Bypassing geo-blocks is probably the main reason why people use VPNs. But let’s face it – enjoying real Internet privacy comes a close second. After all, who doesn’t want to be able to browse the web without having to worry about government surveillance, hacker attacks, and ISPs snooping on their traffic?
There’s just one problem – you can’t just pick a VPN at random, and expect it to protect your privacy. Unfortunately, not all services on the market are able to do that. Instead, you have to do a bit of research to see if the VPN is right for the job.
That can be a bit tedious, so we’ll make things simple for you – here are six ways you can tell a VPN really takes your privacy seriously:
1. It Doesn’t Keep Any Logs
Neither usage nor connection logs are acceptable if you really value your privacy.
Because they track too much data about how you use the VPN. For example, usage logs contain information about which sites you visit and what files you download. Connection logs seem less harmful, but they can still track your IP address.
Overall, a VPN that keeps logs defeats the purpose of using one in the first place. You get rid of ISP and government surveillance, sure, but you’re trading it for VPN surveillance. And if you don’t check the provider’s ToS page, you might not even realize they’re sharing all the data they collect with advertisers.
2. It Can Back Up Its No-Log Claims
A VPN with no logs is a good start – but it’d be even better if the provider could prove they don’t keep any logs. Just saying they don’t in their marketing copy doesn’t really cut it for us.
How could they do that?
Independent audits are a pretty good way. Some of the top providers (like VyprVPN) include links to third-party audits of their services that prove they keep zero logs.
Audits aren’t the only option, though. Legal documents that back up their no-log claims are also ideal. For instance, PIA has public court records that prove they don’t log user data.
3. It Offers Secure Protocols and Encryption
Encryption is what keeps your data safe when you use a VPN, so it needs to be really strong. Ideally, the provider should use AES encryption. Both AES-128 and AES-256 are secure.
If the VPN only uses Blowfish, though, that’s a problem. Even its creator (Bruce Schneier) said he was “amazed it’s still being used.” That basically means the encryption cipher isn’t reliable.
Besides good encryption, the VPN also needs capable protocols. OpenVPN, WireGuard, and SoftEther are all good signs since they’re really powerful and also open-source. IKEv2 is good too, and so is L2TP/IPSec (though it’s best if they come together with OpenVPN at least).
If the provider only offers PPTP connections, however, that’s an issue.
Because PPTP traffic can be easily cracked by the NSA.
As for SSTP, it’s a strong protocol, so it can definitely keep your data safe. But when it comes to privacy, there’s one problem – only Microsoft owns the protocol, and it doesn’t help that it’s closed-source. Don’t forget – Microsoft was the first company to join the NSA’s PRISM surveillance program (meaning they share data like encrypted messages with them).
We personally wouldn’t recommend using SSTP if you’re really concerned about your privacy.
4. It Doesn’t Leak Your Data
All the things we mentioned until now are completely pointless if the VPN suffers leaks. If you don’t know what those are, it’s basically when your IP address of DNS queries leak outside the VPN tunnel (so they’re not encrypted).
That’s pretty bad because it pretty much means you’re browsing the web as if you weren’t using a VPN at all. Your ISP would still be able to monitor your web browsing (they’d know what sites you’re visiting).
If the VPN provider says they offer leak protection, that’s nice. But you should test claims yourself too. Here’s how you can do that:
- Use this tool without being connected to the VPN.
- Take a screenshot of the results.
- Then, use the tool again while connected to the VPN.
- Now, compare the results with the ones from the screenshot.
- If your IP or DNS addresses still show up, you’re dealing with a VPN leak.
5. It Has Open-Source Software
Open-source software means the VPN code is available online and can be inspected by anyone. That’s a nice way for the provider to be transparent with their users. After all, you’ll know for a fact that they aren’t lying about how their software works.
Not a lot of providers open-source their software, but a few have done it and the trend is catching on. ProtonVPN, for example, open-sourced all its apps.
6. It Has a Refund Policy
Pretty much all decent VPNs offer a money-back guarantee. The average refund period is 30 days.
If it’s a really good VPN, it won’t force all sorts of requirements on you. Instead, it’ll offer you a no-question asked deal (like ExpressVPN does). Still, even if there are some requirements (like not going over a certain bandwidth limit), the VPN is still decent since it trusts its services enough to offer a money-back option.
Safe to say, if the provider you’re interested in doesn’t have a refund policy, or it’s a very unfair one (like a very short refund period), you should stay away from it.
How Else Do You Know You Can Trust a VPN?
What other things do you look for to make sure the service is legit? Please tell us about them in the comments or on social media.