Virtual Private Networks play an integral role in maximizing your online experience. Some estimates report as many as a quarter of all online users utilize a VPN for an array of purposes. The sky is the limit, and with a VPN, you will be able to
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- Unblock restricted content regardless of where you are in the world, such as the Super Bowl
- Secure all of your devices from public Wi-Fi risks, cyber attacks and hackers
- Restore your privacy by making all of your content unreadable to third parties, including surveillance agencies, network admins and internet service providers
- Replace your current IP location and address with that of your VPN, allowing you to appear to be somewhere else in the world to access new content, such as different Netflix shows
VPNs also allow people to get around online censorship. It is easy to see why people from all around the globe from the United States to China have begun to use this advanced technology. It can provide you with a mostly unrestricted online experience.
What Are VPNs?
Ultimately, a VPN provides you with far more privacy and security than what you will get elsewhere on the internet. To better understand how they work, it is vital to understand some key terms. There is the VPN service, which is the entity that grants you the capability to use your VPN network. It typically comes with VPN software, but that is not always the case. You generally need a subscription to access your VPN. It is for this reason “VPN provider” and “VPN service” are used interchangeably.
A VPN server is one endpoint within the network that allows you to connect to internet traffic and encrypt your data. The VPN protocol is a method in which your device makes a secured connection. Finally, the VPN client is the software or app that connects your device or computer to the VPN service.
How Does a VPN Work?
Basically, a VPN creates an encrypted connection between your device and the server. The easiest way to think about it is as a tunnel that allows you to access everything you want online. However, it still gives you the appearance of being in the location of the server you are technically connected to. This provides you with an immense amount of anonymity online with extra security. You can access everything on the internet with zero restrictions.
When you do not have a VPN, which is the case for a majority of people, all of your online activity is traceable. Someone can pinpoint your device via the IP address as well as your physical location. Every single device has a unique IP address, from laptops to smartphones. With a VPN, you hide this address, and it is replaced by the VPN server’s address.
There are VPN providers located around the globe. This allows you to access worldwide content you may not otherwise have in your country. Once you download the software and purchase a subscription, you can connect to any server no matter where in the world it is physical located.
Why Should You Use a VPN?
Many people are skeptical about adopting a VPN. There are numerous uses for your VPN, including the following:
- Surfing the internet knowing your data is secure
- Protecting personal data, such as photos, credit cards, bank passwords and additional personal information
- Protecting your data when you go away from home and need to use the Wi-Fi at an airport, hotel or café
- Saving money on certain online purchases, including flights, by altering your IP address by taking advantages of deals at certain geographic locations
- Bypassing any censorship you have in your country
- Torrenting, streaming or downloading media in safety
- Preventing governments, network admins, third parties and internet service providers from spying on you due to encryption
- Adding another layer of security by scrambling your internet connection
Ultimately, a VPN is for anyone who wants to be safe online. There are a lot of people out there who do not have your best interest at heart. Hacks happen all the time. Millions of passwords get stolen from websites like LinkedIn and MySpace every year. It is better to be safe than sorry.
Are VPNs Legal?
All of this may sound too good to be true. A lot of people wonder whether VPNs are even legal, and the answer is, “Yes.” You can legally use VPNs for the purposes of online security and privacy. Many businesses have begun to use VPNs to great effect. However, there are always exceptions. Some Middle Eastern countries, such as the United Arab Emirates, Iran and Saudi Arabia, have restrictions in place to censor the internet. These countries may not allow VPNs, but in general, most people are able to use them.
Some countries, such as Russia and China, have tried to limit the power of VPNs. However, these measures are difficult to enforce because traffic from VPNs looks just like regular HTTP traffic. There is not a high likelihood there will ever be a total ban on VPNs because many businesses require them. While there are concerns some people will use VPNs for nefarious purposes, a majority of people simply want greater privacy. It is a tool like steel. Most people use it for good while only a few people use it improperly.
It is vital to remember none of this is legal advice. You need to review your country’s laws to see what you can and cannot do with a VPN.
Are VPNs Safe?
You do not have to worry when you sign up for a VPN. This service is completely safe to use, but there are certain aspects to bear in mind.
You want to be certain you sign up for a high-quality VPN service. Most of the time, this will cost a little bit of money. You need to be extremely wary of free VPN services. There are hundreds of them in the marketplace, many of which advertise themselves as being completely free. The problem with these is that they may come with problems, bugs and flaws. This can present a threat to your privacy and security. One study discovered that 84 percent of free Android VPN apps do not adequately protect user data. In general, you want to avoid free VPNs for the following potential reasons:
- Outright fraud, such as financial fraud and identity theft
- Traffic, DNS and IP address leaks
- Browser hijacking
- Stolen bandwidth
- Third party access to all of your data
- Hidden tracking within the app to collect your data
- Embedded malware
The best advice to keep in mind is that you get what you pay for. If something is free, then there is a good chance it is a scam. You also need to be mindful of fake reviews, phony features and suspicious lifetime subscriptions. Most VPN subscriptions will not cost a lot, so you are better off always paying for your VPN.
Why Is a VPN Essential for Online Privacy?
You rely on your internet service provider to gain access online. However, your ISP also has the power to record and monitor your online activities. This includes your search preferences, social media interactions, comments you make and sites you visit. In fact, numerous countries have begun to require ISPs to log users’ browsing activities and user data. It is legal, but that does not mean you have to put up with it. A VPN is the ideal way to safeguard yourself against these violations.
When you have a VPN, your ISP is only capable of seeing you are online and logged on to a VPN server. All of your information is secured and encrypted. This makes it unreadable to third parties, so your ISP cannot sell your data to such entities. This makes it possible to use public Wi-Fi hotspots once more. Public Wi-Fi spots are risky because hackers can more easily exploit the wireless network. They can gain access to all your personal data and steal your identity. With a VPN, you can browse with peace of mind.
How Can You Establish a VPN?
When you sign up for a subscription, you should receive instructions on how you can connect. The instructions may vary from one provider to the next. In general, installation is simple, and you simply need to follow these steps to start browsing:
- Choose a reliable VPN service. You should look up various reviews to see which one is trustworthy and suitable for what you need to use it for.
- Download the software for the operating system and device you will need to use it for.
- Log in to the service once you have installed it on your device. You will need to use your credential for this.
- Connect to the server and begin using the internet more safely.
You can use a VPN subscription for any kind of operating system. iOS, Android, Mac OS and Windows users all have the power to sign up. The recommended way to utilize a connection via the VPN client or app offered by the provider. This will provide you with complete leak protection and all of the features you could ever want.
Does a VPN Genuinely Make You 100 Percent Anonymous?
When it comes to 100 percent online anonymity, nothing is perfect. Although VPNs are highly effective at protecting your data, there are still various ways data can become de-anonymized online. The NSA in the United States has plenty of resources at its disposal to decrypt data, so it is extremely difficult to attain 100 percent online anonymity.
There is no reason for concern though. It is not likely someone will go through all the effort to decrypt your data if you are an average citizen. Fortunately, there are additional steps you can take to protect your privacy. For example, you can also install an ad blocker. Some advertisements are designed to track your data in disguise. It can profile you and collect your online activities and use that data to provide you with better, more targeted ads. You can also use a secure browser that safeguards you against browser fingerprinting. A VPN is simply one tool out of many you can use to be safer.
What Are the Different Types of VPN Logs?
Many VPNs need to maintain some type of logs to enforce any kind of limitation. This can include bandwidth and connection limits. These logs tend to be minimal, and many services delete them regularly. Here is what you need to know about the basic kinds of logs, so you can be prepared:
- No Logs: There are many VPNs that say they do not keep any logs. Only a few have been verified to be true after going through a real-world test.
- Connection Logs: These generally include connection data, times, dates and occasionally IP addresses. The only reason this data is collected is to better optimize people’s experiences.
- Usage Logs: This log includes everything you do online. It collects metadata, IP addresses, times and browsing history. This is most often found in free VPNs.
The thing you need to do here is to always read the fine print. Your VPN subscription will require you to agree to certain terms. You want to read everything, so you know how your data will be secure and whether the service will collect any of your data.
What Is a VPN Protocol?
A majority of VPN services will offer a litany of VPN protocols you can use within the app. A protocol contains various instructions you need to follow to create an encrypted and secure connection between your computer and the server that will be used for the transmission of data.
Every protocol has its advantages and disadvantages. Here is what you need to know about the most popular ones used today:
- WireGuard: This is an experimental, new protocol. Its ultimate goal is to provide better performance and enhanced security. You should keep an eye on this protocol because it is still in active development. Only a few are providing it so far, but it has a great deal of potential.
- Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol: PPTP is an older type of protocol that relies on numerous operating systems. Since it is an older protocol, it does have some vulnerabilities. It may not provide you with the security and privacy benefits you are looking for with a VPN.
- Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol With Internet Protocol Security: This protocol is far more secure than PPTP. It stands out due to double-encapsulation in the data packets. This means the speeds are not always great. L2TP is common with mobile devices.
- Internet Protocol Security With Internet Key Exchange: IKEv2/IPSec is a secure and fast protocol. It is compatible with iOS, Mac OS and Windows systems. It is ideal when you need to re-establish a connection, particularly if you are on a mobile device. One major downside with this protocol is that it is not open-source. It was developed by Microsoft and Cisco, and it is a fast, lightweight protocol that quickly reconnects to the server when the connection is momentarily lost.
- OpenVPN: OpenVPN is the most secure and popular protocol for a good reason. It can be used on virtually every device, and unlike IKEv2/IPSec, it is an open-source project. It was developed for several types of authentication processes. It provides excellent encryption and strong performance using the TLS protocols and the OpenSSL library.
It is easy to see why most people opt for OpenVPN. However, your needs may require something a little different. This is especially true when you want a VPN for your mobile device because you will be more limited in what protocols you can select. It is paramount to do even more research on all your options, so you can make an informed decision.
How Will Your Data Be Encrypted?
Advanced Encryption Standards remains one of the most commonly-utilized cryptographic ciphers used today. A majority of VPNs use AES using a 128-bit or 256-bit key length. Although you may be tempted to go with the 256-bit model, most people will find AES-138 is still perfectly secure. There are several other VPN ciphers, including Camellia and Blowfish. These are rarely provided by VPN services, so see which ones you can get before signing up.
Is VPN a Good Way To Stream Content?
A lot of people use a VPN to be safer online. However, many people use VPNs for one singular purpose: to stream content. Streaming sites like Netflix have some content restricted to certain geographic areas. The shows you can watch on American Netflix will differ from what you can watch on Europe’s Netflix. With a VPN, you have the ability to use any VPN server in the world. This makes it appear as though your IP address is in a different country, so you can watch more shows.
American Netflix has the largest media library out of any other countries, so people in other countries can have access to exceptional content. You can do the same thing with BBC iPlayer, Amazon Prime and Hulu. You have the ultimate remote control at your fingertips when you get a VPN.
Do You Still Get Good Speed and Performance With a VPN?
When you have a VPN, there is a lot that needs to happen to guarantee your privacy and enjoyment. Your computer needs to encrypt and decrypt numerous amounts of data, which all needs to be routed through the remote server. This takes a lot of time and energy, and that will affect your overall internet speed.
As long as you have a reliable VPN service, you should not notice any dips in your internet speed. If you opt for a cheaper, lower-quality service, then you will likely notice a more significant drop. This is due to the fact these cheaper servers often have more users. It is easy for them to become overloaded. With numerous people logging on, everyone suffers.
To make sure you have the fastest speed possible, you should connect to the closest VPN server. Therefore, if you simply want more privacy, then you should opt for a server in the country where you are located. For people who want to stream content, they should try to stream content as close to them as possible. For example, people in the United Kingdom may want to stream American Netflix. They will be better off streaming from a New York server rather than one located in Los Angeles.
Additionally, it is important to realize VPN speeds can also be impacted by your internet provider throttling the connection, your network and your device. You should test the speed if you are unsatisfied and see what you can do to increase it.
Do VPNs Work on Routers?
You are able to use a VPN on a litany of different routers. First, you will need to verify that your router is able to support a VPN. You should initially check whether your current router can support a VPN and see whether you can easily obtain one that can. It may work to your advantage to secure a VPN router because you will enjoy many benefits.
A VPN router extends the advantages of your VPN to every single one of your devices without having to install software. The router can easily protect you against spying from your internet service provider and other surveillance agencies. Lastly, it can secure your home’s network against hacking and attacking. All of this is dependent on selecting a great VPN service and the right router to go with it. Everything else is simple.
When you look for a VPN router, you should find one that offers high processing power. Unfortunately, most routers you find in the marketplace will have a low CPU and do not function well with VPN encryption. There are some newer models better equipped for this task. Do your research before purchasing one.
Do VPNs Work for iOS and Android Devices?
In addition to using VPNs on routers, you can also use them on iOS and Android devices. There are three different ways you can accomplish this.
First, you can download custom VPN apps. You will find in the app store that many providers offer this service. Most of the time, these apps are stable, fast and come with many great features.
Secondly, you can purchase a device that comes with built-in VPN functionality. You can generally find iOS devices with built-in IKEv2/IPSec functionality while Android devices come with built-in L2TP/IPSec functionality. You will find VPN preferences in the settings app. You can import vital configuration files from your provider into your smartphone or tablet.
Lastly, you can invest in third-party VPN apps. Some of these apps will be free while others cost a fee. When downloading from a third party, you just need to make sure what you are downloading is compatible with your exact device. You also need to make sure any third-party apps you download come from reputable sources. There are plenty of shady apps that promise one thing but actually do another. Even if the app is found in the Play store or Apple store. One study found that a great deal of apps in these stores still contain malware.
It is important to remember that VPN connections may not work as well on mobile devices as a computer that stays in one place. VPNs require a secure, consistent connection to provide adequate encryption. With your smartphone, you may go from one server to the next, and there may even be periods where you have no connectivity.
Should You Use a VPN or Tor?
VPNs are excellent privacy tools. However, a lot of people wonder whether they should use Tor, which is another online anonymity service. Tor is short for The Onion Router. It is both a network and a browser. It uses several “hops” to protect users’ data. It was developed by the United States government in 2002. It still largely depends on governmental agencies to get funding. This is a huge red flag for many people because the government could conceivably still find a way to get at your data. There are also some reasons to believe the U.S. government is still using Tor for surveillance purposes.
When considering which one to use, it is vital to remember the potential downsides of Tor. Many people believe the network has been compromised in recent years. Tor users are susceptible to end-to-end timing attacks. If you want to view a PDF document with Tor, then the system could leak your identity. Additionally, Tor is typically too slow if you want to stream videos.
Despite all this, many people still use Tor. One option is to combine the privacy settings of a VPN with Tor. It is simple to accomplish this. Once you connect to your VPN, you need to launch the Tor browser. You may not get great speeds with this method, but it is the easiest way to use your VPN and Tor.
You can also look into utilizing a VPN service that has servers exiting onto the Tor network. You will first need to connect to your Tor-over-VPN server. Through this, your traffic will leave the VPN server, get onto the Tor network and go right back onto the regular internet. Using ZorroVPN or NordVPN can aid with this endeavor.
How Can You Defeat VPN Blocks?
When you try to set up your VPN, you may encounter some problems with getting blocked. There are a few reasons why this may happen:
- You are on your workplace’s network, and your employer has blocked VPN so that they can monitor employees’ online activities.
- You are on a school network, which blocks VPNs to monitor what students look up online. Some schools also want to prevent students from streaming, torrenting or conducting other activities that require a high level of bandwidth.
- You live in a restrictive country that implements some forms of VPN blocking. Some governments, such as the ones in Iran, United Arab Emirates and China, want to censor what citizens are allowed to see.
The easiest way you can get around these blocks is through obfuscation. This is the process in which you hide all VPN traffic by remaining behind a standard Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure encryption. You do this any time you log on to a banking website.
Fortunately, there are plenty of VPNs that offer an obfuscation feature. You can utilize a self-developed protocol that automatically obfuscates any traffic, which you can get with a VyprVPN. You can also log on to an obfuscated server, such as a VPNArea, ExpressVPN and NordVPN.
Unless you live in a country blocking access, there is typically no need to look into an obfuscation VPN. It may affect the overall performance, so most people will not have to worry about this.
Can Data Still Get Leaked Through a VPN?
Unfortunately, many VPN services have a significant problem with data leaks. You need to routinely run VPN tests to check for vulnerabilities and problems with your connection. You also need to conduct research before subscribing to one to try to find a connection that will not have this issue. Here are some of the most common leaks you may have to contend with based on your VPN connection:
- WebRTC Leaks: This is mostly an issue with Chrome, Firefox, Chromium-based and Brave browsers. These all use WebRTC APIs. With this kind of leak, your IP address gets exposed through your browser even if you are on a VPN. You may be able to get around this problem by using a browser with disabled WebRTC capabilities.
- IP Address Leaks: Regardless of the browser you are on, it is possible for your IP address to leak through the VPN tunnel. This can either be a continuous problem or a short, temporary one.
- DNS Leaks: It is also possible for your DNS requests to get out of the VPN tunnel. It can then be processed by your internet provider, which will disclose your browsing history, your general location and your IP address.
There are basic tests anyone is able to run to check for any vulnerabilities. You simply need to get onto your VPN and go to an online testing site. These basic tests will not check for all types of leaks, so you may be better off opting for a more advanced test. This one necessitates more technical proficiency. However, once you get it up and running, you will be able to identify a greater array of leaks to see if there is a problem you need to address.
Which VPN Will Be Best for You?
A lot of people have a tendency to ask, “What is the absolute best VPN service?” The truth is that no VPN service is the “best.” There is only the best one for your specific needs. It is a subjective process, so when you are researching different ones, you need to keep in mind why you want a VPN. Some people will want a VPN to help them stream videos. Others want a VPN with a greater focus on privacy features and encryption standards. If you are unsure which one describes your needs, then you should ask yourself the following questions:
- What will you use the VPN for?
- Does the VPN in question support those cases?
- On which device will you primarily use your VPN?
- Does the provider offer support for these devices?
- How much security and privacy will you reasonably need?
This is only a start. You also need to consider logging policies and jurisdiction. It is good for anyone interested in VPNs to stay up to date on all news stories related to the protocols. You will learn about all the latest advancements and when new ones enter the marketplace. With a thorough knowledge of VPNs, you will know which features to adopt in the future as the technology continues to become more advanced.
What Is the Future of VPNs?
In the future, it is expected more people will adopt VPNs. However, there is an unfortunate reason why this will take place.
Many countries’ government continue to increase their surveillance on citizens. Although some countries already block certain sites, more Western governments are hopping onboard the trend. This includes torrenting sites and adult-oriented content. Mass surveillance is still a prevalent problem in most countries around the globe.
One alarming trend is the cooperation between government agencies and private entities. The PRISM program is the most famous case of this happening. Here are certain aspects of surveillance to watch out for in the coming years:
- United States: Internet providers can now legally record all of your online activity and sell it to advertisers. This is most prevalent when you visit a website, and then when you log on to Facebook, you see an advertisement for that website. Internet providers can also give this information to the government.
- Australia: Australia put into place a mandatory data retention program. This requires telecommunication companies to gather calls, text messages and internet connectivity data.
- United Kingdom: The UK has a similar program as Australia. Telephone companies and internet providers are mandated to gather location data, text messages and browsing history for all customers. This data is then handed over to government agencies. It is for this reason the UK ranks among the worst places in the world for privacy.
It is easy to see why VPNs have become popular in recent years. As peoples’ privacy continues to be compromised, the need for VPNs will only increase. If you do not already have a VPN, then you seriously need to consider getting one today.