The cybersecurity benefits of having a Virtual Private Network (VPN) can seem less important when slower Internet speeds start to interfere with your ability to conduct business, stream video content, or simply browse the Web. If you’re starting to wonder if having the extra security is worth it, you may not realize that there is a lot you can do to improve the speed of your connection.
Just like how street traffic has times of greater congestion or bottleneck points, so does Internet traffic. There are various moving parts that can cause a slow-down, so improving your VPN connection is a step-by-step process of trial and error to see which variable is affecting your network the most. The culprit can change over time, so we recommend that this process be repeated any time you notice a slowdown in your browsing speeds.
What Affects VPN Speed
VPN speed is essentially your Internet speed while connected to the network. The four main factors that can affect Internet speed while using a VPN are:
- Your device
- Your connection
- Your anti-virus/firewall settings
- Your VPN
It is important to understand that experiencing slower Internet speeds while using a VPN, does not necessarily mean your network of choice is the issue (although it very well could be). Before coming to any conclusion, you need to go through a process of elimination to determine the root cause, or causes, of your slow connection.
Check Your Internet Speed
Sometimes the perception of slower speeds isn’t matched with reality, especially if you feel rushed and need to access or send something quickly. You should start by checking your Internet speed with and without your VPN. Get a baseline reading before you start making any changes so you know how any changes affect your standard connection.
Troubleshoot Your Device
One of the simplest troubleshooting methods you can employ is to simply reboot your device. Latent apps and open files can affect Internet speeds, whether you are connected to a VPN or not. Similarly, if the storage on your device is full or nearly full, this can affect your download and streaming speeds as data struggles to organize itself in very limited space. Offloading or deleting unused files and apps can increase your Internet speed a great deal. You can also try using a different device with a more capable processor able to handle the extra processing involved with encrypting data.
Troubleshoot Your Connection
Once you ensure your device is operating optimally, you need to take a look at your Internet connection. Again, a simple reboot of your modem and router can often increase your Internet speed. Weak W-Fi connections can also cause slowdowns. Wired ethernet connections are almost always superior in regards to speed.
Another issue unrelated to your VPN has to do with bandwidth throttling. This can happen if you’ve used more data than normal in a month. For example, if you’ve been streaming in 4K without an upgrade to your service, your bandwidth may decrease as you approach or exceed your available high-speed data limits. Try moving to a different location or accessing a different network with a stronger signal to pinpoint issues with your ISP.
Troubleshoot Your Anti-virus/Firewall
The best way to see how much your computer’s security software is affecting your Internet connection is to turn it off and run a standard speed test. We don’t recommend keeping it off any longer than it takes to run a speed test in order to avoid risking a security threat. You can also deactivate auto-update, backup, and sync options to reduce the software’s use of your Internet connection and instead manually execute these maintenance tasks at your convenience.
Troubleshooting Your VPN
Once you have determined how your device, internet connection, and your security software are affecting your Internet speed, it’s time to take a look at your VPN. A VPN makes your data secure by encrypting it in a language unrecognizable to outsiders such as hackers, government surveillance operations, and even your own ISP. This process of encrypting and decrypting data inevitable slows down Internet speeds due to the extra processing. Thankfully, there are several measures you can take to mitigate the effect a VPN will have on your connection.
1. Select a server closer in proximity
The further data packets need to travel, the longer it takes to communicate with the server. Think if you had to travel 30 minutes to get to a TSA checkpoint rather than right at the airport, the extra travel time makes the process take even longer. The same is true with your data. Your VPN software should show you the distance of all available servers, making it easy to choose one that is closer to your location.
2. Select a server with more bandwidth
As more users and Internet traffic go through a server, the amount of available bandwidth lessens. Your VPN software should show you the available bandwidth of servers as well. Sometimes a server that is farther away may have more bandwidth to spread around, making it the logical choice to optimize your Internet connection.
3. Change Your VPN Protocol
Your encryption protocol affects the language used to encrypt your data. The more complicated the language, the more secure it is, but the longer it takes to encrypt and decrypt. Depending on how you value security versus speed for your particular needs, you can change your protocol to a lower bit-level of encryption that provides less security but a faster connection.
4. Try Split-tunneling
Depending on where you are and what you are attempting to upload, download, or access, you may not need any extra security. Split-tunneling allows you to separate your data into secure and non-secure streams. Check your VPN to see if split-tunneling is an option.
5. Switch VPNs
This isn’t just a matter of permanently switching VPNs, but also about having a backup VPN you can turn to when your preferred provider is just too slow for your needs. Certain networks specialize in extensive security measures, others in offering lightening-fast connections. Set up your back up VPN now so it’s available when you need it, or look into providers that have options such as tunneling that are missing from your current VPN.
Cybersecurity is too important to forgo because of slower connection speeds. The minutes and seconds lost cannot compare to the time it would take to compensate for a data breach. Nonetheless, applying these tips when you find things going extra slow can help you avoid needless irritation and improve your web-browsing experience.