• Technology
  • 23 June 2020

Why you need a VPN and how to choose a provider

Perhaps you’re a frequent traveller and often find yourself using free Wi-Fi hotspots at airports. Or maybe you’re used to working remotely from your laptop at a Starbucks café, latching onto its Wi-Fi network to avoid incurring hefty charges for mobile data overuse.

Convenience and cost savings aside, tapping on unsecured Wi-Fi portals carries a host of cybersecurity risks. For example, hackers could eavesdrop on the webpages you visit, or even glean your personal information and intercept files you send in what is known as a ‘man-in-the-middle’ attack.

If abstaining from public Wi-Fi doesn’t sound like an option for you, a viable alternative would be to set up a virtual private network (VPN) connection. Put simply, when you use a VPN, a remotely located server is selected to act as a secure relay channel of sorts for your internet activity. Your computer only communicates directly with that server, which then encrypts and transmits your actions to the various websites on the internet. As a result, your actual IP address is masked, and any snooping activity is prevented.

Key considerations when selecting a VPN provider

Setting up a VPN is relatively easy; all you have to do is download and install the application, register for an account, make the necessary payments, sign in and you’re good to go! But deciding on which VPN service provider to subscribe to is the tricky part. Here are some things you may want to consider:

1. Think about your use case

Depending on your requirements, the type of VPN you sign up for may be very different. If you are a frequent traveller, you’ll want to make sure that your VPN provider has adequate security built into its product, and that it operates servers around the world. Should you require a VPN connection for family use, be sure to check whether the VPN allows multiple users to sign in simultaneously. For high volume streaming and data transfer, you’ll want a VPN provider that has reliable connections and unlimited bandwidth. It helps to list down what features you want in a VPN before looking at providers.

2. Data privacy and security

When using a VPN, all your internet activity is routed through a VPN provider’s servers, and the last thing you want is for them to log and sell your data to third parties. Hence, users are advised to read the fine print concerning policies on data logging under the Terms of Service before installing a VPN application. Also, if the point of adopting a VPN is security, then be sure to check your potential VPN provider’s encryption protocols. For instance, the Point-To-Point Tunnelling Protocol (PPTP)—introduced back in 1995—is widely considered outdated, while OpenVPN is an open source VPN protocol that continues to evolve to counter emerging cybersecurity threats.

3. Keep trade-offs in mind

In general, VPN providers that have an extensive network of servers located in different countries can assure you of faster data transmission speeds. However, that also means higher operating costs for the VPN provider, so expect to pay a higher monthly subscription fee for the service. Furthermore, higher security could result in a slightly slower VPN connection speed. Some VPN providers thus give users the option of toggling the level of encryption that allows them to balance their security and speed requirements.

4. Read reviews

You probably read product reviews when you’re shopping on Amazon or Lazada, and that’s because you want to know whether the retailer is reliable and if other customers are satisfied with the product. The same process should apply when choosing a VPN provider. Websites often publish rankings of the top VPN providers for a particular year as well, so be sure to cross-reference those. And while you’re at it, also check if a VPN provider offers 24-hour customer service—this is often overlooked, but can be invaluable if you encounter issues with setting up your VPN connection.

This article was first published by Government Technology Agency of Singapore on June 25, 2019. The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or view of Bank of Singapore Limited or its affiliates.

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The contents of this article have not been prepared or reviewed by Bank of Singapore Limited (the “Bank”). The Bank is not responsible for the accuracy or completeness of the information contained in this article which may change without prior notice. This article may contain views which are not representative of the views of the Bank, and such views may have been derived without discussion, consultation or agreement with the Bank. You will need to decide as to whether or not the contents are suitable for you. When you are in doubt, please seek your own independent financial, legal, tax or other advice as you deem fit. Neither the Bank nor any of its officers accept any liability for any loss whatsoever arising out of or in connection with your use of the information in the article.


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Version: December 2019