As the internet becomes ever more connected, online privacy is moving on from being an exclusive concern for big corporations to a dilemma faced by the average internet user.

VPNs have often been termed as a solution to protecting your identity/information over the internet – but many internet users still don’t know what is VPN security!

Put simply, a Virtual Private Network is a software that creates a private ‘tunnel’ over the public internet through which your computer communicates with the outside world.

No one on the internet can see your end of the tunnel i.e. your computer/device, and your public IP address appears to be of the device on the other side of the tunnel i.e. the VPN service provider’s server address would appear to say Netflix for an example.

VPNs have become so popular nowadays that knowing how to setup a VPN is a matter of being able to purchase it online, install it to your device, and double click/tap on its icon to launch the application!

What to look for?

Besides concealing your online activity, VPNs are also being used for circumventing online geo-restrictions – a popular application of which is people enjoying geo-locked digital streaming services such as US Netflix in New Zealand.

Unfortunately, not every VPN software being sold online is up for the task; this guide will equip you with the knowledge required for separating the good from the bad in the VPN market.

Why do you need to get a VPN?

For ensuring that your online activities are kept private

As global and domestic internet policing becomes more intrusive due to the pervading threat of terrorist attacks, the average internet user stands at a risk of losing their online freedom and privacy. Many governments have passed laws stipulating internet service providers to log their users’ activities.

A Virtual Private Network is able to anonymize your data by tunneling it through an encrypted tunnel, which makes it impossible for ISPs to track your activity. Furthermore, because of the encryption, your connection is also secured again man-in-the-middle attacks from malicious hackers and eavesdroppers.

For accessing geo-locked content

geo-restrictionsWhile New Zealand is slowly catching up in terms of the content offered by indigenous digital streaming services, the current content offered by Netflix NZ library leaves a lot to be desired. Many Kiwis still prefer to watch Netflix US as opposed to Netflix New Zealand.

The main obstacle to accessing the US library is that Netflix has introduced geo-restrictions, which means only people whose online address shows as somewhere in the United States can access the US library.

Fortunately, there are several Netflix VPNs in the market with server end points located in the United States – by connecting to these servers (after subscribing to the VPN Netflix service of course), you can spoof your online address as US-based, allowing you access to the US library while you’re right here in New Zealand, please note that a Smart DNS proxy can also bypass the geo-block but that’s about it.

This technique has become so popular that VPN service providers have expanded their services to be compatible with digital streaming devices such as Roku 3 NZ, Apple TV, and Google TV etc.

For instance, in order to access Netflix US instead of NZ over your Roku NZ device, all you need to do is input the DNS values supplied by the VPN provider, so the Roku device appears to have a US location to Netflix’s servers.

The same technique can be used to enjoy BBC iPlayer NZ – instead of going for a VPN with US servers, you’ll need one with end points in the United Kingdom, since iPlayer is a UK exclusive service.

Factors to consider when choosing a VPN

  • Connection quality: Modern websites are quite bandwidth intensive, so having a VPN service with unlimited bandwidth and reliable connectivity is almost a necessity these days (unless you surf online occasionally and only largely text based websites). For those who intend to stream digital content over their VPN, having a hi-speed link with minimal risk of disconnection is even more imperative.

The best VPN NZ should, at the very least, the bandwidth offered by your VPN provider should match the bandwidth of your actual internet connection.

  • Server list: The best VPN for NZ will have an extensive collection of servers all over the world, which lets you spoof your online address to all major countries. This is especially important for individuals who wish to access geo-restricted content from New Zealand – for instance, BBC iPlayer, which can only be accessed from the UK, will require you to subscribe to a VPN that has servers in the United Kingdom.

Furthermore, it is desirable that the VPN have multiple servers in the country you intend to spoof your address with so that others who are doing the same do not clog up your bandwidth and vice versa.

  • Encryption standards: Be sure that the VPN you select utilizes either L2TP/IPSec or OpenVPN as its primary encryption protocols. While PP2P and L2TP are a couple of other options offered by various VPNs, these should only be used if the former are incompatible with your device.

Furthermore, decent VPNs nowadays offer 1024-bit or even 2048-bit cyphering – if you are conducting sensitive transactions online, I’ll advise going for these even they cost a little extra because of the significantly better encryption strength they offer as compared to 256-bit or 512-bit encryption.

  • Privacy policy: The point of a VPN is to anonymize your activities, so it won’t do if the very same service kept incriminating logs of your online presence. In general, a VPN company will follow the policy enforced by the government of its home country – so it’s a smart idea to avoid VPNs based in the UK, US, Australia or anywhere that has intrusive online monitoring policies.
  • P2P Support: Not all VPNs support downloading over the Torrent protocol, because it is frowned upon by governments as a means to distribute illicit / pirated material. Nonetheless, if you wish to use it, you should make sure that P2P support is explicitly mentioned in the VPN’s features.
  • Device compatibility: Virtually all VPN software nowadays supports Windows, Mac OS, Android and iOS – if you’ve got a device that is not on these platforms e.g. a Linux based desktop, a gaming console, or a smart TV, you’ll want to make sure that the VPN you pick offers dedicated support for working on these platforms.
  • Free vs paid: You might be tempted to for a free VPN NZ if you have minimal bandwidth requirements and only go online once or twice every week. However, be warned that even the best free VPN for New Zealand will be unable to offer you unlimited/uninterrupted service, and you’ll be at a serious risk of having your activities logged.

Furthermore, free VPNs tend to utilize weaker encryption protocols to save on overhead. Ultimately, it is better to go for a paid option, no matter how low-end it is, because it will always beat the performance of a free VPN.