How to Use a VPN
Whether you are connecting to the internet on a smartphone, computer, or smart TV, VPNs will always be useful to you. It’s no secret that there are lots of security threats out there, and the number of cybercriminals seems to be increasing every day. Also, in the internet environment, many sites restrict some of their content to users in a particular region, and it can seem like a hard nut to crack in unblocking such content.
VPNs will help you out in both these situations, and make browsing, streaming, or any other activity you perform on the internet much easier.
This article is a complete step-by-step guide on how to use a VPN and some of the best ones you should consider getting.
What is a VPN, and How Does It Work?
A great place to begin this discussion is understanding what a VPN is in the first place. It might also be important to learn how it works.
A VPN (Virtual Private Network) refers to software that creates a secure tunnel for your internet traffic. The tunnel acts as a bridge between your device and your targeted destination. As your traffic passes through the tunnel, it gets encrypted, and your IP address changes. Thus, when your traffic emerges, it will be the VPN-sponsored IP address that will be visible. Furthermore, your traffic will be encrypted totally, keeping you as safe as can be.
There are a few things mentioned in the section above that need explaining. Let’s look at two of the important mentions:
1. IP-Address: An IP address is a unique set of numbers that describe your online location. Imagine it to be like your home address, but this time on the internet. When you use the internet, your IP address is visible. Websites that you connect to can decipher it. Another thing: IP addresses are location-based. Thus, whether you are in Chicago or Shanghai, your IP address does not lie. This is the means through which service providers identify when you are trying to access content restricted for your location and why you get banned.
When you connect to a VPN’s server in any location, your IP address changes. Effectively, you take on an identifier unique to the location the server is in. You can thus throw off anyone on your trail while accessing region-blocked content outside your location.
2. Encryption: Encryption refers to the process through which your data gets scrambled to avoid detection. This is a little like taking a plain message and coding it using numbers. The persons who can decode the message are the ones privy to the numbers you use. Here, the code used is called a cypher, and a corresponding key is what unlocks it.
When you use the internet with a VPN, your data gets encrypted. This means that hackers, cybercriminals and even your Internet Service Provider (ISP) will be unable to access your data. Most excellent provides use the AES 256-bit encryption model to secure your network. This might seem like a lot of technical jargon; however, what you can count on is that it is impenetrable. A hacker will spend a million years before they will be able to decrypt your data. This model is so trusted that even the United States’ military uses it to secure its files.
Benefits of a VPN
Simply put: why should you bother with a VPN? If you’ve read up till this point you should have a fair idea of why VPNs are a necessity. In any case, here are a few reasons you ought to consider using a VPN.
1. Stronger Security
The primary job of a VPN is to enhance your internet security. As earlier mentioned, VPNs encrypt your data, making you virtually impenetrable. In addition, you will usually find other security features on a VPN service. These include malware and adware blockers, double encryption services, kill switches, and so on.
2. Access Geo-blocked Platforms
Another popular use of a VPN is to access geo-restricted sites. Some sites offer their content using location as a yardstick. Thus, people in one region access content differently from those in another region. For instance, Netflix subscribers in the UK and Canada have access to different shows and movies. Sometimes, the content overlap and is available generally. However, in other cases, the platform has the license to broadcast its content with a given region. Hence, it employs algorithms that block users outside the target area.
A VPN provider typically will have servers in multiple locations. When you connect to each server, you get an IP address compatible with such a location. That way, you can access whatever that is specifically reserved for those physically in those locations. For instance, when you connect to a US server, it appears as those you are physically in the United States. You will be able to access what you need from that location without the slightest hassle.
3. Avoid Government Censorship
It is not uncommon to hear of government authorities that censor the internet in their regions. They employ various tactics to keep tabs on the activities of users online. Also, they prohibit some sites from operating within their regions. A VPN steps in here too. When you are connected to a VPN, you can fly below the surveillance of these countries. Of course, some locations are tougher than others. For instance, the Great Firewall of China is known to rebuff many VPNs. However, there is also quite a handful of VPNs equal to the task of getting around this provider’s activities.
4. Access Preferential Pricing
Sometimes, vendors use location as a metric for determining the price of their goods and services. Thus, you could find some item cheaper in one location, as opposed to another. With a VPN, you can discover locations offering lower prices for goods and services and take advantage of that.
5. Beat ISP Censorship
Internet Service Providers have access to and monitor the activities of users. They sometimes even work with governments to impose geo-restrictions. Other times they implement bandwidth and data throttling. These occur when the providers deliberately slow down your internet speed or place a cap on your data. ISPs do this to maximize speed and data bandwidth for select clients. A VPN allows you to evade this. When a VPN encrypts your data, it shuts off even your ISP too. Hence, your service provider will be unable to access your data, limit your internet speed or place a cap on your data.
What a VPN Does Not Do
A VPN does a lot of things, and excellently, too. However, there are a few things a VPN is incapable of. They include:
1. Offer Complete Anonymity
While a VPN improves your security, it cannot offer you full anonymity. It is possible to detect that you are using a VPN while you are online. This is because a VPN-provided IP address has some markers, too. This matters because some countries have an unfriendly stance towards VPNs. You have two options here: first, you could subscribe to a VPN with special features that offer you a regular IP address enhanced with VPN protection. This could come with slightly higher costs. Alternatively, you could use a Tor anonymization network.
2. Protect You from the VPN Provider
A VPN encrypts your data and prevents outsiders from snooping on you. However, the VPN provider can access your data at will. Thus, there is always the risk that some unscrupulous providers could sell your data to third parties like data mining companies. To protect yourself, always clarify your target provider’s stance on privacy and logging of users’ data. The ideal provider should wipe down your digital footprint after each session.
How Do You Use a VPN?
We’ve highlighted some of the reasons why you need a VPN. But how do you use one? Follow these steps to use a VPN.
1. Register with a VPN service provider: The first step in using a VPN is to create an account with a VPN provider. Most importantly, you should know the one you intend to use. If you don’t already have a VPN, getting one shouldn’t be difficult since there are quite a number of them available today.
Most free VPN providers request your email address and ask you to set a password when creating an account for the first time. However, if you opt for a paid VPN, you’ll only need to enter your payment details. No other information is needed from you to register your account with any VPN provider.
2. Download the VPN or get its browser extension: You have two options: you can either download the app or install the browser extension. On the VPN provider’s page, you’ll easily see the link to getting the VPN’s app, but that of the browser extension may take some searching. Most VPNs work on Windows, Android, iOS, and macOS devices, so there’s no need to be worried about their compatibility with your device.
3. Launch the VPN’s app to get started: This is really simple.
4. Choose a server and connect to it: When the VPN is up and running, the next thing to do is to choose a server that you want to connect to, and a map or country list should be provided. When selecting a server to connect to, remember that its location is the most important thing to consider. For example, if you want to watch Japanese content from Russia, you’ll not have access to it if you choose any other server than a Japanese one.
5. Connect to the server when you’ve chosen one that works for you.
There you have it! Those are the steps to follow to use a VPN.
What to Look Out For in a VPN
Here are some of the things you should look out for in a VPN.
1. Number of Servers
This is perhaps the most important factor when choosing a VPN because a lot of things can go wrong when there are not enough servers. However, having a lot of servers in one region is not an ideal situation. Instead, these servers should be evenly distributed across all continents to make it easy to use the VPN from any location. VPNs with a higher number of servers should be placed higher than others when making a choice among them.
Has someone ever pulled out the power cable when you’re watching an interesting movie? Remember how frustrating and annoying that was? Well, if you don’t look out for bandwidth caps on VPNs, you’ll experience that feeling lots of times. Bandwidth caps means that only a stated amount of data can be used with the VPN for a period. Usually, this period is for a day, after which you’ll have to wait until the next day to continue using the VPN. Always check that the VPN you intend to get has unlimited bandwidth.
No one has got the time to wait interminably for a web page to open. If your VPN makes it considerably slower to connect to the internet than when using only your Internet Service Provider (ISP), then you have got a problem on your hands. The speed of a VPN is affected by the number of devices connected to a server. So, you should opt for servers with less load on them.
If you are not sure of the speed of the VPN you intend to get, you can carry out some tests on the trial version to be sure.
4. Security and Privacy
You ought to take cyberthreats seriously, and you have got to get only the best security features you can find in a VPN. As we mentioned earlier, the industry’s standard encryption is AES-256, so any other VPN that doesn’t have this should not be an option for you. Also, look at the cool features that the VPN can provide to strengthen the security features it already has in place.
iOS and Android are two of the most popular operating systems in the tech sphere. Thus, many apps have decided to focus on providing their services to one of the two. VPNs should not be caught up in this war of operating systems and are expected to be compatible with all devices. If the VPN you intend to use works with all operating systems and with SmartTVs and routers, you should definitely rank it higher than others.
You can have all the features you want in a VPN, but if the price for all its plans is too high, we are positive that you won’t go for it. Luckily, VPNs do not cost so much that you’ll have to break the bank to get them. Some are free while others are paid.
Another price-related factor to consider is if there’s a money-back guarantee or a free trial.
7. Customer Support
If you are new to VPNs, you’ll likely need someone to guide you whenever you make a wrong turn. So, having a dedicated, empathetic, and responsive customer support system is totally worth it. Most VPNs have this factor in place, so you don’t have much to worry about.
8. Ease of Use and Interface
Two words that should never be in the same sentence are ‘Complexity’ and ‘VPNs.’ The easier a VPN is to use, the better for you. Some VPN providers like ExpressVPN and NordVPN even go as far as including tutorials on how to install their respective VPNs.
Free vs Paid VPN: Which is better?
VPNs can be categorized into two: free and paid VPNs. After discussing the criteria that you should look out for in a VPN, you may just be wondering whether you can’t find all of them in a free VPN. We’ve put both categories of VPNs to the test, and here’s what we gathered:
1. Limited Server Count
We now know that having enough servers is something you can’t compromise. Sadly, free VPNs do not have many servers, so it’s difficult for us to go for them instead of their paid counterparts. At best, any free VPN will have servers in about 20 countries. Comparing that with the number of paid VPNs shows that it’s definitely not a competition.
2. Data Logs
Free providers have got to make a profit in some way, and logging users’ data is one of their tactics. It’s dangerous to use these VPNs because not only is there no guarantee that your logs aren’t saved, but these VPN providers could well be selling them to third parties. Coupled with their poor security measures, it’s difficult to see how free VPNs can keep you secure.
3. Ads’ Interference
A sign to show that your logs are being saved and used is when you get bombarded with adverts that relate to your search history. You’ll get loads of them when you use a free VPN because this is another way such providers use to make a profit. Most of these ads are not checked for malware and viruses.
When you consider the fact that paid VPNs do not cost a fortune and can go as low as $3 for a month, it’s obvious that they should be your preferred choice. We recommend that you use paid VPNs like the ones we’ve included in the list below.
Best VPNs to use
Knowing how to use a VPN is the easy part. The more tasking aspect is getting a good VPN that meets all your requirements. Here are two strong recommendations of VPNs to consider.
- Number of servers: More than 3,000
- Speeds: Unlimited
- Server locations: 160 in 94 countries
- Maximum devices supported: 5
- 24 live chat: Yes
- 30 day money back guarantee: Yes
- Fastest VPN out there
- Strict no logs policy
- 256-bit AES encryption
- Few discounts
ExpressVPN is one of the leading VPNs in the industry, and it gets all the praise it deserves. It is a versatile and affordable VPN with a no-logging policy that supports P2P and torrenting.
One of its greatest advantages over many other VPNs is its massive number of servers. With over 3000 of them in 94 countries and 160 locations, getting access to geo-restricted content is a breeze with ExpressVPN. Very few VPNs can match this number.
The next feature that blows our mind about this VPN is that its servers are super-fast. ExpressVPN is one of the fastest you’ll ever use. Some of its servers can get up to a speed of 100Mbps, although this value depends on how far the server is from your physical location. Its top speed is assisted by an excellent VPN protocol in OpenVPN. On ExpressVPN, you also have the option of connecting to other VPN protocols like PPTP and L2TP.
On its privacy and security features, VPN leads the pack, yet again. Not only does its AES-256 encryption provide all you need to stay secure, but the VPN also has cool features to complement its rock-solid security measures. It uses a TrustedServer technology that ensures your data is not written on any drive, as well as VPN split tunnelling, Zero-knowledge DNS, and a network kill-switch. Trust us; there’s no breaking through a device connected to any of this VPN’s server.
- Cryptocurrency accepted? Yes
- Simultaneous connections: 6
- Dedicated IP-addresses? Yes
- Servers: 5342 in 58 countries
- Lots of pricing options
- Netflix support kept up to date
- 256-bit AES encryption
- Slow app
If you search for VPNs on any search engine, NordVPN will surely pop up as one of the best ones. It is such a complete VPN that you’ll hardly have any reason to ask for a refund, even as it offers a 30-day money-back guarantee.
NordVPN has a simple pricing structure with affordable subscription plans. Just as in other VPNs, paying for a longer period will require you to pay less for each month. By opting for its 3-year plan, you’ll save 70% and have three months for free.
A look at its features explains why the VPN has much spotlight as one of the best. NordVPN uses military-grade encryption, CyberSec, and Double VPN to keep you secure no matter what happens. To ensure total security while using the VPN, it also has an automatic kill switch, DNS leak protection, and Onion Over VPN. Hackers cannot get through these layers of security put in place by NordVPN.
On its speed and performance, NordVPN is amazing. It easily bypasses ISP throttling and allows you to stream videos, play games, and browse the internet with no hassle. The VPN also allows P2P sharing between users.
NordVPN is compatible with every type of operating system, and it has a browser extension. If you’ve got a little to spare, you can also get a dedicated IP address, so you don’t have to worry about server congestion. However, its 5343 servers in 59 countries are impressive enough.
We now know how important VPNs are. They protect us in this threat-filled internet sphere and allow us access contents that are not available in our region.
We’ve included a general guide on how to use a VPN, as well as the step-by-step process for five of the best VPNs. Also included in this piece are the factors that you should consider when getting a VPN. All these should help make a VPN easier to select, use, and install.