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Avoid downloading a bad VPN - these are the warning signs to look out for

vpn
(Image credit: Pixabay)

With privacy in short supply on the internet, having a VPN has gone from a luxury to more of a necessity.

Besides, there are plenty of good reasons to have a VPN, such as securing public Wi-Fi, unlocking restricted websites, streaming your favorite shows, sport and films when abroad and, oh yeah...security.

Therefore, it is important to choose a good VPN, and here are some warning signs to look for on which ones to avoid. 

 Low level encryption

VPN services are all based around the creation of an encrypted tunnel between the user’s computer and the VPN server. By routing the data traffic through this tunnel, it gains a high level of encryption, making it highly unlikely to be readable - or at least that is the plan. 

The issue is that while all VPNs create this encrypted tunnel, the type of encryption and VPN protocols used can vary. The better VPN services offer the state of the art OpenVPN protocol, that is open source, and supports up to 256-bit encryption. An example of this is ExpressVPN, which openly details that the encryption is AES 256-bit, via the OpenVPN protocol. Red flags should go up with any VPN service that does not provide this level of detail on the encryption used prominently on its site. 

 Slow speeds

As all the data gets routed through the VPN, a robust provider is needed to keep up with your demands. After all, you paid for a certain level of bandwidth from your ISP, and a better VPN should be able to keep up with it, with minimal loss of throughput.

A bad VPN is often oversold, with servers that get overloaded. This then severely limits that bandwidth that can be used, translating to slow browsing, and frequent hiccups when trying to enjoy streaming content. 

 Free VPNs

That expression about “If the service is free, you are the product,” does apply to free VPNs. After all, it does cost the VPN service money to run, and otherwise how can it maintain profitability?

There have been multiple examples of VPNs that are downright malware. These free VPNs grab user’s data via their software, routing it back to the company, which can then package it and sell it to interested third parties. This lack of privacy is precisely what a reputable VPN can secure, so be sure to avoid these insecure VPNs, and go only with reputable ones.

Don't get us wrong...free VPNS can have their uses. And choosing one of the better examples - like Hotspot Shield - are handy to have sitting on your desktop or in your mobile app library in case you need to check emails or do some online shopping on a public, unsecured Wi-Fi. But we'd strongly suggest shying away from them for day-to-day VPN use.

ExpressVPN no logs policy

(Image credit: ExpressVPN)

Absent or unclear no logs policy

The key to any VPN is that it indeed provides privacy. An important component of this privacy is that it does not log the data. Many VPNs in fact do log user’s data, and keep it for some time, which is quite contrary to the privacy that they purport to provide. After all, who would you be more likely to trust with your data: your ISP that you pay a monthly subscription fee and has a motivation to keep you as a customer, or some shady VPN that will be more than willing to comply with any requests for data and just protect itself?

Therefore, look for a reputable VPN (e.g. NordVPN or IPVanish) that has a transparent and detailed ‘no logs’ policy. It should be clearly stated that user data is not logged, and not kept for any amount of time. It should also be easily located on the VPN service’s site. See the screenshot above, which is ExpressVPN’s policy, and demonstrates a solid no logs policy. 

Jonas P. DeMuro

Dr. Jonas P. DeMuro graduated summa cum laude from St. John's University with a Bachelor's of Science in Biological Sciences, and a minor in the Philosophy of Science. He went on to receive his Doctorate in Medicine from the Stony Brook University School of Medicine. He has authored and coauthored numerous academic publications related to Surgery, Trauma, and Critical Care. When not leading the charge in the global pandemic, he has written for a number of notable publications, including TechRadar, TechRadar Pro, Tom's Hardware, ITProPortal, Maximum PC, Top Ten Reviews and PC Gamer among others. He gets a kick out of seeing his work quoted and linked to in computing academic circles, as he recalls fondly that his last formal class on computing was in high school using the BASIC software language on a TRS-80 platform. How things have progressed!