There has been much misconception surrounding the Virtual Private Network, or the more popularly known three-letter acronym, VPN. Not only have we taken up the task to clarify the misapprehensions that surround VPNs, but we will also elaborate on how and why VPNs should be used, in case you are new to the use of VPN.
Before we jump into the details, let us share with you a little secret. VPNs may seem technical and complicated for beginners, but they’re actually quite simple to use. You have nothing to worry about because we’re going all in, delving in-deep, to help you understand VPNs. So without further delay, let’s get started.
Understanding the Basics: What VPN stands for?
VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) are servers that allow you to access the internet safely and more importantly, privately. It accomplishes this by routing your Internet Service Provider (ISP) to another server. Basically, it conceals your online activity and location.
Today, almost everyone uses VPNs for various reasons. However, some of you may be wondering if they really are useful for keeping your online activities safe and secure. Can you trust a VPN? If yes, how?
Well, keep reading.
Understanding How VPN Works?
Here’s how it goes. You, as the VPN user, are required to start the VPN software through your VPN service. Before your public or private ISP can get access to your data, the VPN software encodes it. Once encoded, the data is then transferred to the VPN server and from there to your online location.
To simply put it, your online location is moved to that of the VPN server, so it seems as if your data is surfacing from the VPN server and its location, and not from your actual device and location. The websites you are visiting can only track you back to the VPN server, not to your actual location.
Traditional Internet Vs Internet With VPN
The internet provides its users with a whole bunch of useful resources. However, an issue with traditional internet connections is that your data is available for at least a few to have a look.
As a group of servers, the internet is in control of storing websites and allowing interested parties to access these sites. To give you access to webpages, there is a system in place that enables the transmission of data between the servers. This is often insecure as it leaves your data vulnerable.
So, while the internet is quite useful when it comes to browsing, it isn’t as great or useful when it comes to matters of privacy.
You can look at it this way. Using the internet is like traveling via airplane. Your data passes from ticket agents to security personnel to flight attendants in order for you to travel from one location to another.
Do You Really Need a VPN?
Well, the answer depends on your use of the internet.
You have nothing to stress over if you’re just browsing the internet for fun. As the data isn’t of personal nature, it doesn’t matter if someone peeks at it. On the other hand, if your use is personal, such as for business emails and online banking, then the situation changes completely.
Privacy and security issues can be resolved through a VPN in various ways. Not only does the VPN conceals your data through encryption when transferring your ISP to its VPN server, but it also gains access to the webpage on your behalf. This way:
- The website identifies the VPN server as the place where the traffic comes from.
- It conceals your identity, making it difficult for the data to be traced back to you.
- It also makes it harder for anyone to see what you’re doing.
- Even if someone were to view your activity, they wouldn’t be able to see the raw data as all the data is encoded. All they would see is the encrypted information.
We’re pretty sure you’ve realized by now, that this method is a lot more secure than the traditional way of using the internet. This, of course, begs the question, how secure are VPN servers?
How Secure is a VPN?
It is important to know that VPN services vary when it comes to the features and security they offer. No two types of VPNs would be the same. We would like to highlight two important points that impact the level of security:
- There may be various restrictions depending on the type of VPN technology the provider is using.
- The constraints caused by policy and other legal matters can limit VPN services. Both the laws of the country and the company of the server affects the execution of the technology.
Let’s further discuss what these factors mean and the impact they have.
A VPN protocol refers to the way a VPN service provider transfers data over to its server. We’ve listed brief overviews of some of the more common protocols:
- Point-To-Point Tunneling Protocol (PPTP):
Designed by Microsoft, this is an older protocol that is still in use. Not only is it easy to set up, but it also works on older computers. It is also already installed in the operating system of Windows. However, this protocol isn’t as secure as it ought to be. We suggest avoiding VPN services that only offer PPTP.
- Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol (L2TP/IPsec):
This protocol is an amalgamation of PPTP and L2F by Cisco. In order to provide security, it uses key codes on both sides of the connection. In theory, this protocol is solid, but in implementation, it often falls through.
Even though the added IPsec protocol does enhance the security level a little, allegations have been forwarded about NSA’s ability to crack through the protocol to access the data. We cannot say much about the authenticity of these allegations, but we suggest you avoid this one too. It’s better to be safe than to be sorry.
- Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol (SSTP):
This is another protocol that is designed by Microsoft. It uses SSL/TLS encryption to set up a connection. SSL and TLS are currently the most effective encoding systems being used. They allow for symmetric-key coding. To put it in simpler terms, this only gives access to the VPN user and the VPN provider to decode the transmitted data. As a whole, this protocol is quite secure.
- Internet Key Exchange, Ver. 2 (IKEv2):
The third Microsoft designed protocol on our list is an improved update of the previous protocols. It provides users with a high level of security.
This is an open-source project built on SSL/TLS encryption. This protocol is basically a combination of all the best features of the protocols mentioned above. As it is open-source, hundreds of developers are constantly working towards removing flaws and making improvements in the software.
It is also a more secure option as it established a connection between the user and the server using a specific key. As the two parties are the only ones who know the encryption key.
With most VPNs, you can pick the protocol of your choice. So remember, the security of your data is dependent on the security level of your protocol connection.
We hate to be the bearers of bad news, but not all devices are compatible with the mentioned protocols. So be sure to check if the preferred protocol is compatible with your device.
The Basics of Encryption
For the ease of understanding, we’ve broken down the process of data encryption in three simple steps:
- It begins with the basic data
- A key or secret code is used for the data
- As a result, you’re left with encrypted data. This encrypted data can only be deciphered if you have the original key.
Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? In reality, it isn’t as easy. We’ve over-simplified the process for your understanding. The encryption process is quite elaborate, but it is not something you need to worry about unless you actually want to learn encryption. Just make sure your VPN is encrypting data with at least a 128 bit AES algorithm.
The level of security of your VPN service boils down to the type of protocol connection and its encryption method.
Legal Constraints and Company Policies
As is the case with all institutions, VPN companies are also tied to the laws of the country they’re in. Moreover, the VPN services provided are also influenced by the policy and constraints of the company itself.
In some countries, the law has the authority to demand, through court orders, VPN providers to share client records. In other cases, countries also have international agreements between them to share information. This holds true only in some cases, so if you do some research, we’re sure you’ll be able to find a server that does not abide by these agreements.
Is it Legal for You to Use a VPN?
It depends, but for the most part, it is legal. Speaking in terms of the law, VPN is still relatively new. This means the laws and policies established regarding the matter may be vague and can be perceived in different ways.
In most western countries, the use of a VPN is legal. On the other hand, countries that wish to maintain a strict hold on their citizens often ban the use of VPNs. This allows them to regulate the online activity of their citizens.
We have made a list of some of the countries and their reason for banning VPN :
- Singapore – Moral reasons
- Jordan – Political stability
- Libya – Political stability
- Russia – National security
- North Korea – Political stability, national security, moral reasons
- China – Political stability, national security, moral reasons
You can also research the specific laws of your jurisdiction to learn if there are any legal regulations of using a VPN in your country.
Does a VPN Hide Me Completely When Online?
VPN servers provide security and privacy to users, not anonymity. However, they do provide anonymity to an extent.
Through encryption and transmission, VPN protects your data from being vulnerable to hackers and other individuals who seek to look at it. Even though the VPN server can see your data, good VPNs do not keep a record of this data, providing you with a higher level of security and privacy.
You can check the following things to see the level of privacy provided by your VPN:
- Find out if the provider keeps a log of your data
- Does it keep a record of payment? If so, can these records be used for identification?
- Try to figure out the level of security and encryption provided by the protocol
- Look up to see if your VPN service is tied to any laws by its jurisdiction that force it to document client data.
As mentioned earlier, not all VPNs provide the same services. So be sure to carefully research on whichever server you choose to use.
VPN Logging Policies
You get an extra degree of privacy, security, and anonymity if your VPN service does not keep logs on user data. The sort of data the provider may keep logs of include:
- User activity
- IP address
- Device of use
- Payment records
- Connection and disconnection timestamps
Such information can have an impact on the security level of your data and may allow the data to be traceable. The process of tracing the data back is not simple at all, but it is still possible. We suggest you choose the safer option and opt for a service that gives users privacy and doesn’t keep logs.
Free VPN versus Paid VPN
Providing users with the best VPN service requires some heavy investment. If you think about it, for the company to provide good service, it would need to plow money into powerful servers, infrastructure, employees, and so many other things. If the company is willing to provide all of this for free, there may be a catch involved.
Many authentic companies, such as Kaspersky, offer free VPN services. We also reviewed the best free VPNs in 2019. However, some technical issues also occur with these servers.
- They have constraints on the bandwidth
- Limitations on server location and availability
- There is no guarantee of the quality
- Data may not be secure
Frankly speaking, purchasing a VPN connection isn’t a very costly investment. According to research, some services provide offers for a monthly cost of $3 to $5. It is uncommon for VPNs to cost more than $10. We advise against the idea of investing in VPNs that cost more than $10 as you have the option available to pick a more affordable option.
The price of your service can vary depending on the plan and payment features you select. Often, if you select a longer plan and pay in advance, the prices are comparatively lower.
NordVPN serves as an example of the above-mentioned statement. The prices drop if you pay for a longer period. The monthly average is $11.95, but if you choose to pay annually, the price reduces to $5.74 per month. The price can go as low as $2.75 per month if you invest in a three-year plan.
High price doesn’t always equate to the best plan. Weigh the pros and cons of investing long term into a VPN service. Research and find out what your personal preferences are.
How to Pay for a VPN?
While credit cards make life easier, it doesn’t make much sense to pay for anonymity and privacy using a method that can be used for identification. Is it?
Fortunately, recently, quite a few VPN providers have introduced the option of paying via bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies. Take a look at the website of a VPN provider of your choice to see the acceptable payment methods.
Can I Use a VPN for Torrenting?
There is a misconception among people that torrent refers to a type of file. In actuality, torrent refers to a specific protocol that is used to transfer data and files.
While torrenting is not illegal, it has raised some red flags. This is because most of the time, it is unknown what type of files are being shared. It is legal to transfer files that you have the right to. On the other hand, Piracy is illegal and will lead to the violation of the copyright laws.
However, torrenting consumes quite a lot of bandwidth. So certain VPNs either don’t allow for torrenting or they put up a bandwidth restriction.
The security level of torrenting is dependent on the service provider’s policies on data logging. Usually, if your VPN does not keep general logs, then it probably will not record torrent activity either.
If you do wish to purchase a VPN that is suitable for torrenting, we suggest looking at the download speed it offers. This sort of information can be a bit difficult to get hold of, so we suggest going over product-specific reviews. Our research online has shown that the following VPNs promise good download speed:
Using a VPN to Watch Hulu, Netflix, or Other Streaming Services?
Even though Netflix is available in over 130 countries, the shows are not evenly distributed. In most cases, VPN allows you access shows on Netflix and Hulu that may not be available in your country. However, like the other factors in this guide, this is also dependent on the specific type of VPN you use.
Complicated licensing agreements often prevent Netflix from legally playing certain shows in certain countries. Furthermore, location filters on Netflix and Hulu also allow for content to be blocked.
Whatever the case may be, VPNs offer a solution to this problem. You can use a VPN service to unlock shows that are unavailable in your country.
Online Gaming with VPN
Gamers are often reluctant to enable VPN services as they are afraid it might cause additional latency. Any delay in data transfer can cause a lot of frustration, especially during online gaming. The additional layer between gamers and the game server often is the cause of latency.
In order to improve the ping timings, you can always select a server which is located closer to the game server. Additionally, the virtual location feature of a VPN allows you to access game servers from different countries that you normally do not have access to.
Does a VPN Work on Android and iOS?
The short answer is yes. The best VPN services allow you to download apps for Android and iOS. Setting up a VPN connection on both types of systems is quite simple.
Our best VPN picks for Android are:
Here are three simple steps for setting up a VPN on the iOS device:
- Go to Settings
- Select General
- Click VPN to activate
A word of caution: don’t let free VPN apps tempt you. A research tested more than 280 free Android VPN apps that ask for VPN permission. The results were quite surprising. According to them, 38% of the apps had malware, 84% disclose users’ traffic and 75% utilize tracking libraries.
Can I Use a VPN with Kodi/SmartTV?
Smart TVs and Kodi boxes provide additional features when connected to the internet. If you wish to keep your online streaming private, a VPN service can assist you with this.
You can enable a VPN connection on your device in two ways:
- Set up the VPN on the device
- Configure the set up directly onto your WiFi router
The latter can provide privacy and protection to everything that is connected to your network. But we’ll discuss more on this later.
In the case of the former, many VPN services give their users the option of configuring to smart TVs. For example, ExpressVPN has an app that enables it connects to Android TV. It also provides detailed instructions for Kodi and Apple TV configuration.
VPNs that support Smart TVs:
How to Install a VPN on My Router?
Configuring your VPN directly onto your router not only promises privacy and security to all your devices, but it also saves you the trouble of individually enabling VPN on your smartphones, laptops, smart TVs, tablets or any device that requires internet access.
The first thing you need to do is to make sure your router is compatible with VPNs. You can check this by visiting the manufacturing website of your router. In general, DD-WRT and Tomato-boosted FlashRouters allow VPN configuration.
The installation process is fairly simple in most cases. All you need to do is log into your router and fill in a few forms, and you’re good to go.
VPN & Tor — How to Use Them Together
While VPN gives you access to a single server at a time, Tor allows you to access websites by transferring your connection through several random nodes. At the same time, it also encrypts your data at every level of transfer.
Ultimately, both services are quite different, but when used together, they provide a very high level of security and privacy. As the two have different features, it is useless to draw a comparison between them.
The one plus point of using Tor as your default browser is that it is completely free to use. Additionally, the free version does not have any constraints. Setting up Tor is as simple as setting up standard browsers like Chrome or Firefox. All you have to do is download the browser, set up the connection and you’re all set to surf.
How to combine VPN and Tor:
- Run your VPN connection as you do normally.
- Instead of using a standard browser, switch to Tor and connect with it.
Unfortunately, there is a downside of using Tor as your default browser. This setup will make your experience slower when compared to your standard browser.
Tor, itself, slows down your experience quite a bit, and when fused with a VPN, the resulting speed is even slower. It isn’t too bad if you consider the huge amount of privacy the fusion of Tor and VPN provides. You can say, in this particular case, the good and the bad balance each other out.
IP Leaks and Kill Switches
Due to the unpredictable nature of the internet, VPN connections sometimes get disconnected. In case of such events, you remain connected to the internet without the protective shield of your VPN.
A kill switch is a feature that cuts off your internet connection if the secure encrypted connection is interrupted. It is programmed to block all online activities until the secure connection is regained. In doing so, it protects your actual IP from being exposed while your VPN is down.
If you don’t want your connection to be blocked and wish to remain connected to the internet, you usually have the choice to turn the kill switch off.
Let us reveal our list of VPNs that come with an in-built kill switch:
When using VPNs, IP leaks can occur sometimes, leaving you vulnerable. IP leaks occur when your VPN server is unable to hide your actual IP while you’re surfing the web. To better understand, picture this scenario.
You want to gain access to show on Netflix, which has been restricted in your area. In order to watch it, you change the location of your VPN server and refresh the page. If the content still appears to be blocked, the chances are that your actual IP may have been leaked.
The top VPN providers incorporate clever scripts into the program to reduce the risk of IP exposure.
However, VPN servers aren’t always responsible for such leaks. At times, the configuration of your device and your apps can also mess up the settings and allow for IP leaks. Your standard browser can also expose your IP address.
Why Use a VPN?
If you still don’t see the benefits of using a VPN connection, let us list it down for you.
The VPN connection secures your data by encrypting it. For instance, if you were to make an online purchase using a public WiFi connection, your credit card details would be out there in the open for any party that wants to peak at it.
This point connects closely with the issue of security. When your data is encrypted, it makes it difficult for others to trace it back to you. Even though VPNs cannot make you completely anonymous, they still provide anonymity to an extent. Through this, only you and your server will be aware of what you are searching for or streaming online.
A VPN server gives you a virtual location as it connects to the website on your behalf from its location. This can work to your benefit, especially when it comes to streaming movies and TV shows.
If there’s a geo-restriction on a Netflix show that you’ve been wanting to watch, all you have to do is change your server location to a location where the movie is accessible and refresh. You can just relax and enjoy your show with some popcorn, without worrying about the traceability of your IP address.
When Not to Use a VPN?
If you want to enhance your online privacy and security by installing a VPN connection, there are two things you need to keep in mind.
Firstly, you need to look at both sides of the virtual location feature. While the feature is quite beneficial, it may oppose issues at times. For instance, you’re at home in the US, and you decide to shop online. If your virtual location is in the UK, all the prices will appear in pounds instead of dollars.
The other issue that comes when using a VPN is that the speed of your browsing experience slows down. Sometimes the decrease in speed is quite noticeable while at other times you can barely tell the speed has decreased.
However, if you want more security and privacy these are just minor issues that can be ignored. We believe the pros outweigh the cons of investing in a VPN connection.
Just like the real world, the digital world is also full of danger. It is becoming increasingly important to secure your online activity from hackers and scammers. Especially when using public web networks.
We highly recommend adding a VPN to your list of security tools. They conceal your identity online by providing high levels of security and privacy. Furthermore, VPN connections are quite affordable and easy to set up.
After going through this guide, you’re fully aware of the benefits of using a VPN server. So, what’s stopping you from investing in a VPN server? Invest in your safety, and we guarantee you will not regret it.