Virtual Private Network (VPN) Buyer’s Guide

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4-Step Computer Security Upgrade

Learn to encrypt your files, secure your computer when using public Wi-Fi, enable two-factor authentication, and use good passwords.

One perk of being a solo lawyer is you can choose where you work. Feel like working from your favorite café? Go for it. But just know that the WiFi network you are connected to is public, which means you could be putting your clients’ information at risk.

Not every customer in your favorite third-wave coffee shop is a benign hipster.

Thankfully, installing a virtual private network (VPN) will protect your data from anyone listening in over a public WiFi hotspots.

What is a VPN?

With a VPN, you get a secure line to the Internet, and anyone who attempts to sniff packets of information from your computer will just see encrypted gibberish. You, however, get to use the Internet as usual. And since every app and service you use connects to the Internet through the same secure connection, you don’t have to worry about locking down each service you use.

It is important to note that a VPN is not a substitute for SSL/HTTPS. It is a different type of security. Even if you use a VPN, you should still use SSL/HTTPS whenever possible using the HTTPS Everywhere browser extension.

Why You Would Use a VPN

You should start using a VPN for a variety reasons, and the reasons don’t have to be just ensuring the safety of your client’s data.

Public WiFi Networks

If you work on client files using public WiFi, you really need to use a VPN. The cost of a potential security breach dwarfs the nominal cost and slight inconvenience of using a VPN regularly.

Torrenting

If you are a fan of torrenting, using a VPN is one of the best ways to cover your tracks (even if you are torrenting legal files) from your Internet provider. This does not mean you can torrent or download any file you want—regardless of whether the download was legal or illegal. A VPN provider can cut you off from using their service if you abuse it.

Geoblocking

If you’ve ever traveled overseas, you may have noticed that your selection of Netflix movies mysteriously dwindled. This is because Netflix, as well as many other companies, block certain regions from accessing data. To circumvent this, a VPN can route your Internet traffic through countries where that content is available.

More importantly, this feature of a VPN is also used by those in countries where the Internet is censored.

VPN Pitfalls

It’s important to note that using a VPN is not a cure-all for your security woes. Like anything else, VPNs are susceptible to security breaches. In the past, some of the most popular VPNs have done a lackluster job at encrypting your web traffic.

Additionally, all VPN operators have the ability to log the web traffic you route through their servers. Some VPNs keep logs to prevent abuse of their service and put a stop on illicit activities, while other VPN providers do not keep logs at all. Before signing up with any VPN provider, be sure to thoroughly read its logging policy.

List of VPNs

VPNs vary in complexity and technologies they use to encrypt your online traffic. Here are a four VPN providers that we think will fit your needs.

ExpressVPN

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ExpressVPN is a well-established VPN provider built for the general user. There are apps available for Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, and Linux. With over 100 VPN locations, you can route your web traffic through 78 countries.

Although ExpressVPN touts its ease-of-use, it doesn’t sacrifice on security. ExpressVPN is SSL secured with 256-bit encryption, which is a standard configuration used by many private and public companies who run their own VPN. You can also test the speed of various VPN locations within ExpressVPN on your Mac, Windows, or Android device. And if the task of setting up a VPN proves too discouraging, you can rely on ExpressVPN’s self-proclaimed five-star customer support team to get you started.

ExpressVPN offers one monthly plan at $12.95 a month. The plan includes their 24/7 support, access to all of its apps, and unlimited bandwidth. ExpressVPN’s privacy policy also states it does not “actively monitor user sessions for inappropriate behavior, nor do we maintain direct logs of any customers Internet activities.”

VyprVPN

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VyprVPN’s main claim to fame is that it controls it’s entire VPN network—from writing the software to managing its servers. The goal of keeping everything in-house, according to VyprVPN, is to keep your data secure and away from third-parties who may have unknown vulnerabilities. Though it is worth noting that VyprVPN keeps temporary logs for customer service and billing needs.

VyprVPN has over 50 server locations location across the globe. You can connect to these locations using apps for iOS, Android, Windows, and Mac. Unlike some of its competitors, you can also use VyprVPN to help secure your smart TV and router.

To get started with VyprVPN, you can sign up for a free account. The free plan will let you encrypt up to 500 MB of traffic per month. For the casual coffee shop lawyer, this is a pretty good deal. But if you find yourself connecting to public WiFi networks often, you should go for the pro plan, which costs $9.99 a month. VyprVPN’s pro plan gives you unlimited data, three simultaneous connections, and lets you choose your preferred encryption protocol.

Cloak VPN

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If you’re embedded in the Apple ecosystem, Cloak is a VPN provider worthy of your attention. Cloak, at this time, is a VPN provider for Apple users only, and there is no indication that will change. So if you’re not an Apple fan, or you are going to switch ecosystems soon, it’s best to move along.

For the Apple diehards though, Cloak’s dedication to iOS and OS X devices is paying off. After wrestling with other VPN providers, Sam Glover said the experience “made me glad I use Cloak.” And perusing through Cloak reviews backs that sentiment up.

Cloak has two types of plans for access to its VPN: passes and subscriptions. If you’re only casually needing a VPN, Cloak’s $2.99 a month Mini Plan will secure up to five gigs of data. For unlimited use, Cloak is $9.99 a month. You can also get a week pass for $3.99, a month pass for $9.99, or a yearly pass for $99. All passes will encrypt unlimited amounts of data.

As for logging, Cloak appears to do so reluctantly; however, the Cloak team thoroughly explains its reasons for logging in a blog post. We’ll leave it up to you to determine if their reasoning is good enough.

TunnelBear

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If Cloak piqued your interest, but you are not in the Apple ecosystem, TunnelBear is a solid alternative. Touting its ease of use, TunnelBear has apps for iOS, Mac, Windows, Linux. Interestingly, TunnelBear also offers browser extensions for Chrome and Opera. Currently, the TunnelBear Chrome extension boasts a five-star rating with over 9,000 reviews.

While its apps are well-praised and available on a number of platforms, TunnelBear only lets you connect through 20 or so countries—making it a bit of a laggard compared to the competition. That said, TunnelBear does not keep logs of your data and uses AES 256-bit encryption protocol (which is just about as good as it gets).

TunnelBear offers a free plan, letting you encrypt up to 500 MB of data a month. For unlimited use, the Giant plan is an option for $6.99 a month.

Conclusion

As more and more of your client data moves to the cloud, it is pertinent you protect your client’s trust by using a VPN. Installing an app and paying a nominal subscription fee are small prices to pay for peace of mind.

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  • Greg McLawsen

    Reporting from a sketchy hotel in Laos, 18 km from the Chinese border…

    It seems TunnelBear doesn’t play well with Gmail/Google apps – just FYI, have had consistent problems.

    • Fortunately since Google Apps are HTTPS, you’re probably okay. But that’s good to know.

      When Cloak won’t work on a wireless network, I assume the network is too risky and use my phone as a hotspot. But I suppose that isn’t always an option. And not doing work may not be an option, either. I guess if I were in a sketchy Laotian hotel and my VPN weren’t working, I would be careful to use only HTTPS websites and hope for the best.