A VPN (Virtual Private Network) is a simple software that was created to protect your online privacy and make life harder for hackers by anonymizing your traffic and location. But you can also use it for many other things like fast and secure browsing, and more.
After reviewing over 300 VPNs and analyzing everything they have to offer, I can honestly say that VPNs are super easy to use and everyone can do it. My simple, no-nonsense guide will teach you everything you need to know to get started.
What Can a VPN Do for You
A VPN can help to protect you in a few key ways:
- VPNs encrypt all the data you send over the internet
When you’re connected to a VPN server, all your internet traffic is encrypted. This means that nobody can see what you’re doing online, not even your internet service provider (ISP). And that means your ISP can’t throttle your speeds either.
Encryption stops hackers from seeing sensitive information that you enter into websites, like your passwords. This is especially important if you’re using public WiFi because it’s easy for cybercriminals to monitor your connection on public networks. But a VPN makes sure that even if someone stole your data, they wouldn’t be able to decrypt it or even understand it.
- Your VPN also protects your privacy
Websites and services use your IP to determine your location. When you connect to a VPN server, your IP address won’t be visible.
Because they can no longer see your real IP, they can’t see where you’re located.
- Some VPNs block malicious websites, ads, and trackers
Malicious websites can download malware and trackers onto your device without you knowing. VPNs with built-in protection help to prevent infections by blacklisting these sites before they can do damage.
Some also block ads and pop-ups. This stops malicious ads from infecting your device with malware.
How Do VPNs Work
Your VPN directs all of your internet traffic through to one of its servers, where it’s encrypted. For example, you might be in the UK and connect to a US server. The VPN sends your traffic from the UK to the US, completely encrypted. Because it’s encrypted, your ISP can no longer see your online activity, where you’ve come from, or track you.
From there, your VPN server forwards your traffic to the website you’re visiting. The site sees the VPN server as the origin of your traffic, instead of your device. This means that it also sees your VPN server’s IP address instead of yours. The best VPNs use thousands of servers and update their IP addresses regularly, so sites don’t have enough time to blacklist them. And that means, you stay completely private and undetectable.
Are VPNs Legal
The short answer is, yes! You can freely use a VPN in most countries, but there are some exceptions.
Countries like China and Iraq forbid the use of non-government VPNs. This means that approved providers have most likely complied with anti-privacy requirements, making their VPN services untrustworthy. Non-compliant VPN companies are usually blacklisted so that you can’t visit their websites to download their apps once you’re in the country.
How Does a VPN Guarantee My Privacy
VPNs handle a lot of sensitive information, so they need to have solid privacy policies and strong security measures. Some security features appear identical but do very different things.
For example, despite popular belief DNS and IP leaks are not the same thing. Informing yourself is crucial. Plus, some VPNs that can’t be trusted, so it’s important that you’re careful to choose one that is reliable and safe.
Reliable VPNs offer a variety of privacy-protecting features, like:
No Logs Policies
Tough anti-logging policies prevent VPN providers from recording your browsing activity. If they don’t log your information, they can’t disclose it to government surveillance agencies, even if they’re asked to. It also means that if the VPN becomes compromised, hackers can’t garner any of your information from the VPN servers.
DNS Leak Protection
Every time you go to a website, your computer sends a request to a DNS server to learn the website’s IP address. Normally, this request would go to your ISP’s DNS servers, which reveals your browsing activity to your ISP.
When you’re connected to a VPN, your DNS requests are routed to your VPN’s DNS servers. Sometimes, though, your device can reroute your requests back to your ISP without you knowing. Simply, DNS leak protection prevents this from happening.
IPv6 Leak Protection
Even though IPv6 is now available, almost all VPNs still use IPv4 addresses. This creates the potential for a serious security breach.
If your ISP supports IPv6, and you visit a website that also supports it, your traffic to that website will be routed through your ISP, and not your VPN. This would reveal your activity to your ISP, and your true location to the website.
Trustworthy VPNs disable IPv6 traffic to protect you from these leaks. You can still go to IPv6-enabled websites, but you’ll do so using our IPv4 address.
Are There Any Negatives To Using A VPN
The benefits of using a VPN heavily outweigh the negatives, but there are some drawbacks to be aware of.
Your Connection Speed Will Take A Small Hit
It takes time for your data to travel, and when you’re connected to a VPN, it has to travel a little further to reach the VPN servers. It also takes a few seconds to encrypt and decrypt your traffic. So, it’s normal for your connection speed to decrease a little bit.
Untrustworthy VPNs Could See Your Browsing Activity
If you use a less-reputable provider, there’s no way to be sure that they won’t take a look at your browsing activity or share it with third parties. If your provider is based within the 5/9/14 eyes alliance it could even be forced to share this information with the government.
You can protect yourself against this by using a well-known, reputable VPN with a strict no-logs policy and RAM-based servers. RAM-based servers permanently delete your records each time they’re rebooted, so your VPN won’t have any information to share about you even if it’s legally required to.
Some Websites Block VPN Users
Some websites check your IP address against a list of known VPN server IPs when you log in. If there’s a match, they will obstruct your connection. You can overcome this by connecting to a different server in the same region.
PayPal and some online banks may flag a security breach on your account if you log in from a foreign IP.
As part of their online security process, PayPal and online banking institutions may temporarily disable you from visiting your account if they see that you’re logging in from a foreign IP. This security measure is in place to prevent international fraudsters from logging into your accounts.
Don’t worry – your account won’t be locked forever. But, you may need to contact your bank to clear up the error. You can prevent this by looking at your financial accounts while connected to a server in your own country.
What Do I Look For In A VPN
It’s important to choose a VPN that meets your needs and provides the best security and performance. When you’re VPN shopping, I recommend prioritizing services that offer:
- 256-bit encryption: This is the highest level encryption available, and will safeguard your personal information and browsing activity.
- An automatic kill switch: Kill switches kick in when your VPN connection becomes unstable. They disconnect you from the internet temporarily to prevent data leaks.
- A strict no-logs policy
- DNS and IPv6 leak protection
- Customer support: Most premium VPNs offer 24/7 support via live chat on their sites. Very few services offer phone support, although it is available with some smaller VPNs.
- User-friendly apps for your devices: take a look at the provider’s website. Most feature screenshots of their apps so you can get a feel for the program before you install it.
- Large server coverage: You need a VPN with servers across the globe so you can connect to any location.
- Optimized servers
- Multiple simultaneous connections: Whether you’ve got a large household or just a laptop and a phone, you need to be able to protect all your devices without having to sign up for multiple VPN subscriptions.