VPN providers may make you believe that VPNs are a one-stop cyber security store that will solve all your worries about being tracked or hacked while browsing. But this is not entirely true. VPNs aren’t your only option when trying to cover your digital trails either.
How VPNs work
To find and better understand VPN alternatives, we need to quickly review how a VPN works. A VPN allows you to redirect your connection so that your IP address, and therefore the default location, is changed.
This is great if you want to get around regional restrictions or blocks, whether they are put in place by a government (like the Great Firewall of China) or something more benign, like Netflix shutting down its regional libraries. VPNs are also useful when you are on vacation and your bank only allows local IP addresses to access their location.
Besides redirecting your connection—a far from a unique ability, as we’ll see soon—VPNs also encrypt the connection in what’s called a VPN tunnel. This is what really sets VPNs apart from similar technology, as a VPN tunnel allows you to hide that you are changing your IP and thus makes the connection more difficult to detect.
Things only a VPN can do
Because of the way it works, there are things that only VPNs can do. For example, streaming services like Netflix or Hulu can only be unlocked via a VPN. No other method will work. The same applies to torrenting activities as well.
Why would you want to use VPN alternatives?
Of course, if VPNs can do all that and have unique booting capabilities, you might be wondering why you’d want to use anything else. The best reason is also the simplest: money. While some VPNs are very cheap – there are also free programs, although most of them are scams. Even at the lowest price point, you’ll spend at least $40 to $50 per year for one use. It can also rise to a higher level than that. For example, ExpressVPN costs $100 per year.
The other reason is that VPNs are a kind of black box and it’s hard to gauge exactly what’s going on with your data. Although most services claim to be no-logs VPNs and don’t keep any of your data, there has been enough cooperation with law enforcement over the years to make even the most trusted of us a little wary of such claims.
Best VPN Alternatives
Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to take advantage of the most important VPN functions – as much as we appreciate entertainment, it’s not entirely vital to life – either for free or at least at a much lower cost. Data collection is also much less likely with these solutions.
The primary proxy for all VPN alternatives is the proxy, a very simple program that transmits and relates to your connection. When comparing proxies versus VPNs, the biggest difference is the complete lack of encryption in the proxy servers, which makes them vulnerable to interception.
While they are useful for unblocking YouTube and other low-security sites, they do a pretty poor job of anything else. The biggest thing they have is that they are free to use, but beware of the ones you use as some of them can be used to collect data. For suggestions, our favorites HideMyAss وكيل Agent or Hide.me Agent.
Shadowsocks is a step ahead of regular proxies, which by using a certain type of encryption can be a great way to escape censorship. Although it is mostly used as a way to bypass the Great Chinese Firewall, it can also be used to bypass other blocks. However, it usually fails to bypass Netflix blocks and should never be used for torrenting activities because its encryption is not suitable for that.
However, Shadowsocks isn’t completely free: to set up Shadowsocks, you’ll need your own kind of server. However, using a program called OutlineYou can share the server with your friends, which hopefully will help bear the cost a bit.
SSH . tunnel
The third alternative to a VPN is an SSH tunnel, which is interesting because it can encrypt your connection the same way a VPN can, but it won’t change your IP address like proxies or Shadowsocks can. Because of this, it won’t let you break any blocks, but it’s a powerful way to securely transfer data if your VPN isn’t working – and it’s just one of the cool things you can do with an SSH server.
The big downside to an SSH tunnel, besides not changing your location, is that it can be difficult to set up, especially if you don’t have any experience with networking technology. However, there is still something to consider if you ever need to secure a network on the cheap.
The penultimate VPN alternative, and in some ways better, is Tor, The Onion Router. Unlike a VPN, which routes all of your internet traffic to a single server, Tor uses a huge network of servers around the world to bounce your connection, making it that no single server contains all of your data.
With each server protected from the next, Tor is a great choice for anyone who is worried about VPN data collection potential, yet still wants VPN security. The big downside to Tor, however, is that it still suffers from blocks like those of Netflix – and the fact that bouncing your connection around slows it down considerably. There is no way around it: Tor is slow.
Our latest entry is an interesting mix of VPNs and Tor. They are called decentralized VPNs, as they combine the security and speed of VPNs with Tor anonymity. However, very few are currently up and running, so for now they are just assumptions. However, if decentralized VPNs end up being as promised, we may end up with the perfect VPN alternative; Only time will prove it.
Until then, you can either use one of the alternatives we mentioned above – or for those who love to stream or torrent, use a VPN.