Cyber-security used to be something we could leave to the tech gods.
Now many of us are working from home. Meaning we have to arrange our own protection. As a result, virtual private networks have moved from luxury to necessity. And with demand skyrocketing, so has the number of questionable VPNs — many of which do little to protect your security.
Some may even compromise it, highlighting how you must choose the right VPN if you want the appropriate level of privacy. To find the right one, it can help to know what signals a ‘wrong’un.’
Here are the top four warning signs of a bad VPN.
1. Low-grade Encryption
Virtual private networks are supposed to keep your data private, no matter what connection you use. But how do they do this?
In theory, they ensure privacy by creating an ‘encrypted tunnel’ between your device and the server and routing your traffic through the said tunnel. The set up keeps your data secure as any would-be hackers can’t decrypt what they find — but reality doesn’t always reflect the theory.
If your VPN uses a low-grade protocol, the encryption level provided by the tunnel may not be enough to protect your data. That’s why you should always choose a premium VPN service that guarantees up to 256-bit encryption, preferably using the state-of-the-art OpenVPN protocol.
You can typically find these specifications in the end-user agreement. Top-quality VPNs will surface the information on their websites. ExpressVPN is one app that uses OpenVPN — and you can see details of its AES 256-bit encryption in its terms of service.
Takeaway: If you can’t find anything that confirms the encryption level, avoid the VPN at all costs.
2. Slow Connection Speeds
Whether you’re using a VPN for work or pleasure, you need a quick connection. However, if you pick the wrong VPN, you’ll end up with WiFi that’s anything but fast.
Virtual private networks route all data through a set of central servers. Therefore, they need a robust set up to ensure they can handle all of your (and everyone else’s) data demands. And low-quality VPNs don’t handle excessive traffic all that well — they end up with too many users trying to send too much information through a limited number of servers at any one time.
The servers become overloaded. There’s no bandwidth. And this translates to an ultra-slow connection. Meaning if you’re trying to work, expect dial-up-era page load speeds.
If you’re trying to stream content — forget about it.
Takeaway: Make sure you pick a VPN with enough servers to handle all data requirements; the best VPNs typically have several thousand.
3. Confusing Logs Policies
When you download a VPN, it’s because you want to protect your privacy. So it may raise an eyebrow to learn that some VPNs log your browsing history. In fact, several log lots of user data, which they store for an indefinite period.
If you knew this upfront, you’d likely avoid the service altogether. Unfortunately, many providers bury their logs policy in endless fine-print. In such cases, you’d be better off trusting your Internet Service Provider to safeguard your data (versus the VPN with questionable practices — after all, your ISP has the motivation to keep a paying customer, whereas the VPN would freely give up your data to the highest bidder).
If you want an example of an absolutely transparent ‘no-logs’ policy, look no further than NordVPN and IPVanish: both services confirm they do not log user data — nor keep anything on record for any period.
Takeaway: If you find any detail that suggests a VPN logs your browsing history or personal information, log off and head elsewhere.
4. It’s Free
We’ve covered the risks of free VPNs in detail in a separate post. But there’s a point that’s worth revisiting: when a service is free, you are likely the product (which means the provider probably makes its money off you). That’s not to say you should avoid every free VPN — there are four free VPNs we suggest you try, provided they serve your needs.
However, beware that if a free VPN logs your browsing history, it may sell it to a third party who can then use it for ad-targeting, which is a severe breach of trust given you’re using the VPN to protect your data — but that’s the hidden cost of a free service. To make matters worse, some free VPNs serve targeted ads within the app itself.
And these ads can lead to malware. Meaning your attempt to avoid danger has inadvertently put you right in harm’s way.
Takeaway: If you’re going to use a free VPN, choose one of our four recommended apps and only use them on occasion — they’re not for everyday use.
Premium VPNs Aren’t That Expensive
Even the best VPNs don’t cost much.
You can access their apps for just a few dollars a month if you’re a single user (and a few more on top of that for each additional device). It’s worth paying for peace of mind, particularly if you’re trying to protect sensitive data. One small slip can cost a lot more than the price of a subscription…
Don’t be caught out by a bad VPN.
Network security is just as important when you work from home. If you’re unsure if your set up is secure, get in touch on 207-223-7594 — we’d be delighted to give you some free advice.