Explaining VPN basics

You've probably already read about political activists using VPNs, Netflix blocking VPNs, or Facebook distributing VPN software. Some of your friends were even talking the other day about the best VPNs for torrents and media streaming. Your manager might have mentioned that the executives are thinking of improving the company's cybersecurity so as to avoid WiFi spoofing, Firesheep, Faceniff, Honeypot, and MitM (man in the middle) attacks.

If you want to join in your colleagues' conversations, better understand all this news about VPN software, as well as be able to stay ahead of potential changes at your workplace, portals like are the best place to learn about the fundamentals of Virtual Private Network (VPN) technology.

What is a VPN and how to set it up

A VPN is a technology that allows you to securely access public networks and surf the web. It does this by re-routing your online traffic through a private wide-area network (WAN) that extends over large geographical distances. The key word here is "private," as in privately set up and managed by a specific group or organization. In the process of re-routing, the VPN acts as a go-between you and anything on the Internet, while also encrypting your traffic.

This means that whenever you sit down to check your e-mail at your favourite coffee shop, turning on the VPN software will mask your identity and encrypt your private data before you even get online. VPN companies have made the whole process as easy as clicking a button in their proprietary software.

When a server or the website you're connected to tries to see who you are, the location and details of your VPN will show up instead. It might be possible to identify you as the source of the connection, but can only be done with a great deal of resources and complex IT stuff. If the managers of the network connection you use or the Internet Service Provider (ISP) attempt to leak some of the information from your traffic or listen in on your connection, they only get encrypted data.

Because of the security involved, large, multinational companies have become more interested in transitioning to a VPN-based architecture. Most public institutions, universities, and schools have already implemented such systems.

Next are the top VPN services you might consider for your personal or professional needs:

1. ExpressVPN

Hands down, one of the best VPN tools all across the board is Express. It easily bypasses geo-blocking fences such as the Chinese firewall or Netflix's country restrictions, while delivering amazing performance when streaming and torrenting.

With a 30-day money-back guarantee, 24/7 live chat, and fast applications that work seamlessly across all PC and mobile operating systems, Express is definitely worth considering if you don't know what to start with. The best part about it is that you can always change your mind during the first four weeks of your subscription.

2. NordVPN

With a popularity that rivals that of Express, NordVPN's only drawback is that it does not have a dedicated router app. This means that if you are looking for software that can be installed directly onto your router, Nord will be slightly more complicated to handle.

Aside from this, Nord boasts an impressive WAN of over 5,000 servers in more than 60 countries, 24/7 support, as well as above average speeds for streaming and torrenting. Many users have become loyal Nord customers and, at the end of the day, it's a matter of preference whether you go the Express or Nord way.

3. IPVanish

In third place comes a more affordable alternative, IPVanish. Albeit just as strong in terms of security as Nord or Express, IPVanish is less useful for those who periodically travel to China and require a stable by-pass to their firewall. Still, their excellent list of features, intuitive apps, and fairly low prices make them a good third contender.

The problem with IPVanish is that, though they claim to keep zero traffic logs on their users, the company is based in the U.S. This means that the organization can legally be forced to release data on their customers by certain national and/or security authorities. In the U.S., there is the precedent set by Pure, for instance.

4. TorGuard

The excellent security of TorGuard is the feature that made them a favourite among fans. Their Stealth VPN technology helps you bypass people who may be taking a closer look at your internet traffic with DPI methods. Unlike other VPN software, TorGuard is not as intuitive to begin with, but what the service lacks in design, it often compensates with outstanding 24/7 support, great torrent speeds, and overall good performance.

The main reason why they are not higher on our list is that, aside from a few specific features, their services are comparable to Nord or Express, if not better, for a lower price. This makes TorGuard less of a value deal than the others.

5. CyberGhost

CyberGhost is on the more expensive side of monthly subscription fees, but they offer great features for streaming, p2p transfers, and browsing the web securely. Their limited number of servers in the African and Asian regions usually translates into slower Internet speeds for people living or traveling there.

However, if you're looking for a VPN that fulfils specific functions such as optimized, private torrenting in the North America or Europe regions, this might be the best choice for you. Unlike TorGuard or IPVanish, they are based in Romania, where the jurisdiction does not enforce a data log policy.

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