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There's a lot of VPN providers out there. Some are free, some are for a fee, some report to the government, some inject ads int your HTTP, some are in other countries, you might not have any real promise of security when using these services.

How do you go about shopping for a VPN provider that won't just sell or give away your data? What criteria should I use? Is setting up my own VPN through a web host somewhere a more secure option?

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8 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

First you should ask your self: What advantage does a VPN provider have over providing your own with something like OpenVPN? If you are paranoid you could get a Virtual private Server(VPS) host. Other than that I would make sure that the service was fast, cheap and wasn't in the news for a security breach.

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"not in the news", they could change their name so age of the company is probably a factor as well. –  StephenPaulger May 20 '11 at 10:47
    
Setting up openvpn on a VPS won't really help in terms of anonymity, unless the VPS in itself is anonymous. –  ashwoods Jan 6 '13 at 6:04
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If you are concerned about government eavesdropping, then you might take national privacy laws and the political situation into consideration, i.e. choose VPN providers unlikely to cooperate with local authorities. Cablegate revealed that some countries cooperated with the U.S. more than others, for example. Sweden played lapdog. Austria annoyed the U.S. etc.

As an aside, you should consider using HTTPS Everywhere whether using a VPN or not. HTTPS Everywhere has become the default in the Tor Browser Bundle.

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depending on situation and your goals answer may range from "all providers that you do not control can sell you out" to "any provider that 'fast, cheap and wasn't in the news for a security breach' will do" :)

In extreme case when you want to be 100% sure you are safe and no one watching/changing your traffic, own VPN server is not more secure. you need end to end encryption. HTTPS, SSH, etc.

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I'd definitely pick foreign VPN and make sure that they have a clear zero log policy.

Her's an interesting read:

http://torrentfreak.com/which-vpn-providers-really-take-anonymity-seriously-111007/

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Go to this TorrentFreak page, choose two providers, and run one VPN through the other using two separate machines, or create a virtual machine on one PC so you can run one VPN through the other. Will cost as little as ten dollars a month. This setup will give most people privacy. But if you're someone the government is looking at, then nothing will really work. If you're in Iran, or China, or somewhere else where they will kill ya, it will be best for you to just stay quiet.

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Deciding on a VPN is really a matter of trust, hence setting up your own is probably the safest, but also the most involved. Even a home-grown VPN has problems, for example it won't allow you to get around region restrictions (watching Hulu from outside the US if you don't live in the US or have access to a server in the US), or there is a problem reaching the machine you used to setup your own VPN.

Based on my experience the best strategy is to decide first what you need the VPN for and what level of privacy you need (or want). Generally speaking a no-log VPN is more private than one that logs information, so read the T&C and Privacy Policy. You can find a good primer at http://vpnverge.com/why-no-log-vpn/ for more details about how to choose a no-log VPN.

Reviews are often tricky, unless you already trust the site or reviewer. I found that many review sites simply rehash reviews other's did, add a picture and done. Many VPN provider's websites are misleading and dazzle you with things that make little difference. One thing I like to do is to contact their support and see how fast I get a response and how good the response is.

I have tested a bunch of logging and non-logging VPNs, so feel free to get in touch!

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I would set up my own OpenVPN box.

If you want to be secure on the road (vpn for open hotspots for example) you could just set up openvpn on a openwrt router at home and relay your traffic through that.

If you want to use a VPN to disguise your home internet connection you should really think hard about why you want to do that and from whom you want to hide. Every VPN Provider/Server hoster can be infiltrated, hacked or forced by legal intervention to give away your identity...

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The 2013 update from TorrentFreak is probably the best starting point. Most of the "best VPN" sites are misleading at best. I just finished an article about this question, but it's not online yet, and anyway I'd probably get negged for posting the link.

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