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With everything moving more and more online, security and privacy are topics at the forefront. You hear stories of computers being caught by ransomware, or people’s details being stolen online. Then you start to wonder if the internet is a safe place? The answer to that question is complicated. Still, there definitely are ways to protect yourself when it comes to being online. The one-step we will consider in this article is a VPN. We will look at what a VPN is and how it works, what it can be used for, and then explore which VPNs to use, and how to set one up yourself.

What is a VPN?

Let’s clarify one thing first, VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. A VPN is a way to add security and privacy to private and public networks. VPN’s were initially used by big corporations to protect sensitive data, or when someone (an employee) wanted to connect to the corporation’s server and resources remotely (when out of the office). Yes, corporations still use this method, but using a VPN has also been adopted by individual people to connect to the internet privately through their personal networks (when at home) or public networks (when out at a restaurant connecting to a public WiFi). Just like a firewall protects your data on your computer, a VPN protects your data/information as it transfers over the internet.

How does a VPN Work?

When you connect to the internet, normally, you would connect to your ISP (Internet Service Provider) first. Your ISP will then connect you to the website you were searching for. This means that all your unencrypted internet traffic that passes through your ISP can be viewed by your ISP. While this doesn’t mean that they will, your connection would then seem insecure because you have no control over who can see this data and who cannot.

A VPN is a service installed on two computers, your computer (the client) and the server. Your client establishes a connection with the VPN server, creates an encrypted tunnel, and sends all your data through it. Although your ISP (or anyone who may potentially intercept your connection) could still see this traffic, they will be unable to read it. Since you are sending all your communication via the tunnel and exiting at a different endpoint (the VPN server), this also means that you will have a different public IP. This also improves your privacy as websites/games servers/etc. We will see your endpoint IP, not the IP your ISP assigned to your router. So, you will not bypass your ISP Service Provider because you will still connect using their infrastructure, this means they will be able to track your data usage. Still, the data that you send/receive will be encrypted.

What are VPNs used for?

We covered a little bit of this above, but we will review those and few more reasons why people use VPNs.

  • Security: Yes, your actual IP address can be likened to your home address. It displays the location of the computer/device that you are using to surf the internet. This location is accessible by your ISP, and that is a security concern to many online users. A VPN masks your IP by generating a temporary one for the area the VPN is situated.
  • Geographical Blocks: In today’s world, you wouldn’t think that this would be an issue. The truth is, however, there are many sites and game servers which are blocked geographically. A game server that comes to mind, which is IP Blocked for South Africa, is Black Desert Online. You cannot play this game in South Africa unless you use a VPN. I cover this in another article (here). This isn’t the only case, Netflix was not available in South Africa for many years, and the only way to watch Netflix before it was released worldwide was to use a VPN.
  • Series or Movie Geographical Block: I’ve put this under a separate section because most people would use a VPN for this specific reason. In South Africa, there are only certain shows that would be available on Netflix, and the reverse is true in America or other countries. Therefore, if there is something specific you would like to watch on Netflix that is not available in South Africa but is available in the US, using a VPN and then logging into Netflix America would grant you access to that show.
  • Pirating: In my younger days, pirating was the norm; however, it’s not an action I condone. It must be said, though, using a VPN to pirate movies, games, music, and series is a must. All ISP’s will have in their T’s, and C’s a note that they will suspend your service if they catch you pirating through torrents. The best way to avoid being caught is by using a VPN.

Myths and Disadvantages to using a VPN:

  • Slower Load Times: If you are connecting to a VPN situated in Europe or America, you will definitely notice a delay in load times for websites and games (no more than the usual delay if you’re using a good VPN). This is because your data has to travel to the VPN server first, before connecting to the website’s server. The other reason could be the level in the encryption used by your VPN. Stronger encryption requires more processing power, and this could slow your connecting time down. If you were to connect to a South African based VPN, you would still have the standard latency to connect to websites and servers around the world, and your latency to South African servers should remain the same. However, this will all depend on you using a reputable VPN service provider.
  • Data Usage: The idea that using a VPN could encrypt the amount of data you send and receive, bypassing your cap level, is a myth. When using a VPN, you still avoid your ISP’s server, while they cannot see the data being sent and received, they can always determine the size of the data. Therefore, if you’re on a capped data plan, you could still run out of data, i.e., if you have 2gb of data a month, you will still be limited to those 2gb.
  • Increased Data Usage: Does using a VPN increase the amount of data used? The answer is yes, this increase could be anywhere between 5% and 15%. Since a VPN encrypts the data, the file being sent and received increases in size, resulting in an increase in cap usage.

What is the best VPN to use in South Africa?

  1. NordVPN: vpn-south-africa-banner-7

    NordVPN is a Panama-registered service that provides VPN products to more than 12 million users across its range of products, and NordVPN received a rare “outstanding” mark of approval from PCMag because of its top-flight protection from all security threats. They offer 5600+ servers in over 60 countries, which is a huge selling point on behalf of NordVPN. The App runs on Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Linux, and other applications. NordVPN has a “Zero-logging” policy, where they don’t log your online activity. Also, they offer a kill-switch and DNS leak protection to keep your online identity safe, OpenVPN support for secure encryption and high performance, and 24/7 online support should you need it. We noticed while using NordVPN that geographical unlocks were on point – allowing you to use Netflix from other countries with minimal issues.

    They often run specials where you can use their service at a low price of $2.75 per month when signing up for a 3-year plan (R32.50 per month). This plan allows you to connect 6 devices to the VPN. NordVPN also offers a 30-day money-back guarantee. If you did miss the Spring Sale and the other Specials, you could look at paying $3.29 per month (R39.19 per month) for a 2-year plan, so it’s best to act fast to save yourself some money and to get an extra year worth of service.

  2. Pros
    • Privacy audit of no-logging claims
    • Unblocks Netflix
    • Effective Kill Switch
    • Wide range of servers to connect to
    Cons
    • Some UI Issues with the App
    • Can be expensive
  3. Express VPN:

    ExpressVPN is also one of the more popular VPN’s that standout. The British Virgin Islands company offers over 3000 servers in more than 94 countries, boasting one of the best 24/7 support teams we have ever seen (it always looks like someone is available to help you immediately, and they know what they are talking about). We noticed in our testing that the speeds you get from connecting to their servers are almost unlike any other VPN. The application is available on Windows, Mac, iOS, Andriod, Linux, with detailed manual setup guides for Apple TV, Fire TV, Playstation, and more. In my Black Desert Online Article, I recommended using Express VPN. They offer a 30-day money-back guaranteed if you’re not satisfied with their service. If you sign up for a 1-year plan, you could receive an extra 3 months free for $6.67 per month (R79.00 per month). Coupled with the 30-day money-back guarantee, the Express VPN deal is a difficult one to beat.

  4. Pros
    • Great online support
    • Excellent Speeds from the servers
    • Apps for most OS’
    Cons
    • Browser extensions requires the app
  5. Surfshark: vpn-south-africa-banner-9

    Until I did a bit more digging, I honestly didn’t know that Surfshark was even around. Some would think that this is a bad thing, but that isn’t the case. Once I gave Surfshark a test, I realized that this is a decent VPN that shouldn’t be overlooked. When connecting through Surfshark to a local server, my latency did not change at all, it was precisely the same (around the 40ms region). When connecting to a UK server, I noticed that my latency dropped slightly. Surfshark also offers unlimited devices when signing up with them, so this is a great VPN to use if you want to share it with the entire family.

    It is straightforward to connect to, with extensions or Chrome and FireFox, if you are only wanting security when surfing the web. It is quite a bit more expensive compared to the other VPN’s, coming in at $5.99 per month for a year, but it does have the added benefits. With over 800+ servers in 50+ countries, I recommend taking a look at Surfshark if you’re in the market for a new VPN.

  6. Pros
    • Unblocks Netflix
    • Lots of features
    • Cost effective 2 year plan
    Cons
    • Trial is for Mac or Mobile only
    • Kill Switch needs work
  7. CyberGhost VPN: vpn-south-africa-banner-10

    CyberGhost VPN is a well-known VPN that uses 256-bit encryption, and has dedicated torrenting and streaming profiles. It also has built-in ad blockers, which comes in handy at the best of times. CyberGhost has a strict policy about keeping no logs as well, so your online activity won’t be documented. They also allow you to connect 5 devices simultaneously to the VPN when you are subscribed to their VPN. They currently have over 6000 servers in 90+ countries and often have sales where you could purchase the VPN at $2.75 per month (R32.50 per month) for a 3-year plan. Something else I appreciated about their site is that it picks up whether you are currently running a VPN or not; however, their website isn’t the most user-friendly.

  8. Pros
    • Unblocks Netflix
    • Kill Switch works very well
    • Excellent online support
    Cons
    • Only has a 24 hour trial
    • Server speeds are below average
    • Need to manually setup OpenVPN
  9. Ivacy: vpn-south-africa-banner-11

    Ivacy, a company based in Singapore, has been around since 2007 and has been keeping its client’s online identity safe since then. I tested Ivacy on my phone (I have both a Samsung and an iPhone), and on my laptop, and it ran well on all the devices. When connecting to a South African server, my latency did not exceed more than 48ms, with it running at a solid 180ms when connecting to a UK server, proving that their servers work well to offer a smooth connection. I did, however, notice that when I was idle on my phone, the App would stop running the VPN, this was only on my iPhone and could be a limited issue. They have 1000+ servers in more than 50+ countries, and their App can run most devices and operating systems. You can look at paying $3.33 per month for a year contract, which is competitive to the other VPN companies on the market. You won’t go wrong with Ivacy when they also have 6+ servers in Africa.

  10. Pros
    • Unblocks Netflix
    • Responsive Support
    Cons
    • Small Server population
    • Speeds on some servers was slow
  11. ZENMATE VPN: vpn-south-africa-banner-12

    ZENMATE VPN is another VPN on the market. They don’t offer 256-bit encryption, only 128-bit. Unfortunately, you cannot torrent with ZENMATE VPN, and there seems to more wrong with them than right. However, they do offer a free VPN service, except for OpenVPN tunneling. ZENMATE VPN appears to have the idea of providing a VPN for the non-technical person, who just wants to protect their online identity. They have 298 servers in 30+ countries, and you can connect using any device (iPhone, Android, Linux, or Windows). They also offer a 30-day money-back guarantee. Their pricing isn’t too bad either when you are looking at approximately $2.05 per month(R30.00 per month).

  12. Pros
    • 7-day free trial
    • Cross platform apps
    Cons
    • Lacks features
    • Does not unblock Netflix

Now the big question – are there any Free VPNs available which can compete with the ones you pay for? My honest opinion, no. One will always sacrifice something to receive a free service, whether it’s a fast, stable connection, or receiving company service. If you absolutely cannot afford one of the VPN mentioned above’s, then there are a few options here for you. However, my real recommendation is that you choose one of the paid-for services.

  1. Hola: Hola is a free VPN that can installed as a Chrome Extension. This VPN is primarily for your web browser, which means that you cannot use it to connect to games. This VPN allows you to connect to geographically locked sites or different Netflix regions. Again, I don’t recommend free VPN’s. I personally used this VPN and noticed that when trying to buffer a Netflix series or movie, the load time was slow, and at times frustrating. In the end, I wouldn’t watch the show.
  2. TunnelBear: TunnelBear is not 100% free. It does, however, offer a limited plan for 1 device to connect to the internet with a 500mb data limit. While the data cap is low, it does at least allow you to play around with the program and to run speed tests before deciding if you would like to purchase it or not. However, that being said, it isn’t one of the top-rated “free” VPN services because of that cap limit.
  3. Windscribe: As with TunnelBear, Windscribe VPN offers a limited free plan but with more options. You can install Windscribe onto multiple devices and run it simultaneously on those devices with up to 10gb bandwidth a month. The limited plan allows you to connect to servers in 11 countries rather than the 50 that you can connect to if you upgrade to the Pro version.

Step by Step VPN Setup:

Setting up a VPN is really simple. Each VPN service provider will explain how to get started step-by-step. Below is a quick explanation that you might want to look at before purchasing or installing your own VPN.
For example, let’s say you go with Express VPN (this is the VPN I recommend using).

  • Step 1: Decide on which VPN you want to use (in this case… Express VPN)
  • Step 2: Select which plan you’d like to use (e.g. the 1-month plan)
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  • Step 3: Complete all your required details. This will include adding your banking details.
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  • Step 4: After completing Step 3, you will be provided with a password which you can keep or change.
  • Step 5: Once you have your password, you will be given an activation code, and a download button.
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  • Step 6: Once the download is complete, click to start the installation process. Click install and follow the Install Wizard’s prompts.
  • vpn-south-africa-step6

  • Step 7: Open Express VPN, copy and paste your activation code and then click OK.
  • Step 8: Click “Use Express VPN” which will take you to the home screen. Here you can Toggle between turning your VPN on or off.
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In my case, I connected to an Express VPN server in Germany, let’s see how the latency is when pinging the WOW EU Hellscream Server:

vpn-south-africa-pinging-hellscream-with-expressvpn

As you will notice, the average ping was between 240ms – 300ms (which is playable). However, there definitely were times when it spiked to over 1500ms. It must be noted, though, at the time of writing this article, my internet connection is nothing to brag about here in South Africa.

To compare the difference between a paid VPN and a free VPN, I downloaded and installed Windscribe to see how they compared. The step-by-step installation is almost identical, let’s have a look below at the latency differences when pinging the same servers:

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As you can see, there is less spiking, but the average ping is higher than that of ExpressVPN. Also, with Windscribe, I was limited to which VPN server I would like to use (it wanted to connect me to Canada, and to send data from South Africa to Canada to the web site’s server or in this case Hellscream’s WoW server which would increase the latency). That’s why I still recommend using either ExpressVPN or one of the other pay-to-use VPNs supported in this article.

Concluding Thoughts:

So what can we take away from all that we have gone through? VPN’s are essential today. Security is on the mind of every Internet User, and rightly so. Granted, a VPN won’t protect you from Facebook harvesting your personal information. Still, a VPN can protect your online data and information when surfing the internet. It can help you access Netflix America or UK, play games which block South Africa’s IP address (like BDO), and can make you anonymous when surfing online. The VPN will also secure your personal information when connecting to a Public WiFi like at a Restaurant. So yes, VPNs do serve a fundamental purpose.

Which VPN should you use? When it comes to choosing a VPN, I definitely recommend ExpressVPN because it’s well known, well maintained, looks good, and is easy to use. In all, it took me about 8 minutes to set up the VPN program and get connected, which is not a lot of time at all.