If you have a need to encrypt and secure your internet connection—whether you're using an unsecured public Wi-Fi connection or are worried about an authoritarian government snooping your data—a VPN service is just what the doctor ordered. Here are the five most popular tools for the job.
Photo remixed from jasleen_kaur.
If you're unfamiliar with VPN services, the value behind a VPN is this: You encrypt all data from your local computer to the VPN endpoint, adding security to an otherwise insecure situation. A prime example is when you use an unsecured wireless connection (for example, at a cafe or a university) or when your government wants to control or spy on your internet activity (Egypt and China come to mind, but many examples exist world-wide).
VyprVPN is a service brought to you by Goldenfrog. Goldenfrog partners with Giganews, a well-known Usenet provider which has been around since 1994, and you actually get the VyperVPN service free if you subscribe to a Giganews platinum account. VyperVPN itself costs $US14.99/month for their plain PPTP service and $US19.99/month to upgrade to the professional version which includes L2TP/IPsec. These two protocols allow you to connect to their service from a wide range of devices and operating systems—the two standards work with everything from Ubuntu to Windows and from Android to iOS.
WiTopia's entry level plan starts at $US39.99/year (PPTP only) and goes up to $US69.99/year, which includes PPTP and OpenVPN/IPSec VPN support. One of the things that makes WiTopia stand out from the crowd is that they have exit servers in an incredible 31 countries. This means that you are able to select which country or even which city your traffic appears to be coming from, which helps to get around some of that unseemly geo-lock content providers often put on their media. They include alternative ports as well as an SMTP relay for email should you need it.
StrongVPN offers exit points in an impressive 15 countries, though on cheaper packages you may only receive the ability to use one of them. Their plans start at $US7/month, but this restricts you to PPTP and 4 exit cities; to switch countries or add OpenVPN support you'll need to pay extra fees. You can view all the different options on their packages page. StrongVPN is based in the US.
Ipredator is a Swedish VPN provider with a starting rate of €15 ($20.30 USD) for 3 months. It appears that currently PPTP is the only protocol supported, but OpenVPN support is in beta testing. It appears that their one exit point is in Sweden, which does have strong data and privacy protection laws. Their site is a bit sparse on details on their company and service, but our readers have picked them as one of their favourites so we have to go on their word.
The only one of the five contenders with a free option is proXPN. They have a custom Windows client which manages your network settings for you and also allows you to switch exit points, reconnect your VPN on disconnection and have it run on startup. The free account is limited to 1Mbit and only allows a United States exit; the pro account is $US5 a month or $US45 per year. If you upgrade to the pro account, there's no bandwidth limit and you can choose between a United States or Netherlands exit. PPTP is not available by default but is available upon request. One of the downsides of proXPN is that their client is Windows-only; instructions are available from their support if you are connecting from MacOS X.
Two software products worth mentioning that aren't strictly services but received a lot of attention in the voting include: OpenVPN is a client which can connect to any VPN service and is a component of popular "roll your own" setups. If you have the technical know-how, you can set up your own PPTP or IPSec service out of your own home or business. Also LogMeIn Hamachi is a free tool and service for creating a point-to-point VPN network between computers. You could use Hamachi to share your internet connection on your home PC with a remote computer and have a very nice and secure connection.