Using the Internet exposes people to many risks. Malware steals personal information.
Intercepted communication does the same without having to get into the victim’s machine. Denial-of-service attacks make it difficult or impossible to do anything.
Keeping the risk low requires an array of security practices, including good passwords, caution about following links, and thinking twice before disclosing information. A virtual private network (VPN) is an important part of this strategy. It encrypts the information that goes through ISPs and hotspots, making life difficult for snoopers. It hides the user’s IP address, enhancing privacy.
Not all VPNs do this equally well, though. You need to do research, check reviews, and find out what a provider offers. The Surfshark VPN constantly strives to earn its users’ trust.
Five principles of trust
A consortium of VPN companies, called the VPN Trust Initiative, has defined five principles for promoting trust and accountability.
- Security. VPNs will use appropriate security measures to minimize risk. The measures include strong encryption and token-based authentication protocols. The security measures will protect keys and passwords from being exposed.
- Advertising practices. Marketing claims will be accurate, using clear and transparent language. They won’t claim to do the impossible, such as guaranteeing anonymity.
- Privacy. VPNs will keep as little user data as reasonably possible and disclose it only when legally required. They will be transparent about their privacy practices and notify users of security issues.
- Disclosure and transparency. This overlaps with privacy. Member companies will disclose how they share their data and publish annual transparency reports.
- Social responsibility. VPN companies will promote freedom of expression, contribute to open source initiatives and support VPN-related education.
Adherence to these principles should be a necessary baseline for any service you consider. The best privacy protection comes from VPNs that go beyond the requirement given above. They keep no logs with identifiable user information, or they delete them after a very short retention period. They provide additional protections, such as these:
- Being based in a country with strong privacy laws. A VPN based in such a place isn’t likely to be hit with legal demands for sweeping data searches or monitoring.
- Providing a “kill switch” option if the VPN connection is lost. If the kill switch is active, the client will drop the connection rather than falling back on a normal Internet connection.
- Having a large pool of IP addresses. The more addresses the VPN uses, the harder it is for websites or spies to narrow in on the source of a request or to launch a denial-of-service attack on it.
Why it matters
When you use a VPN, you need to be sure it lives up to your trust. It acts as your agent for connecting to the Internet, and it needs to treat its responsibility with care.
Making the right choice protects your personal information, keeps your Internet activity confidential, and helps to avoid targeted attacks. Together with good browsing habits, a VPN increases your safety from identity theft, password breaches, individually targeted phishing, and unwanted “personalized experiences.”
The degree of protection depends on the VPN’s practices. As a hypothetical example, a VPN operated by an authoritarian government would be worse than none at all. One which has good intentions but is negligent is vulnerable to security breaches. It takes a VPN with a reliable infrastructure and strong data safeguards to deliver on its promise of protection.
Finding a trustworthy VPN
A VPN is an important choice, so take the time to shop intelligently.
Free VPNs rarely do a good job. They have to make money somehow, and if it’s not from the user, it’s from someone else. Most commonly, they do it through advertising, which means modifying the data sent to you. Their loyalty is to the advertiser, not the user. They have an incentive to maximize traffic, not performance. A connection is likely to be unreliable and slow.
Read the reviews and forums to find out which providers are reputable. The best ones keep their promises and stay up to date with the latest technology. Anyone can set up a VPN, but the safe approach is to choose one with a good track record and a solid reputation.
Put the most confidence in review sites that themselves have a good reputation. Random reviews on the Internet could be works for hire or reflect a personal grudge. A review that shows an understanding of the technical issues is more likely to be reliable.
Choose a VPN that you know you can trust, and you can use the Internet more safely than ever before.