What is VPN?

VPN, or Virtual Private Network, is one of the most popular words within the technology world in recent years. This is because its use has skyrocketed, and most people today have used a VPN. Still, not too many people know exactly what a VPN is. To answer this question, it is probably best to break down the word into pieces.

There are extremely many VPN services you can choose from now a days.

Virtual is used because VPN makes it look like you have a connection directly from a private network. In reality you only route traffic through this private network, which we will get back to later.

Private is used because VPN set ups a private connection where your communication with a website or an app is kept private. It contrasts with how open the web is when your IP-address is displayed everywhere.

Network is used because a VPN consists of networks of servers all over the world. Most VPN services lets you connect to at least 50 servers all over the world, so you have a wide selection of how where you want to connect to.  

With these three elements explained there is probably still a lot that is unanswered, how does a VPN work in practice?

How a VPN operates

VPN services can be downloaded through the internet and most demand a small monthly fee in form of a subscription. All you have to do when you have downloaded the VPN service is to choose an IP-address from a list, so that you can connect to an IP-address and route your traffic through this.

In practice, it will look like you are actually located at this IP-address. But why is this so important? Well, your IP-address is the way you are identified with and communicate with online. When you visit a website, this is what is communicated to it.

However, your IP-address can be read and collected by a third party, often third parties you don´t wish to give your information to. This is especially dangerous on public networks, where your information is available for anyone browsing this network.

A VPN makes it difficult for people to know who you are online, since they believe you are coming from the IP-address provided by your VPN. In simple terms, you basically borrow an IP-address from a VPN service to hide your original identity online!

We will now write about the best and most well-known VPN services on the market today, so that you can get a better look at what they can offer you.

1. ExpressVPN

No matter what you do and regardless of what you are going to use a VPN for, ExpressVPN is almost always at the top. This provider ranks at the top of absolutely every factor that our VPN test has taken into account. 

This is what ExpressVPNs main menu looks like.

The strong privacy is what you should note first. ExpressVPN is based in the British Virgin Islands, so it does not fall under the EU and US jurisdiction. In this way you can be sure that ExpressVPN does not log your activity, now nor in the future.

If you want to stream shows and movies online from overseas, ExpressVPN is a good partner to have. This service is famous for their ability to avoid Netflix` geo blockings. The large selection of servers and IP-addresses promotes this. Also, the speed of the servers is very high.

ExpressVPN is available for PC, tablet, mobile phones and last but not least gaming consoles and the ease of use is very good. If you were to say one negative thing about ExpressVPN it would be the price, as it is slightly above average. However, you get what you pay for.

2. NordVPN

Our VPN test contains many good alternatives, but in reality, is was only ExpressVPN and NordVPN that fought for first place. Anyway, this is a great VPN service that might be worth trying out.

NordVPN offers servers all around the world.

NordVPN foremost selling point is their double encryption. This feature allows your traffic to not only be routed through one server, but two. This significantly increases your online security, as it makes it harder for third parties to trace you.

The VPN service is traced in Panama. Just like ExpressVPN mentioned above, NordVPN has no jurisdictions to follow that can lead to logging of your activity. If you are to use a VPN service this should be standard, but with NordVPN you are 100% safe.

Price wise, NordVPN is a much cheaper alternative than ExpressVPN, as the cheapest subscriptions cost all the way down to $3. NordVPN gives you a lot of value for your money and come with a 30-day money back guarantee.

3. SurfShark

SurfShark is one of the newer services that has recently joined the fight against large suppliers of VPN services such as previously mentioned ExpressVPN and NordVPN. However, SurfShark is somewhat behind these two, but if you are looking for a solid and cheap VPN, this is a good choice.

Main menu of SurfShark VPN

On average, VPN services provides servers in around 30 countries. SurfShark has already hit 50 countries and offers more than 1000 servers spread across these. This ensures you that you can pick and choose to find the optimal server.

The speed will always be reduced when using VPN, but common to the top options in our VPN test is that they minimize this reduction. SurfShark adds to the line here and whether you are streaming in HD or gaming doesn´t really matter – it is impossible to notice the change in speed.

Where SurfShark really deserves a spot high up on the list in our VPN test is that they offer a very reasonable price for their quality services. In fact, if you choose a longer subscription, you can reduce the monthly fee all the way down to under $2 per month.

The history behind the technology

In fact, we have to go all the way back to 1996 to find the start of VPN, when an employee at Microsoft developed the technology the help secure connections. The technology did however not become popular until the beginning of the 2000´s, when a range of security breaches took place online. Antivirus software simply did not hold – one had to protect the connections as well.  

VPN was first and foremost used by businesses, as they wanted to hide their IP-address and information during transactions of both important documents and capital. By the end of the 2000´s, however, the service was also popular with private people, as the fear of surveillance has increased enormously in the last decades – and keeps growing to this day!

Areas of use

There are many uses for a VPN, but the service can primarily be divided into 6 different categories for use. These are anonymity, encryption, viewing content, access blocked web sites, avoid censorship and surveillance, and finding the best prices.

These are only a handful of the areas of use, but they deserve a thorough review to show the potential of a VPN in practice:

Anonymity

You should not have to argue about why you want to stay anonymous online. This is often associated with wanting to do something criminal. In reality this is mostly about people wanting privacy when visiting websites and browsing the internet.

What rights do others really have to access your activities? With a VPN you can hide your IP-address and therefore hide information related to your location, so you are untraceable for third parties.

Encryption

When we hear the word communication, we may think primarily about messages back and forth over the internet. Even if it is important that these are kept secure, it is probably even more important that usernames and password, as well as information regarding your bank account is kept secure.

At most VPN services, 256-bit encryption is used. This may not tell you much, but if it is pointed out that this is the same level as the American army, you may have a better understanding of how secure your VPN keeps your transaction information.

Watch content

Even if people pay the exact same amount for Netflix, HBO and other streaming services, the selection of content is often small in contradiction to for example USA. This can feel unfair when one pays the same. The difference between US Netflix and Norwegian Netflix for example is that the US selection is 5 times as large!

With a VPN on the other hand, you can log on to an American IP-address, so you can watch all the movies and shows Netflix offers in the US. You can also log on to British, German, French, Swedish and many other IP-addresses. Only your imagination is the limit!

Watch blocked web sites

Sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are censored or completely closed is some parts of the world. Even if many don´t think that this applies to them, this is actually not the truth. Some sites are blocked and even if the most popular sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are available on the home network, they may be blocked elsewhere.

For example, it is common that internet connections at work and schools may be limited. These limitations are set to increase productivity, but maybe you just need to check Facebook for a couple of minutes to read an important message. A VPN can help you remove these limitations!

Avoid censorship and surveillance

Authorities surveils and censor a range of web sites across the world. They get access to our IP-addresses relatively easy. Of course, so does the internet providers that provide services to households, and thus can in fact gain access to everything one does. This is not beneficial to you as a user.

China is one of many countries that blocks a lot of websites.

A VPN lets you avoid censorship and surveillance by preventing others from accessing your digital life. All information is also kept safe from third parties who wants to get under your skin – even authorities and internet providers can´t access your activity.

Find the best prices

Targeted advertising based on your location or higher prices due to your personal profile online, are both factors of third parties capturing your IP-address many times. It is dangerous when you think about it, letting third parties control your shopping and prices.

A VPN removes third-party opportunities to track your IP-address and its movements. When you visit online stores to watch prices, they will not be increased based on where you are or what sites you have previously visited, or other similar information.

Choose the best VPN service

It is no doubt that VPN has at least one area of use for most people. Most people will even fall under a couple of categories mentioned above. Either way, it is important to be ready to choose your VPN service. But what factors should one really look at here?

Answering how many VPN services there are on the market today is almost impossible. There is an overload of them, and the market is growing every day. This creates good terms for the users but makes the choice more difficult. The factors mentioned below should make the choice easier.

Privacy and security

As mentioned earlier, anonymity and security are important factors. It is therefore essential that you look for how well a service provides this. The best way is to evaluate what encryption degree the VPN service offer.

As previously mentioned, the standard is 256-bit and the service you consider should not go below this. This encryption degree will secure you and your communication online and keeps it anonymous from A to Z.

Selection of servers

In addition to staying anonymous and secure, many want to avoid so-called geo blockings to access content. US Netflix is probably the biggest wish for most people. US servers are offered by almost all VPN services, but make sure that it is a large selection and fast speed to them.

A good VPN service should offer at least 50 different countries, but first and foremost the countries you want to watch content from. Make sure there are many top servers. With market leaders such as ExpressVPN and NordVPN, you can get access to thousands of servers all over the world.

Speed and stability

Having a fast and good connection online that does not fail, is important anyway. However, since VPN services automatically lose some speed anyway, it is clever to notice how much each service will lose in terms of speed. Also, the range of servers should be reviewed for stability.

Of course, this is important when browsing the web, but it is especially important when streaming in HD as well as gaming online. Then you need good and strong connections, primarily to load the media, but also to keep them running without lagging.

Software and ease of use

The technology behind a VPN is probably more complicated than most of us want to admit and it is important for the users that the connection is simple. For more advances users’ special features should be available and easy to find, but at the same time it shouldn´t disturb the beginners.

In addition, customer service is an important part of ease to use. Most servers on the market offer help articles that makes the process of understanding the service a lot easier.

Price

One simply cannot get away from considering price as an important factor in choosing a VPN. In fact, this is an important factor no matter what service or product you want. With a VPN, you pay for a monthly subscription and these costs somewhere between $2-5 per month.

Also note various offers, perhaps including free months and such. Just like other services and products that require a subscription, is pays of committing to longer periods as this gives good discounts. Last but not least, most VPN services comes with a 30-day money back guarantee.

Paid or free VPN?

Just like any other technology, there are also free versions of VPN services. But are these any good? The short answer is that they are usable, but the value of paid VPN services makes up for the small cost.

The problem with free VPN is primarily the limitations. Number of servers, speed, privacy, ease of use and more is all reduces in quality. This is probably not surprising seeing it is free. Privacy is probably the most problematic.

ProtonVPN offers one of the best free versions toady, but still this version is not the best compared to the paid version.

If you are to use a VPN service, it is to keep you safe and anonymous online. If a VPN service leaks this or even sell your information such as free VPN services has claimed in their privacy terms, then one should watch out for this.

There are also few servers and slow speed, so if you want to watch, for example, US Netflix from Norway, there are no guarantees that this will work or if it is even fast enough for you to enjoy your experience.

Last but not leas there are less ease of use, as the services are made from cheap developers and naturally on a smaller budget. Really, the only advantage with free VPN services is that they are in fact free! These should only be used to test how a VPN works.

What are the best VPN services on the market?

As previously mentioned, the market of VPN services is practically a jungle. It can be overwhelming for users to navigate the large selection. However, the best VPN services stands out quite clearly. Previously mentioned ExpressVPN, as well as NordVPN are both good options.

This is because these services offer a wide selection of servers, good speed, 24/7 customer service, reasonable pricing and last but not least – they neither log, sell or do anything with your private information. Other services such as UltraVPN and CyberGhost are also good alternatives for VPN.

Still, the most important thing is that you base your choice upon the formerly mentioned areas of use. If you are just using VPN services for occasional online anonymity, speed may not be so important. In opposition, speed may be essential if you are avoiding geo blockings for streaming and gaming.

Last but not least, if you only need a VPN for a small assignment, you should consider money back guarantees. In practice you can with most VPN services use the product for up to 30 days. Even if you pay in advance, you ask for a refund within 30 days, so in reality the service is completely free!

Summary

VPN is one of the most popular technologies of our time, and it is not without reason. Security and anonymity online are becoming more important for most people and this is how VPN has come to the top. By letting you borrow another IP-address and route your traffic through a new server, a VPN lets you move free without getting tracked online.

There is a sea of such services on the market today, both paid and free VPN service. The paid ones are preferable without doubt as these give you more than the value. You can, among many other things, get access to US Netflix with such services.

All in all, a VPN is a very good investment for you. Services such as ExpressVPN and NordVPN are difficult not to point out, as these repeatedly convince. Find a VPN service that suits your needs today!