What Is a VPN?
A Virtual Private Network (VPN) is a technology that is used to add a layer of security and privacy over the internet by encrypting your traffic and masking your IP. In plain terms, a VPN helps you create a secure connection on public and home networks. We’ll explain more about it in a short while.
What Does a VPN Do?
If you want to access your country’s TV shows while abroad, watch US Netflix overseas, or you are just an advocate for full online freedom, a solid VPN will open you to a new world of endless possibilities. Here are the main ways in which a VPN can be useful in your life:
1. Hide Your IP and Location
Your ISP, the government, your employer or even a Wi-Fi router at a cafe you frequent are just a few parties who might be interested in your data. These sites and services will identify you by your IP address. VPNs can help you browse privately by channeling your traffic through a remote server. This server will assign you a new IP address, masking your identity in the process. For instance, if the VPN server is in a different country, your IP will appear as if you are browsing from that country.
2. Access Blocked Websites
Popular online streaming platforms like Netflix and Hulu restrict access to their content if you are logging in from outside the US. You may want to enjoy using these services anywhere, but you won’t because of geo-blocks. And how about streaming your favorite BBC content outside the UK?
To say the least, a VPN can help you work around these restrictions by connecting to a server in a different country and mask your location and access sites that would otherwise be blocked.
3. Encrypt Your Communications
When you connect to a VPN, all incoming and outgoing data will go through an encrypted tunnel. What it means is that even if hackers intercept your data, they won’t be able to get anything from it.
Do you often use free Wi-Fi in hotels, parks, cafes, airports, or elsewhere? Because of honeypot attacks, Wi-Fi spoofing, and attackers looking to intercept your data, it is not always a good idea to use such networks without adequate protection.
4. Bargain Hunting
Avoid getting overcharged for flights, vacations, or your other online orders by hiding your IP. Using a VPN sets you up for attractive online shopping discounts.
For example, the same Apple music subscription you can get for $9.99 in the USA or can be purchased for only $1.39 in India. Similarly, the premium version of Spotify costs $9.99 in the US, while the same package cost 9.99€ (about $10.8) in Europe.
5. Bypass Censorship
Several countries like China, Iran, North Korea, Iraq, Oman, Belarus, and Turkey, among others restrict access to certain types of online content. These governments have decided that it is in their best interest to restrict their citizens from accessing certain websites or services. Games, social media, and instant messengers are common culprits.
So, if you are planning to visit a country with a high level of online censorship or currently living in one, a VPN is your true savior. Whether it is VoIP apps in the UAE or Facebook and Google in China, you won’t have to worry about government surveillance.
6. Internet Freedom at School or Work
Nowadays, it is common for educational institutions and companies to use firewalls to block access to some websites, such as YouTube. The reasons often vary from an attempt to ban inappropriate content to the desire to boost productivity. But sometimes the restrictions can go a little too far.
If you are tired of unjustified blocks and probably want to only log into your social media accounts, the smart way to do it is to use a VPN.
7. Access Familiar Sites While Abroad
Perhaps you may not even be restricted from accessing local content, but some other factors may make it impossible to use such services. Let’s say you are traveling overseas, and you fire up your favorite browser only to discover that you can only access localized versions of popular sites like Google. It could mean that the language of these websites is now unfamiliar.
8. Secure Torrenting
Torrenting may not be illegal, but downloading pirated content is. That’s why some countries have banned all the big torrenting sites. If you are living or visiting any of these countries, make sure to have a VPN with you to secure your torrenting activities. But you should also note that some ISPs may throttle or cancel your connection if it detects any form of torrenting. With an encrypted connection, it will be hard for anyone, including your ISP, to find out what you are doing.
How Does a VPN Work?
When you access the internet with a VPN, it will create an encrypted tunnel between your device and a remote server operated by the VPN provider. Since all your traffic is routed through this tunnel, it will remain safe from prying eyes along the way.
In other words, your data travels back and forth privately through the encrypted tunnel. If anyone tries to decrypt it, they would need to have the access key. It would be impossible to make out anything from this data without the access key.
Think of a VPN as your most trusted middleman who ensures that data exchange happens securely, be it your bank transactions, the sites you visit, or even your email communications. Actually, going online is like taking a commercial airline flight. The ticket agent, baggage handlers, security personnel, and flight attendants all need pieces of data to get you routed between cities. A similar exchange of information happens on the web.
So, VPNs make sure that your data is under lock whenever information exchange happens, while also hiding your real location. As far as everyone else is concerned, your location is where your VPN server is, while your IP address is the one provided by the server.
Below, we summarize the parties that take part in the work of a VPN:
1. Your Device
The internet is imperfect and has many entities that can violate your privacy (hackers, agencies, and advertisers), so an ordinary connection to the internet through your computer or mobile phone has many risks and cons.
2. ISP Connection
Since your ISP doesn’t provide any form of encryption, cybercriminals can intercept any data that passes through the network. Moreover, your ISP can also attempt to track what you are doing online.
3. VPN Client
When you direct your traffic through a VPN client, your connection will be secured using the highest protocol standards. By encrypting and redirecting your data through a secure tunnel, you will eliminate most of the challenges synonymous with ISP connections.
4. VPN Server
To browse anonymously, you need to connect to a global network of VPN servers. Channeling traffic through a remote server enables you to acquire a new IP address, helping you bypass censoring and geo-blocks.
Encryption is a process of making your data unreadable to anyone who wants to access it illegally. Essentially, all your data is scrambled to look like a random string of numbers.
While it may sound too complicated, encryption is really a simple process. Here is how it goes. Your raw data is transformed by a secret key that is only available to you. No one else will understand the scrambled data since they don’t have the secret key, making it possible to browse securely.
There are several types of encryption, but the most reliable one is the AES 256-bit encryption. It is the same standard that banks and government agencies use. Cracking a 256-bit key using brute force would require 50 computers that could run 1018 AES keys per second to be able to exhaust the 115,792,089,237,316,195,423,570,985,008,687,907,853,269,984,665,640,560, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 possible combinations. Basically, it would take 3×1051 years for these non-existent supercomputers to do that!
Just like encryption standards, some security protocols are more effective than others. In most cases, premium VPNs will let you choose the protocol to use. Don’t worry if the mention of protocols sounds strange now. We will cover them in a different section.
When Do You Need a VPN?
A VPN adds several conveniences to your digital life, making it hard to live without it. Even if you have nothing to hide or circumvent, you are unlikely to be comfortable knowing that someone is watching everything you are doing. Therefore, the main argument in favor of VPNs is online privacy and security.
Here are some typical situations where a VPN can come in handy:
1. You Live in Countries Where Some Resources Are Blocked.
Some websites and streaming services like Netflix and Hulu usually restrict their content based on geographical locations.
2. You Frequently Make Financial Transactions through the internet, and you want to protect them.
3. You Travel a Lot
With a VPN, you can unlock most of the services that are available in your home country but may be blocked in the country you are visiting – for example, accessing Facebook or Google in China.
You may have paid for streaming services for watching movies and TV shows. Unfortunately, when you travel outside your country, these services may not be available.
4. You Use Public Wi-Fi Networks a Lot
Even if you are using password-protected Wi-Fi networks, you have to connect through a VPN. Public access points are a minefield for cybercriminals. These criminals have a ton of ways to intercept traffic and steal your valuable information. Likewise, in this age of IoT, your device can be a prime target for attackers if you use them to access the internet, especially if you are using public Wi-Fi networks. A VPN helps protect your devices like laptops, desktops, smartphones, and tablets from prying eyes.
A 2018 study found out that 48% of interviewed consumers mentioned that they might have been hacked. Out of this, 36% were sure that they have been hacked at least once. Most of these individuals are more likely to have been hacked while using public networks.
5. You Want to Protect Your Privacy from Third Parties
• If you have a medical condition that you need to keep private and you need to search for treatment information online, you will share that information if you aren’t connecting through a VPN. And guess what? You will receive ads that relate to your condition.
• Even if you just want to ask for flight ticket prices at the comfort of your home, a travel site might display fares that aren’t the cheapest, based on your location.
A VPN encrypts your traffic and substitute your real IP address, so as to make it hard for anyone to figure out your real address. Furthermore, you won’t worry about leaving traces on the web.
6. You Are Scared of State Surveillance
Both local and foreign state agencies conduct extensive surveillance. It is not always easy for police to search your home without a search warrant, but it is easy for them to monitor your online activities and collect confidential data. In fact, some governments require internet service providers to submit users’ internet information to a relevant government agency for surveillance purposes.
7. You Are a Political Activist or Journalist
Freedom of speech is a real pain in less democratic countries. Some political regimes have instituted tough measures to control and penalize those who oppose their administration. So, if you are a daredevil who wants to press on with the struggle, you need the means to protect your communications.
The long and short of it is that a VPN help to protect you against identity theft. Cybercriminals can use your information to file tax returns in your name, open new accounts, apply for loans, or even rent a property. That’s why you should use a VPN to protect your data, which will help guard you against identity theft. But avoid using free VPN services.
Free vs. Paid VPNs
Nothing good comes free, and VPNs are not exempted. While there are good free VPN services out there, they may only be ideal for testing the waters. One common aspect of all free VPNs is that they have some limitations when compared to premium services. Here are some of them:
• First, the lack of income may prevent them from offering truly great services in the long run. Running a stable VPN service requires a serious investment. The provider needs to gather for robust servers, employees, data transfer, and other networking infrastructure. So, if anyone is offering the service for free, you could just imagine what compromises they may have made.
• Free VPNs often put a cap on the amount of bandwidth you can use. They may also restrict your connection speed, give a restricted amount of VPN servers, and provide a limited volume of encrypted traffic.
• Another serious concern is that they have sketchy privacy policies. That means you may unintentionally give away your valuable information to these services. You have got to consider all the vulnerabilities of using such services. Could they be logging users’ activity for their own reasons? What’s their business model? To offset the cost of their free services, some VPN providers may sell your data to advertisers.
We are not saying that all free VPNs engage in shady practices, but you are likely to run into issues than you would with a quality VPN. So, it is better to invest in a quality VPN. After all, some premium VPNs won’t cost you that much. Your main challenge will only be choosing the best VPN among many great ones.
Average Cost of a VPN
You will rarely find VPNs that cost you more than $10 a month. Based on what 70 popular services charges, the average monthly cost of a VPN is $4.99. Moreover, most providers offer big discounts if you choose long-term packages. So, there is no good reason to use a free VPN service, which often leaves you open and vulnerable to spammers, hackers, and government agencies.
Proxy, TOR, VPN, Smart DNS, Antivirus, and Their Differences
Proxy and VPNs
People often think that VPNs and proxies mean the same thing when in reality, they don’t. A proxy server acts as a middleman between your device and the website you are visiting. Its main function is to hide your real IP address so that the destination website only sees the IP of the proxy.
So, How Do Proxies Differ from VPNs?
The main difference between proxies and VPNs is that a VPN creates a virtual tunnel that all traffic must route through it. What it means is that communication over a VPN is encrypted, while the same communication over a proxy is not encrypted. Besides this, proxies operate on the application level, meaning they can only reroute traffic of a specific browser or app. In contrast, VPNs operate on the operating system level, meaning they can secure all your traffic.
Where the two technologies converge is that both will attempt to hide your IP address by making it appear as if the outgoing traffic is originating from another server. The major difference is that a VPN will truly protect your anonymity online by encrypting the information you send over the internet, making it unreadable to anyone trying to intercept your traffic.
Tor vs. VPNs
Tor (originally called The Onion Router because it transmits your traffic like an onion) is a network of servers (or ‘nodes’) that randomly routes internet traffic between each server so as to hide the origin of that traffic. In other words, it lets you browse the internet anonymously just like a VPN. While the end goal is the same, Tor and VPNs are different in the way they operate.
How Does Tor Differ from a VPN?
Overall, VPNs offer better protection and are more effective than the Tor browser. Tor, being a browser, doesn’t encrypt any traffic it sends outside of its application. Apart from this, Tor relies on routing points that are operated by volunteers, so you can’t be sure if they will work 100% all the time.
The only reason you might want to use Tor over VPN is that it is 100% free to use. All you need to do is download the official Tor browser, then fire it up like any other standard browser.
How About Combining Both Tor and a VPN?
While VPNs and Tor are fundamentally different in how they function, you can actually use them together for double protection, though not necessary. In this setup, you would first need to set up a VPN, and then add Tor on top of it. But keep in mind that it can trigger serious performance issues because of these reasons:
• You see, Tor works by masking your IP several times over random nodes while encrypting data at each stage. This often takes time and a lot of processing power.
• Adding Tor on top of a VPN will not make much difference since your VPN already gives you what Tor offers, and even more effectively.
Smart DNS vs. VPNs
Domain Name System (DNS) is like the address book of the internet. You would normally access a website using its domain name, such as https://vpnwatch.com, but this domain name is usually translated into an IP address, which is stored in DNS servers. This way, you won’t have to memorize the IP address of each website you visit.
What Is Smart DNS?
A Smart DNS is a service that takes the plain address of a website and turns it into a specific IP address of a server you want to connect to. Typically, your ISP is the default DNS provider, but you can change it to your preferred DNS service.
So, How Does It Compare to a VPN?
Just like a VPN, a Smart DNS can hide your IP address and make it appear as if it is coming from somewhere other than your real location. Here, the ‘Smart’ bit means that the DNS can be selective. In other words, it can only mask your IP for a specific list of targeted websites, leaving other sites unaffected. But keep in mind that it doesn’t give you a new IP address; it only changes how a destination website views your IP address.
Antivirus vs. Firewalls vs. VPNs
Every time you open something on your device, whether it is a website, an email, a new app, or a file, you increase the chance of malware infection. That is unless you have some form of protection, such as an antivirus program or a firewall. A VPN, firewall, and antivirus are three important components of your online security. Sometimes, they are referred to as the three pillars of protection. While these three may have a common purpose, they differ in how they function.
As the name suggests, a computer firewall forms a barrier to control what gets into and out of your device.
Essentially, a firewall is supposed to allow certain categories of data packets through it, while blocking those that are not authorized. Unfortunately, a firewall might not be able to differentiate some data that passes through it.
To paint a clearer picture, a firewall is just like a guard given instruction to prevent some people while letting others in. So, if he is instructed to block salesmen from getting into a premise, but allow businessmen, there is a chance that the guard may not know which people are businessmen and which are salespeople.
You are probably aware of this one. An antivirus program helps you detect bad elements, which could be hiding in an infected hard drive, USB drive, or online files. These could include computer worms, viruses, Trojan horses, and other malicious entities.
Whenever it detects something on your system that matches a known malware, it will delete the malicious item or put it into quarantine. Antivirus software usually rely on self-updates to keep up with thousands of emerging threats.
As illustrated above, an antivirus program blocks malicious software from the internet before it gets to the firewall. Sometimes, it detects what is already on the system, so it is more effective than a firewall. If we use our earlier analogy, an antivirus works like a security scanner that detects hidden weapons.
How Antiviruses and Firewalls Differ from VPNs?
A lot of people often compare VPNs vs. antivirus vs. firewall while trying to find out their best security solution. But the bitter truth is that these security solutions work in unison, not separately.
VPNs vs. Firewall
We can sum up the differences between them like this:
• A VPN helps you secure your internet connection to ensure your ISP, government, spammers, and hackers don’t monitor your internet traffic. Without a VPN, these criminals can intercept your data and use it to commit a crime in your name.
• A firewall lets you configure how your computer should communicate with the web, so as to prevent malicious files, applications, and hackers from compromising it.
• A firewall may not help you bypass censorship. In fact, some companies use firewalls to enforce restrictions.
• Unlike firewalls, VPNs may not allow you to set up data packets and network restrictions on your device.
VPNs vs. Antivirus
Both antivirus and VPNs work to protect your data and privacy, but they achieve this goal in different ways:
• An antivirus program will help you keep your computer safe by detecting and preventing viruses or malware from infecting it. The program will get rid of malicious files whenever necessary.
• A VPN, on the other hand, helps keep you safe while connected to the internet. It keeps hackers at bay and other malicious parties from monitoring your online activities.
VPN Use Cases
VPN Top Features
There is a lot of money that drives the VPN market. So, it can be a bit challenging to identify which features are really useful. To minimize the chances of you being razzle-dazzled by the many eye marketing literature, let’s take a look at some top features of a VPN:
In the world of privacy, the more servers a service has, the more flexible it is for you. So, a provider that has hundreds of servers spread across different countries offers more flexibility. Having access to a large number of servers enables you to connect virtually from all parts of the world. You should check their spread, and most importantly, presence in the country you want to change your IP address to.
2. No Log Policy
VPNs vary greatly in how they keep logs. Some may keep your browsing data for a month, while others maintain a no-logs policy. A no-logs policy means that a VPN service is not storing your data, such as browsing information, session data, IP address, and other personally identifiable information.
3. Kill Switch
To put it into simple terms, a VPN Kill Switch is a feature that will disconnect your device from the internet if your VPN somehow gets disconnected. It is an advanced feature found in top VPNs, and it is worth having.
This feature will come in handy if you are fond of using free Wi-Fi networks to conduct sensitive transactions. Most VPNs call it a Kill Switch, while some call it a Network Lock or similar terms.
4. VPN Protocols
VPN connection protocols come in different flavors, and they are what determines the level of security a service offers. Some protocols may offer high-security but slower speed. Likewise, there are low-encryption, higher speed protocols. We strongly recommend OpenVPN and IKEv2 (two of the most promising protocols we have today) due to their enhanced security, fast speed, and cross-platform compatibility.
5. Leak Protection (DNS, WEB RTC IPv6 leaks)
The main reason you have that VPN is to protect your data and hide your IP address while using the internet. Sadly, leaks can undermine the effectiveness of a VPN service, exposing your activities and true location to interested parties. So, you should always test your VPN for leaks before transacting online. Three most common VPN leaks are:
• IPv6 leaks
• DNS leaks
• WebRTC and IP leaks
So, if this information doesn’t match your VPN’s stated server location, your VPN is likely to be leaking. To check for leaks, use sites like ipleak.net, dnsleak.com, and browserleaks.com/webrtc.
6. Cross-Platform Support
A reliable VPN should be able to run on most devices, whether it is a Mac, an Android phone, an iPhone, or a PC. In most cases, VPNs provide setup guides for different platforms. Besides this, some services support simultaneous connections. What it means is that you can connect more than one device at a time.
Security and privacy are the key pillars of a VPN, but speed is equally important. For obvious reasons, all VPNs will slow down your internet speed to some degree. Unfortunately, nearly all VPNs promise top speeds, yet only a few will actually keep their word.
At the very least, check reliable reviews on VPN speeds just like the ones on VPNWatch. Using speedtest.net, we carried out several speed tests and the merits of each provider we reviewed on VPNWatch. We run speed tests without the VPN, and then we repeat the test with the VPN turned on using different server locations.
8. Jurisdiction (5, 9, and 14 Eyes)
Your ability to use a VPN service in a country is determined by the laws of that jurisdiction. Thankfully, a VPN provider doesn’t have to be situated in the same country as their VPN servers.
When it comes to online privacy, you will often hear about 5 eyes, 9 eyes, and 14 eyes countries. These are international alliances that work together to share surveillance data of their citizens. The Five Eyes is an intelligence alliance of five countries that dates back to the 1940s. It includes:
• The US
• New Zealand
• The UK
The Nine Eye countries include the Five Eyes countries, plus Denmark, France, Norway, and the Netherlands. As you might suspect, the 14 Eyes is an extension of the Nine Eyes alliance. The alliance is also referred to as SIGINT Senior Europe (SSEUR). The additional countries include:
To choose a VPN that will not share your information with the 5/9/14 eye countries, we advise checking if the VPN provider is located outside the list of these countries. These countries are called Privacy Havens.
9. Netflix/Hulu/BBC iPlayer Unblocker
VPNs’ ability to unblock geo-blocked content has made it possible to access your favorite shows while abroad. Anyone can stream Netflix, Hulu, or even BBC iPlayer from outside the US or the UK using a VPN. Your VPN will hide your real IP address and replace it with a US address. You can achieve this by connecting to a server in the US. But keep in mind that these streaming platforms have tightened their restrictions, blocking a vast majority of VPNs.
10. Stealth VPN servers and Obfuscated Servers
Stealth VPN is a VPN protocol or server that can disguise VPN traffic as your normal traffic, even when it is subjected to deep packet inspection by your firewall or network administrator. It disguises VPN data packets and make them appear like regular HTTPS traffic. And since HTTPS are required for secure data transfers on the internet, most firewalls won’t attempt to block HTTPS packets.
Obfuscation is a technique to hide your VPN traffic, making it look like your normal unencrypted traffic. It doesn’t change traffic per se, but rather create a mask to conceal recognizable patterns. This method removes metadata that can be linked to a particular VPN protocol. Just like stealth VPN, obfuscation is used to bypass VPN blocks.
11. Split Tunneling
Split tunneling is an advanced feature, and that is why we listed is as an optional feature. After all, we will cover it in a later section. Basically, spit tunneling enables you to choose which apps or services can access the internet directly and which ones need to go through the VPN encryption. In other words, it gives you the power to choose what to encrypt.
12. Ad Blocker
As you already know, online ads are a big threat to your privacy. Most of these ads also function as tracking; they collect data about your online behavior, then use it to serve you with targeted offers. While there are several ways to block these ads, the best one is by using VPN ad blockers. Here, the VPN will block ads using any of these ways: through the VPN client, the server network, or through browser add-ons.
VPN for Secure Transactions
While your bank may be doing everything possible to keep your money safe and secure your transactions, stolen identity still poses a great risk. Your VPN will not only encrypt your sensitive data, such as your credit card information, but it will also hide where your data originated from.
Using a VPN while completing online transactions will stop all sorts of attacks. Here are some reasons why you should use a VPN while conducting online transactions:
1. Your Information Will Remain Safe
Most financial institutions and online retail stores, use HTTPS encryption to exchange data from online accounts. While this is a good security measure, it doesn’t guarantee privacy. So, when you connect to a VPN, you are adding a second layer of encryption to your transactions. This layer makes it hard for your bank, ISP, or even talented hackers to penetrate.
2. You Can Log in Using Public Networks
Generally, public Wi-Fi networks are a hotbed of hacking activities. Cybercriminals know that most users don’t pay too much attention to their online security while at a hotel or restaurant. But with a VPN, you can now use public Wi-Fi networks to check your emails or shop without worrying if your information will be compromised.
3. You Can Access Your Accounts While on the Move
Online services like banks are usually sensitive when you access your accounts from outside your home country. That is why banks need you to notify them if you are leaving the country. In fact, most of them monitor IP addresses to match them with account holders’ locations in an attempt to detect fraud. A slight change in IP can trigger a fraud blockade.
This can be a real challenge if you want to travel overseas frequently. So, a VPN can help you in such situations. To your bank, it will seem like you are accessing your account while at home. Thankfully, banks rarely check to see if you are connecting through a VPN.
4. Your Apps Will Be Secure
Mobile phones are a popular target for cybercriminals and malware vendors because most people conduct their transactions using their smartphones. According to RSA, over 60% of online fraud is accomplished through mobile platforms. Actually, about 80% of mobile fraud is linked to apps. In 2017 alone, Google removed about 700,000 malicious apps from the Play Store. Apple’s iOS is not immune, too. CVE Details estimated that about 387 iOS vulnerabilities were detected in 2017. While bigger banks and retails stores encrypt data before it comes to your phone, a VPN ensures that no packets leave unprotected.
5. Protect Against Phishing
Phishing attacks are tactics used by hackers to get your usernames and passwords. These criminals go as far as creating an exact copy of your bank website, including forms. To avoid such tricks, you should ensure the green HTTPS lock icon in your browser is on at all times. You should also check the URL before entering the details. A VPN is also effective in protecting you against phishing attacks.
VPN for Streaming
For most people, streaming content online may seem quite simple. But that’s not always the case, especially if you are accessing restricted content. Why so? Your device sends crucial information to the video hosting server. This provider will choose to allow you to access its content based on your IP address, even if your account is active. Moreover, anyone can easily spy on your activities, unless you are using a VPN. Aside from increasing your privacy, your VPN will let you enjoy unlimited streaming. Here are the main benefits of using a VPN for streaming:
1. Stream Anonymously Without Slowing Down
It may sound counter-intuitive, but sometimes the best way to speed up your internet speed while streaming content is to increase your privacy. You will enjoy a stable connection while streaming from sites that may typically reduce your base connection speed by up to 50%. When you are using a streaming app like Kodi add-ons, you should never let your ISP know what’s going on. As you know, most ISPs will monitor your internet usage. So, if they find out that you are consuming more bandwidth through streaming, they may throttle your connection.
2. Access More Content
Due to copyright laws and other agreements, content streaming platforms, such as Netflix and Hulu, cannot broadcast all their content to countries outside the US. So, if you are moving to or living in Europe or other continents you may not have immediate access to your favorite movies and TV shows. But with a VPN, you can manipulate your IP address so as to access content in a foreign country.
3. Streaming Content Using a VPN Keeps Away Prying Eyes
If you are streaming content through your office or public Wi-Fi networks, privacy and security could be least of your concerns if you are connected to a VPN. Your VPN will ensure that your entire streaming session is encrypted and safe from potential intruders.
4. It Lets You Stretch Beyond Acceptable Use Policies
Most learning institutions and companies have an Acceptable Use policy that regulates how users should use the internet while using their network infrastructure or while on their premises. These organizations may not tell you to avoid specific websites, let say Netflix, but they are likely to restrict your use of the internet to school or work-related activities, only.
Some administrators are even strict on how you use their internet to access personal emails. As if that was not restrictive enough, there are reports of employers using technologies like keylogging and document opening records to monitor their workers. In such environments, a VPN lets you break free of all the restrictions and enjoy uninterrupted streaming.
Unblocking Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, and Kodi with a VPN
Popular streaming platforms often offer different content depending on your location. If you are living or traveling outside the US, you are likely to access fewer movies and shows. Let’s say you travel to the UK and you log in to your Netflix account, only to find out that you can’t find the movie you were watching back at home.
It can be frustrating to pay for a service that you cannot use. Sometimes, your employer or school won’t let you have an easy time watching content from popular streaming platforms for many reasons. But nothing is lost as we have the solution for you. In the next section, we will look at how a VPN can help you get around each platform individually.
Netflix is the largest internet entertainment service with a vast library of movies and TV shows. Unfortunately, much of the content is geographically restricted. As mentioned earlier, Netflix has a different version for each region, and it has a different agreement with each country due to copyright agreements.
Are you a US Netflix lover and don’t know how to get your way around? The only thing you need to stream unlimited movies and TV shows on Netflix is a quality VPN. If you want your favorite Netflix movies and shows with no throttling or bandwidth restrictions, you need to invest in a reliable VPN. Unfortunately, not all VPNs will help you unblock Netflix. So, you need to be careful when selecting a VPN. You need a service that offers:
• Unlimited bandwidth to guarantee uninterrupted streaming.
• Fast streaming protocols, such as OpenVPN that use UDP over TCP.
• A proven record of unblocking Netflix.
Once you have found the right VPN for unblocking Netflix, download it, and then follow the steps below:
• Install the downloaded VPN application on your device.
• Now, launch the app. Every VPN has a different interface, but all will provide you with a list of countries to connect to.
• Choose a server in the US, that is if you are interested in American content.
• After you have confirmed that the IP address is indeed in the US, head over to Netflix.
• Now, log into your account and watch your favorite movies and TV shows.
It doesn’t matter if you are on a business trip, gap year, vacation, or you don’t reside in the US, you cannot access Hulu if you are outside the US border. The problem is that Hulu was built mainly by the US TV network, which had no intention of expanding to other regions. Only a VPN will help you catch the latest movies, TV shows, and Hulu originals in HD. But it may not be as straightforward as many would assume.
Recently, Hulu put in place an extremely strong geo-block to catch all the users outside the US who might be looking to access its content. Be that as it may, you can still work around the restrictions using proven VPNs, such as ExpressVPN, NordVPN, and CyberGhost.
Sometimes, Hulu may recognize your location and ban you if your ISP assigned you an IPv6 (read more about on VPN leaks section). That’s why it is critical to use a VPN that either has IPv6 leak protection or can disable it. So, if you want to beat the strong geo-block erected by Hulu, you need to follow this process:
• Get a reliable VPN.
• Connect to a US server.
• Confirm your IP address and log into your account as you would normally.
YouTube is the world’s largest repository for user-generated videos. Unfortunately, it is not available in all countries. Users in countries like China are censored from accessing the platform. There are also other technicalities that may restrict users in some countries from accessing YouTube videos, which include:
• Even in geographic regions where YouTube is not censored, content uploaders may restrict their content to certain countries.
• YouTube may also restrict content to specific countries due to content licensing agreements. It can be very limited when it comes to paid content, such as paid channels, YouTube Red, and paid videos. For instance, YouTube Red is only available in the US, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, and South Korea.
• If you are at work or school, network administers may put a block on YouTube using a firewall. Most organizations implement these restrictions to minimize distractions, and consequently, increase productivity.
If these restrictions make you yelling, using a VPN is an effective workaround. To YouTube and firewalls, it will appear as if you are accessing the internet from a different location. Furthermore, a VPN encrypts all the data that goes through your connection, so your ISP and network administrators will not be able to see the content that you are streaming. Follow these steps to unblock YouTube using a VPN:
• Choose a reliable VPN that can meet your needs.
• After that, install it on your devices.
• Connect to a server in the country you want to unblock content. If you are trying to get around firewalls in school or at work, you can choose a server close to your location.
• Enjoy unlimited access to YouTube.
Kodi is an open-source media streaming app created by the XBMC Foundation that lets you stream content, including videos and music, on almost any device. Better yet, it is compatible with all the major operating systems. But you should note that it doesn’t come with the content out of the box. You need to install third-party add-ons, which will help enhance your Kodi experience.
What makes Kodi so attractive is that it has an active community of developers. They are releasing new builds and add-ons on a constant basis. The good thing is that nearly every aspect of Kodi is customizable.
While Kodi can function without a VPN, using a VPN service will provide you with significant benefits, which will improve your overall experience with Kodi. Specifically, a VPN breaks down borders, which may prevent you from using Kodi add-ons that are restricted to specific countries. Since your ISP is already monitoring all those movies and TV shows you stream with Kodi, the best way to shut their noses out of your activities is to use a VPN to encrypt your internet traffic.
In a nutshell, here is how your VPN will enable you to use Kodi effectively:
• It prevents ISPs from monitoring your traffic and slowing down your streams.
• It lets you stream restricted content and use geo-blocked Kodi add-ons.
• It protects your identity while streaming content.
VPN to Avoid Censorship
As we learned above, you are only accessing a fraction of content, such as media, music, and websites that are available on the internet because of geographical restrictions. Sadly, censorship goes against two fundamentals of the internet: openness and freedom.
Some closed regimes around the world continue to limit how their citizens access and share information on the internet. The list includes the following countries:
• The United Arab Emirates (UAE)
• North Korea
Common Types of Internet Censorship
Internet censorship comes in many forms, but here are the common ones:
- Government Censorship to Protect Copyrights. Many governments are keen to block access to websites and services that promote or facilitate copyright infringements, and of course, for a good reason. This form of internet censorship is common in the European region. The UK, has for a long time, been championing this cause. Russia, too, has ramped up its efforts to control pirated content.
- Censorship for Social or Political Reasons. Several governments across the world restrict their citizens to access certain content from western countries. Countries like China and the UAE have come out strongly to criminalize the use of VPNs to bypass restrictions. So, if you are traveling to these countries, you may need to set up a VPN plan before you get there because they can also block VPN websites.
- Workplace. Some workplaces may block its workers from accessing certain content, such as watching YouTube videos or chatting on social media, for fear of distracting them from work. Such restrictions are justifiable to a certain extent, but they usually cross the line, which often leads to inconveniences.
- Learning Institutions. Just like employers, schools and colleges often control access to the internet, too. When students are minors, the act can be understandable. But you often find even higher education establishments and universities, where the attendees are adults, block users from using the internet. These institutions may deny students access to crucial information related to social issues, such as racial and sexual discrimination, drug advice, bullying, and sexual health. It is not uncommon for some institutions to block users for political reasons.
How a VPN Can Help You Bypass Censorship?
A VPN can help you bypass any internet censorship. A VPN service will reroute your traffic through servers located in less restrictive countries like the US, making it possible to access anything from the internet as if you are in New York. A VPN is especially useful to those who want to access social media, watch movies and TV shows, and keep up with world news. The only caveat to this is that you have to do it right.
Under normal circumstances, you would just connect to any VPN server in a country you want to access content, then have unlimited access to the internet. Since VPNs are commonly used for remotely connecting to enterprise networks, they are generally not a target of government agencies.
But sometimes the authorities censor your internet and try to block the use of VPNs. For instance, the Great Firewall of China is doing everything to control outgoing VPN connections. Common tactics used by these governments include:
• Blocking IP addresses from known VPN servers
• Blocking access to VPN websites
• Deep packet inspection (DPI).
• Port blocking using a firewall
Nonetheless, you can still get around this challenge, whether you are living or traveling to a censored country. Here is how to do it right:
Try Different VPN providers
As already noted, governments might keep track of IPs coming from certain VPN providers. Sometimes using a lower-profile VPN might work in your favor. These VPNs often evade blanket IP blocks erected by government agencies. Sometimes, you don’t even need to change the provider, but just change to different IP addresses from the same provider.
Thankfully, a majority of premium VPNs have found ways to circumvent government blocks. They often recycle their IP addresses, which makes it hard for the authorities to keep track of IP changes.
Use Dedicated IP Address
Some VPNs allow you to use dedicated IP addresses. So, instead of sharing an IP with several other users, you can get a unique one, which is much like you are using your own VPN. With this technique, you are unlikely to be blocked by governments and streaming services.
Some VPNs offer more advanced blocking solutions designed to circumvent more sensitive DPI techniques. The two main approaches to advanced VPN concealment are:
• SSL tunneling (open source multi-platform program that creates TLS/SSL tunnels)
• SSH tunneling (wrapping VPN data inside a layer of Secure Shell (SSH)).
It is important to set up a VPN before traveling to a restrictive country like China or Saudi Arabia because they may also block access to VPN websites. Just sign up for a VPN service and download its app before leaving your home country. Even when access to VPN providers’ websites is blocked, your VPN will still work since connections themselves are rarely blocked.
In the event that you come unprepared for any reason, you can use alternative censorship-busting tricks to access VPN websites and download a VPN software.
VPN for China
If you don’t know already, using the internet in China can be frustrating. The so-called Great Firewall of China blocks most of the websites that most of us use every day. In fact, this Asian country has some of the world’s strictest censorship laws. So, the only way to enjoy internet freedom in China is to get yourself a VPN.
The main purpose of a VPN is to guard your privacy when browsing the internet. With a VPN, no one will know your real location or track your online activities, so you can access blocked websites and stream any content you want. Unfortunately, China is cracking down on most VPNs.
Here is what you should know before you travel to China:
• At the moment, most VPNs don’t work, even the ones that were effective in the past.
• In order to use a VPN in China, you need to install your VPN app on your device before you set your foot there. It is not easy to install the VPN once you arrive in China.
• The Chinese government has already removed most of the VPN apps from the Google Play and Apple App Store.
• Without a reliable VPN, you won’t be able to access popular websites and services, such as Gmail, Facebook, Google, and YouTube.
VPN Blocking in China
The main goal of the Beijing authorities is to completely block citizens from accessing unauthorized services. To achieve this goal, they have cracked down all non-state sanctioned VPNs. Surprisingly, VPNs are still working in China as of today, albeit the threats and difficulties.
You are probably asking: Which is the best VPN to use in China? That is a loaded question that can’t be resolved with a simple answer. Many popular VPNs try to avoid China. Also, some of the VPNs that work today may one day become blocked or unstable. That’s why it is a real pain for internet users to find a reliable VPN that works in China. Nevertheless, we have plenty of options for you.
VPN for Better Deals
While online shopping has brought along several conveniences, it has its undeniable upsides. Sometimes, you are charged more than you should. That’s why a VPN should be your essential companion while shopping online. It will help you secure attractive deals while protecting your data from fraudsters.
It might be a rude awakening, but equality means nothing when it comes to online shopping. The price you see on travel websites are often different from prices seen by someone in another country.
How Websites Dictate Prices?
Most online shopping platforms use geo-based pricing techniques to maximize their profits. These price gauging techniques are called dynamic pricing and are normally used on flight tickets, hotels, car rental services, and software subscriptions. Some sites have taken it too far, as they charge users based on the device they are using. Usually, a Mac user will pay more than a PC user. Generally, online prices are usually higher for users browsing from affluent countries. So, if you are in a developed country like Germany, you are likely to pay more than somebody from, let’s say, Africa.
How a VPN Can Help You Secure Better Deals?
If you would like to find better deals when shopping online, you will love what a VPN can do for you. We are not making any bold promises, but we are just showing you the potential of saving some dollars while shopping online. For instance, you can save $72 when buying a flight ticket from JKF Airport to Naples Airport, Italy if you are booking from India. You will not get the same discount if you were shopping in the US. To attract better deals, follows these steps:
• Next, launch your VPN app and connect to a server in a less affluent city or country.
• After that, open a new private browsing or incognito window and open the specific site you want to shop. Check the prices there, and then note it down.
• When you are done, close the window, clear your cookies, and then connect to a different server location. Repeat the process above for a few more times.
Without mincing words, there are no hard-set rules for securing better deals, but if you check a couple of times, you are likely to notice a big price difference. Also, before you close any deal, make sure you have checked the site’s terms of service. Sometimes, it might only allow you to make a purchase from a given virtual location.
Examples of How a VPN Can Help You Find Lower Prices
1. Save Money on Netflix. Subscribers in the US usually get the most content on Netflix. Ironically, they are also paying the least for it. When you sign up from abroad, you are likely to pay 10% – 20% higher than if you subscribe to it in the US. To make things work in your favor, just connect to a VPN, then alter your virtual location to a US city and subscribe to Netflix. You can use the same trick while shopping for similar subscription services. Here is an example of how much you can save on Microsoft Office Subscription if you are shopping from three different countries.
2. Save Money on Car Rentals, Flights, and Hotels
When you are traveling to another country, you will want flight tickets and comfortable accommodation that won’t cost you too much. And if you are moving from city to city, using a rental car is a smart option. But before you commit to any deal, make sure to connect to a VPN and compare prices from different websites and locations.
3. Get Better Deals on Online Gaming
Just like when shopping for online subscriptions, a VPN will enable you to get better deals on your favorite game. A test on three different locations shows that you can save some dollars if you were to shop for a Legion TD 2 game on Steampowered.com
As you can see from the above examples, you don’t need to be a web researcher or digital savvy to get better deals online. With a VPN, you are set to go.
Wi-Fi Security with VPN
Access to the internet using public Wi-Fi networks is a standard nowadays, be it in dining venues, stores, hotels, airports, tourist attractions, public parks, or even throughout the city. Hackers often target unsuspecting users on such networks and steal their valuable data. Unfortunately, most are always in a hurry to connect to these networks without inspecting them.
Sure, not all public networks are dangerous, but you have no way of distinguishing good ones from bad ones. The fact that you entered a username and password does not make a network safe.
Common hotspot vulnerabilities include:
• Network openness
• Unsecured Protocols
• Malicious Network owners
Almost a quarter of public hotspots around the world lack any form of encryption or password protection. Even when they have one, it is often the WEP protocol, which anyone can hack. Even the more secure WPA2 can be compromised through new advanced attacks, such as KRACK.
Public Wi-Fi networks are often used by masses. Unfortunately, their accessibility make them attractive to cybercriminals. Actually, any network that runs outdated protocols or lacks password protection means that anyone can access it. Information transmitted over a public Wi-Fi connection is generally unencrypted and unsecured, meaning your data is public, too. Hackers can take advantage of security flaws to intercept data.
Malicious Network Operators
Sometimes, hackers set up their own public Wi-Fi networks for the purpose of collecting information from users. These fraudsters can see the websites you visit, the communications you sent, where you search and any critical information you sent over the network. Yes, your seemingly innocent coffee shop’s Wi-Fi may be untrustworthy.
Consequences of Using Unprotected Wi-Fi Networks
1. Packet Sniffers
The very openness of a public Wi-Fi network makes it easy for anyone to track your activities. They achieve this by setting up a ‘packet sniffer, a program that records data shared on a network. What it means is that hackers can just sit down and monitor every information you exchange on the network.
2. Man-in-the-Middle Attacks
Man-in-the-middle attacks are a common danger associated with public Wi-Fi networks. In layman terms, attackers lurking on public networks can secretly set up themselves as a third-party between two innocent users who lack mutual authentication protocols. Once they are in control, they can divert your credit card details or alter communications going back and forth.
3. Wi-Fi Pineapples
Fraudsters can set up what is called a Wi-Fi pineapple for less than $100. What Wi-Fi pineapple does is create fake hotspots with seemingly genuine names. Pineapples can even imitate the last network you used. The danger is that these attacks are hard to detect unless you are using a VPN.
4. Cookie Sidejacking
Naturally, cookies are harmless data that help websites remember your last activities. It makes it possible for you to remain logged even when you leave a page or close the window altogether. Unfortunately, hackers can sidejack your cookies, then impersonate you on each website you visit even if it doesn’t have your login credentials.
Just like viruses, worms can get to your device even when you haven’t downloaded anything. So, if you use a network that lacks appropriate security, you invite computer infections that could destroy your device or compromise your data.
6. Fake Networks
Even without pineapples, cybercriminals can create public hotspots with names that sound genuine. In some cases, these hackers may set up a Wi-Fi network with exactly the same name as an existing network (Evil Twin attack). Some may even go to the extent of opening a coffee shop in the corner and set up fraudulent connections.
To avoid most of these vulnerabilities, you need to use a VPN when connecting to public Wi-Fi networks. A good rule of thumb is to assume every piece of unencrypted data over public connections can be accessed by hackers. So, whatever public hotspot you are using, your VPN will do its best to protect you. It enables you to:
• Browse anonymously.
• Encrypt your data.
• Auto-connect whenever you use unsecured Wi-Fi.
VPN for Torrenting
Peer-to-peer file-sharing or torrenting has had a bad reputation, oftentimes associated with copyright infringement. So, most ISP tend to block users who torrent, irrespective of whether they are doing it legally or not.
What Is Torrenting?
To keep it simple, torrenting is just a simplified way of downloading large files that would otherwise take ages to fully download. Torrenting isn’t illegal per se. It only becomes illegal when you use it to download unsanctioned copyrighted stuff.
A lot of internet users like to download movies, games, shows, and software for free. And they want to do it the best way: torrenting. Unfortunately, it is not always immediately apparent which material is legal to torrent and which is not.
As already mentioned, ISPs and copyright trolls usually monitor P2P networks, such as BitTorrent. The consequences of illegal torrenting range from ISPs throttling your connection or issuing a warning letter to actually taking legal action.
So, to avoid the risk, you need to protect yourself by using a VPN to cut down any form of tracking. Some VPNs are better than others when it comes to torrenting. What you need is a service that:
• Is stable and fast enough so as not to interfere with torrenting. When it comes to torrenting, download speeds are as important as privacy.
• Doesn’t store logs of your online activities.
• Is not based in a country that requires VPNs to share customer record with the government or has punitive copyright laws.
Use a VPN When Torrenting
A VPN will help you on these fronts:
• First, it will route all your traffic through a server in a country of your choice, which means that it will hide your IP address and replace it with one that’s used by several other users. With the added layer of anonymity, it will be hard for anyone to track your activities. The nature of P2P file-sharing means that other torrent client users can see your IP address. So, if you aren’t using a fake one, you can easily expose your location to strangers. But you should check your IP address before you download anything with your torrent client.
• Most torrent users configure IP binding to limit the downloading to one IP address usually, the one provided by the VPN server. So, if the VPN disconnects for whatever reason, your download will stop automatically and your privacy will remain intact.
• A VPN encrypts your torrent traffic, which means that no one can monitor your activity, not even your ISP who could be looking to penalize you for torrenting.
Keep in mind that using a quality VPN is key to smooth torrenting. You shouldn’t use a free VPN at all costs. Most of them will either cap your bandwidth and data or log your activity. Moreover, they don’t provide adequate DNS leak protection.
It is also worth mentioning that not all VPNs will tolerate torrenting. If you are buying a VPN exclusively for torrenting, you want to select a provider that supports such activities.
Avoid Speed Caps of ISP
It is common knowledge that popular mobile providers throttle internet connections after they hit a certain amount of data in a month. But what you may not know is that your ISP could be doing the same thing. And what happens once you have reached your data cap depends on the provider. Some of them may slow down your internet connection, while others may charge you for the amount of data that you use beyond the cap.
So, you might be asking why these providers put data caps on their plans. Well, most providers have repeatedly claimed that data caps enable them to ease congestions and charge lower prices. But over the past few years, lobbyists and cable companies have admitted that their data caps were mainly driven by commercial reasons more than relieving congestions.
There is even a more insidious scenario, which happens all the time: internet service providers may throttle your connection if they don’t approve of what you are doing on their network. Bandwidth throttling is a technique of limiting internet speeds for certain websites, data types, or services. Here are some telltale signs of throttling:
• Excessive lag while gaming
• Videos stream in lower resolution
• Slow downloads from p2p networks
Thankfully, you can bypass these data caps using a VPN, as it is the surest and fastest method. Calling FCC, filing a complaint, or even hiring a lawyer won’t help much in this case. A VPN will remove all artificial limits on your internet speeds, thus enabling you to download, stream, and browse without lags.
Without a VPN, your ISP can monitor what you are doing online. So, if they don’t like what you are doing, you are at their mercy.
Is It Legal to Use a VPN?
With the exception of a few countries mentioned earlier, such as North Korea and Iran, VPNs are legal in all parts of the world. On top of this, there is no major restriction on how you can use your VPN service. Due to some irresponsible individuals who use VPNs to carry out illegal activities, many people are now under the impression that VPNs are illegal. For the average user, a VPN helps them keep prying eyes away from your online activities as well as access geo-restricted content.
While there are plenty of legitimate reasons why you want to protect your privacy using a VPN, you have to also understand what is considered illegal while using your VPN. In short, any unlawful activity carried out through the internet will remain illegal, irrespective of whether you are using a VPN or not. For instance, if you are torrenting unsanctioned copyrighted stuff or hacking into other people’s systems, using a VPN will remain unlawful.
Scenarios Where the Use of VPN Is Unlawful
Most VPNs try to list prohibited activities while using their service. You will find these items under the Terms and Conditions pages. Among the prohibited activities, what stick out the most include:
• Hacking: Gaining access into other people’s computers or network without their permissions is strictly prohibited by most VPNs.
• Distributing virus online: No ISP or VPN service will allow you to infect other networks with a virus while under VPN protection.
• Illegal file-sharing. Torrenting is not illegal per se. The problem comes in when you download or upload copyright-protected material.
• Conducting transactions on the dark web: The dark web is where a great deal of illegal activities take place, for instance, buying and selling of weapons, drugs, and other illegal stuff.
• IP spoofing: The act of pretending to be another machine for hidden agenda is strictly prohibited. In fact, there is not much difference with what a hacker does to a network.
• Cyber Stalking: It is unlawful to stalk someone online while under the cover of a VPN.
Countries Where VPNs are Illegal
It is unfortunate to consider that, over the last few years, some countries have begun passing laws banning the use of VPNs. Some of them have even started penalizing their citizens caught using a VPN.
China: The use of VPNs is China is largely illegal, but some VPN operators can still offer their services if they have a license from the government. The only issue with that is that these licenses come with stringent regulations, which defeat the whole purpose of using a VPN. For those who break this law, the government fines them about $2,200.
Turkey: To control the use of social media, the government has banned several websites, including those that offer VPN services.
Iraq: To tame the influence of ISIS, the Iraqi government banned the use of VPNs in 2014. The intention may be good, but it comes at the cost of exposing their citizens.
Russia: Just like in China, only government approved VPNs are allowed to operate in Russia. The main reason for banning VPNs is to control the spread of extremist content on the internet. The penalty for breaking the law ranges from $5,100 for users and $12,000 for service providers.
Belarus: The Belarus government has banned the use of VPNs completely. The government has blocked several foreign-owned websites to prevent their citizens from foreign influence.
Iran: Only government-sanctioned VPNs are allowed to operate in Iran. Many people see this move a means of punishing those that oppose the government. So, an ordinary user may not be of key interest to the state.
The United Arabs Emirates: The UAE government banned the use of VPNs in 2012 in order to protect local Telcos that were losing out to messaging apps, such as WhatsApp, Skype, and other VoIP services.
Oman: The country prohibits the use of VPNs to prevent their citizens from accessing foreign media and services. The penalty for breaking the law is $1,300 for individuals and $2,600 for VPN companies.
Turkmenistan: The government bans and censors foreign media. The ban is politically driven, and any user found using a VPN will be subjected to an administrative penalty.
North Korea: In this Far East country, the citizens can only use government-controlled internet. So, using a VPN is definitely banned for both locals and residents.
As it turns out from the above list, most states with restrictive regimes tend to be ones that ban the use of VPN. With that said, the ban has not deterred the residents of these countries from using VPNs. Perhaps, their confidence is driven by the fact some of the laws have been implemented sparingly. For some countries that joined the bandwagon recently, such as Russia, it is too early to tell how strict these bans are.
How Secure Is a VPN?
By now, you should already know that browsing the web can be risky. For instance, if you are accessing the internet through public network connections, anyone with the login credentials and some tech skills can eavesdrop on your online activities. So, VPNs come in handy by concealing your location and online activities by rerouting the data you send and receive through a secure tunnel and a remote server. VPNs also take out your internet service provider out of the loop of your online behavior.
While VPNs can shield you from the government, ISPs, and cybercriminals, they are also in a position to do the very things you are worried about. If VPNs work the way they are supposed to, then no one will snoop on your device to see your online activities. Unfortunately, not all VPNs are secure as they claim. A majority will offer a range of impressive-sounding bells and whistles, yet only a few of them offer a truly private experience. So, for the VPN to truly protect your online identity, the company that offers the service has to be trustworthy.
VPN Security Starts with Choosing the Right Service
The issue of VPN safety often arises because most customers don’t have the skills to double check what they are paying for. As a safety-minded customer, you should test potential VPN services. Here are a few strategies to improve your VPN security:
Commercial VPNs: A simple way to improve your online safety is to pay for a VPN. Free VPNs are known to track user activity. Not all free VPNs are bad, but they have to make money somehow. Even if they are not interested in your data, they are likely to offer substandard services, exposing your data to interested parties.
Rented Servers: There seem to be two types of VPN services: those that rely on rented cloud servers and those that own their servers. It is usually harder to run a VPN service without using logs, and it is even harder to run the service on rented cloud servers that necessitate the use of logs.
Encryption and Protocols of VPNs: Deciding on Encryption
Encryption protocols and ciphers are at the heart of the VPN technology. Essentially, a VPN tunnel is the encrypted connection between your device, the VPN client, and the server. The tunneling process does more than hide your information from anyone else. The computers at each end of the tunnel, encrypted the information entering the tunnel, and then decrypt it at the other hand. You could use encryption to protect your email communications or protect files on your device.
The simplest analogy is that VPN encryption is a mechanism that converts plaintext data like your internet traffic and turns it to indecipherable gibberish to anyone who wants to intercept it. And this is what introduces us to protocols. These are sets of instructions (mechanisms) that are used to negotiate an encrypted connection between two devices. It means they determine how the VPN tunnel is actually formed.
A number of VPN protocols are supported by premium VPN providers, but the most common ones are:
- OpenVPN – It is now the industry standard VPN protocol. The technology is constantly evolving to keep pace with the ever-changing world of cybersecurity. It is widely used by a majority of premium VPNs since these companies have the resources to develop their own VPN clients. Unlike other protocols listed here, OpenVPN does not have native support for any hardware or operating system. That means anyone who wants to use OpenVPN must use a third-party app. The good thing about OpenVPN is that it is the most robust and flexible protocol. So, you should give it a priority before considering other options.
- PPTP – It is one of the oldest protocols still being used, and it offers a lower level of encryption. So, you should only use it as your last resort. You may want to choose it because it is very easy to set up and fast, meaning it can handle bandwidth-intensive activities, such as video streaming.
- L2TP/IPSec – L2TP is almost as old as PPTP, but it hasn’t experienced as many attacks as the latter. The best pairing for L2TP is IPsec (Internet Protocol Security), which has the technology that handles authentication. It is probably the most widely used alternative to OpenVPN. Generally, L2TP/IPsec is ideal for an average internet user who may want a decent performance without spending too much time struggling with compatibility.
- IKEv2 – Internet Key Exchange version 2 is fast and relatively secure. The only challenge is that it is not open in nature, so it supports a few devices, mainly mobile devices. Just like SSTP, Microsoft has a hand in this VPN protocol. Moreover, it is one of the newest protocols, so it hasn’t been widely adopted. You will most likely find it in corporations that still rely on Blackberry technology. Thankfully, it also supports iOS and other platforms that are less esoteric. Due to its narrow support, IKEv2 is less preferable than other protocols like OpenVPN, even if it’s a little slower than IKEv2.
- SSTP – Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol is a solid option for those who trust proprietary software from Microsoft. It is not vulnerable to VPN blocking as with L2TP. The only challenge is that you cannot run it on anything else apart from Windows devices.
- WireGuard – It is a newly-launched VPN protocol that aims to shorten the process of encrypting data. It appears to be even faster than the two most promising protocols in the market today: OpenVPN and IKEv2. While the protocol is still in its early stages of development, it has already delivered positive results during initial testing. It is expected to run in the Linux kernel 5.6. WireGuard’s code is licensed under open source Gnu General Public License (GPL), which is already available on macOS, Android, iOS, Windows, and BSD Unix.
VPNs and Logging Policies
With hundreds of VPN companies on the market, it is not always easy to know who to trust, more so, when all of them are claiming to be private and secure. Unfortunately, some of these claims may not reflect the truth, especially when it comes to keeping logs. But the good news is that the more you understand about logging policies, the better prepared you are to secure yourself.
For justifiable reasons, VPN users usually want a service that guarantees total anonymity and privacy. And that is why most companies want to ride on this trend by proclaiming that they don’t log anything.
What Are VPN Logs?
The most common type of VPN logs are connection and usage logs. Both of them may affect anonymity and safety functions of a VPN. Connections logs are data that show inbound and outbound connection to a server, and they are relatively shallow information like:
• The connection time stamp
• Users’ inbound IP address
• Users’ new outbound IP address
• Amount of data transfer
Usage logs, on the other hand, are records about users’ activities on the web. That is the most valuable data that any restrictive authority uses to penalize dark web or torrent activities, or advertisers who are looking to target a particular audience. Usage logs can comprise of the following information:
• Software and applications used
• Browsing history
• Specific files uploaded and downloaded
As you can see, usage logs touch directly on individual user activity, not just some random IPs. You should avoid at all cost a VPN service that stores this type of logs. In fact, you should only sign up for a VPN service that stores zero logs, or if they store any logs, they should be transparent about it, especially on how they intend to use the data. Keep in mind that even if a provider stores your data without the intention of sharing, that is still a massive risk.
Why VPNs Keep Logs?
Sometimes, VPNs may store logs for their own internal use, and they are mostly connection logs. In other cases, they may be compelled by the law to do so. Most countries with restrictive data laws often force VPN services to keep certain user logs. The only reprieve is that these governments might not have direct access to logs. In most cases, premium VPN providers avoid these jurisdictions, when they establish their headquarters.
IP, DNS, WebRTC, & IPv6 Leaks
Using a VPN can dramatically boost your online privacy, but there are instances when your VPN provider can leak critical information. There are several ways in which your connection can leak your identity, so if you don’t test your VPN your connection, unless you know how to detect these leaks, you may not know they are happening in the first place. Here, we will learn about the most common leaks, the causes of these leaks, and how to prevent them.
What Is a VPN Leak?
VPN leaks often occur when data, such as your IP address, DNS request, location, and other data that your VPN should protect is transmitted outside the VPN tunnel. That means, your ISP, hackers, governments, and other interested parties may view your connection and monitor your activities. The four most common types of VPN leaks are:
• DNS Leaks
• IP address Leaks
• IPv6 Leaks
• WebRTC Leaks
IP Address Leaks
These leaks occur when your VPN fails to replace your real IP address with their own. As you would expect, this is a serious privacy risk that can expose you for surveillance. Ideally, when you use a VPN, all the websites, services, or persons that you interact with online should see your VPN server’s IP address.
In most cases, IP leaks are mainly caused by vulnerabilities in your existing technology, such as:
• Operating systems
• Browser plugins
• Web browsers
Sometimes, IP leaks occur when your VPN software disconnects abruptly, such that all your internet traffic is rerouted through your standard internet connection. Be that as it may, a quality VPN should include mechanisms to prevent and batch these leaks.
In a correct VPN setup, your DNS request should be routed to your VPN’s DNS servers. If, for some reasons, the VPN routes the request to your ISP’s servers, a DNS leak will have occurred. While this problem can affect all operating systems, Windows is the most vulnerable one because of multi-home DNS systems, which may catch VPNs by surprise.
DNS leaks usually occur when your ISP uses a technology called Transparent DNS Proxy, which intercept all DNS requests that go through their servers.
The main concerns of DNS leaks are:
• Your real IP address can be exposed to the DNS server.
• Your ISP will monitor your web activities.
To avoid DNS leaks, you can test your connections using websites, such as dnsleaktest.com, ipleak.net, or Hidester. These sites will display a list of DNS servers that your traffic is using. From here, you can identify if your ISP’s DNS server is on the list.
The best way to avoid DNS leaks is to use a VPN service with built-in DNS leak protection mechanism.
For a while now, there is a negative hype about running out of existing IPv4 addresses. So, the IPv6 protocol was introduced to solve this problem, but most sites are yet to move to IPv6. The new IP addresses are much longer than IPv4 addresses. It looks something like this: 2001:0db8:85a3:0000:0000:8a2e:0370:7334).
Unfortunately, some VPN software were designed to gather only for IPv4 addresses, meaning they may fail to protect your IPv6 addresses (if you have one), and in the process, exposing your details.
A website or a service will see your IPv4 or IPv6 addresses, depending on the following conditions:
• If your IPv6 feature is enabled in your operating system
• If the service or website you visit supports IPv6
Fortunately, there are two easy fixes to IPv6 leaks:
• The first option is to disable IPv6 on your system. This way, you won’t have to rely on your VPN provider to provide the protection.
• Alternatively, you can select a VPN service that has built-in IPv6 leak protection.
WebRTC stands for Web Real-Time Communication, and it is a free, open source project that provides mobile applications and web browsers with APIs that allow direct P2P communication. Among some of the apps that use WebRTC are Facebook Messenger, Google Hangouts, Amazon Chime, and Discord.
This technology makes it possible for video and audio communications to work inside web pages without the need for installing additional plugins. While it is a useful tool, it comes with shortcomings. It is often considered as an obstacle to online privacy since it has a way of discovering your IP address, even when you are connecting through a VPN. But in practice, the risk of WebRTC leaks occurring is very low. It usually happens when you are tricked into visiting a malicious website, which has intentions of viewing your IP address.
Testing for WebRTC Leaks
Just as you would test other VPN leaks, use amazing tools like ipleak.net to check for WebRTC leaks. All you need to do is to check the WebRTC section and check for mismatch in IP addresses.
Two Ways to Fix WebRTC Leaks
• If you care about your online privacy, choose a VPN that can block WebRTC requests.
• Alternatively, you can disable WebRTC at the browser level. You will have to edit your browser’s configuration files, or use a browser extension that helps you accomplish the same goal.
VPN Kill Switch
In an ideal scenario, your VPN should work 100% of the time, but sometimes you may experience a drop. No matter how reliable your VPN service is, there are moments where the service disconnects or the speed slows down. Anytime the connection drops, your computer defaults back to your real IP address. So, if there is no way to check this, you will be easily exposed.
To address this challenge, most VPNs have included the kill switch, a feature that ensures your information remains secure, safe, and anonymous. What it does is cut the internet connection altogether whenever your VPN disconnects, blocking your devices or active apps from accessing the web.
Causes of VPN Disconnections
If you use a VPN with their own servers with several server clusters, you are less likely to experience disconnections, unless they are caused by factors outside the VPN. In most cases, a connection drops because of an unstable internet connection.
Software and Device Interference
Some programs, such as your antivirus or firewall might block your VPN from establishing a secure tunnel. Likewise, your device may have auto-updates enabled, meaning that it may reboot automatically and stay without protection.
Server and Networking Failure
If you are using a premium VPN service with multiple servers, you are unlikely to experience server issues. However, occasional timeouts and failures are possible. Even if your VPN keeps its servers in the most secure locations, sometimes, damages caused by third parties, such as construction accidents may cut networking cables, thus causing disconnections.
Sometimes, users may also mistakenly connect to the internet without activating their VPNs, thus exposing their details.
Thankfully, some VPNs allow you to customize your Kill Switch setting to your preference. For instance, you may activate it to disconnect internet connection whenever an app is running. It is also possible to enable the Kill Switch feature at system level. That means you cannot access the internet unless you are connecting through a VPN.
How the Kill Switch Feature Comes in Handy
• When you are working on sensitive or classified information, the kill switch feature will ensure that you remain protected against data leaks and hacking attempts.
• When it comes to sensitive activities, such as torrenting, you need a reliable VPN connection. Any leak may result in copyright infringement fines or warnings. But you have nothing to worry about when you have Kill Switch enabled.
• Essentially, the kill switch feature gives you peace of mind knowing that your traffic will never be leaked. It will reduce cases of surveillance and data theft.
How Fast Is a VPN?
While the primary purpose of a VPN is to provide privacy and security when transacting online, no one wants to compromise on their internet speed. So, speed should be a priority when selecting a VPN service.
Due to data encryption, most VPNs will slow down your internet speed with varying degrees. We did extensive speed tests for several VPNs, and it turns out that some are faster than others. In this section, we will discuss the most important factors when it comes to VPN speed and give you practical tips on how to improve your current speed.
Before you sign up for a VPN service, you need to test its speed against those of other similar VPNs.
So, Why Should You Test Your Internet Speed
Needless to say, we all want to use a fast and stable internet connection. If you are looking to download large files or stream content using your VPN, a slow connection will frustrate you. By testing your VPN, you will be able to:
• Determine download capacity.
• Choose the fastest server to reduce your download times.
• Most importantly, it will help you choose the fastest connection speed available to you.
A tool like Speedtest.net will help you check for speed of your VPN in different server locations. Among what you should test are speed index, latency, and download speed.
Latency is the amount of time it takes for data from your computer to reach the VPN server location. It is measured in milliseconds (ms), so you will hardly notice. Generally, servers located far from your place will have a higher latency because of the longer distance. In short, the higher the latency, the slower your connection.
Here, the download speed is the bandwidth, and it measures the rate at which data is transferred in a specified amount of time. Throughput is usually measured in Kilobits per second (Kbps). Today, server speed is often measured in bigger units, such as Megabits per second (Mbps) or even Gigabits per second (Gbps). The higher the download speed, the better your user experience. Download speeds allow you to determine the quality of your streaming. Most streaming platforms have recommended download speeds for different video quality. For instance, Netflix, recommend the following speed for their video content:
• With a download speed of 1000 Kbps, you will only enjoy the minimum quality.
• To stream normal quality videos (less than 480p), you will need a download speed of 1,500 Kbps.
• Download speeds of between 3000 – 5000 Kbps will support both SD and HD videos.
• For Ultra HD quality, you will need a VPN that can support a download speed of 25,000 Kbps.
Tips to Improve Your VPN Speed
• Use the nearest server to enable you to achieve the intended goal.
• If security isn’t a priority, use PPTP protocol, which is the fastest VPN protocol, though not secure.
• If your VPN service provides you with server information, choose the least crowded server.
• For the best blend of security and speed, use the OpenVPN UDP protocol.
• While 256-bit encryption offers you the best security, it is not the fastest. So, if security is not a major concern, you can use the 128-bit encryption strength, which is also relatively secure.
• Upgrade your connection speed by choosing a better internet package from your ISP.
• Cable connections are often faster than Wi-Fi.
1. Servers Network
As mentioned above, the VPN server location and server load play an important role in determining the speed of your VPN connection. The farther the VPN server is from your real location, the slower the internet speeds will be. The reason is that there are a number of issues that are created by long distance.
• Longer distance means that more data packets are lost, resulting in slower speeds.
• Limited bandwidth of overseas data tunnels.
• Complex peering relationships between networks or countries often result in slower speeds.
2. Lost Data Packets
Not every piece of data you send over a network will reach the intended destination. Some will get lost along the way. So, when such data is transmitted over long distances running into thousands of miles, the probability of losing data packets increases.
Typically, the internet is a combination of different networks. It includes a series of interconnected networks owned by organizations, governments, and institutions. So, when you are connected to an overseas server, the data will likely travel over several of these networks before it reaches the destination. Keeping this in mind, peering arrangement or the term under which data is exchanged may affect the latency.
4. International Bandwidth Limitations
Besides long distances and peering arrangements, the data capacity of the underwater fiber optic cables linking may slow down your connection. That is the reason why VPN speeds are slower on Australian servers if you are connecting from the US or Europe. You see, cables only carry finite amount of data at a go, which might result in increased latency and consequently a drop in VPN speeds.
5. Server Load/Server Bandwidth
Usually when you connect to a VPN server, you are supposed to use your bandwidth up to a set limit. How much to use depends on the server setup and the kind of data you’re transferring. So, you will find that some VPN services will put a cap on your bandwidth. Sometimes, they may split the available bandwidth among all the users connected to a particular server. A congested server will likely slow down or destabilize your VPN speed.
So, What Is Server Load?
Server load is the amount of server bandwidth that is currently in use. It directly correlates to the number of VPN users that are connected to that VPN server at a given moment. So, if you know the number of users sharing a server at one and the server capacity/bandwidth, you can estimate the average bandwidth available per user.
Here is the formula:
Average bandwidth = Server capacity/number of users
For clarity purposes, let’s use this illustration. If you are connected to a VPN server with a maximum server capacity of 100 Mbps and there are 99 other people that you are sharing the server with, the average bandwidth allocation per user is 10mbps. But that doesn’t mean that you are limited to this VPN speed.
Sometimes, VPN companies use smart algorithms to allocate bandwidth to users. The ones, who need it most, will get a higher allocation. This is made possible by the fact that not all users will consume the 10mbps all the time, so the extra bandwidth is shared among those who deserve it most.
To sum it up, the higher the bandwidth capacity in a given server and the fewer users on that server, the faster your VPN speed.
Factors that Affect VPN Speed
The upload or download speeds that you get when you are connected to a VPN depends on several factors. These include those that are controlled by your VPN service and others that are associated with your connection choices. So, being aware of these factors will help you choose the right VPN service and optimize its speed. But it should not be forgotten that your internet package and connection choices may also affect your VPN speed. Let’s now discuss the main factors that affect VPN speed:
1. The Speed of Your Unencrypted Connection
No matter how fast your VPN service is, it will always be restricted by the speed of your home connection or the internet you are using to access the server. While a VPN connection reroutes traffic outside your ISP network, it still has to depend on your ISP’s physical network. So, there is no way you will enjoy a 20Mbps speed if your home connection is only 10Mbps. In contrast, you will have a lower base speed when you consider other factors listed here.
In addition to this, there will be days that your ISP will experience slow speeds due to network congestion. And this will have a direct impact on your VPN speed.
2. Server Location
As explained at the start of this guide, your VPN acts as a middleman that controls the exchange of data between your device and visited websites or services. As you would expect, this data has to transverse many locations, including:
• The location of your device on the ISP network
• Your ISP’s physical location
• Your VPN server’s location
• The location of the destination app or website servers
All these points will play a role in determining the overall speed of the VPN connection. The farther they are from each other, the slower the VPN speed. For instance, a 100Mbps internet connection will get you slightly less than this bandwidth if you are using a nearby server, but it will likely get less than 95Mbps if you are connecting to an overseas server.
Luckily, a majority of premium VPNs will recommend you the fastest server depending on where you are and the target country. But you can still try to experiment with different options yourself.
3. Server Load
Besides the two factors above, server load is another common reason for performance drop on your VPN connection. If there are too many users on the same server, there is a big chance that the server will get overloaded, causing a performance drop.
This situation is usually associated with free VPNs, where there are too many users sharing a limited number of servers. This is why using a free VPN should be a no-no. The best VPN providers usually have multiple servers that spread across the globe. Not only will this expand your reach and limit the number of users per server, it will also allow you to switch to different servers, especially the one with a few users.
4. Encryption Standard
The level of encryption you choose will also have an impact on your overall connection speed. Before we go too far, the idea of encryption alone requires extra data, meaning that it will eat up your available bandwidth.
Generally, there is a trade-off between speed and security. The stronger the encryption or the more secure your connection is, the slower the connection speed. For instance, a VPN that runs on 128-bit encryption will be generally faster than a VPN that operates on 256-bit encryption.
With that said, we wouldn’t recommend that you prioritize speed over security. After all, the difference will most likely be unnoticeable.
5. VPN Protocol
Building on point number 4, the choice of protocol will not only affect the encryption strength, but it also has an impact on VPN speed. The most advanced protocol that the majority of VPNs use today is OpenVPN, which can work over either UDP (User Datagram Protocol) or TCP (Transmission Control Protocol).
OpenVPN UDP is usually faster than OpenVPN TCP because the latter doesn’t force the server to verify data packets and resend lost packets. On top of this, the choice of protocol will determine the encryption algorithm to be used, which always has an impact on latency and speed.
Among all protocols, OpenVPN offers the best balance between security and speed. But if you are willing to trade-off some aspects of security for better speed, then you can try experimenting with other protocols, such as IKEv2, L2TP/IPSec, SSTP, and PPTP.
6. Routing Algorithms
Every VPN relies on some form of algorithms in order to regulate how data travels between servers on the internet. Less experienced providers may not get it right from the start. Some may route your connections between multiple servers very inefficiently, due to poor server infrastructure. On the other hand, a veteran VPN provider having consolidated proper infrastructure will more likely route your connections much more efficiently. This is the reason you should choose VPNs with well-developed network that run on advanced routing algorithms.
7. Network Setup
Finally, the way you connect to the internet will determine your connection speed. For instance, if you are connecting through wireless networks, you will experience comparatively lower speeds than your typical wired Ethernet connection.
This difference in speed is more evident when you are using a fast connection in excess of 50Mbps. Some users have noted up to 100% increase in their speeds when they switched from Wi-Fi to cable connection.
So, if you are frustrated by slow VPN speeds while on a Wi-Fi network, try a wired connection. The only reason you may prefer a Wi-Fi connection over cable is that the latter gives offers more freedom.
How to Use a VPN?
Regardless of the VPN you choose or the platform you use, the mechanism of using a VPN will boil down to something like this:
1. Sign-Up for a VPN Plan
To sign up and get started, most VPNs will require an email address. It is also what you will use to log into your VPN account. A few others will generate a username and a password for you. Most premium providers guarantee their users’ emails will not be shared or used for anything else other than signing in or customer service. Some providers may even take anonymity to another level by not requesting an email address during the signup process.
To pay for a VPN service after providing your registration details, you will need a credit or debit card, or PayPal. There are some providers that accept Bitcoin, gift cards from popular stores, and other payment wallets as payment options. Basically, you are less likely to struggle in looking for a way to pay for your VPN service.
To reduce opportunities for sharing personal information, some services promote the use of cryptocurrency to pay for VPN services.
2. Download VPN Software and Install It on Your Device
VPN software for desktop computers are often referred to as VPN client, while the software for mobile devices is referred to as a VPN app. However, some people may treat these terms interchangeably, so there is no big deal if you take them to mean the same thing.
Popular VPNs are compatible with most devices and platforms, including Windows, Android, macOS, iOS, and even BlackBerry OS. Apps for these operating systems are easy to download and install. The good thing is that these apps come with useful installation guides. Once you have installed the VPN client or app, run it on your device.
Alternative: Install VPN at the Router Level
Sometimes, you may want to set up your VPN on your router instead of installing the apps on individual devices. It won’t need individual device configuration, but it may slow down all traffic that goes through the router, even if a transaction does not need a VPN. This trick usually comes in handy if you have several devices that you need to protect with the VPN.
3. Connect to a VPN Server
Most VPN clients feature a very visible Connect button that you use to connect to different servers. You simply tap it or click on it to connect to the fastest server chosen by your VPN service. If you want to connect to a different server, you can either choose the country you want to connect to from providers list or a map, depending on what your provider offers. But if your VPN doesn’t have this, tap on the menu button to reveal a list of VPN servers.
Setting Up a VPN on Different Operating Systems
Most VPN clients nowadays support the OpenVPN protocol. So, set up usually involves allowing apps to configure settings for you. But if you would like a quick overview of how to set it up on different platforms, we have summarized the steps below:
1. Click on the Windows button, and then navigate to Settings > Network & Internet > VPN.
2. Now, click on Add a VPN connection, and then select Windows for your VPN service. You can give your VPN a name if you wish. Also, fill in the server address or name, the VPN type, and the type of sign-in information.
3. Though optional, add a username and a password, and then click Save.
4. You can now connect to your VPN by heading to Settings > Network & Internet, and then click on your VPN name.
1. To get started, go to Systems Preferences, and then select Network.
2. Next, click on the Plus (+) symbol button on the lower side of the left panel. From here, click on the drop-down menu to choose VPN and enter details about your VPN.
3. Now, tap on the Create button. It will bring a form that you need to fill additional information, such as server address, local ID, and remote ID. When you are through, hit the Authentication Settings button.
4. After that, enter your password and username for your VPN.
5. Finally, click OK and Connect.
The process for setting up a VPN on iOS is fairly straightforward. The VPN app should be able to configure settings automatically, but if you prefer the manual way, follow the steps below:
1. Open the Settings app and tap on General
2. Your phone will tell you whether there is an active VPN. So, scroll down and select VPN.
3. Next, tap on the Add VPN Configuration selection, and then enter a security protocol.
4. After that, return to the Add Configuration screen. Here, you will add the VPN server, description, local ID, and remote ID.
5. From this point, you can add logging credentials.
6. When you are sure about all the entries, tap Done and it will take you to the VPN screen.
Just like iOS, setting up a VPN app on your Android device is also straightforward. But keep in mind that some vendors may customize a bit their Android versions. Nonetheless, here is how the configuration goes:
1. Open the Settings app, then select Network & Internet and navigate to the Advanced VPN section. If your version of Android doesn’t have the Network & Internet option in the Settings menu, then search for VPN within the Settings app.
2. After that, tap on the Add button.
3. If you haven’t already set up your screen lock, the system will prompt you to set it first before creating a VPN profile.
4. Next, create your VPN profile by adding the VPN type, name, and server address. After that, click Save, and then follow the next instructions.
5. The VPN screen will appear with your new profile. You should be able to see the name of your VPN here. Tap on your name and enter your username and password. You have the option of saving this information or just let the VPN to be always on.
6. Click on Connect, and then enter other VPN details, such as name, server address, type, username, and password.
7. When you are through, save the changes.
VPN for SmartTV
With its awesome support for popular streaming services as well as internet access, a Smart TV offers you the convenience of watching your favorite programs straight from your comfy couch. The good thing is that most Smart TVs come with a variety of pre-installed apps. Being a Smart TV owner, you will probably want to get the most value from it.
Unfortunately, you may not enjoy stable streaming since some of the popular streaming services are affected by geographical restrictions. Platforms like HBO, Hulu, and Netflix are available in only one or two regions. In short, geographic restrictions can ruin your plans to relax and watch something interesting. Furthermore, some of the apps you would like to install on your Smart TV may not be available in your country’s app store.
But all’s not lost yet. You can use a VPN service to change your location and access a full range of content and streaming apps. By connecting to a VPN server in a target country and changing to a new IP address, you will have changed your virtual location to the one that allows you to get the best version of the content. Plus, you will get privacy and security on top of it. For the best experience, you will need a robust VPN with a track record of unblocking streaming services.
The only challenge that you may encounter is that most Smart TVs may not allow you to install your VPN software directly on it. Luckily, some Smart TVs run on the Android operating system, meaning that it can access the Google Play Store.
What to Look for in VPNs for Smart TV
Not all Smart TVs are designed the same. Some of them support VPN clients, while a majority do not. Newer models are usually based on the Android OS, so they are easy to pair with your VPN’s Android app. Sadly, many Samsung models don’t come with Android TV, so it is a bit hard to install a VPN app on them, but you can use other tricks to make things work – for instance, installing your VPN on a router. Connecting your Smart TV to a router is a smart way to get all the benefits of a VPN, even if your device does not have a native support for VPNs.
How to Set Up a VPN for a Smart TV That Runs on the Android Operating System
If your Smart TV runs on the Android OS, you can go to Google Play Store, then follow the steps below:
1. Sign up for a reliable VPN service.
2. Next, search for your VPN app on the Google Play Store, and then install the app on your Android Smart TV. Alternatively, you can just download the app from your VPN site.
3. Log into your account using your credentials.
4. Run the app on your device, and then connect to a server in the desired country. For instance, if you want to stream Netflix, connect to a server in the US, and if you want to access BBC iPlayer, connect to a server in the UK.
5. Now, open the geo-blocked app you would like to use and stream your favorite content.
6. That’s it. It should work fine the first time you try, but if it does begin immediately, just clear the app’s store data and try another server.
If your Smart TV doesn’t support VPN apps or can’t access the Google Play Store, use any of these methods to set up a VPN on it:
Method 1: Share Your VPN Connection over Ethernet
This trick will enable you to share your VPN connection from one device to another using an Ethernet cable. While this isn’t the most popular option, it is the best option if you use geo-restricted apps infrequently.
If you are using a Windows device to share the VPN, here is the process:
1. Open Network & Internet Settings, and then select Change adapter options.
2. It will show you a list of all your connections. Find the one that has the name of your VPN plus the word TAP.
3. Now, right-click on this connection and select Properties.
4. Navigate to the Sharing tab, then check the Allow other network users to connect through this computer’s Internet connection box.
5. Expand the drop-down menu, choose Ethernet, and then click OK.
6. Finally, connect to your VPN, and then link the two devices with an Ethernet cable.
For macOS, follow these steps:
1. Click on the Apple Icon and choose System Preferences.
2. Next, click Sharing and check the box labeled Internet Sharing.
3. Open the Share your connection option from the dropdown down menu, and then choose Ethernet.
4. After that, navigate to the To computers using box, and then check Ethernet.
5. Now, close the menu and connect to your VPN.
6. Finally, connect the two devices using an Ethernet cable.
7. You can also set up your VPN on your router or even create a virtual shared connection within your computer.
Method 2: Share a VPN Connection Wirelessly
If streaming is your hobby, you probably find long cables very inconvenient. Luckily, you can share a VPN connection over Wi-Fi just as you would with an Ethernet cable.
Here is how to share VPN over Wi-Fi on Windows 10:
1. Go to Network & Internet Settings.
2. Now, select Mobile hotspot in the left panel and toggle the Mobile hotspot button to on. You can then click on the Share my Internet connection from menu and choose Wi-Fi.
3. Scroll down and look for Change adapter options. Click on it, then right-click on the adapter that has your VPN name plus the word TAP.
4. Click on Properties, then navigate to the Sharing tab. After that, allow other network users to connect through your device internet connection.
5. Next, choose the network you just created and hit OK.
6. Finally, connect to your VPN, and then connect to the network on your secondary device.
Here is the process for macOS:
1. Go to System Preferences > Sharing.
2. Navigate to the left-hand side and check the Internet Sharing box.
3. Now, select your VPN adapter.
4. Choose Wi-Fi from the box marked To computers using.
5. Finally, connect your primary device to your VPN, and then connect to the just created hotspot on the secondary device.
Method 3: Install Your VPN on a Router
If you want to avoid the hassle of configuring your devices, you can install your VPN on your home router. This means that all your devices in your home, including your Smart TV, will connect to the VPN automatically. The process is usually straightforward for connecting your Smart TV to your VPN service. However, flashing a router will probably need some technical skills.
All it takes is one leaked message on a network to broadcast your private information to the rest of the world. So, if you are using secure and unsecure devices interchangeably, the result is that none of these devices will be truly private. What it means is that you can’t rely on a single VPN that’s outside your router because it will leave the rest of your devices unsecured.
Thankfully, installing your VPN on a router protects all the devices within your network. Moreover, you won’t be worrying about setting up the VPN each time you buy a new device.
If you want to avoid the struggle of flashing a router, you can get yourself a VPN router, which is already configured to protect your entire network. Within the next few years, VPN routers are going to be the norm.
Pros of Installing a VPN on Your Router
Here are the main reasons why you may want to upgrade to a high-quality VPN router:
1. Protect Everything
A VPN router will eliminate the need to install the VPN app on all your devices. With this setup, you will remain protected no matter what, even if you have devices on the network like gaming consoles and Smart TVs, which normally can’t run VPN software. What’s even more appealing is that the service will run continuously, meaning that you no longer need to log in each time you want to access your VPN.
2. Use More Devices
Some VPN plans will limit the number of devices you can connect simultaneously. It is as easy as joining a Wi-Fi network. Using a VPN router will eliminate this shortcoming, since the router will count as only one device on your VPN service.
3. Improve Security
A VPN is usually efficient when you minimize activation and deactivation. With a VPN router, you don’t have to remember to connect each time you are going online because all the devices are secured right from the sources. Even guests who are using your Wi-Fi connections will remain safe.
4. Efficient and Cost Effective
Besides improving the reliability of your remote connections, a VPN router will also reduce your overall spending on IT. With this setup, you don’t have to manage several apps on all your devices on the network. If you are using it in your organization, it will facilitate seamless work collaboration.
Drawbacks of Installing a VPN on Your Router
1. Consume Bandwidth
The main drawback of installing your VPN on a router is that it will affect your bandwidth. With several devices connected to the same VPN sources, you will most likely experience slow internet speeds.
2. Hard to Manage
The fact that your router has no user interface means that you will have to access it through another device whenever you want to change your VPN settings.
3. Block Some Traffic
Typically, VPNs are designed to block unauthorized incoming connections. You may not have a hard time initiating connection on your laptop or smartphone. But if you are using less-sophisticated equipment, you may remain unreachable from outside.
Choosing a Router for Your VPN
The most important thing to take into account when searching for a VPN router is compatibility with your VPN client software. In most cases, you can get this information from the router manual. You can even Google it.
And if you are using an ISP modem, which usually comes with a built-in router, then you won’t be able to use your router as a VPN client. If that is the case, you will need to get yourself a stand-alone VPN-compatible router, which you will connect to your current router.
Keep in mind that most store-bought routers don’t come preinstalled with a VPN. What’s even more critical to note is that not all routers are compatible with VPN software. That’s why you need to choose your router wisely. You can choose from any of these router options:
1. Pre-Flashed Routers
Pre-flashed routers are the easiest options for any VPN user. They eliminate the tedious process of flashing the right firmware to your VPN service. Most of them come with other nice features, such as performance enhancement and encrypted plug-and-play. But you should take note that buying a pre-installed router will cost you a little bit more. To many people this is a justifiable trade off since companies that sell these pre-flashed routers take care of installation technicalities.
2. Out-of-the-Box Routers
These routers may not be pre-configured to connect automatically to the VPN software, but they come pre-installed with stock firmware that will help you connect to a number of VPN servers. So, there is no need to connect such routers to a secondary router or even flash new firmware.
3. Flash Routers
These routers are often the most complicated to set up. You will have to flash the router with new firmware. Here, firmware is the operating system within the router that determines its functionality, while flashing means installing new firmware. The two most common types of firmware are Tomato and DD-WRT. Both of them are third-party, open source firmware that you can get them online for free. Here is what they can do for you:
• Improve security
• Regulate your bandwidth
• Extend your wireless signals
• Deactivate manufactures backdoors
• Help you access multiple VPN protocols
The main difference between them is that Tomato offers better bandwidth management options, user-friendly interface, and allows up to two VPN servers to run simultaneously. DD-WRT, on the other hand, is more accessible and available on more devices. It also allows you to access your home network from afar and adjust the strength of your Wi-Fi signal.
Setting Up a VPN Router
If your router is already compatible with your VPN software, then all you need is to log in and connect it to your VPN servers. However, if it is not compatible with your VPN but is compatible with Tomato or DD-WRT, you will need to install it manually on your VPN:
1. First, you need to decide whether you want to use Tomato or DD-WRT. After that, download the firmware to install on your router. To avoid guesswork, visit dd-wrt.com, to check if your router is compatible with DD-WRT.
2. Next, assemble the router. For the most case, you will need to connect two routers. Your primary router is supposed to enable VPN passthrough. This way, any device that is connected to this router will run VPN client software. After that, connect your primary and secondary routers together.
3. Once you have connected routers and your firmware is ready, the next step is to flash them. You will probably need a user manual at hand to help you in the flashing process.
4. Now, it is time to connect your VPN. Depending on whether you used DD-WRT or Tomato, your VPN service should provide you with instructions on how to connect them to their service.
Compatible Devices: VPN for Android and iOS
Today, your mobile devices store tons of private information, which can expose you to danger. Not to forget that many apps on your phone may have access to this data. So, you have to find a way to protect yourself.
For the most part, modern cellular communications are encrypted, making it hard for intruders to intercept them. But with police-level tools or data dumps from cell towers, bad actors can get full access to all communications. These crooks can jam even the secure 4G and 3G channels, forcing phones in close proximity to connect through 2G to a femtocell, a briefcase-sized cell tower. In such a scenario, the hackers will gain access to sensitive information.
The likelihood of being attacked increases with more users tapping into Wi-Fi connections. Unfortunately, most people nowadays connect to public Wi-Fi hotspots using their mobile devices. And as you know, these networks are a harvesting spot for cybercriminals.
So, your best bet is to use a VPN. It will help protect your network traffic. But before you sign-up for a VPN, you have to consider platform compatibility.
VPN for Mobile Device
VPN cross-platform compatibility is a big issue today, and for a good reason. Let’s face it. People are using more than one device to access the internet. According to a Global Index study, an average digital consumer uses about three connected devices. And most of these are mobile devices.
There is no need to use a VPN to conceal your digital footprints on your computer, if you are not going to do the same for your smartphone. Failure to protect your mobile connections will set you up for surveillance by interested parties. Your ISP will definitely exploit this security gap.
Luckily, most VPNs today support a range of devices and operating systems. At the very least, they can offer support for VPN protocols to enable you to configure your VPN on them. But keep in mind that just because a particular VPN protocol is compatible with certain device or operating system, it doesn’t mean that a third-party VPN client will also be compatible with that device/OS.
Let’s use OpenVPN as an example. This protocol may support both Windows XP and Windows 7, but there is a likelihood that some VPN clients will not work on these Windows versions.
What Devices/OSs Are Compatible with VPNs
iOS devices, including iPhones and iPads, usually offer support for third-party VPN apps, including configurations files and installers. Through their built-in configurations, you can set up other VPN connections.
Currently, iOS only offers support for OpenVPN, L2TP/IPSec, and IKEv2 protocols. Starting with iOS 10 and later versions, Apple stopped offering support for PPTP. And as you already know, SSTP is entirely a Windows protocol.
A majority of Android devices come with a built-in VPN client. On top of these, they offer support from third-party VPN applications. In most cases, when a third-party VPN client is not available, you should be able to download configuration files to help you set up the connection manually.
When it comes to VPN protocol support, Android devices have an edge over iOS devices. The latter support the following protocols:
More Information About VPN
How to Choose the Best VPN
If you are on the market for a new VPN to help you with torrenting, bypassing censorship, privacy, casual browsing, or just to use it to search for better deals, you have a lot of choices. When choosing a VPN service, it is important to understand your needs; otherwise, you will invest in a service that may not help you accomplish your goal.
Since we all have varying needs, a VPN that is appealing to someone may be less important to you. That is why there is no single perfect VPN service. Sure, some providers are generally better than others, but you will still want to narrow down your choices to a particular one that is perfect for you.
This section is dedicated to answering the question: How do I choose the right VPN? Since we have already covered the basics in the previous sections, we assume that you have some knowledge of different aspects of a VPN.
What to Consider When Buying a VPN?
As mentioned, your first responsibility is to understand your needs, then choose a VPN based on a number of factors. The exercise will help you figure out your priorities and what you can compromise:
Aside from the number of VPN servers, the location of these servers matters when selecting a VPN. You want to make sure that important server locations are covered. There are many reasons for this. Most users often purchase their VPNs with the intent of using it to connect to another country. So, if there is a location or two that you have in mind, you have to make sure your VPN has servers in that country.
For instance, if you are planning to travel outside the US or you are living in another country and want to access Netflix, you need to choose a VPN service that has several servers in the US. While choosing the VPN, you should also take note of how many IPs and servers are in that location. Generally, the more they are, the better.
The speed of your VPN can make or break your overall user experience. An excessively slow connection will make you curse the day you bought it. When it comes to speed, you have to ask yourself what speed metrics are important in your case. The three most important ones are the ping time, the download speed, and the upload speed.
The download and upload speeds indicate how fast your data will be received and transmitted when connected to a VPN. If you are planning to send huge data files, then you will need a VPN with top upload speeds. Likewise, if you are planning to use your VPN connection to stream videos or download large size files, then high download speed is desirable.
3. Technical Features
Many people often overlook VPN protocols when deciding on a VPN, but some protocols are best suited for specific use cases. In other words, some VPN protocols provide better security than others. For instance, if privacy is your concern, you might need OpenVPN or L2TP/IPSec. In such cases, you need to avoid older protocols like PPTP at all cost. They have been broken by hackers before. But if you don’t care either way, OpenVPN will be ideal. It is not only the most secure protocol, but it is also the best overall.
You need to apply the same selection criteria to encryption standards. If you feel you need military-grade encryption, then you may prefer AES-256 cipher over a 128-bit encryption.
Other than protocols and encryptions, there are several others features that may be of interest. If privacy is super important, then you need a VPN with a kill switch feature. With this feature, you will eliminate cases of VPN leaks.
4. Privacy and Logging
A VPN service is a lawyer you have appointed to represent your interest. In our case, we are concerned with privacy interest. So, if the same lawyer is not upfront about some aspects of their representation or violate your trust, you have the right to discard them. Similarly, if a VPN does not look after your interest, then it is not worth your money. It is simple as that.
There are two types of information that may be logged by a VPN service: detailed usage information and basic connection data. For the most part, you don’t want to sign up for a VPN that logs your browsing data. This is a major concern because the availability of sensitive logs means that some authorities can request the data. The risk is even higher when you consider that some providers may sell your information to advertisers.
Unfortunately, most VPNs claim that they don’t log information, but only a few can actually fulfill this promise. So, no matter what reasons you are buying a VPN, you need a service that you can trust. The last thing you should expect from your VPN service is to compromise your data.
While not a critical issue, some VPNs may impose some limitations on their service. Apart from restricting you to use your VPN to carry out illegal activities, providers often limit the number of connections you can set up. There could be a few other limitations that your VPN provider may impose on your account. So, it is always best to check all the restrictions to avoid being disappointed later.
If you are planning to use peer-to-peer, BitTorrent, or other file sharing services, you need a VPN that will allow you to use them. For unknown reasons, some VPNs may prohibit the use of BitTorrent, yet it is completely legal.
6. Device Support and Client Features
Nearly all VPNs have client software for major operating systems, such as Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS. A number of these services can also support Linux devices. A few others have clients’ capabilities for routers and set-top boxes. So, if you normally use your home internet and want all your incoming and outgoing traffic to go through a VPN, then a service that works with your home router might be the ideal choice.
But you should keep in mind that when you set up your VPN on a router, support can be inconsistent. It also requires technical know-how to set it up. If you are not using a pre-configured VPN router, you are likely to install special software, modify configuration files and other settings.
In addition to the above, you need a VPN with a user-friendly interface. Truth be said, the interface and setup of most VPNs can be quite complicated. If you are not a tech-savvy guy, you are likely to spend most of your time trying to figure out a VPN. To avoid frustrations, look for a VPN that offers a user-friendly platform and a simple setup procedure.
7. Number of Simultaneous Connections
To build on the above point on device support, you also need to consider the number of devices that you will connect to a VPN. Sometimes, you may want to use your smartphone, laptop, and iPad at the same time. The number of simultaneous connections indicate how many devices that you need to connect to a VPN at a go.
The higher this number the better the service. However, you have to weigh it against your needs and cost. For instance, if you are traveling a lot, then two or three connections might be sufficient.
A VPN that supports many connections allows you to use your laptop and phone to access the internet through some crappy hotel Wi-Fi.
But if you want to protect devices to your home network, then you may need a VPN that allows more connections. This way, you can connect all your devices to a single VPN account. Alternatively, you can set your VPN in your router.
VPNs come in varying shapes and quality, which means that the prices also vary. In most cases, the more robust and feature-rich a VPN service is, the higher the price. So, you should be able to eliminate some options if you have a definite budget.
To attract a discount, you may need to commit to a longer term, for instance 12 months instead of paying month to month. Some companies may even offer you upwards of 70% if you sign up for a longer term.
But if you are still on the fence because you don’t know what kind of experience you are expecting from a provider, then choosing a monthly package may be ideal. Before you commit to a longer-term package, check their refund policy,
9. Payment Options
Assuming that you have found the right VPN, and privacy is your top concern, then you have to be wary of how you pay for the service. Luckily, some VPNs provide you with various payment options to choose from, but only a few might be worth considering. Usually, providers that allow you to pay by cash, Cryptocurrency, or gift cards are the safest ones, as they will keep all your transactions as anonymous as possible. Most of these services rarely ask for more private information other than your email address.
10. Customer Support
To some extent, customer service will play a great role in selecting a VPN service. No matter how tech-savvy you are, there could be times that you need support from your VPN company – for instance, sorting out billing issues.
So, you will need a provider that offers 24/7 customer support. On top of this, the company should provide more interactive ways of reaching them. In most cases, premium VPN companies offer opportunities for live chat, as it is faster than email or ticketing.
When You Should Not Use a VPN
VPNs are great for securing your connection and bypassing geographical restrictions. With a VPN, you can prevent cybercriminals, governments, and corporations from accessing your personal data. However, there are instances where the use of a VPN is not warranted. Here are a few examples of when you shouldn’t use a VPN:
1. When the Use of VPNs Is Not Sanctioned in Your Country
As noted earlier, there are countries that restrict their citizens from using any forms of VPN service. This is a disadvantage that you have to deal with if you live in any of these countries. That being the case, you can still use a VPN when you travel out of your country.
Some countries that ban the use of a VPN usually have strict penalties for those who don’t follow the law. So, you should be careful not to be caught, or else you would end up paying huge fines or go to jail. Nonetheless, some people still find ways to use a VPN in these countries.
2. If a VPN Affects Your Network’s Performance
Protected networks work by connecting or channeling your traffic through a private server with an extra layer of encryption before you access the service or website you want to visit. For this reason, it might result in a performance lag. Furthermore, your VPN adds a layer of protection.
Unless you are using a premium VPN with a robust network, your VPN may take longer to contact the private servers, thus increasing the time to load the website you are accessing. This situation usually happens when you are on a slow-speed internet and you want to download or stream content. So, if security is not a priority to you and you are not interested in foreign content, then you may not care much about using a VPN 24/7.
You should avoid free VPNs at all cost. Not only do they offer substandard service, but they can also sell your data to third parties. Sad to say, for some of these VPN services, their only source of income is your data.
3. Platform Compatibility Issues
If you are using popular platforms like Android or Windows, then you are unlikely to encounter challenges. Most VPNs are available in major operating systems, such as macOS, Windows, iOS, and Android. However, if you are using an outdated, unpopular OS, or incompatible devices, you may not have many options to use or configure a VPN your devices.
4. If You Are Planning to Conceal Illegal Activities
Needless to say, you cannot use your VPN to carry out illegal activities on the web, such as hacking into other networks, downloading copyrighted material, and accessing the dark web. The fact that you have a VPN, does not mean that you can do anything online.
The Future and Past of VPNs
VPNs were introduced into the market in the 1990s, when the internet had just picked up. Even then, visionary technologists had an idea about how important they would be in the future. One of the pioneers, Gurdeep Singh-Pall, a Microsoft staff, came up with the first version of PPTP or Point to Point Tunneling Protocol. While the Point to Point Protocol (PPP) had been in use for more than a decade, the addition of T (Tunneling) revolutionized everything.
The initial version of PPTP consist of data that transmit from point A to point B through many nodes. At that time, this invention didn’t unleash a torrent of VPNs. Even Microsoft couldn’t cash in on the invention since they didn’t realize its usefulness.
But as the new millennial neared, a growing number of organizations realize the potential of VPNs.
Growth of VPNs
As early as the year 2000, VPNs dominated the enterprise level solutions for stand-alone businesses. VPNs were used to create private networks for data protection and remote working. Tech giants, such as Cisco, became masters in delivering them.
The only challenge at that time was that the choice of protocols was narrow. PPTP was the industry standard protocol. But when flaws in PPTP started to emerge, it was further refined. On top of this, many other protocols like SSTP, IPSec, L2TP, and OpenVPN were developed.
While VPNs were used exclusively by tech firms with skilled personnel, democracy enters the VPN market. With faster internet connections, new protocols, and the overall increase in web users, more people started using VPNs to protect their online privacy.
Other Factors That Contributed to the Growth of VPNs
1. Cyber threats
By 2005, there were more than 300,000 malware variants, and attackers were increasingly targeting government agencies, corporations, and home-users alike. This trend triggered many people to reconsider their online safety. Luckily, supply of VPNs met the increasing demands for privacy.
2. Streaming and Geo-Restrictions
As years went by, there were more reasons to invest in high-quality VPNs. More and more users also started streaming from popular entertainment platforms like Netflix. In fact, in 2010, Netflix had only a few hundred thousand subscribers, but the number has so far gone up to hundreds of millions of movie and TV fans. To respond to this growth, Netflix started using innovative ways to segregate content available to users and manage their digital rights. As a result of this, many users were faced with geo-blocks.
3. The Rise of Surveillance Culture
In 2013, Edward Snowden released his dossier about domestic and foreign surveillance in the US. Following this revelation, the public became more aware of the pervasive nature of internet spying, therefore, increasing their appetite for VPNs.
The Future of VPNs
The future of VPNs looks bright. In fact, more people will likely use VPNs more than ever before. The demise of net neutrality makes the situation even more favorable for VPN use. The future of the internet seems to revolve around tiered internet driven by pay-to-play principle. The sad thing is that tiered internet access will not be possible without obedient, clearly identified users. So, VPNs are likely to help on this front.
Besides this, VPNs will also become more advanced on the privacy front, with new technologies, such as token-based authentication and protocol obfuscation becoming the norm.