The evolution of VPNs: 10 ways to make VPNs even more private
Ten years ago, a VPN allowed you to access the internet encrypted, but it had many problems. It will probably be very expensive too.
Things have changed a lot in the last decade. VPNs are more secure, easier to access, and have more uses than ever.
Here are 10 ways VPN providers have improved over the years with new features and services.
1. Logless servers make activity anonymous
The most important thing about VPNs is that they keep your internet activity private. That’s why they’re called VPNs: “virtual private networks.”
A standard server records everything. Login activity, user logins, web logs of sites visited, etc. Your own computer does too.
This is obviously a problem for VPNs, which is why they claim to be inaccessible. In most cases, these claims can be verified by independent audits.
A few years ago, the claims of unregistered VPNs were either ethereal or simply inaccurate. Most VPNs in 2023 are either unregistered, unregistered in the countries where the records are called, or both.
2. Enhanced encryption avoids shadowing
When third-party VPNs were introduced, encryption was not as advanced as it is today.
10 years ago, a typical VPN offered 128-bit Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) encryption. It is practically impossible to crack with current technology. However, VPNs have accelerated things as quantum computers and other techniques are expected to be able to override 128-bit encryption.
Currently, 256-bit AES encryption is used by default. Our guide to 256-bit encryption explains how secure it is.
3. Diskless servers to protect VPNs
VPN access forwarding servers made faster and more secure by removing the disk drive. Servers without a hard disk or solid-state drive are less prone to performance problems.
More importantly in terms of privacy, diskless VPN servers keep no logs. While a hard disk or solid-state drive can be checked for traces of Internet access, a diskless server stores no data other than a reboot.
In a traditional server, the operating system is loaded from a local storage device, hard disk, or hard drive. In diskless servers, the operating system is loaded directly into RAM from the central server.
As with your computer, any data stored in RAM is lost when the server is restarted. NordVPN was the first VPN to include diskless servers, and other big names soon followed suit.
4. DNS Leak Protection improves privacy
Various VPN leaks can affect your online privacy when using encryption. This was once a big problem for VPN services, as information about IP addresses and DNS servers roamed the internet unencrypted.
In theory, your location can be linked to the websites you visit.
With things like internet kill switches and full data encryption through a VPN client, DNS and IP address leaks are no longer a problem for VPN users.
5. Private DNS VPN Improves Privacy
As an extension of the previous point, DNS (a type of website lookup system) remains a vulnerability for online privacy. Our guide to domain name servers explains how they work.
In short, your computer connects to websites through DNS. Some online providers offer fast DNS – such as Google – but they are not private.
Some VPN providers now offer “private DNS”, which will become the DNS standard. Instead, we collect your search data, IP address, destination website data, etc. is recorded publicly, your activity is encrypted via private DNS.
6. VPNs are more affordable
If you are willing to pay an annual subscription, you can sign up for a VPN for a very low price. For example, a $10 monthly subscription can cost only $3 if you can pay up front.
Just a few years ago, it was unheard of, with VPN services charging higher subscriptions without huge discounts or free months. Today, the price of a VPN is so affordable – as low as a cup of coffee – that it makes sense to have one.
And if you can’t afford a VPN, you can probably sign up for a free VPN. It will have fewer features, but will still give you encrypted access to the internet.
ExpressVPN is giving MakeUseOf readers 3 months free by signing up with this link.
7. Split Tunneling lets you choose what to encrypt.
Even when using a VPN, not everything needs to be encrypted.
Previously, you had to disconnect your VPN to access a specific website (perhaps content blocked by an online bank or region), then reconnect after the task was done.
With split-tunnel, there is no need to manually disconnect and reconnect. You can simply specify which apps connect to the internet through the VPN and which don’t.
How to know when to use split-tunneling.
8. VPNs Allow Access to Netflix Libraries Abroad
Before the advent of WFH (work from home), the main use for VPNs other than online privacy was video streaming.
At first, overseas Netflix libraries were desirable, but this quickly expanded to Disney+, Amazon Prime Video, BBC iPlayer and others.
Since these services are region bound, it is not easy to access them from another country. For example, users in the US can’t watch BBC TV via iPlayer, while UK residents can’t access Netflix’s US library.
At least not under normal circumstances.
But you can browse and even stream foreign libraries by connecting to a VPN server in the relevant country before accessing your streaming account.
Note that some VPNs do better than others in this area. The cat-and-mouse game between VPN providers and streaming services has been going on for several years. However, this is a resource-intensive experience, so if you want to watch Netflix this way, use a VPN that specifically offers this access.
9. Improve privacy with a double VPN
There was a time when your data was encrypted only once. Recently, VPN services have started double-encrypting your data.
It works by routing your data through two connected servers, essentially creating a chain of encryption.
In most cases, this is excessive. You wouldn’t use a double VPN for online shopping, and it might be inconvenient for Netflix. However, if you’re doing sensitive research or want to avoid government surveillance, it’s a good idea to enable a double VPN.
Check out our double VPN guide to learn more.
10. VPN on every device
When VPNs first took off, you could only use a Windows (or if you’re lucky, a Mac) client. Over time, this has changed with Android and iPhone clients for most VPN services.
In fact, this is just the beginning. Many VPNs also support TV boxes, smart TVs, Linux, and routers. Meanwhile, there is a smart DNS for game consoles that do not generally support the use of VPN clients.
In short, if you take out a subscription with a VPN provider, you can use it on almost any connected device you own. In many cases, you can use more than one device.
VPNs are constantly evolving to improve your privacy.
They’ve been around for a few years now, and it looks like VPNs are here to stay. The range of privacy and encryption features continues to expand, from double encryption to kill keys, Netflix access, private DNS, and more.
If you’re concerned about online privacy and aren’t already using a VPN, now is the time to sign up. Make sure you master the encryption features and use the VPN securely.