With the Australian Government cracking down on Internet users, and with so many VPN providers to choose from, how do you choose a service that suits?
Virtual Private Networks (VPN) were conceptualised as a safe portal for remote users to access company and organisation networks– two prime examples of this use include employees accessing important data while travelling and students accessing university databases when studying from home.
But, the potential for this technology was boundless, and because the Internet always finds a way to exploit such things for personal use, we now have consumer VPNs that offer a variety of services and deals. But, with so many out there, it’s not easy to choose, and like most things in life, you don’t want to get caught paying for something you have no use for.
So, what do you need to look out for when choosing a VPN provider?
Is using a VPN to access geographically restricted content legal?
There are many legitimate uses for a VPN. However, the legality of using one to access geographically restricted content is a bit of a grey area. While you're not likely to attract the attention of the Australian Government, you do run the risk of having your VPN or streaming subscription cancelled. There is also the chance that a copyright holder may want to pursue legal action if you're found to be accessing that content in an unlicensed region. Keep in mind that the very nature of a VPN masks your IP and prevents your online activity, so it's not for us to say if and how the copyright holders would be able to identify you if you do choose to access their content without the proper licensing. Here at finder.com.au, we do not encourage internet browsing activity outside the law, we only aim to compare the services available to Australians.
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How much do you want to spend?
Though we can apply the old adage, ‘you get what you pay for’, to most paid services, this isn’t always the case, especially when shopping for VPNs. VPN pricing ranges from free to around $10 per month, dependant on what you need.
With so many providers vying for your custom, though, sometimes the best services can be found at a lower price than their inferior competitors. If it’s security you’re after, then paid is definitely the way to go – it’s rare that you can rely on a free service to provide the same amount and quality of security protocols that a paid service would.
But, if you’re simply looking to access a video or website that’s not available in your country (e.g. watching footy highlights while abroad), a free VPN service could get you around that firewall, without any obligation to continue the service. Keep in mind, however, that circumventing geo-blocking is sometimes considered shady practice, and while you’re not likely to land yourself in hot water for it right now, that could change down the line, and a free service won’t have your back if you do get caught out.Back to top
Are you trying to watch globally restricted content?
If you’re not a stickler for security (if you’re an Australian resident, you might want to reconsider that), and you simply want to watch content that isn’t available in your country, then a SmartDNS service might be for you. SmartDNS is similar to VPN in the sense that they both mask your Internet Protocol (IP) address, giving you unbridled access to the world wide web. However, because Smart DNS only reroute certain portions of your traffic through its server, you’ll often find that streaming video through a SmartDNS is smoother, and faster than when using a VPN.
Because Smart DNS providers offer a stripped back service, you will often find that this option is cheaper than a VPN service also. But, keep in mind that, while Smart DNS is often cheaper and faster than VPN, you are sacrificing significant improvements to your security and many premium VPN services offer an included SmartDNS and widespread server locations that help speed up your connection.Back to top
Are you looking for to protect yourself from hackers and eavesdroppers?
Then, yes, a strong, reliable VPN is what you’re looking for. Though it varies between services, VPNs offer high-level security that protects your data while browsing the web. Many VPN providers offer tried and trusted security protocols (and sometimes security measures of their own design) that can hide even the smallest traces of your online activity. Some even do such a good job that they hide the fact you’re using a VPN at all, and use ‘double-hop’ to ensure that your digital prints are well and truly wiped.
The VPN market is competitive and rapidly evolving, which only benefits you, as providers are constantly besting each other in terms of security and price. With few offering compulsory commitments, they are desperate to maintain customer loyalty and often provide ongoing service maintenance and 24/7 customer care.
VPNs are clearly the way to go if you’re serious about securing your personal data. Choosing a particular VPN, however, is more a matter of personal preference.Back to top
Personal preference? Things to look out for when shopping for a VPN
- No logs.
Different VPN providers have different policies on logging data. While it may not matter so much to everyday Internet users, some VPN providers will retain some personal information and will be obliged to hand this data over if the Government ever requests it. This information can usually be found on the VPN FAQ page, or buried deep in the terms and conditions (though, if you’ve got to go to that length, you’ll rarely get the answer you want).
- Various Payment Methods.
This is mostly to do with personal payment preference. Does the VPN accept PayPal? Are you able to pay in advance or set up direct-debit? Again, these questions are usually answered amongst the provider’s FAQ page. Some services even offer discounts on long-term commitments.
- VPN Server Locations.
Server location is usually a VPN services biggest draw. The more servers, and the closer they are to you, the less likely you are to experience slow connection speeds when browsing the net. If you’re privacy-minded, it also doesn’t hurt to have servers located outside the US, EU or AU, where governments have passed data retention laws.
Why spend money unnecessarily when you could be getting the same service, or better, from another provider. As we mentioned before, the VPN scene is a highly competitive market, with each provide scrambling to come up with the best service at the most desirable price. But, that also means that things are always on the move and that changes are constantly being made. That’s why it’s important to always keep you eye on the market, even after you’ve settled with a provider.
How many devices do you own? Think of all the different products and various brands you use within your household. How many of those connect to the Internet? If you’re going into a VPN with security in mind, it’s only sensible to cover all bases. This is why most VPNs offer mobile apps for iOS and Android, but some VPNs even go as far as to cover your Playstation, Xbox, and Wii U. VPN providers will always advertise the range of devices they cover, but it’s always best to shop around for a VPN that covers everything.Back to top
Where do I shop for VPNs?
It is important to do your research when shopping for a VPN. If you are interested in a particular VPN, you can visit their website to find more information on them. But, if you’re looking to save time, then you’re in luck, because at finder.com.au, we’ve done all the hard work for you. We provide reviews for VPNs and compare each service side-by-side.