The Virtual Private Network (VPN) technology protects data from being intercepted by third parties as it is traveling back and forth on the Internet. Changing the geolocation also allows users to bypass online censorship, use torrents safely, and avoid region-based price discrimination.
The pandemic has reformatted the global enterprise ecosystem by propelling the remote work principle. In light of this shift, secure remote network access is increasingly important. And VPN is the silver bullet here because it allows you to connect to the Internet through an encrypted tunnel to ensure the confidentiality of online activities and protect sensitive data in transit.
There are plenty of reasons to use a VPN when surfing the Internet, but the overarching idea is that it provides an end-to-end encrypted connection to safeguard your online communications from snoops. The right VPN service helps you access geo-restricted content, protects your privacy, and does much more.
In this article, I will list some interesting, up-to-date VPN facts, provide a retrospective view of this technology, weigh up its pros and cons, and compare the top five VPN services to choose from in 2021. Before delving into the technicalities and statistics, though, let’s briefly recap how VPN works.
VPN technology 101
When a user enables VPN on their device, the web traffic is forwarded via an encrypted tunnel. Most VPN services out there use the symmetric AES-256 encryption standard for connection tunneling. As a result, the user’s online activities and their actual IP address are completely hidden from prying eyes.
The data that bounces between the device and the open Internet is encrypted to ensure a high level of anonymity. Even if ad networks, ISPs, the government, or malicious actors intercept VPN traffic, they won’t be able to decrypt it.
In case the tunneling process undergoes a failure, a mechanism called the Kill Switch automatically kicks in. It blocks the unprotected connection, keeping the user anonymous regardless.
A little bit of VPN history
The Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol (PPTP), which was the prototype of VPN as we know it, made its debut in 1996. Created by Microsoft engineer Gurdeep Singh Pall, it was a work in progress until July 1999, when a consortium of multiple vendors published its official specification. For several years, VPNs were only available to large enterprises for internal use to connect remote offices into the same network.
Consumer VPNs began to appear in the second half of the 2000s. For example, StrongVPN is one of the oldest companies in this niche – it was founded in 2005. ExpressVPN was launched in 2009.
Nowadays, the market of VPN services is highly competitive as the range of providers is expanding. New players in this industry are offering a higher quality of their services and additional perks, such as increased data transfer rates when downloading torrents and using streaming resources.
VPN facts you should know
A VPN client is one of the most popular types of software users install on their devices. According to SurfShark, at least 30% of Internet users keep a VPN close at hand. Most of them do it for increased privacy and protection on public networks. Let’s look at some interesting VPN facts and current stats that reflect the global VPN usage patterns.
In 2021, the VPN market will reach $31 billion. In 2017, a quarter of users worldwide were leveraging a VPN. By the end of 2021, every third user will be securing their online activities this way. According to Statista, the VPN market will grow by $4.5 billion in 2021 versus 2020, compared to a $2.5 billion year-over-year increase in the previous few years.
The COVID-19 pandemic countermeasures have played their role. With teleworking, lockdowns, and social distancing being the norm, users are spending more time online, and VPN services allow them to do it securely. Considering the current trends, it is safe to predict that the VPN market will reach or even exceed $90 billion by 2027.
62% of VPN users are male. Half of all customers use a VPN connection at least once a month. Expanding on the demographics, 75% of VPN users are aged 37 and under, which means that the technology is increasingly applied by the younger generation. According to GlobalWebIndex, 25% of VPN users are in the 38-55 age range. Only 16% of those over 55 years old choose to protect their web surfing with these services.
VPNs are most often used to protect privacy. Data provided on statista.com sheds light on people’s top motivations for using a VPN connection. Believe it or not, secure access to a work network is only ranked fifth on this list:
● Protecting privacy when using public Wi-Fi – 51%.
● Anonymous web surfing – 44%.
● Secure communication – 37%.
● Accessing blocked sites – 23%.
● Accessing work resources – 22%.
● Hiding online activities from the government – 21%.
● Accessing censored content – 18%.
● Discounts when shopping online – 18%.
● Accessing Tor browser – 14%.
64% of active customers use VPN on mobile devices. Out of the users who enable VPN two or three times a week, 14% do it on desktop computers, and 11% on mobile devices.
In Indonesia, 61% of Internet users rely on VPNs. In the Asian region, VPNs are used far more often than in the rest of the world, according to GlobalWebIndex data for 2021. Indonesia occupies the first position – 61%. With 45%, India ranks second. Saudi Arabia comes close to India, with 44% of users regularly going online via VPN. In global terms, the distribution is as follows:
● Asia-Pacific region – 30%.
● Latin America – 23%.
● The Middle East and Africa – 19%.
● Europe – 17%.
● North America – 17%.
ExpressVPN has the highest server count in the world. The number of servers is an important indicator, but their geographic distribution also plays a significant role. ExpressVPN currently has more than 3,000 servers in 94 countries. CyberGhost comes next, with server presence in 91 countries. The coverage of Private Internet Access (PIA) spans 78 countries.
In Italy, the use of VPNs saw a 160% growth because of the pandemic. According to statista.com, the countries where the pandemic hit the hardest showed a sharp increase in VPN use in 2021 versus 2020. The growth was the most dramatic in Italy, with the United States coming second with a 124% spike. The number of Google searches for the term “VPN” doubled in March 2020, when the first massive wave of COVID-19 infections took the world by storm.
During the pandemic, 29% of companies used VPN for the first time. The healthcare crisis also left its footprint across the business environment. Companies rushed headlong into applying VPNs to organize employees’ work as the pandemic progressed. As a result, nearly a third of enterprise entities found themselves in new circumstances.
Logging scandals. IPVanish, which is considered to be one of the most reliable VPN services, misled users by claiming to be committed to a strict no-logs policy. In 2016, the vendor complied with a court order by providing logs of a perpetrator’s online activities. On the one hand, this facilitated the investigation, but on the other hand, keeping a record of users’ actions undermines privacy.
According to Malwarebytes, the logs of free VPN services GeckoVPN, SuperVPN, and ChatVPN were put up for sale on the dark web in early 2021. Such scandals occur periodically, showing once again that even the most reliable service should not be trusted unconditionally.
By 2027, the VPN market is projected to be worth more than $92 billion, nearly three times the amount in 2021.
Why use a VPN?
Let’s highlight the main reasons to enable a VPN connection when surfing the web.
Wi-Fi security. When you go online via public hotspots, you can become a victim of a cyber-attack. Malefactors may be able to track your activity on the network. VPN addresses the issue by encrypting all web traffic in these scenarios.
Privacy. ISPs “see” all the traffic on local networks and collect data about the user, which it may monetize in some way later on. The same applies to applications, services, and government agencies – they all collect user data and form a digital portrait of an individual. A VPN connection increases user privacy through encryption. This is especially useful for SEO services. Because it is a competitive niche. Competitors are always looking for ways to beat you. That means you have to hide your steps when you visit their sites. And even more so if you take their strategy as your starting point. After all, your IP can lead them to your site, which in turn opens the door for them to copy your tactics.
Secure online payments. If you do not use a VPN, your money transfers, along with personal info like name and account details, may be intercepted by malefactors and later used to digital identity and money. A VPN encrypts data and keeps all online transactions secure from prying eyes allowing you to send and accept online payments without problems.
Accessing content from anywhere. Because VPN replaces the external IP address with the IP address of a selected server, it is possible to get around any geolocation-based restrictions.
Remote work security. As previously mentioned, all VPN traffic is encrypted, and the data is inaccessible to third parties. This ensures a decent level of protection for remote teams.
Simple and clear interface. Every year, developers make the interfaces of their applications more intuitive, which allows any user without technical skills to step up their online privacy in a hassle-free way.
Cross-platform approach. As a rule, a quality VPN service offers apps for all modern devices and platforms. You can use a single VPN account with the same scope of features on desktop, mobile, and other devices (game consoles, TVs, etc.)
VPN pros and cons
Let’s now go over the common advantages and disadvantages of using a VPN connection. The key benefits are as follows:
Anonymity. When you are using a VPN connection, even the local provider cannot see your activities on the web.
Geolocation switching. In just a few clicks, you can connect to a server located in any country the VPN service supports. This activates the external IP address of the selected country, and you get instant access to resources that are blocked in your region.
Split tunneling is a technology that allows splitting network packets without interrupting the VPN connection. For example, when on a local network over Wi-Fi, you can activate the VPN and the connection to the local network will not be interrupted.
Let’s move on to the “classic” disadvantages:
Slower surfing. Traffic must be encrypted, delivered, and decrypted. This takes resources and time, resulting in a slightly slower VPN connection compared to a direct connection without a VPN.
Blocking. VPN tools are often used to bypass some kind of blocking. Major streaming services have come up with countermeasures for this. For example, Netflix is known to block VPN services that allow people to bypass its geo-restrictions. Therefore, there is no guarantee that a VPN will always help you circumvent content blocking.
Cost. It starts at a few dollars a month, plus additional options that depend on your needs. For instance, some VPNs disallow torrent traffic or access to streaming platforms for those using the starter subscription plan.
How to choose a VPN
A lot depends on the goals you are pursuing. Let’s imagine that you want to choose the highest quality VPN service across the board. What criteria should it meet?
Some services provide trial access for a few hours or a day so that you can give them a shot with no strings attached. Before testing, you can check the VPN service’s website for the following parameters.
Server locations. If a wide server coverage is important to you, be sure to check the range of supported regions and countries.
Speed. The final speed depends on many factors. Only personal testing on different devices will give you the big picture.
DNS / WebRTC. The VPN service must address conditions when your real IP address can be detected – for example, in case the browser uses the Web Real-Time Communication (WebRTC) technology.
Encryption. It is essential that reliable encryption standards, such as OpenVPN or AES-256, are provided.
Security policy. It is necessary to understand what personal data the VPN service collects and how it handles these details.
Headquarters. If the company is headquartered in a country that is obliged to cooperate with law enforcement agencies, your data may be at risk. This is important to consider if privacy is your priority.
Device compatibility. If you need to go online via VPN from different devices, choose a service that allows you to use one account everywhere.
Availability of the Kill Switch. In case the connection is interrupted, this option will prevent third parties, such as the ISP or government, from obtaining your data.
Streaming and torrents. Check if the VPN service supports torrent protocols and provides access to streaming platforms.
Dynamic IP address. It is more secure than a static one.
The cost typically ranges from $2 to $15 per month, depending on the supported features and the duration of your subscription.
The global VPN market is growing and evolving dynamically. It is predicted to reach $31 billion in 2021. Every third Internet user sees the benefits of a VPN connection: it helps protect traffic from unwanted scrutiny by third parties, including ISPs, applications, forensic experts, or cybercriminals. With a VPN connection, it is possible to visit a blocked site, access restricted content, and find great deals on e-commerce resources.
The connection speed is slightly lower when the VPN is activated, but the user’s security gets a boost. Modern services offer VPNs for all devices: with a single account, you can use a VPN on a tablet, a smartphone, as well as on a desktop computer and a game console.