feature automatically stops certain apps from using the regular internet connection when the VPN connection drops!)
- Latest news articles have negative reviews
What is a bad VPN?
Next time you are about to install a VPN client, scroll down their EULA dialog box and check if they log your data.
If they do, they may also be able to sell it without your consent by a simple tweak of the license agreement. Most of it happens in a clandestine manner without user’s consent.
Be wary of these VPNs
Other than logging, issues like download speed and customer support are also very important. Now we will list down a bunch of VPN services and what are their pros and cons.
StrongVPN doesn’t log any of your traffic or metadata (such as login/logout time, amount of data used, etc.). But that’s about the only pro we could find.
However, their cons onare aplenty:
- Only 5-day money back policy.
- Not all servers use OpenVPN
- Desktop client UI is extremely frustrating – servers may not respond for the supported protocol. When trying to change ports or servers, it doesn’t remember the old configuration.
- No call-in number, no live chat system, limited FAQs.
- Relatively lower speeds as compared to competitors
- Overpriced – limits to only two simultaneous connections.
StrongVPN is only suitable for users who are looking for a simple, cheap tool to bypass Netflix US and Chinese National censorships and for whom speeds don’t matter much. Power users should avoid StrongVPN.
Mullvad provides a strong sense of privacy – you can use Mullvad through a random-generated account number and pay via bitcoins – no email address or credit card required! They also track absolutely nothing
But as we dug deep its problems started to appear:
- Only 3-hour free trial
- No money back policy for cash payments
- Less than 150 servers in just 5 countries
- Doesn’t support L2TP / IPSec
- Doesn’t connect to Netflix
- No iOS or Android app – lengthy process to connect via “OpenVPN Connect” app
- Pathetic performance, lethargic download speeds
Mullvad was built to achieve a political objective rather than as a “good VPN service” – their privacy aspect certainly the strongest; on every other aspect (including performance), Mullvad VPN isn’t even worth mentioning.
PureVPN provides one of the cheapest services at just $3.25 per month for a 2 year-long contract. That is why they have a huge number of servers and over a million customers.
But then some problems cannot be hidden:
- The 7-day refund period has hidden conditions – a 3GB data cap or 100 VPN session cap.
- Well known for DNS leaks, and even IPv4 and IPv6 leaks
- Kill Switch often malfunctions – several users noted that it actually shut down their computer
- Deplorable speeds and almost negligible performance
- Explicitly claims to log of VPN session metadata (which can apparently get people arrested).
- Uses “Virtual VPN Servers” that mimic a different physical location – this is an attractive feature as well as a major security flaw depends on who you ask
PureVPN is a cheap, good-for-nothing VPN knockoff. The only reason they have a million *users is that they have a cheap 2-year plan and good marketing tactics. You might find more skeletons in PureVPN’s closet if you ask them how many of those million customers abandoned their accounts within first 3 months of their purchase.
FrootVPN is the cheapest VPN service in the market. It is a good VPN provider if you stay in Europe and choose European VPN servers
But so many users have reported so many problems:
- Very slow speeds (less than 100 servers) and unresponsive customer support
- No desktop clients for Mac or apps for mobile
- Claims “no logging” but then also provides your bandwidth usage stats for 6 months
- No free or trial plans
- 30-day “no questions asked” money back policy has a hidden caveat – you must give a reason and the company must determine that it’s reasonable enough to offer a full refund.
- No killswitch – if the VPN-secured public Wi-Fi connection drops, you wouldn’t even know when you are switched to your insecure data connection
FrootVPN does provide a cheap $2.99 / month plan with yearly payment, but that’s where its features stop. They’re still a growing company – many have verified it’s not a scam! But one shouldn’t fall for their low prices and then suffer low speeds.
The best thing about PrivateVPN is that it offers 6 simultaneous collections from all devices. It also has Android and iOS mobile apps, besides the usual Mac and Windows VPN client apps.
Upon further investigation however, the cracks reveal themselves:
- No Kill Switch (Connection Guard in Windows app does something similar)
- No protection from IP leaks
- 24-hour free trial needs a code for checkout, which has to be generated by emailing their support team
- Basic but feature-less client apps, need OpenVPN software
While PrivateVPN does do a lot of things better than other VPN services on this list, there is no single biggest reason to go for it. It is also priced higher while providing a very basic interface. For similar price, you can get much more detailed interface on other VPN services.
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Gurupriyan is a Software Engineer and a technology enthusiast, he’s been working on the field for the last 6 years. Currently focusing on mobile app development and IoT.