Why VPNs are Becoming Essential

27 March 2017

Bothersome Browsing

Governments worldwide have been increasing internet surveillance and censorship for a variety of reasons in recent years. From Britain’s Investigatory Powers Act, which expanded the powers of the UK intelligence community, to the infamous Great Firewall of China that prevents people in the country from accessing sensitive information, it can be hard to know where you stand and how safe your information is depending on where you are. For the majority travellers and expats, however, it will be the restrictions on internet usage and browsing that will be most bothersome. The map below shows just how pervasive internet censorship is around the world, with many expat destinations heavily affected, especially across Asia. 

 

Just by looking at the chart below you can see that governmental requests for the removal of items from Google increased over the five years from December 2010 by a massive 567%. Although many of these appeals are legitimate, unscrupulous governments often target unwelcome content using requests for removal due to defamation, privacy or copyright reasons. Although Google hasn’t released any more data on the subject, this worrying trend of increasing censorship clearly continues around the globe with new bans on web content over the past few years in Malaysia, India and Pakistan to name just a few countries.

 

 

Big Brother’s Watching

The potential fallout from Brexit also cannot be ignored, with the introduction of the Investigatory Powers Act in December 2016 and the constant striving by the security services to gather more and more information about its citizens. With the upcoming scrapping of the European Convention on Human Rights for British citizens, the government will be able to reshape the law of when their people’s privacy is - and mostly isn’t - a concern for the security services. Although bulk data collection is for national security reasons, wherever the information is stored would undoubtedly provide the juiciest hacking opportunity ever conceived.  Besides, as WikiLeaks keep showing us, governments really aren’t very good at looking after sensitive material.

 

For ultimate security when using the internet, you should consider whether you are currently browsing from a nation within 5 Eyes jurisdiction, a collection of countries which intentionally spy on each other’s citizens, thereby circumventing often restrictive domestic spying laws. In addition to the core five members (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, United Kingdom and the United States) four other countries are cooperating to form the 9 Eyes group, and an additional five to create the 14 Eyes (see our map below). 

 

VPNs to the Rescue

With more and more people travelling abroad for work each year, the need for consistent internet services and security has never been higher. Whether you’re concerned about your personal or company data falling into the wrong hands, need to access internet services blocked in your current location, or just want to watch your favourite television programme from home, VPNs (virtual private networks) can provide the answer.

 “Since moving to China I have found a VPN crucial to maintaining my normal browsing habits due to the extensive censorship of a wide variety of websites here. Otherwise, it can be quite hard to keep up with friends from back home with access to Facebook and other social media sites blocked. The multinational company I work for actually provides them for employees, because they know how important they are for the expats in the workforce and security in general.”
- Maggie – US Expat in Guangzhou, China

VPNs enable you to access any part the web while simultaneously hiding both your IP address (identity and location) and which content you’re actually browsing from any would-be snoopers. Anyone attempting to look at what your computer is doing from the outside would only see data passing back and forth from your computer (or phone) to the VPN and nothing else. Being able to make your computer appear elsewhere to external connections is what allows VPN users to bypass local content filters and access movie and television content meant for other countries, for example, BBC iPlayer.

I decided to use a VPN provider when moving back to Sweden mainly because I wanted to keep up with my favourite British shows. Being able to watch my soaps makes me feel connected to the UK in a way which is hard to put in words. Last time we lived in Sweden, I didn't have access to UK television and certainly felt a lot lonelier and more alienated from the UK. Just tuning in really has helped me still feel a part of home and what is happening there.
- Tracy – UK expat in Sweden

Our Top VPN Picks

Following on from our rundown of some of the most popular VPN sites last year we’ve taken it upon ourselves to hunt through the current offerings from around the web and globe, to give you a handy guide to the most secure and cost-effective VPN solutions out there. Just check out the graphics below and read through our top picks to find the best option for you.

 

Remember that although a VPN will hide your identity and location, they are currently outlawed in some countries, including China, Iran and North Korea.

 

 

 

Security

CyberGhost – 850+ Servers – 29 Countries

Our top scoring VPN provider for ultimate privacy and security has to be CyberGhost, located outside of 5 Eyes justification in Romania and with absolutely no logging of customer data whatsoever, these folks are on a mission to fight mass surveillance and censorship. Pay in bitcoin for total anonymity, and feel safe with their 256-bit encryption protecting your information while you work and browse. If you only need protection for casual browsing while abroad, they also offer a free, although limited speed version. Winner!

 

EarthVPN – 400+ Servers – 54 Countries

Following hot on CyberGhost’s heels in Earth VPN, with around half the server count but hosting in 25 more countries. At $39.99 for 12-months access, it really is a steal compared to the $69.96 it would cost you for a year with CyberGhost. They also have a large suite of setup guides for the whole range of operating systems and devices, from Mac OS to Windows Phone, they’ve got you covered. One problem we found, however, is that their customer service can be extremely slow in responding to your questions, which could be frustrating if you’re dependent on your VPN all of the time.

 

Price

VPNLand – 400+ Servers – 12 Countries

With over 10 years of network management experience, the Canada-based VPNLand has cheapest 12-month service we could find, coming in at a solid $35. Yes, they’re in a 5 Eyes country; yes, they keep server logs; and no, you can’t pay by Bitcoin, but when it's $35 for an entire year, you can’t really complain. If you just want a cheap solution to get around internet censorship in your current location and security isn’t high on your list, this is probably the answer for you.

 

PureVPN – 750+ Servers – 141 Countries

The only thing keeping PureVPN off our ‘Most Secure’ list is that they log user activity; otherwise they’re pretty good on privacy, being based in Hong Kong and running a huge number of servers across the globe. In fact, with tighter security and over 750 servers in 141 countries around the world Pure VPN is only $0.40 more expensive than VPNLand for an entire year. Additionally, five concurrent logins from a single account are allowed, meaning that you can browse on your laptop, phone and tablet at the same time, if that’s something you’re into.

 

Special Mention

ExpressVPN – 100+ Servers – 94 Countries

Although CyberGhost and EarthVPN both offer more secure and cheaper services, the king of VPN services, ExpressVPN, just has to be mentioned. Hailed by many as the most comprehensive and professional service out there at the moment, with their 30-day money back guarantee, excellent customer service reputation and support of nearly all operating systems and devices currently on the market (sorry Windows Phone users). The only significant downside, apart from the company being located in the United States, is the cost, with a 12-month deal sitting at $99.95, making ExpressVPN one of the more expensive services currently on offer.

 

Sources:
Data on internet censorship around the world was provided by the OpenNet Initiative under a Creative Commons licence.
Information on Google content removal requests was taken from their Transparency Report.
VPN Scoring and additional information were taken from VPNList.