When you’re looking for a way to keep your online activities secure no matter where you’re logged in, a VPN or virtual private network can be a great option. VPNs work by encrypting your data before it can reach your Internet service provider, whether that’s your personal provider at home or the provider at a hotel or a local coffee shop. Your data goes through the VPN, then to the online destination of your choosing so that your data is never available to a hacker.
When you don’t utilize a VPN to connect to the Internet, your data is in the open, and almost anyone with the right skills or access can look at it. That includes personal information from your bank account, passwords, photos, and anything else you enter online. Using a VPN can cut down on your worries about sensitive information getting out because the VPN encrypts any information from your computer before it can ever make it to the open Internet.
Even though VPNs sound like a great thing, plenty of folks in the IT world argue about how effective these services really are. There are a couple of things that tend to be the primary focus of these arguments, and those are the limitations of technology a given VPN provider uses and the legal or policy limits that affect what that technology is capable of doing.
Laws in different countries have a huge effect on how a VPN can operate, so understanding what the limitations of a given service are based on its country of origin is an important thing to look at when you’re trying to find the best VPN or deciding whether or not to utilize one in the first place.
Beyond the fights over VPN effectiveness, there are also debates over which VPNs are the best on the market. Today we’re taking a look at the Betternet VPN to find out what it has to offer and how well it will work for the average consumer. Before we dig into that Betternet review, though, we’ll give you some more in-depth information on VPNs and talk about what makes a great VPN. We will also give you our rating for Betternet on a scale of 1-5, with five being the best.
Digging Into the World of Virtual Private Networks
How a VPN handles data transmission is called a protocol. There are five protocols that are most common among VPNs.
PPTP: Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol
This protocol was originally designed by Microsoft and is one of the oldest still in use. It works well on older model computers as part of the Windows operating system, and it’s fairly easy to set up, but it’s not very secure by today’s security standards. You will likely want to avoid a VPN that only offers this protocol.
L2TP/IPsec: Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol
This protocol is a combo of the PPTP protocol and the L2F protocol by Cisco. It works by utilizing keys to establish secure connections on either end of a data tunnel, but the way that it does this isn’t the safest. The IPsec addition helps to improve security slightly, but we’ve seen reports of government offices being able to break this protocol to see transmissions, so it’s up to your best judgment whether or not you’d feel safe using this one.
SSTP: Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol
This protocol is another that Microsoft built, and its connection is based on the most used encryption tools of today: SSL/TLS encryption. SSL/TLS is built on symmetric-key cryptography, which is a setup where only the two parties that are involved in a given transfer can decode the data that is within that transfer. IT pros love this protocol and call it quite secure.
IKEv2: Internet Key Exchange, Version 2
This is the third Microsoft protocol on our list. It’s basically an updated and more intensely secure version of the previous Microsoft protocols on our list. It gives you excellent security. It’s probably one of the best protocols out there, so IT professionals highly recommend it.
Our last protocol combines the best of the best from all of the protocols above, removes most of the flaws, and then does its thing. It’s open source, which means that developers from all over the world are consistently working to improve it. This is likely the most secure, and possibly the most versatile, protocol that exists today.
Why Do You Need to Understand Protocols?
Sure, we get it, you came here for a review, and we’re talking about protocols. The reason for this discussion is to help you understand what you’re getting when you choose a given VPN. Not every VPN will offer every protocol, and that can make a big difference when you’re choosing the right one for your needs.
VPNs generally do utilize more than one protocol from which you can choose, so it’s important that you not only pick a VPN that carries the protocol you’d like to use but also that you choose the correct protocol when you sign up with that VPN.
It’s also important to note that not all devices are able to use all the protocols we talked about. You probably noticed how many of these protocols were built by the good folks at Microsoft. That means that Apple devices probably won’t be compatible, or will have limitations with these protocols.
Laws and Regulations
At the end of the day, VPN companies are still businesses, which means they are subject to the laws of the state or country in which they are located. Even though they will always do their best to protect your privacy and keep your data secure, their best may be restricted slightly by their jurisdiction.
In some countries, for instance, companies can be court-ordered to share their records of your activity. The same is true where international agreements between countries can force companies to share information. There might be a good VPN that works out of a country that does not yet have an agreement with your country if that’s a concern for you, but overall you’ll want to consider whether a company is legally capable of keeping your information secure.
How Anonymous Does a VPN Make Your Online Activities?
It’s vital to understand that using a VPN doesn’t make you a ghost online. It does a lot to make your activities safer and to keep your secure data secure, but that doesn’t mean that everything you do online is private when using a VPN. All a VPN does is make it look like its server is transmitting information, not you, while encrypting your data, so it’s harder to see.
VPNs can be different in terms of what kind of anonymity they offer, so you should ask a few different questions before you choose a VPN if you’re looking for the maximum anonymity possible. Those questions are as follows:
The Cost of a Good VPN
Now that you have a lot more information about what a VPN does and how it operates, you’re probably wondering how much this kind of service costs. There are some VPNs out there that are free to use. Running a good VPN takes money, however, so you’ll want to investigate how those free services are paying for the expenses of infrastructure, employees, servers, and more.
You can find great VPN services starting at only $3 a month, and anything costing more than $10 a month is uncommon at best, so it’s not an expensive investment. If a free option is what you need for right now, just make sure that your data isn’t being sold to third parties in exchange for their support of that VPN. That kind of sale would defeat the purpose of your VPN use.
VPNs and Streaming Services
If you’re hoping to use a VPN for business and pleasure, one common question is whether or not you can use one with Netflix or Hulu. The short answer is yes, but the long answer can be a bit more complicated. Not every VPN will work with Netflix, but those that do will allow you to connect with servers in other countries so you’ll have access to shows or movies that you may not have in your country for legal reasons, which is kind of cool if it works with your service.
Betternet VPN Review
Now that you know a lot more about VPNs, and we’ve given you some advice on what to look for as you shop around, we want to go into greater detail on one VPN in particular. In this Betternet review, we’ll talk about how Betternet stacks up against all of the criteria we covered earlier including protocols, laws and regulations, access to streaming services, and more.
How to Use Betternet VPN Service
Betternet is a free VPN that has only existed since 2015, so they are fairly new in the grand scheme of things. They have grown rapidly since their inception and now have plenty of users, especially on Android devices. Since we spoke earlier about some VPNs not working with any non-windows device, it’s essential that we point out that you can use Betternet with any device.
Betternet works for Windows, Mac OS, iOS, Google Chrome, and Android, which means it’s a versatile service. You also don’t have to register to use Betternet; all you have to do is download the app and connect with one click through that app to the service. It’s simple in both design and use. Not having to register means that the company never has your name or email address, which can help you to feel more secure online.
Since Betternet is free to use, we know that they have to make money somewhere, and that can be where the whole thing breaks down. We don’t want the company to be selling your data or logs to a third party to make their money. Luckily, with Betternet that isn’t the case. Instead, you’ll have to deal with affiliate apps and videos on their app, so every time you download one of the affiliate apps or watch a video on the Betternet app, they are making money off of you.
In 2017, Betternet came out with a premium version that you will have to pay for, but it does offer a few more options than the free version. On the free app you won’t get to choose which server you connect to, but on the premium, you get access to 11 servers in ten countries and can choose which one you want to connect through.
If you want to try out the premium service before you buy, there is a seven-day free trial available, and if you decide you’re not a fan, you can always go back to the free version without ever having paid a dime.
Data Sharing and Logs
Betternet VPN doesn’t keep logs of your activities, nor does it store your IP address after you’re done with your session. It will never associate your domains or applications as long as you are connected. You don’t even have to create an account to utilize Betternet, although you can if you want to, which keeps your information even more secure.
Like all VPN services, Betternet doesn’t necessarily have control over what cookies are placed in your browser by third parties or what applications need to collect from your devices, so you should always seek to understand how those processes work before you begin to use a VPN.
Security and Encryption
As we talked about earlier, encryption and security protocols are a vital aspect of what a VPN service provides. Betternet uses TLS 1.2 to encrypt your data. You also have CHaCha20 Poly1305 available to you, and you’re able to configure it for the best possible performance. We learned earlier that TLS is fantastic for encryption, and is basically the standard in today’s online security.
The protocols that Betternet offers are OpenVPN and IPSec, which we learned earlier, were solid security options. OpenVPN is probably the best and most versatile protocol available, so the ability to access it through a free service is an awesome bonus. There isn’t a lot to Betternet’s security beyond these protocols and encryption tools because it’s a fairly straightforward system without a lot of added features like some VPNs offer.
We should also tell you that Betternet falls under Canadian jurisdiction, which does put them squarely in the throes of the Five Eyes agreement. This agreement is between Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the US, and the UK and focuses on surveillance and monitoring the Internet. Utilizing a VPN under a jurisdiction that is subject to the Five Eyes agreement can make some people nervous, so it’s an important thing to keep in mind when considering Betternet.
Pros and Cons of Betternet VPN
Since we’ve given you an overview of how this service works in our larger Betternet review, what kind of security they offer, and their pricing, we think it’s time to go over some pros and cons of this service. In general we found that Betternet VPN was particularly useful for Chrome and Android users. We’d like to dive into each pro and con a little bit to give you the most possible information on each area so that you can really get a feel for why we chose the overall rating that we did in the end.
- Solid privacy, security, and encryption with standard encryption and the best protocols available.
- Totally free to use: Just a reminder that you can upgrade to premium for more features, and you are able to try the premium service for seven days without paying if you’d like to try before you buy.
- No logging files: Betternet doesn’t keep logs of your files and deletes your IP address as soon as you’re done utilizing their services, so you’re not at risk of privacy invasion.
- Customer Support: You can access 24/7 customer support with a premium membership, and Betternet is great at giving you plenty of help online if you need it, but you won’t get a live chat option with them.
- Ease of use and app simplicity: The app is simple, easy to download, and easy to use on all platforms including Mac, iOS, and Android.
- Small number of servers and locations: You aren’t able to choose the server you use unless you pay for premium service, and even then you’ll only get 11 options in ten countries, which is small in comparison to other services.
- License only covers one device: If you want to utilize Betternet on multiple devices, you’ll need to download the app on every one separately.
- Ads: Betternet has to make money somehow, so they show ads on their application for affiliates, which can be distracting and frustrating.
- Doesn’t work with Netflix: If you were hoping to use Betternet to stream Netflix from other countries, you’re out of luck.
- Potential security threat: Betternet was ranked as one of the ten worst VPNs for not providing the security they advertised based on a study in 2017.
- Speed: Betternet is slow, but we understand that this is probably a result of it being a free service. Still, ultra-slow download speeds can be frustrating and cost you in the long run.