As people become ever more concerned about their online privacy, it's not surprising interest in VPNs -- Virtual Private Networks that allow people to conduct their usual internet business from behind the safety of a private, secure network -- has increased.

Currently, VPN use is far higher in Asia and the Middle East than it is in the U.S., where an estimated 5 percent of internet users opt to use one. That being said, those who do have VPNs tend to use them frequently -- at least once a week -- with many opting to use them every day. Those who do report doing so for several reasons, including maintaining anonymity while browsing websites and social media, as well as to access files and other services at work.

Apart from allowing you to shield your personal life from companies looking to collect your information, a VPN also gives businesses an extra element of security. Businesses and entrepreneurs use VPNs for security when connecting to public Wi-Fi, to connect to global content when traveling, to secure connections to their offices for employees, explains David Gorodyansky, the CEO of AnchorFree, the developer of the Hotspot Shield Elite VPN.

Choosing the right VPN.

Like anything else in life, not all VPNs are created equal. AV-TEST, the independent research institute for IT security, did a test in April 2018 of the best Virtual Private Networks (VPN) solutions. In the test, VPNs were reviewed on potential uses such as providing privacy, anonymity, or virtual different geographical locations. The objective of the tests was to assess the products' completeness as a VPN application providing security and performance. Gorodyansky's Hotspot Shield Elite came in first in the AV-TEST study, placing first with respect to both security and usability. It delivered convincing results across all tests and provided useful additional features such as malware and phishing website protection. Other features that made Hotspot Shield Elite stand out were its 45-day-money-back guarantee, as well as the option to try it in an unlimited ad-supported free version. Hotspot Shield Elite is also a two-click install, which makes it makes it ideal for novice users.

Coming in a close second in the security test was Private Internet Access, which was found to provide excellent leak protection. That, coupled with its kill switch and the ability to block malicious websites, make it a viable option in the VPN space. The study found Private Internet Access to be a very good product overall, with competitive pricing, support for most common payment methods, and support for all possible devices and operating systems.

NordVPN's list of impressive features (it achieved the highest scoring in terms of features provided) helped it place a solid third. It was also the only product reviewed with a multihop cascading feature, which allows for increased anonymity. Another noteworthy point: NordVPN maintains 4000 servers in 60+ countries, which allows it to offer better reliability and consistent performance. NordVPN claims to be able to provide malware protection and ad-blocking, but the malware protection didn't work as well as advertised in some of AV-TEST's conducted testing.

Gorodyansky says VPNs like Hotspot Shield protect users from hackers, but also from corporations such as Google and Facebook that try to collect user data. The same thing is true about governments that try to collect user data. VPNs secure users on public Wi-Fi, make users private/anonymous from Internet Service Providers tracking their online behavior, and block malware and phishing.

Hotspot Shield VPN strives "to give control over personal data away from governments, corporations, and hackers, and to give it back to the people," explains Gorodyansky. At a time when people are (justifiably) concerned about how their data is being exploited by corporations, it makes sense that products like Hotspot Shield are seeing a boost in popularity.

Of course, like any product, there are tradeoffs. The downside of using a VPN is that it creates an extra connection between the user and the internet, which naturally leads to a slower connection. Hotspot Shield VPN addresses that with its proprietary Hydra protocol, which, according to the AV-Test study, is 4x faster than Cisco VPN.

Ultimately, a VPN is something you ought to be using at least some of the time. Go ahead and download whichever solution seems right for you. It's OK. We'll be here.