How Do We Rate a VPN?
With the multitude of VPN available out there, it can be challenging to pick out the right one for yourself. Plus, with lots of sites out there telling you that they have the right pick and best selection for you to pick from, it can make things a lot more confusing. That is unless you are willing to spend the time and effort needed to validate their claims or compare the various reviews/lists.
But the question still remains. How are VPNs rated or ranked? Is it just by how many users they have or which has the largest social media presence? If this were the case, it would be a very poor method of reviewing a VPN provider, as you would never get accurate information.
What Is a VPN and Why Would You Need One?
The internet is a wonderful place filled with lots of wonders and information that is so large in size, it can be mind-blowing. But with all its wonders also comes dangers and restrictions which require certain tools to protect and aid us in its navigation. A VPN is such a tool (program) that allows us to maintain our anonymity and protects us from some of these dangers lurking online.
It channels and encrypts your online traffic through another server within its own network (which you can usually select from), and conceals your actual IP address. This allows you to bypass geo-restrictions, hide your location or appear as though you are from somewhere else.
This is useful if you are looking for discounts online that might only be available in certain regions or just want to stay safe and not allow malicious sites to have access to your location. Regardless, if you are going to be online and want an extra level of security and protection, a VPN is a good investment.
Filtering Through All the Hype
The very first thing you will notice on your quest to find the perfect VPN is that there are a lot of them out there and each claims to be the best or number one. It is wise to take these claims with a few truckloads of salt.
Not because they don’t live up to the advertised functions but because no matter the features offered, it might not be what is best for your use case or scenario. Having this in mind, there are still a few things that must be taken into account when rating or ranking VPN service providers.
This, as you can imagine, is done through testing. There are a lot of features and functions that make up a VPN but we can’t possibly test everything because not only do functions and features vary from VPN to VPN, but the amount of data involved would do more harm than good.
There are however certain functions and features that a good VPN must have to even be considered for evaluation and these are what we test for and use to rank/rate VPN providers.
Security/Encryption and Leak Protection
The very first on our list is the level of security and encryption that is available on a VPN service. If your data is not safe and can be easily decrypted in transit then it is not even worth consideration. Hence the very minimum we look for is to have 128-bit AES encryption.
The Advanced Encryption Standard has been the standard of measurement and became effective as a US federal government standard on May 26, 2002. It should be noted here that 256-bit AES is considered military-grade encryption.
Then, on the side of security, we review a VPN that supports protocols such as OpenVPN, L2TP/IPsec, IKEv2, and PPTP; with OpenVPN having the most robust security benefits.
This also includes leak protection. There is no point in having a VPN with top-level security and encryption when you real IP leaks from time to time. Hence, when performing evaluations, we also include leak tests.
Speed and Latency
By now you have seen claims of various VPNs saying how they have blazing fast speeds and very low latency. First off, you should be very clear that while the speeds can be fast, you are going to face a penalty or speed drop simply by using a VPN in the first place.
This is because there is now an extra level that your device must pass through in order to gain access to the internet. Knowing this, you should not be surprised when your connection speeds seem a little slower than before you had the VPN installed.
But there are some cases that you do get a speed boost by using a VPN but this is the exception, not the rule. We, therefore, test to see how much speed we retain by using each VPN service provider and the connection latency. A higher latency would make it unsuitable for people like stockbrokers and online gamers. Regardless, lower is also better.
Network Capacity and Connection Speeds
One of the things that we test for when evaluating a VPN is the number of servers within its cluster plus the available locations that a user can connect too. This is important because a lower number of available servers could lead to higher congestion in the network, hence, affecting your experience and speed. There is also less variety of choice if the available locations are limited.
Having a fast service but without your desired location is just as frustrating as having the right locations but the high traffic volume leading to slow connection speeds. We test for how fast you can connect to the various servers available and what the speeds are when using each location, plus, perform a survey of what locations are available for us to use and with what service. For example, some VPN service providers will grant you streaming service access for Netflix and others but only on certain servers for your desired location.
Company Location and Policy
This might not be obvious at first glance, but where a VPN provider is situated and its policies are very critical to its rating and rank. There are a number of reasons for this:
- Log Policies: A lot of service providers claim not to keep logs or bury the fact that they do so underneath a lot of legalese. So, we spend some extra time digging through all these to see what logs are being kept if any during the evaluation process.
- Refund policy: Sometimes after using a VPN service you might decide that it’s not right for you and this is where you might find out if you can get a refund or if you are stuck with the service.
Pricing and Customer Service
Let’s be very blunt here; we don’t look at the cheapest and most affordable service and rate them accordingly. What we evaluate is the price to performance ration or the best value for the features and functions you are getting.
Note that if a service is free, then you are the product. In this case, it would be your data that is being used to pay for the service. Hence, we don’t really recommend using free VPN services. After all, you pay for what you get.
Once the Price-to-Performance ratio is tallied, then we take a look at the customer service experience. No matter how good service might be, it would not gain a good reputation if the user has consistent issues just trying to connect with the customer service. Hence, the number of channels available and the response time are taken into account when evaluating a VPN provider.
We run each test multiple times for each VPN provider, plus we test on multiple devices and platforms just to make sure we give each a fair shakedown. Some rise to the challenge and perform just as advertised or even exceeding that, while others make us reach for the uninstall icon as soon as we are done testing. So why not take some time and check out the results of our vigorous test in the articles linked below.
How We Rate Password Managers?
Choosing the right password manager is essential in having a secure online presence. Not only that, a good decision can save you a massive amount of time and concern, both quantities that are available in only limited amounts in the modern landscape. This is why we work tirelessly to test popular password managers to help you make the correct choice. We rigorously put to the test these applications as well as research important features to present to you all of the information that could be relevant.
Research and Methodology
The first step in testing a password manager is always to perform a little research about which specific technologies it uses and what features it has. For example, many security features will not be apparent in daily use and the kind of encryption used, which is important for security, may not be readily visible. Additionally, we also take a look into the company and their previous track record with security and privacy issues to mark out any red flags.
Just as important as the features that are theoretically available is how these features have been implemented in a seamless package. We will actively test the password manager for a few days and test its performance in real-world scenarios. Each of the features is tested individually to identify how well they work.
We rate the password managers according to some set criteria so that our testing is consistent for each of the applications. Some of the key areas we test are outlined below.
Ease of Use
While many password managers will claim to be easy to use, they often have confusing or badly designed layouts. This causes inexperienced users to struggle with the process while also aggravating existing users. Many password managers will have loads of features but we wouldn’t recommend them because they are either hard to understand or require too much effort to perform simple tasks.
A password manager which has an effective explanation of how it works will score well, as well those with intuitive designs that allow quick and easy access to the features that are most used. This category is a bit subjective as it is based on the reviewer’s sense of usability but we try to incorporate a general user’s point of view.
A password manager would be absolutely useless if it did not allow for maximum security. These security features include the type of encryption used, hashing and also how the passwords are stored by the host company. Privacy is also another big concern of ours when rating password manager. Keeping your data secure and out of the hands of third-party actors is our most important factor in judging password managers. Our recommended applications are the most secure ones available, even being able keep your data safe from the most devious cybercriminals.
Often, when you have password managers that manage to get the basics right, the distinguishing factor is the extra features that are there to make your life easier. Most applications come with a password generator and missing this would be a major drawback. Others, such as an included VPN or dark web search services are nice bonuses if they are included but are not make or break deals. Some users may also be enticed by some extra additions that aren’t purely functional. This includes being open source, as if you can see how an app is built, you can place more trust in it without worrying about any malicious activity.
Password managers need to sync your passwords and allow seamless integration across a wide range of devices. Otherwise, they’d be really ineffective in making your passwords easy to manage. Hence, a good password manager will support a wide range of operating systems and devices, and work well on each of them. Most of the popular password managers today will feature a majority of the common operating systems, and this is definitely a factor in why they are popular.
When you trust a company with some of your most sensitive and important data, you’d better hope they have responsive customer support. Any issue with your password manager malfunctioning could cause catastrophic problems and having good customer support that can help you solve those issues is a factor in how we decide on the best password manager. Often, a password manager will lack in some features but make it up by providing excellent and helpful customer support that has minimal downtime.
While what a password manager can do is important, many individuals and businesses are on a tight budget, looking to cut any unnecessary corners. Here, it is important to find the best bang for your buck. An ideal password manager will do everything you need it to do while costing you as little as possible. We take into account the price of the password manager and how it matches up with competitors to form a judgment on whether a password manager is worth it or not.
A password manager has become a necessity for anyone using the internet today. Not only to prevent malicious activity but also to make handling your online presence a bit easier. The overabundance of various apps can be overwhelming and choosing the right one can be a hard task. By analyzing various important factors and presenting which ones, we think are the best, we aim to help make that task easier. Many factors need to be accounted for in a good password manager and this article is just a glimpse into how we try to do this.