The first thing that may need explaining before I start this article is why would anyone not doing anything dodgy need to hide their tracks with a VPN? There’s one very easy answer to this…
Wireless networks are very easy to hack, particularly public ones such as those found in McDonalds or Starbucks, airport terminals or hotel lobbies. You may think that because you had to supply a password to get connected to the wireless network (and in many cases with public wi-fi you actually don’t) that your data is encrypted. But even then, if the network is public, you have no idea who else has access to that network. It could be anyone.
And if the hacker already has access to the wireless network, capturing your data is as simple as setting up a free program like Wireshark and simply capturing all your traffic – and I do mean, ALL your traffic. For sensitive business operations you’ve given away three quarters of the story just by telling a hacker which sites and protocols you’re using.
That’s where a VPN comes in. A decent VPN will encrypt all your data, so even if the hacker captures all your data, they then have to spend significant effort attempting to decrypt it. And the effort is unlikely to be worth the hassle and they’ll move on to another target.
Of course, there’s also a few other reasons to use a VPN, such as appearing to be in another country to get around geo-location issues when content isn’t available in your own country for whatever reason, or you simply don’t want anyone and everyone being able to snoop on your private conversations.
So, with all that out of the way, I use Cyberghost myself and have been for about the past 6 months or so – primarily because I wanted to listen to a local (geoblocked) radio station in the UK for a little while (long story). I initially liked the look of Cyberghost because it offered a free account, with some caveats, and also had an Android client as well as a Mac client. Of course it also has iOS and Windows versions too.
Installation is simple, as is always the case with Mac software, so I won’t go into detail on that front. Setting up is a breeze too. They assign you a username and password (very cryptic ones at that) although they recommend changing the password. Then when you fire up the app, you’ll be presented with a screen that shows you your current country and has a drop down which allows you to choose which country you would like to appear to be in. This is a little more limited for the free access account but is still an impressive array of choices. As you can see in the screenshot to the right, I’m currently pretending to be in the UK. Clicking that big yellow button at the bottom will connect you to the Cyberghost VPN server, encrypting your connection and keeping your information away from prying eyes.
The free account will not connect you straight away – you’ll join a queue (I tend to think it’s not really a queue, but a random delay – but nonetheless, I could be wrong). It can take around 3-5 minutes to set the connection up on the free account, but the Premium and Premium Plus accounts connect straight away. The connection delay doesn’t appear to happen on the Android mobile version of the app.
The speed is really quite good. Particularly for free – although it’s better with the paid account. There is of course an overhead to using the VPN for traffic as your data has to be wrapped up and encrypted inside the VPN, increasing the amount of data sent and received (so be aware of that if you’re on a 3G or 4G connection).
The free version will disconnect you again after 3 hours of use, forcing you to reconnect and re-wait for the connection delay. The Premium accounts have no timeout – and indeed mine has been logged in overnight because I forgot to disconnect it when I went to bed.
Be aware that while connected to the VPN your computer will appear to be located in the country that you’ve selected – this can cause some confusing search engine results, so if you’re searching Google for local content but getting results that are more relevant to that country instead, you may want to disconnect the VPN while you do that. Depending on what you’re searching for of course.
So, what benefits does Cyberghost have over others. This is my list – there may well be many others that I’ve not looked into.
- Large choice of countries to connect to
- Free account (though I upgraded because I wanted multiple device connections and the connection delay and 3 hour timeout became annoying and for the price of a years subscription it was just worth it)
- Torrenting is allowed through certain servers (though I only use this to download Linux disk images)
- Completely anonymised. Cyberghost keep no record of your connections/disconnections or any logs of data passed through. The main company is based in Romania and Romanian law appears to be such that traffic data must be erased when it is no longer required for the purposes of the communication.
- Billing is operated by a separate company – so your credit card information is separated from your account and isn’t stored in Romania.
- It’s quick
- The Premium Plus account upgrade allows 5 devices to simultaneously connect
- No data limits
- It’s extremely easy to setup and use and it’s use has been flawless on my Mac (versus other providers I’ve tried who have had connectivity issues and even, I think, broken the networking on my Mac leading to a re-install of macOS
- Pay with BitCoin (if you don’t want to use your credit card) – I’ve not used this but it’s an option
- Uses OpenVPN technology, which is extremely secure.
All in all, I’ve tried a few VPN providers in the past and so far, I’ve found Cyberghost to be the best in terms of speed, ease of use, reliability and not breaking my computer.
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Design - 10/10
Features - 10/10
Cost - 8/10
Ease Of Use - 10/10
Overall Value - 9/10
Positives: Easy to use, reliable, fast, secure.
Negatives: Hard to find any
Price: US$6.99/month or US$10.99/month for Premium Plus. Significant discount when paid annually.
Trial?: YES, but slower speeds, connection delay and less server choices.