Virtual private networks (VPNs) are among the most useful security tools consumers have access to. With the sheer amount of information gathering and data mining happening on social media and even on the open internet, consumers can’t be too careful with guarding their data.
Whether through an installed program or a browser extension, VPNs offer a simple solution that makes it more difficult for unauthorized collection of an individual’s data. Thanks to how easy it is to develop a VPN, however, consumers are spoiled for choice, and it can be challenging to figure out what one needs when it comes to this software.
Here, 12 members of Forbes Technology Council offer their insights into the critical elements of a good VPN for consumer use.
1. Choose A Reputable VPN Vendor
Consumer VPN software poses two risks: 1) it has privileged rights to your endpoint (laptop or mobile phone), leaving you open to malware risks, and 2) it can see all of your network traffic, leaving you open to privacy or security issues when transporting unencrypted traffic (like http). It’s important to use a reputable provider listed in a tech journal you trust, even if it costs more. – Steve Pao, Hillwork, LLC
2. Don’t Go With A Free Service
Don’t hesitate to pay for the service. If the provider does not make money on selling the service, ask yourself how they make it. VPN technology allows you to secure your communications, especially in public locations. It can be vital for activists and journalists in authoritarian states. All these benefits can be diminished if your provider misuses or sells your network traffic information. – Ilia Sotnikov, Netwrix
3. Consider Your Development Cycle
You need to measure security versus speed and efficiency. You must ask yourself, is this VPN secure? What is the latency of your development team if you were to go with a VPN? You don’t want security to stonewall your product when it’s in its infancy. Pick a product that will help your team be secure but not hinder progress. – Waije Coler, InfoTracer
4. Dig Deep Into The Ownership
A recent article suggests that many VPN services are owned by a small number of companies, some of which are based in foreign countries. Being able to trust these services with confidential info is critical. If you do not have the option to create your own, I recommend digging deep into the ownership of any service you are considering. Make sure you know who you are dealing with and from where. – Chris Kirby, Retired
5. Consider Speed, Encryption And Anonymity
First, you need to figure out the features that are important to you. Then evaluate VPN vendor’s features — speed, encryption, anonymity — and make sure your priorities match. Second, evaluate the device compatibility, as some VPNs are not available in all platforms (Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android, etc). Lastly, make sure the vendor’s VPN has a user-friendly interface and a reliable customer service! – Veronica Buitron, TangoCode
6. Read The Fine Print
We choose VPN service providers based on their promises not to keep logs and protect our privacy. Make sure you read the fine print. Just because it’s protecting you from eavesdroppers in public places, it doesn’t mean it’s secure. Think about what you are trying to protect — if you want to be secure, turn off your Wi-Fi, and if you’re doing it for the sake of privacy, think about what information you are sending them. – Gene Yoo, Resecurity, Inc.
7. Look For Simplicity And Security
Do your research and learn about the provider behind the VPN, since your security and privacy can be at risk. The simpler the fine print and the more brand-worthy the provider, the more likely that it is a better choice for a new consumer. – Ankit Sharma, Inventive Byte
8. Seek A User-Friendly Interface
If a consumer doesn’t fully understand what a VPN is or how to use it, it’s best to choose one with a user-friendly interface. Many VPN services can be quite complicated to set up and find your way around. So, for beginners, look for a VPN service that has a simple, user-friendly interface that allows you to easily perform simple procedures. – Thomas Griffin, OptinMonster
9. Make Sure It Doesn’t Keep DNS Logs
One thing that I would suggest consumers look for in a VPN solution is that the provider does not keep DNS logs. You don’t want the VPN provider tracking you via logs. That defeats the purpose. –Terence Jackson, Thycotic
10. Use A VPN From Your Home Country
Consider using a VPN that is based out of your home country. You are most likely familiar with the laws in your home country, and the VPN provider would have to abide by them. Alternatively, if you choose a foreign VPN provider, they may be able to bypass any guarantees they make since you can’t legally reach them. This can include getting your money back if they fail to provide service. –Marty Puranik, Atlantic.Net, Inc.
11. Ensure Coverage For All Your Devices
VPN isn’t just for your PC anymore. We now do most of our sensitive transactions on mobile devices, often connected to Wi-Fi. Especially when traveling overseas or away from your home or office network, each of these devices needs to be protected with a VPN. It’s important to choose a VPN service that can cover all of your devices, regardless of form factor or operating system. – Paul Lipman,BullGuard
12. Look For Automatic Wi-Fi Security
Look for a valid and trusted VPN solution with strong encryption and automatic Wi-Fi security that activates as soon as a device connects to an untrusted network. While a free VPN might sound appealing, you should keep in mind that free VPNs tend to allow ads or even collect your personal and browsing data and sell it to third parties. – Amit Bareket, Perimeter 81