In the second part of our Big VPN Survey results analysis (see Part 1 here), we look at your answers to questions relating to how you use VPN, and how that use integrates into other security measures that you use.
Given that this survey was posted on a VPN comparison website, it comes as little surprise that most (83 percent) of you use VPN to some degree. In today’s world of NSA spying, we at BestVPN are generally fans of having VPN turned on at all times, just of principle, so it is interesting that more than half of you who pay for VPN only use it when you feel the need for privacy (we are guessing that P2P downloading features strongly here).
Just over 10 percent of our respondents said they use free VPN providers. Free is everyone’s favorite price, but you have to ask yourself what such providers gain from offering a free service. Generally speaking, if they are not selling a product then you are the product…
This is a big question, and the one which generated the most comments from you. ‘You believe in the right to privacy on principle’ was the top answer, which pleases us as we too strongly believe in privacy.
Perhaps because we live in the UK where we are lucky enough to have access to some great online media streaming services, we were a little surprised that watching geo-restricted media content was the second most popular answer, just slightly beating P2P downloading.
Edward Snowden’s revelations of mass blanket surveillance by the NSA and its GHCQ sidekick clearly has many of you concerned, with 35 percent of you citing this a primary reason to use VPN, although protecting your connection when using public WiFi was also a popular answer.
Given that most respondents live in the West (see Part 1 of our results), where censorship is a less pressing issue (although by no means non-existent) than in some other places, the fact that 25 percent of you cited evading state censorship as a primary reason to use VPN shows both a pervasive concern over censorship, and that for those of you in certain countries it is probably the most pressing reason to use VPN.
Of the 17 comments to this question, three mentioned China, while living Turkey and Pakistan were also given as reasons. Interestingly, censorship in the UK was also brought up, perhaps showing growing public frustration at the blocking of filesharing websites.
A lot of VPN providers boast of hundreds of server locations, often scattered around the world. We will look in more detail at where you like connect to in Part 3, but here we wanted to know why. The most popular answer was that you chose based on location.
Cross-referencing these results with those above, it is clear that a major reason for this is to access geo-restricted content outside of its country of origin (jumping forward to Part 3 it is also clear that the United States, followed by the UK have the most popular media streaming options). Also looking forward to Part 3, we see that the Netherlands is popular server location, probably showing that many of you choose servers in countries that are more P2P friendly than their own.
The practical considerations of server proximity and how busy a server is are also clearly important to many, although we would note to the 29 percent of you who picked solely on these grounds that many of the benefits of using VPN come from using an overseas server.
Despite the popular meme that the PC is dead, most of you (75 percent) use your VPN on a Windows PC, strongly suggesting that for many of you the desktop or laptop PC is still your primary gateway to the internet. This makes it hardly surprising that many VPN providers concentrate their dedicated client efforts in this direction.
We are pleased to see that more than half of you (52 percent) also use VPN on your smartphones, and would like to remind the rest of you that your smartphone is a powerful computer that you have with you at all times, so it is as (if not more) important that you use VPN on it as it is when using your ‘main’ computer. The same of course goes for tablets.
Six of our respondents used VPN with their games console, which is interesting as no consoles come with VPN capability built-in. Although it is possible to share a desktop computer’s VPN connection (we show you how on an Xbox 360 here, and the same method should work for other consoles), judging by the comments for this section most use a flashed router to achieve this.
Using VPN is an important step towards protecting your privacy when online, but if you are serious about privacy then further measures are also required. That 42 percent of you rely solely on VPN suggests that privacy is not in fact your main priority, or that privacy only matters when doing certain things (such as when P2P downloading)..
On the other side of the coin, a sizeable minority of you take privacy very seriously, encrypting your hard drives, using secure commination methods, and transferring or storing files in the cloud securely. That 14 respondents go so far as to use a virtual machine, and 9 use a completely separate dedicated machine, we find particularly impressive
We would strongly advise the 42 percent of you who only use VPN to check out our Ultimate Privacy Guide, and to at least try out some of the more easy to implement measures suggested there (such as installing some browser extensions and changing your search engine to DuckDuckgo).
Most people are probably aware that passwords are almost always the weakest link when it comes to security, and adversaries usually succeed because of weak passwords. Unfortunately pretty much any password that is easy for us humans to remember is in cryptographic terms very weak. In our Ultimate Privacy Guide we discuss some ways to beef up your password by conventional means, but by far a better solution is to a password manager.
Password managers generate and store passwords consisting of long random strings of characters and numbers, remembering them so that you don’t have to. They are a great line of defence against any adversaries, so we are pleased to see that 36 percent of you use one.
So what have we learned? Well, perhaps the main thing is that while most VPN users use the service for a specific and non-essential reason (i.e. accessing overseas media content or BitTorrent downloading), and are otherwise not too bothered about online privacy, a sizeable hard core minority use it for vital stuff such as evading censorship, and are very serious about protecting their privacy.