What is a VPN?

The internet is a lot like the Wild West. While there are wide-ranging possibilities and potential to be found online, there’s also a risk of compromised anonymity and leaked personal data. Thankfully, that’s where a VPN comes in to help offer peace of mind for browsing.

What does VPN mean?

VPN is short for ‘virtual private network’ which, unlike other technical terms, is thankfully quite descriptive. Let’s break it down. The ‘virtual’ part refers to the reality that a VPN is software, either installed on a computer or as an app on any number of supported devices. That ‘private’ bit is the main function of a VPN: namely, the privacy of whatever device the software is protecting. Finally, ‘network’ is descriptive of the barrier created by a VPN, which adds a level of anonymity and security to an otherwise open internet connection that may be vulnerable to cyberattack.

Benefits of a VPN

VPNs have many uses, including the removal of overseas geoblocked streaming restrictions, plus the option to tap into better pricing from other regions. That said, the primary focus of a VPN is very on brand for us: it’s all about safety. The primary function of a VPN is online privacy and security, whether you’re surfing the ’net at home or tapping into insecure public Wi-Fi.

As long as a VPN is connected, it adds an enhanced layer of privacy and security, whether it’s for basic surfing, social media or online banking. VPNs are also handy for accessing geoblocked content around the world or bypassing online sites and services that may be blocked by a workplace, internet provider, or at a national level.

Bell
What’s my IP address?
Your internet protocol (IP) address is the unique identifier used to designate your internet connection. While that’s handy for getting online, your IP address also grants access to other personal identifying information that you might not want to share. If you’re reading this while not using a VPN, check out the information below for an idea of what data your connection is showcasing. To find your IP address, you can simply type "What is my IP address?" into Google, and your address will be displayed.

How to choose a VPN

With so many VPNs out there, the best VPN for use in Australia is ultimately up to you, but there are some key features to look out for. Price isn’t the be-all and end-all, but most VPNs let you have cheaper monthly pricing if you’re willing to pay annually or even for two-year or three-year periods. The standard is for a 30-day money-back guarantee, too, so it’s worth paying for a VPN to trial it for a month to see if it’s for you.

The next consideration is all about numbers: servers, countries, locations, and devices. Bigger numbers offer more versatility. For servers, you want this number to be in the thousands, which is a good indication that a VPN provider has a robust network with many connection options. The number of countries may be less important than the number of locations (basically, how many cities have servers in specific countries), and it really depends on what you’re using a VPN for. Australian servers are the best metric for testing as they will offer the best speeds (all VPN connections will slow your connection somewhat).

For devices, the standard starts at five simultaneous connections per account, but this can stretch as high as unlimited devices. Basically, the more simultaneous connections a VPN provider allows for under a single account, the more compatible devices you can protect. In terms of security, it’s best to go with a VPN provider that has a no-logging policy to underscore your privacy and, ideally, they are open to independent third-party security audits.

You can safely expect Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) 256-bit data encryption (military-grade) as standard across pretty much all popular VPNs, with either 2048-bit (great) or 4096-bit (better) channel encryption. The country where a VPN is based is also important as it may impact overall privacy (based on that country’s laws). It’s a nice plus if a VPN provider also includes some form of active antimalware or antivirus protection, even if there are dedicated apps that tend to do a better job of that. Plus, 24/7 tech support is a great touch if you need help, even at odd hours.

Service
Monthly price
Annual price
ServersIcon Tooltip  Dark
CountriesIcon Tooltip  Dark
LocationsIcon Tooltip  Dark
DevicesIcon Tooltip  Dark
LoggingIcon Tooltip  Dark
AuditableIcon Tooltip  Dark
Anti-malware
Antivirus
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Trial period
Nord VPNNordVPN
540460836ZeroYesYesNoYesYesAES 256-bit4096-bit30-day money-back guarantee
ExpressVPNExpressVPN
3000+941605ZeroYesNoNoYesYesAES 256-bit4096-bit30-day money-back guarantee
SurfsharkSurfshark VPN
3200+65111UnlimitedZeroYesNoYesYesYesAES 256-bit2048-bit30-day money-back guarantee
CyberghostCyberGhost VPN
7618911137ZeroNoNoYesYesYesAES 256-bit4096-bit45-day money-back guarantee
ProtonVPNProtonVPN*
1625638910ZeroYesYesNoYesYesAES 256-bit4096-bit30-day money-back guarantee

Prices are accurate as of post date. Read full disclaimer.

*ProtonVPN Plus plan used for comparison. Cheaper plans are available, but offer limited servers, connections, speed, and more.

Free VPNs vs premium VPNs

There are okay free VPNs out there, but we’d highly advise sticking with a premium VPN service. Why? Free VPNs tend to have compromises, whether it’s data limits, lower server counts, or even inferior privacy protection. Premium VPNs, on the other hand, tend to have unlimited data, higher server counts, and superior security.

If you do want to try before you buy, we’d highly advise taking advantage of a money-back guarantee on a premium service. Just mark the renewal date in your calendar and cancel beforehand if you don’t like it. Ultimately, the sign of a great VPN is it’s an invisible background protector, which should ideally work so seamlessly that you don’t even notice when it’s on.

FAQ

Got a question about VPNs? Here are the answers to some of the most popular queries.

We have a page dedicated to the best VPNs but, generally speaking, ExpressVPN and NordVPN are the two big names in the VPN space that should form the basis of your comparisons. For alternatives, Surfshark boasts unlimited simultaneous connections, CyberGhost has a massive global server count, and ProtonVPN combines cheap pricing with excellent encryption.
Yes, using a VPN is safe and it’s also legal in Australia. There are certain countries where using a VPN is illegal, which won’t impact your usage in Australia, but it will mean your VPN might not work (or shouldn’t be used) if you’re visiting a country where VPNs are illegal.
Prices vary between VPN services (sometimes greatly), but the longer the duration you’re willing to buy upfront, the cheaper the monthly price. Also keep an eye out for VPN services charged in US dollars or Australian dollars, as this will change what you actually pay after a currency conversion (and might possibly add a conversion fee). For context, of the VPNs we’ve reviewed, the cheapest monthly cost is around AU$14 for a month-to-month plan.
Depending on the devices supported by a VPN provider, you should be able to use a VPN on several devices. These devices include PCs, Macs, iOS gizmos, Android gadgets, popular web browsers and, in some cases, smart TVs, game consoles, or even networking equipment.

Disclaimer
Product prices and availability are accurate as of the date/time of publish and are subject to change. Any price and availability information displayed on the retailer’s website at the time of purchase will apply to the purchase of this product. SafeWise Australia utilises paid affiliate links.
Nathan Lawrence
Written by
Nathan Lawrence

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