Are VPNs Safe?

October 15, 2018

10:42 am

A VPN can be a safe and recommended way to connect to the internet. With a secure VPN service, you can protect your online data and privacy.

Using a VPN can be great way to protect your identity online, as well as opening up areas of the internet that could be blocked off to you based on your location.

A VPN isn’t, however, a licence to carry out illegal or nefarious activities. Using a VPN doesn’t make you invincible online, but pick a good one, and your data and privacy will remain secure.

This guide explains what to look out for with a VPN, the benefits of paying for one over a free alternative (far less safe), and how to keep yourself protected online.

In This Guide:

The Most Secure VPNs to Choose

VPN security begins with choosing the right VPN. A safe VPN service can connect you to the web securely, with no prying eyes peeking in on your personal data. A poor VPN, by contrast, gives a false sense of security – the worst services may even share your data with advertisers.

Take no chances when it comes to choosing a VPN – put your trust in one of our recommended services, below, and you can’t go wrong:

PureVPN - tech.coPureVPN

PureVPN is not only a great VPN in its own right, but also boasts an impressive suite of additional security features. One of these is Ozone, a tool that gives you content filtering tools, and has intrusion-detection features that alert you if someone is trying to hack into your PC.

Then there’s a tool called Gravity. This is an ad-blocker that stops ads appearing during your browsing.

For VPN first-timers, PureVPN is also brilliantly simple to use. You don’t have to delve into complex settings to get up and running, and there’s support on hand, too. Best of all? You don’t have to spend much – it’s a great-value VPN.

Read more about PureVPN with our full review.

Get Pure VPN for just $2.48 a month – a 77% saving.

Pros:

  • Effective privacy and security features
  • Simple ‘mode’ approach keeps things easy
  • Clear notifications
  • Excellent value

Cons:

  • Not quite as fast as billed
  • Doesn’t unblock Netflix unless you use the browser extension

IPVanish-VPN - tech.coIPVanish

Unlike some other VPNs, IPVanish has a policy of not logging your data. This means that records of your online searches and the websites you have visited won’t be kept.

IPVanish has over 1,000 servers in 60 countries, and owns them all outright, rather than leasing them from third-party data centres. This means that your data is passing purely through IPVanish’s systems, rather than a faceless third party.

It’s a powerful VPN to choose, though arguably a little technical if you’ve never used one before. However, the privacy conscious will love the ability to deep-dive into the settings and features.

Read our full review of the IPVanish.

Get a 46% saving by signing up for a 1 year plan with IPVanish.

Pros:

  • Crammed with settings that put you in control
  • Strong privacy and security features
  • Decent speeds

Cons:

  • Slightly intimidating
  • Priced above some rivals

NordVPN

NordVPN takes your security very seriously. To begin with, it uses military-grade 256-bit AES encryption to protect your information, a great bonus if you’re looking to use public WiFi networks without concern.

As well as built-in malware blocking, NordVPN also features a Kill Switch option.

This will stop your browsing dead should your connection to the VPN fail, instead of continuing your activity on your ISP.

Read the full review of NordVPN

Save 77% off NordVPN's RRP With Our Deal – Just $2.75/month.

Pros:

  • Fast and effective
  • Packed with features
  • Excellent value

Cons:

  • Not the most intuitive VPN at first
  • Can’t unblock some streaming services
  • Assumes some technical knowledge

Are Free VPNs Safe?

If you’re using a free VPN, you could be taking a gamble with your online security.

Explore the terms of any free VPN, and you’ll probably spot a clause that means agreeing to sign off on some degree of your privacy. This could be as simple as targeted advertising that will interrupt your browsing experience, or could even be as egregious as sharing your own bandwidth with other users – we’re looking at you, Hola VPN.

Hola appears attractive on the surface, offering a VPN browser extension, without charge. However, in order to provide this service, it allows its premium users to piggyback off your own bandwidth, which not only affects your speed, but also means that there are people using your bandwidth for nefarious or illegal purposes.

A decent VPN can be had for a few dollars a month, and most take your online security seriously, without logging your activities or storing your data.

Other free VPNs are simply too limited to offer true security. The Opera Browser, for example, offers a built-in VPN. This is great for giving you a degree more privacy while browsing online. However, it won’t cover all of your online activities – only what you’re doing in the browser. The rest of your connection to the web is happening as usual, with all the privacy concerns that may raise.

Are VPNs Safe for Online Banking?

A VPN can be a useful way to carry out banking safely when using a WiFi network you’re not familiar with.

When you’re at home however, and using your own ISP connection, there shouldn’t be any real need to use a VPN for this purpose.

If you’re away from your trusted home connection, and using a public WiFi network, such as at a coffee shop or store, than accessing your bank through a VPN is a smart choice. This gives you an extra layer of protection to ensure that any nefarious activity on the open network won’t be able to intercept your details.

Remember, VPNs aren’t just limited to use on a desktop or laptop. The best VPN services all have tablet and smartphone apps, too. And using a VPN on a phone while out and about has its own security implications – see our guide to Using a VPN Safely on a Phone for more.

How to use a VPN Safely

If you like the idea of a VPN to protect your identity and keep your online activity private, follow the tips below:

Don’t go free – Free VPNs can’t compete with the level of features and security a paid version will offer. With many costing just a couple of dollars per month, it’s a price worth paying.

Kill Switch – Get a VPN with a Kill Switch. This means that if your connection to the VPN fails, your browsing won’t pick up on your standard connection, saving you having your activity exposed.

Check the terms – Boring? Yes, but check the terms of the VPN you’re considering to see what, if anything, they do with your data. The best won’t log or collect anything at all.

Public WiFi – When you sign up for a VPN, download its associated app too, to ensure you’re protected on your tablet or phone when out and about.

For more, see our complete guide on How To Set Up a VPN

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Jack is a senior writer at Tech.co with over a decade's experience researching and writing about consumer technology, from security and privacy to product reviews and tech news.

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