There’s a lot of open secrets in the VPN space.
And one of them is VPN servers…
Most users aren’t privy to them.
But behind the scenes, it’s common knowledge. And unfortunately, VPN customers are often the victims. So we’re here to set the record straight.
Here’s the truth about VPN server claims (and how you can separate fact from fiction).
VPN Servers (Last updated 1st of May 2018)
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What is a VPN Server?
VPNs create a secure tunnel around your internet connection.
You’re still going through an internet service provider (ISP). But you’re also connecting to a VPN’s servers to help encrypt and scramble your data.
That way, both your ISP and the websites you visit are fooled.
Neither can see where you’re coming from, where you’re going, or who you really are.
That’s mostly a good thing.
It means your personal data can’t be tracked. Your internet can’t be censored. And you can’t be hacked by bad actors on the same network connection.
But here’s the problem.
Many (most?) VPN companies don’t actually own their own servers.
Instead, they’re often renting or leasing them from other entities.
Think about it:
Some claim they have servers in nearly every big city around the world.
You know how expensive leases for data centers would be?!
Not to mention, you’d need to hire people in each location to maintain the servers. Which means you’d also have to file to do business in each city, pay taxes to each country, and deal with all of their regulations.
Case in point:
Many companies say they have servers inside some of the toughest, most restrictive countries in the world. HideMyAss! says they’ve got two in North Korea.
All of these extra costs and regulatory hurdles… yet, the average service charges only around $6-9/month.
Something doesn’t add up here. Technically, none of it does.
Especially when it’s far cheaper and easier to simply find someone else who’s already running those data centers in each location.
Pay them a few bucks a month to rent access, and then resell that to your broad, worldwide customer base.
Unfortunately, this is just the beginning.
Because it causes a trickle down effect into many other areas.
Like logging, for instance.
Your VPN Doesn’t Log… But Does the Server Owner?
Visit any VPN website and you’ll see the exact same claim:
Every single one says it.
And yet, almost every single one is lying straight to your face.
Each gives a different reason.
Some say it’s for performance maintenance. Others say it’s for the benefit of the user.
Either way, the end result is always the same.
We’ve confirmed this after reading through 100 different Logging Policies.
But there’s another wrinkle that most neglect.
What happens when a VPN company doesn’t actually own their own servers? What if they’re renting them from a third-party?
I’ll tell you what:
That “logging policy” is complete BS. Because even though the VPN company says they don’t log, doesn’t mean the actual server owner doesn’t.
And when a government rolls around to collect data, guess who will hand everything over at the drop of a hat? Your VPN can’t always save you then.
“Free VPNs” get in trouble here, too.
They suck in users by offering a completely free VPN service.
But guess what?
It’s free for a reason. They’re collecting your behavior and browsing data, before turning around and selling it to the highest bidder.
Never Take the Number of VPN Servers for Granted
If a VPN company doesn’t own its own servers, they might not be truthful about the number of servers they have access to, either.
Unfortunately, most server numbers are also a lie.
They’re renting access to large data centers full of servers. So of course, they’re going to claim you have access to all of them.
But the honest truth is that this is almost impossible to verify.
VPNs exist to boost privacy and anonymity.
So by definition, they’re operating in a gray area. They’re not regulated and there are no third-party watchdogs that audit VPN companies.
You take a VPN’s word for it when they tell you “no logging.”
And then when subpoenas show up, fingers get pointed that result in arrests.
Now, here’s the tricky thing.
You do still want to look at the total number of servers advertised by each VPN.
I know, this sounds hypocritical.
But the number matters for two reasons:
- More servers means less overcrowding, resulting in better performance.
- Servers closest to your physical location will typically provide the best performance.
Why More VPN Servers is Almost Always Better
Servers, at their core, are pretty simple.
Each provides a certain amount of resources that can comfortably be used up by a certain number of people.
More people? Means you need more servers.
Otherwise, server resources can get bogged down and spread too thin.
That’s when performance starts to slide, and upload/download times fall off a cliff.
So no, you can’t always take a VPN’s word as Gospel. However, you should still use their advertised number as a rough estimate.
You can use it as a starting point, even if it does turn out to be less in reality.
Ideally, you shouldn’t have to sacrifice security for speed.
But you will if there aren’t enough servers in location closest to where you live. Or if you’re forced to hop countries.
Why Your Physical Location to a Server Affects Performance
Escaping government surveillance is one of the main reasons behind using a VPN in the first place.
But I don’t just mean China or Russia.
This applies to most countries in Western Europe, Oceania, and North America, too.
The extended Fourteen Eyes allegiance means if (and when) the U.S.’ NSA picks up your online scent, they’re going to share it with everyone from Canada, to the:
- United Kingdom
- New Zealand
Oh, and there are also more unofficial partners including Singapore, Japan, South Korea, and Israel.
The point of this long, drawn-out example is that you DO want to use a server outside of these countries listed.
BUT, that’s not going to be easy. Because there’s a lot of names on this list. And you’ll usually see the best performance from servers that are still relatively close to you.
Once again, it’s simple.
Complex data that has to travel back-and-forth across longer distances means more inconsistencies and potential issues.
The end result you see is sluggish speeds or lagging streams.
A simple speed test confirms this.
First, find your benchmark connection rate without a VPN. Next, connect to a server close to you and re-test. Then, connect to a server on the other side of the globe and see what happens.
You’ll see significant differences in both upload and download speeds. You’ll also notice a drop in the ping, or connection delay between each server and your device.
And the problem is that when VPNs are really slow, you’re more likely to either downgrade encryptions or turn it off altogether.
Which opens you back up to surveillance or cybersecurity risks.
This is why you need to see lots of servers in different countries. No matter how many there actually are.
- Too few, overcrowded servers means terrible speeds.
- Servers only in major countries means a greater risk in those governments sharing data.
- Servers too far away will also cause performance delays.
So you need a happy medium of enough servers in safe countries that are relatively close to your physical location.
Once you’ve found that, you’re almost all of the way across the finish line.
There’s just one last hurdle, though.
Fake VPN Locations Are Common
VPN companies will exaggerate their logging policies or the total number of servers to make themselves look better.
The honest truth is that many VPN products provide the exact same features.
Encryption standards are the same. Protocol options are, too.
So they ‘puff up’ these extra items help differentiate them from competitors.
You can kinda forgive some of those lies.
But not this last one.
After testing dozens of products, we’ve singled-out a few VPN companies that even lie about their server locations. SlickVPN, for example, told us that we were connected to a server in New York.
Except, we tested it. And the results showed we were actually connected to one in Miami, instead.
That one wasn’t so bad.
But check this one out from TouchVPN:
It said we were connected to a server in the United States.
Maybe we’re trying to access geo-restricted content on Netflix. Except, it didn’t work.
Because we were actually connected to a server in France!
Think about the ramifications of this.
What if VPNs were illegal in your country? What if you were trying to avoid another jurisdiction that shares browsing data? What if you were trying to bank and credit card data secure while buying stuff online?
A single fake location like this could ruin you.
That’s why you need to know more about the company behind each VPN.
That’s why you need to know more about VPN servers in general.
Because there are still a lot of shady characters out there.
Many of which, might be promising you ‘security’ and ‘anonymity.’
While they’re just ripping you off, instead.