The best VPN (Virtual Private Networks) can do all kinds of useful things. They can protect your privacy. They can prevent your online activity from being monitored. They can unblock streaming services. And they can make your online activity safer and more secure when you’re working from home.
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Harold Li is VP of ExpressVPN, which tops our list of the best VPNs. “As more businesses deploy remote working policies, we are seeing more people turn to VPNs like ours to ensure they are able to secure their internet connection while working and protect sensitive info from prying eyes,” he says. “And whether you are working from home or not, a VPN is a critical tool for protecting your personal privacy and online security.”
What is a VPN, and why do I need one?
A VPN keeps you safe and secure by protecting your personal data. It does that by creating a secure tunnel between you and the site or service you’re connecting to, and by encrypting the data that goes through that secure tunnel. That means even if other people could intercept your data, they wouldn’t be able to unscramble it.
VPNs have another key benefit, which is that they route your data through servers all over the world – so you might be in Cricklewood but your VPN may make it look like you’re in California. That doesn’t just help protect your privacy. It also helps you evade censorship. In some countries that’s literally a matter of life and death.
But I’m not a whistleblower or a freedom fighter. Why do I need a VPN?
Because the internet is full of villains, from fraudsters to privacy invaders. We’ve seen countless cases of criminals creating fake Wi-Fi hotspots to try to get people’s personal data; with a VPN, they can’t get any of it.
And we’re all familiar with the ad networks and social platforms that try to track everything we do online. VPNs help mitigate that by mingling your activity with that of hundreds of other people who are using the same VPN server.
There’s another happy benefit to having a VPN. When you’re travelling, you’ll sometimes find that “geoblocking” stops you accessing things because you’re not at home: your subscription says “UK” but your location says somewhere else. With a VPN, you can set your location to where the site or service wants you to be so you can access it without any limitations. And when you’re not travelling, you can use the same feature to access content that blocks UK users.
Why should I install a VPN on my router?
When you’re working from home, you’re usually using more than one device: your laptop, of course, but also your phone and maybe a tablet, too. And of course there are other devices in your home: your smart speakers, your games console, your smart TV.
The easiest and most secure way to protect all of those things is to use a VPN router app. It’s much more convenient than individual VPN apps – install it once and it’s active for every single device wired or wirelessly connected to your router – and more secure too, because you can be sure that everyone in your home is going through your VPN when you want them to.
Is a VPN useful when I’ve stopped working for the day?
Yes! The benefits of having a VPN in your home working setup are 24/7. Your VPN continues to protect you as you use your everyday apps – your online banking, your social media and so on – and its ability to bypass censorship has the happy benefit of making many geo-blocked services available to you too.
A VPN such as ExpressVPN enables you to unblock the streaming services you want to see that aren’t available in your area. That could mean the US versions of streaming services you already subscribe to, enabling you to stream movies or shows that haven’t reached your bit of the world yet, or entire services such as the newly launched HBO Max.
Does a free VPN do all of that?
Honestly? Not really. Many free VPNs aren’t brilliant: setting up and maintaining servers all over the world and ensuring they deliver a super-fast service isn’t something you can do without having to get money from somewhere, so if the service is free it’s making money in other ways – such as from injecting adverts into your browser or selling user data.
A high quality VPN such as ExpressVPN isn’t particularly expensive, but it means you get a much better – and 100% safe and private – experience.
How do I choose a VPN?
Don’t just look at price. Look at how many servers it has, where in the world it has them and what platforms it supports: a service that only supports one kind of device or OS isn’t likely to be a very good one.
And pay close attention to privacy policies and the specific privacy protections the VPN service offers. For example, ExpressVPN uses “TrustedServer” technology: the servers run everything in RAM, so nothing is stored on hard drives; the entire software stack is reinstalled on every reboot.
VPNs are a great solution to some very annoying problems: online privacy, invasive user tracking, cyber-crime and geoblocking. Whether you want to keep your work communications private, bypass censorship or unlock geoblocked media, a VPN makes the internet a much better place. Don’t stay home without one.
T3 would like to thank ExpressVPN for being a sponsor of the T3 Awards 2020 where we will be naming the best products in almost 100 categories. The winners of the T3 Awards 2020 will be announced throughout the week of Monday 8 June and will appear in T3 magazine on sale Friday 12 June. You can sign up for ExpressVPN here for 49% off the regular price AND get three month's free.