We didn’t audit any VPN services ourselves (though IVPN, our top pick, offered to arrange such an exercise), but we did ask detailed questions about each service’s operations as a way to judge whether a company was acting in good faith. Good faith is important, because there aren’t many avenues to penalize a VPN company that isn’t following through on its promises. In the US, companies making false claims about their products are policed by the Federal Trade Commission, and to some extent state attorneys general. Joseph Jerome at CDT told us that companies violating their own privacy policy or claims about logging would be “a textbook example of a deceptive practice under state and federal consumer protection laws,” and in theory, “the FTC could seek an injunction barring the deceptive practice as well as potentially getting restitution or other monetary relief.”
If you use Intrusion Detection System (IDS) technology, you should know that if the IDS machine is between the Internet and the VPN concentrator that decrypts the encrypted packets (e.g., on a demilitarized zone—DMZ—network), it won't be able to detect intrusion activity that occurs between VPN-connected machines. Most IDS sensors match packet payloads to a database of intrusion signatures so that they know when to flag something as suspicious. If the packets are encrypted, they'll look like gibberish to the IDS machine. If you want your IDS machine to be able to monitor network traffic from VPN connections, make sure you place the IDS machine behind the VPN concentrator so that the IDS machine checks the traffic after the VPN concentrator decrypts it. You can't use an IDS on a software VPN, which operates directly from one VPN host to another.
The well-publicized case of the intruder who cracked Microsoft's VPN, accessed the corporate network, and almost made away with the company's precious source code should be a warning. VPNs offer many benefits but also open a hole into your network, usually bypassing your firewall or going right through it. So, you need to carefully consider which VPN product to choose and how to install and run it.
One of the most important things to remember when building your VPN is that a VPN secures only the data transmissions between two machines—it doesn't protect the machines themselves. Some firms hand out VPN connections as though they were candy at Halloween—to anyone who asks for one and without regard to how secure those computers are. Remember, you're handing out the front-door keys to your network, and you shouldn't do that lightly. A virus can bypass network-based antivirus protection by coming in on an encrypted VPN connection. Like IDS systems, antivirus systems can't read encrypted data, so they have problems with VPN traffic. If an intruder takes over a remote VPN client, he or she has an encrypted tunnel right to the heart of your network, making discovery and surveillance of the intruder much more difficult than if the intruder entered over an unencrypted channel. So, you should protect your VPN clients even better than you protect your internal machines because they're typically at least partially exposed to the outside.
When we tested other aspects of IVPN’s performance, it also satisfied our requirements. On the default settings, our real IP address didn’t leak out via DNS requests or IPv6 routing, let alone a standard IP address checker. The DNS-requests check indicated that the app was using the company’s internal DNS servers and that they were correctly configured. None of the 12 services we tested disclosed our true IP address (though some showed mismatched IPs). Every VPN we considered had to operate its own DNS servers in-house and not rely on ISP servers or public options like Google’s, which give third parties a chance to log or analyze the sites you visit. IVPN currently disables all IPv6 connectivity, though the company is looking at solutions to securely support it soon. Most companies we considered do the same; OVPN was the only company to support IPv6 addresses at the time of our testing.
With regards to pricing, Surfshark tends to be incredibly cost-effective and wallet-friendly. The monthly plan starts off with incredibly high pricing at $11.95 and its a bit of a bummer. But the plans with longer subscription durations are priced much more reasonably. For instance, the 6-months plan, gives you a 65% discount, reducing the pricing to $8.99 per month. If you go for the yearly plan, you only pay $5.99 per month, which totals to $71.88 every 12-months. The best part of all: you have a 30-day refund guarantee available.
And they manage to do all of this without sacrificing performance, offering one of the fastest download speeds (83 Mbps out of 100 Mbps) and the best 24/7 customer support in the industry. The only downside? It’s a little on the pricey side, with monthly plans starting between $6.67 and $12.95/mo. But it’s a small price to pay for excellent performance in almost every category.
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