The internet is critical for most small businesses. Everything happens online, from managing client relationships to invoicing. The internet is the tool that lets small businesses compete around the world.
Unfortunately though, the internet isn’t always secure. Not only are there threats like viruses and other malware, but there are also more direct attacks that happen when you try to connect to the internet.
If someone with the right (and readily available) tools is able to position themselves near you when you go online, they can potentially intercept your traffic. Anything that appears on your screen, or that you type could go right to their computer.
While this kind of attack isn’t especially feasible when you control your own wireless network—someone lurking in your home with a laptop after asking you for the login details is going to stand out—it can be a real issue when you travel. If you work from a wifi network in a coffee shop, a hotel, an airplane, or anywhere else where you don’t have total control, you could be at risk.
The best way to protect yourself is to make sure all your traffic is encrypted and going to a secure location. If anyone tries to intercept encrypted information, all they’re going to see is a string of gibberish. The simplest way to encrypt everything when you’re travelling, is with a Virtual Private Network (VPN).
What is a VPN?
A VPN is a server—and the network that connects to it—that acts as a gateway between your computer and the wider internet. Rather than connecting directly to a website like Tuts+, your computer connects to another computer which connects to Tuts+.
When you send any information to the website, it gets routed through the VPN. Likewise, when any website sends information back to your computer, it goes through the VPN’s server first (as shown below).
By being one-step removed from the world wide web, you can gain a lot more control over your connection.
In most VPNs, traffic between your computer and the VPN server is encrypted. No one else can read it. It’s private internet access. That’s not true when you connect directly to a regular website. The content on this webpage is sent as plain text. Anyone who could intercept your connection could read it.
If you were viewing this page through a VPN though, only the connection between this site and the VPN would be unencrypted; the connection between your computer and the server would be totally unreadable to an attacker.
You can set up your own VPN but it’s a complicated procedure. The best option is to sign up with a VPN provider.
Why Use a VPN?
The main reason to use a VPN is to encrypt your internet connection when you are using an insecure or open connection but there are also some other benefits.
A VPN makes it harder—although not impossible—for your internet activity to be tracked. Your traffic is being routed through a server that also handles thousands of other connections so it is much more difficult for any one HTTP request to be identified.
A VPN can also be used to make it appear like you’re browsing from another location. When I travel, I use a VPN to connect to a server in Ireland so I can watch region-blocked rugby games when they’re broadcast live. Most VPN services offer servers around the world for you to connect to.
What Features to Look for in a VPN
With dozens of different VPNs to choose from, it can be hard to decide which one to use. Any reputable provider will encrypt your traffic and protect your identity, so it comes down to secondary features. Here’s some things to look out for in a good VPN.
1. Easy to Use
Does the VPN have an app or do you need to configure it yourself? Do you have the skills to do that?
2. Support for Your Devices
Does the VPN work on all your devices? Does it have an iOS app? What about a macOS or Linux one?
3. How Many Devices Does it Support
How many devices can be connected at once? Are you sharing the plan or will three or four connections be enough? Do you need to connect an entire office staff worth of devices?
4. Server Locations
Where are the VPN’s servers located? Your connections will be quicker if the server is nearby. Is there a server in your home country so you can connect to region-blocked services?
5. Blocked Services
Can you use the VPN to torrent? Some providers deliberately block torrenting while other services are designed explicitly for it.
Is the VPN within your budget? Will a free plan work for your needs or do you need to pay an enterprise provider?
The Best VPNs Software Available Right Now
There are dozens of VPN providers out there all offering mostly the same service. I combed through “best of” lists, reviews, and relied on my own personal experience to put together a small collection I feel confident recommending.
All the services below are among the best VPN software providers available right now; they aren’t scammy services just looking for your credit card details. The prices start from between $5 to $15 per month, so are reasonable. And some come with free trials and free service options.
NordVPN is a simple to use, secure VPN with more than 680 servers in 53 different locations. You can connect up to six devices at one time. Their custom software takes care of the hard work of configuring a VPN. They have a strict no logs policy so your information should be safe with them.
KeepSolid’s VPN Unlimited has more than 300 high-speed servers in over 50 locations around the world. They use the OpenVPN protocol to secure your traffic. You can connect up to five devices at once.
VPN Unlimited offers a few enterprise features such as the option to enrol more devices and have your own dedicated IP address.
Hotspot Shield is one of the most popular VPN providers. They have more than 400 million users in 200 countries. A big part of the appeal is Hotspot Shield’s free trial; if you’re not sure a VPN is for you, you can check it out without having to pay a penny.
As well as the free plan, they have Elite and Business plans depending on the level of service you require.
PureVPN has more than 500 servers in 180 locations around the world. In particular, they’ve a lot of countries covered in Asia that some services lack.
PureVPN has apps for Windows, macOS, iOS, Android and Linux. This makes it incredibly easy to set up and use.You can connect with up to five devices at once.
Where IPVanish stands out is with their support for torrenting and other peer-to-peer traffic. Their download speeds are some of the best available. If you share a lot of large files over VPNs, IPVanish might be the one for you.
Aside from that, it’s an otherwise excellent VPN. You can connect up to five devices to their 500+ servers in over 60 countries.
ExpressVPN is another easy to use service with apps for all the major operating systems. They’ve got servers in 136 locations in 87 different countries. The biggest drawback of ExpressVPN is that you can only connect three devices at once. If that isn’t an issue for you, however, they’re an otherwise great service with excellent 24/7 customer support.
Have a closer look at ExpressVPN with our Envato Tuts+ tutorial on how to start using it:
7. Cloak VPN
Cloak is a team-focussed VPN with apps for macOS and iOS. It’s best for small businesses that mainly use Apple products like design studios or travelling photographers.
They’ve got different plans available depending on how many team members you have and how much data you need secured each month. They have relatively few servers in only eight countries so check that the locations you need are included.
Tunnelbear is a consumer focused VPN with a great free plan. You can connect up to five devices to servers in 20 countries around the world. Tunnelbear has easy to use apps available for iOS, Android, macOS, Windows, and Google’s Chrome browser. It’s not the most fully featured app on this list, but it’s among the cheapest and will keep your connection secure.
For anyone who wants to protect their privacy while they work online, a VPN is a must. Unless you’ve got control over your wireless network, you’re vulnerable to targeted attacks. If you’ve got sensitive data—of your own or your customers—you need to use one.
In this tutorial I’ve outlined some of the key features of VPNs, how they work and the benefits they bring to your business. I’ve also listed some potential VPN providers for you to consider. Pick the one that best fits your needs best.
We’ve covered VPNs quite a bit here at Tuts+. As a company with hundreds of writers all over the world, we obviously value secure, private internet connections. Below are some articles you might want to read on the subject. You’ll learn more about VPNs and how to configure them on your devices.
VPNSetting Up and Using a VPN for Mac or iOS
OS XHow to Use VPN on Your Mac
NetworkingHow to Keep Your Information Safe on Public Wi-Fi
Keep internet security in mind when traveling and working on open wifi networks.