If you want to stay safe online, you may want to consider using a Virtual Private Network (VPN). These services can provide a secure connection across the internet by routing your web browsing through a company server.

A good VPN will make it harder for others to steal personal data, and they're surprisingly popular. A YouGov report in May showed that 16 per cent of British adults have used a VPN or proxy server, 44 per cent of which say they used it for extra security.

There's a few ground rules you should know about before diving headfirst. Here's the 10 top tips you should know:

Know your priorities

It's important to decide what you want most out of a VPN, as this will decide which features you value most. If you want to be one of the 37 per cent that uses one for privacy - say, to stop service providers from selling your browsing habits - you will want to read up about the company's internal policies. If it's just to hide your data from people on your local network, you might be happy with a broader range of products.

Decide whether to pay

While some VPNs charge a monthly fee, a handful offer a free tier of service. Be sure to read the features breakdown. A trial period can be a useful way of deciding a service is for you, but if a free service sounds too good to be true, chances are it probably is.

Read reviews first and check out Pocket-lint Best VPNs

Make sure you pick one that's trusted by others. You can check out our Best VPNs feature that details the top VPNs on the market. If you're looking for an alternative view or more details, fans of Reddit can check the VPNReviews subreddit to read some hands-on experiences.

Check for logging

If you're using a VPN to stop a third party from building up data on your browsing history, you want to make sure your provider isn't doing the same thing. Read the small print, check the reviews, and use search engines to see what others say about the VPN's logging policy.

Consider the location

Privacy advocates argue against choosing a VPN located inside the "14 Eyes" list of intelligence sharing nations. The American government could ask a firm to hand over its customer data as part of investigations, for example. Bear this in mind if you're looking at a VPN because of snooping concerns.

Check compatibility

Make sure you know how to set up the VPN on your device. Some providers offer apps for iPhone and Android, simplifying the setup process. If your main concern is mobile browsing, these could be the best route to choose.

Look out for bonuses

Keep an eye out for unique features that will make browsing a breeze. Some providers like can block adverts, while others will throw in antivirus protection. These extras may not show up on comparison sites.

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Make sure it matches your criteria

ThatOnePrivacySite offers a VPN comparison chart that allows you to look up your chosen provider. If your main concern is privacy, check to see if you should be aware of any issues.

Make sure it's secure

Just because you're on a VPN, doesn't mean you're safe. Research from High-Tech Bridge found that 90 per cent of VPNs use outdated or insecure encryption. The company runs a free online checker to test the connection, particularly ideal if you're on a free trial.

Don't assume you're totally secure

Like any security method, there's only so much it can help. A VPN won't stop you from handing over credit card details in an e-mail scam, or losing your hard drive in an airport. Follow the same basic security rules as you would do without the service.