Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) provide a way for ordinary web users and businesses to protect their online activity against external snoopers, whether they are criminal hackers, corporate spies, or government agencies. VPNs rely on their reputation to deliver reliable security. In fact, without VPN security, there’s hardly any point in running a VPN client at all. So most high-quality VPNs work hard to keep their tunneling protocols up to date, their encryption watertight, and their logging processes at a minimum.

The trouble is, not all VPNs are meticulous about their VPN security policy. Some charge steep rates for customers, but let them down on almost every security front, putting their data at risk. This blog will provide a quick introduction to VPN security and give readers the tools to tell good VPNs from dangerous also-rans. And we’ll also look at ways to strengthen your VPN security when using your chosen client.

Why VPN security matters?

When analyzing and using VPNs, security should be your number one priority. Why is this the case? Using insecure VPNs is almost as bad as having no VPN at all. In fact, it could be far worse. If users feel protected when they actually are not, they might let their guard down and share information or data which puts them at risk. VPNs can give a false sense of security, so it’s vital to choose wisely.

Badly run VPNs can leak DNS data or sell your online activity to marketers. They might use out of date (and easy to hack) encryption. Despite people knowing about the risks for years, many VPNs remain vulnerable to IPv6 leaks as well. All of these VPN security vulnerabilities leave users wide open to hijacking, keyloggers, trojans, and many other digital hazards.

How you can strengthen your VPN connection?

When it comes to security, VPN users can sometimes be their own worst enemies. Thankfully, by strengthening your own security procedures you can minimize the risk to encounter the problems outlined above. Here’s a quick checklist of the best practices to have in mind when coming up with a VPN security policy:

  • Use a firewall – Firewalls and VPNs don’t always go together, but they should. Most of the time, conflicts with firewalls can be easily worked around, and it’s worth taking the time to do so. For instance, this could be as simple as adding an exception to Windows Defender, but you may need to toggle the “Do not use HTTPS protocol checking” option on the Windows Control Panel.
  • Keep your security patches up to date – Secondly, whether you use Linux, Windows or iOS, be sure to update your OS as regularly as possible. This will help to block developing threats, many of which specifically target VPN users.
  • Stay safe with anti-virus software – As usual, it’s essential to add a layer of anti-virus protection when using a VPN. While the combination is good, we don’t recommend using anti-virus/VPN hybrids like Avira Phantom.

What about business users?

These recommendations apply mainly to individuals, but they won’t be sufficient for larger organizations that rely on VPNs in their day to day operations.

In this case, you’ll want to go for a VPN that caters to multiple users and offers specialized customer support for business users. When setting up a VPN with remote networking, having someone you can bounce questions off can be really helpful and reassuring.

Pick one that fits in with your existing business software (an SSL based VPN could work well here). And when you do, it’s a good idea to train your staff in password management and general online security. A VPN can work wonders, but not if users are lax about keeping their data safe.

The VPN security policies of major VPN providers

Now let’s move onto how VPNs keep their networks secure. The key tool here is the VPN’s “security policy”. This is distinct from the Privacy Policy, which sets out the users’ rights and how their data is used. The Security Policy, on the other hand, establishes which devices are permitted to use the VPN, and how the VPN keeps users safe from online threats.

All VPNs will provide some details about their Security Policy, but it’s rare to find it in an official document. However, if you don’t see the following information, it could be a red flag:

  • The protocols used by the VPN to encrypt data
  • Whether a Kill Switch is part of the package
  • The use of activity logs
  • Whether the VPN provides individual DNS protection
  • Details about static and dynamic IPs
  • Where they are based, their server locations, and contact details

However, some leading VPNs are more open about how they secure their servers.

For example, CyberGhost explains that only four people in the world can physically access its servers, and lists the various industry certifications they have acquired. That kind of proof is always a good sign when picking a VPN on security grounds.

What VPN providers expect from users?

Following this advice, you should be able to find a VPN that provides excellent security. But there’s one final issue to tackle.

Due to limited resources, VPN service providers sometimes impose restrictions on who can use their service. The most common problem is compatibility. Many VPNs offer clients for Windows or Mac, but not Android and iOS. Some cater to Windows 10, but not earlier versions. All providers should be open about the platforms they use.

It’s very rare for individual users to be denied access to VPN servers. If you can’t connect, the problem is more likely due to your firewall or port issues. Problems can also arise from using UDP instead of TCP protocols – but this isn’t due to the VPN locking you out.

VPNs tend to expect very little from users beyond paying their subscriptions, so don’t worry about being disconnected or barred. It’s much more important to worry about choosing a VPN with a strong security policy and getting your own security practices right.

If you want to find out more about the security of VPNs, read our blog about the 7 most dangerous VPN security risks.