Can we talk VPNs? I know: Sounds about as exciting as talking about tax law, but it's important.
For starters, based on an informal Twitter poll I ran a while back, nearly half of Cheapskate readers either don't use one or don't know what a VPN is.
Let me tackle the latter issue as succinctly as I can: A virtual private network is a combination of software and service that effectively makes your internet connection invisible. Why is that important? Because when you connect your phone or laptop to a public Wi-Fi network -- like, say, the one at Starbucks or a hotel -- hackers have a field day.
If you're not using one, maybe it's because of the cost? Yet another monthly or annual subscription? I feel you. So today I bring you three affordable VPN options, with lifetime-subscription prices ranging from $15 to $40 and a 3-year option priced at $99. You can think of them as good, better and best.
Why not a freebie VPN? Because I agree with David Gewirtz, who recently wrote that even the best free VPNs aren't a risk worth taking. Yes, even I, the Cheapskate, paid for a VPN. I consider it one of the costs of enjoying the online life.
All three of these deals come from StackSocial. For a couple years, now, the company has delivered some of the best VPN prices I've seen anywhere. Take note, however: Your only refund option is store credit, and that's assuming you haven't redeemed your license. If you have: No refunds, period. This isn't an unusual policy, I just want to make sure you're aware of it.
Get a lifetime RA4W VPN subscription for $15
If you're primarily looking for a VPN to protect your Windows laptop, US-based RA4W VPN is an option worth considering. It's already one of the cheapest services at $29.99 for a lifetime subscription, but StackSocial currently has that same RA4W lifetime subscription for $14.99.
It offers servers in over 20 countries (six in the US alone) and includes 24/7 technical support (though it's not live support; you reach the company via email, support ticket or social media).
Of particular importance, RA4W says it encrypts all communication and keeps no logs. You can use it on platforms other than Windows, but it requires some hoop-jumping. (Read the setup guide if you want to learn more.) An iOS client has been promised for a long while but is still listed as "coming soon."
Get a lifetime VPN Unlimited subscription for $40
I've shared this deal many times before, and in fact it's the one I bought for myself. I'll be the first to admit it's not perfect, but a lifetime VPN Unlimited subscription for $39.99 is hard to pass up -- especially considering that it would normally run you $150.
Among the highlights: Support for five simultaneous connections per account, client software for pretty much every platform and browser extensions if you'd rather not install a desktop client.
So what's the ding on VPN Unlimited? Speed. And while pretty much all VPNs have a speed hit -- routing traffic through extra routers does take its toll -- reviewers frequently note that VPN Unlimited is among the slower VPNs. In my experience, it does seem like web pages take a bit longer to appear, but actual throughput (as measured by Speedtest.net) is still plenty fast. Your mileage may vary.
Get a 3-year NordVPN subscription for $99
Finally, we come to NordVPN, which earned equal enthusiasm from PCMag.(which hasn't reviewed the other two products here) and
The company doesn't offer a lifetime plan, and in fact the best deal you can get from NordVPN proper is two years for $79. You can do a little better, however, with StackSocial's 3-year NordVPN subscription for $99.
The service offers a whopping 4,800 servers worldwide and supports up to six simultaneous devices. It can also block ads and certain kinds of malware, plus it maintains a blacklist of phishing sites.
It's hard for me to say which of these three VPNs you should get, or even if you should choose one of these three in particular. What I will say is this: If you connect to public Wi-Fi, ever, you should definitely use some kind of VPN.
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