This is the first lesson in Virtual Private Network (VPN) 101. To give you a quick overview, I've only been using VPNs for a few months — less than a year. Prior to it, though, I had been on the fence for quite some time.
Over the course of more than two years, I've had a lot of questions, some of which have led to further questions. At start, the following was the first hurdle to overcome:
What Is A Virtual Private Network (VPN)?
Through another computer, a VPN links your PC, Mac, Tablet, or other device to the Internet. You're connecting to the Internet through the Internet connection of another computer rather than your own. Apart from that, the VPN encrypts the data you transfer, ensuring its security.
Why Would I Want To Use A VPN?
A VPN, in its simplest form, allows users to connect to the Internet securely and privately. Your location is known only to the VPN provider by connecting to a VPN service first before being routed to the Internet address you're going to.
Let's have a look at what this can be used for:
Access to Information
Most VPNs provide a number of locales from which you can pick to show your location, which can help you circumvent geographic restrictions in some circumstances. Some Internet service providers limit what can be accessed from specific places. Take Netflix, for example, which has various movies for different regions.
Naturally, it aids you in avoiding content filtering in a variety of countries (the list of which is growing).
If you've ever been concerned about governments or Internet Service Providers (ISPs) spying on your online activities, a VPN is a must-have. Did you aware that your ISP can sell your surfing history to marketing and advertising organisations in many countries? And that they are legally obligated to provide over logs of your online activities if many governments ask for them?
How Does VPN Work?
*If you're using a VPN, this is a rudimentary diagram of how data flows. Although this image is from ExpressVPN, single-bounce VPN connections work in the same way.
When you try to access a website on the Internet using a standard Internet connection, your computer directs the request through your ISP's server, which then connects you to the website. In a VPN connection, you circumvent your ISP's server and connect directly to the VPN's server.
If you've ever heard of a firewall, the VPN does the same thing, shielding and safeguarding your Internet connection using private servers and encrypted data streams.
Is it True That Using A VPN Will Keep My Information Safe?
Security is one of the primary features of a VPN that makes it so appealing. All data sent and received over a VPN connection is encrypted. So, if someone tries to intercept the data you're transferring, the encryption will protect you (or at least, safer than if it were transmitted without encryption).
Consider the following scenarios: You're browsing online and about to make a purchase; the vendor may require your credit card details. If you're trying to access your email account from a cafe, your password will need to be forwarded to your email server for verification. These are just two examples of how a VPN may protect you and your data.
With a VPN, am I truly untraceable?
To remain untraceable, you'll need more than just a VPN IP address and encrypted traffic. True, it makes you more difficult to track, but there are methods around this for someone with the necessary technical expertise.
Your IP address isn't the only thing that can be used to track you down online. In reality, VPNs have been known to leak actual IP addresses in the past.
Other means of tracking you include doxing, malware use, and plain old carelessness.
I'd suggest that the exact combination of services you use depends on how anonymous and untraceable you want to be (or how paranoid you are).
For instance, you may use a VPN in conjunction with an anonymous browser like TOR, as well as an Internet Security programme and some thought in what you do online, particularly in terms of information sharing.
So, the quick answer is no, you aren't fully undetectable.
How Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) Protect Your Data
When you use a VPN, all of your Internet traffic and communications are routed through a secure tunnel. This is how your data remains private and secure.
For this, each VPN employs a variety of protocols with varying levels of security. Some instances are as follows:
✅ Security of the Internet Protocol (IPSec)
IPSec secures the Internet session by authenticating it and encrypting data sent over it. It has two modes: transport and tunnelling, which ensures data security while being transferred between networks. To make sessions even safer, IPSec can be integrated with other security protocols.
✅ Tunneling Protocol at Layer 2 (L2TP)
One of the other protocols that can be used with IPSec is L2TP. It establishes a tunnel between two sites, with IPSec handling the encryption of data sent back and forth.
✅ Protocol for Point-to-Point Tunneling (PPTP)
PPTP is an all-in-one protocol that both builds and encrypts the tunnel. Even on Mac and Linux platforms, it is widely used and maintained.
There is must be a No logging policy
This is important to keep in mind because not all VPNs offer a no-logging policy. Logs are historical files that keep track of your Internet activities. If no logs are kept, the VPN service provider surely cannot sell or send over the information to any government or law enforcement agency, right?
If a VPN has a no-logging policy, it will usually be noted prominently on its website.
What Is A VPN And How Do I Use It?
Although each VPN will have its own set of procedures, the basic idea is that you instal VPN software on a device (such as your router, PC, or smartphone). When you first start the software, you may be prompted to enter your VPN login and password, although other VPNs provide you with more options.
Picking the security protocol you want to utilise, or manually selecting which server location you want to connect to, are examples of these options.
What Kinds of Devices Does a VPN Support?
VPNs can normally work on three types of devices (depending on the service provider): desktops/laptops, smartphones/tablets, and routers. They will typically work on platforms that include Windows, Mac OS, iOS, Android, and Linux (Most routers are Linux based).
It's worth noting that not all routers support VPNs. If you're using one of the better, more well-known brands and models, you should be able to use a VPN, but it's best to confirm with the manufacturer or simply ask on a forum. My router is a TP-Link Archer C7, which has this capability.
*Most VPNs will provide you with a tutorial to assist you in setting up numerous devices.
I know there are some websites that claim you require custom firmware like DD-WRT or Tomato, but this is just not true. If your router does not support a VPN out of the box, flashing it to one of those might help.
Then there's the caveat: even if you're using a VPN on your phone, there are a lot of mobile apps (that you might have loaded) that contain a lot more information than your IP address. Remember those nagging permissions you had to allow when you first installed them? This implies that even if you use a VPN, your data can still be transferred to the app's developers.
Is it difficult for me to use?
Not really, to put it that way. Almost every VPN service has comprehensive tutorials on how to set up their apps on numerous devices. I've gone through quite a few of them, and some even have step-by-step instructions on how to set up.
Take a look at the How to Setup page for ExpressVPN as an example.
*Most VPN companies will have a similar page with highly thorough instructions. In fact, some apps are so simple to set up that all you have to do is input your login and password, choose a server, and you're good to go.
Will a VPN affect the speed of my internet connection?
Maybe this is the best answer to this question: There will almost always be a minor lag due to the nature of the service. With almost all good VPN providers, however, this lag is hardly perceptible.
However, if your ISP throttles Internet connections for whatever reason, using a VPN may help you get faster. Many high-end VPN services have great networks that rely on tier-1 bandwidth sources.
As a general rule, any speed dips you experience will be slightly larger the farther distant the server you connect to is.
Note on speed from a technical standpoint
The speed of your connection is largely determined by your hardware. When a VPN encrypts your data, it takes a lot of processing power. At the heart of every device is a microprocessor, which determines how quickly it does tasks. Gigahertz is the unit of measurement for this speed (GHz).
The faster the encryption and hence the connection speed, the higher the GHz.
The average router's processing speed is between 800MHz and 1.2GHz (although there are higher-end models which rate 1.8GHz or more). The typical laptop runs at 1.6GHz to 2.2GHz, while the typical PC runs at 2.6GHz to 3.4GHz.
When using a VPN service on a router with a 1GHz processor, the VPN line speed is severely decreased. According to TorGuard technical assistance, the maximum speed I can receive with a router deployment here is roughly 17Mbps, which I confirmed. Running the same VPN at 1.8GHz on a laptop will give you roughly 150Mbps.
The point is that while a VPN's performance is dependent on numerous moving components, your own equipment is also necessary to reap the full benefits of a fast VPN connection.
How To Choose The Right VPN Provider?
VPN services are available in the dozens (hundreds if you add lesser providers). Some are traditional VPN providers that specialise in this, but several Internet security businesses, such as F-Secure, Kaspersky, and Avira, have ventured out into the VPN game as well.
So, how will you find the appropriate one, given that you will almost certainly be flooded everyday with ‘VPN Deals' once you type that search term into Google?
Finding the best VPN for YOU comes down to a few crucial considerations:
1. Safety vs. Cost
This is the age-old adage that “you can't have it all.” The higher the price, the better the service will most likely be. As a rule of thumb, not ALWAYS. Most VPN companies will only charge you a few dollars per month, but if you're truly concerned about your privacy and security, are you willing to pay a little more for peace of mind? Choose the balance that best suits your mood while keeping in mind your primary reasons for using a VPN service.
2. Is there a Log book?
This is a critical point. A VPN company that keeps logs is a massive can of worms waiting to be opened, regardless of your budget or goal. And you know what happens when you open that can. Simply having the logs is a recipe for disaster — service providers have been known to give in to government pressure in the past. Choose a supplier that adheres to a stringent no-logs policy.
3. Servers: Number and Location
This is more relevant to those who use VPNs to circumvent geographical limitations. If you want to watch Netflix in the United States, for example, you'll need a VPN with a US server! You have additional options if a supplier offers multiple server locations. The more servers they have, the more likely your connection will be stable and quick.
4. How much should I charge for how many connections?
The normal home in today's world is completely engrossed with electronic devices. Consider a couple with a laptop, tablet, and smartphone each — that's six devices under one roof. Make sure the number of connections offered by the VPN service you choose is adequate for your needs.
5. IP address leakage
This is a topic that has recently become more prominent. Some VPN companies reportedly suffered minor technical issues, causing their clients' true IP addresses to leak, implying that they were paying for a service that didn't operate. Many VPNs provide a free trial period to help you solve this issue. During the trial period, make sure you verify your connection thoroughly, and if your IP leaks, well, you know what to do – RUN.
6. User Interface (UI)
I pondered whether or not to include this item, but in the end, my OCD won out. Some VPNs have such dreadful user interfaces that they are just unusable. Just…take a peek before you buy that three-year reduced plan, please?
How can I know whether my VPN is up to par?
Privacy and security are, of course, the selling points of VPN services. So, how do you know if the one you've chosen is working properly? Do you know if your IP address is protected? What about those rumours concerning leaks you've heard about?
These problems can arise as a result of what I refer to as “broken features” in some VPN services. This implies they don't work as advertised, putting your personal information at danger.
Here are some basic tests that may be of assistance to you.
- Visit IPLeaks and read the information that is offered there. You will be looking at the VPN Server information rather than your real information if your VPN is running properly. If you want an alternative, DNSLeakTest can do the same thing.
- Visit SpeedTest or TestmyNet and run the tests there to test your VPN speed. You can use them to compare speed and latency before and after connecting to your VPN server.
*SpeedTest will display your upload and download speeds as well as the distance between you and the nearest server.
There are more advanced tests you could run, but they're a little more time-consuming to include.
Even if you're happy with your VPN service, performing tests on a regular basis is a smart idea, if only for your own piece of mind.
Is it Legal to Use a VPN?
Because there are so many VPN providers, this may seem like a weird topic to ask, but keep in mind that the Internet is not governed by a single nation. However, YOU are bound by the laws of the nation in which you reside, so check to see if a VPN is legal in your jurisdiction before purchasing a membership.
Before you sneer, keep in mind that there are some countries that are extremely strict. Take the United Arab Emirates, for example (UAE). If you are discovered using a VPN service in the UAE, you could face a fine ranging from US$100,000 to $500,000.
China, predictably, has recently enacted legislation requiring the use of only government-approved VPN providers. This is ostensibly to “regulate VPNs that unlawfully undertake cross-border operating activities,” but it's just another extension of China's Great Firewall, as we all know.
Finally, if you're thinking about utilising a VPN to get around a censorship firewall at work or school, you risk being fired or expelled (depending on your position).
Why Are VPNs Prohibited in Some Countries?
It actually vary, but countries that prohibit VPNs tend to have tighter control over their residents' lives. They are better equipped to monitor all online activity of their residents by outlawing VPNs.
Here are a few of the most important reasons:
- Moral Arguments (e.g. Singapore)
- Stability in Politics (e.g. Jordan, Libya)
- National Safety and Security (e.g. India, Russia)
- All of the preceding (e.g. North Korea, China)
Is it possible for my VPN service to be blocked?
Some governments that are particularly concerned about Internet censorship have gone so far as to restrict VPN services. Despite the fact that they are unable to decipher the data, VPN blocking in such nations has been found to effectively block VPN access by blocking access to ports utilised by common VPN protocols.
Consider China's Great Firewall, which is only a minor element of the country's comprehensive attempt to safeguard public security through strict monitoring of information systems.
Is It Possible To Torrent While Using A VPN?
Torrenting or peer-to-peer file sharing is not illegal, but it has been known to raise red flags because the status of the files transferred is not always known. Sharing some video files, for example, may be in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Torrenting has been used to distribute pirated versions of some copyrighted software.
Torrenting, on the other hand, has been known to waste a lot of bandwidth, thus some VPN companies either don't allow torrenting or have bandwidth restrictions in place for those cases.
If you're looking for a VPN that allows you to download torrents, make sure it says so on their website.
Here are a few torrent-friendly VPNs to consider:
What Exactly Is A ‘Kill Switch'?
The majority of people use VPNs to protect their privacy, which is extremely essential to them. As a result, many VPN services have implemented the concept of a “kill switch.” These are designed to let you break your connection to the VPN server as soon as possible if it is disrupted for any reason.
This protects your real IP address from being revealed while the VPN service is unavailable.
Of course, if you'd like the connection to stay on rather than drop, you can usually just turn the kill switch off.
Is it True That Using A VPN Will Affect My Online Gaming?
Gamers are sometimes hesitant to introduce new parts into their networks because they are concerned that the inclusion would cause additional delay. Latency is a killer in online games, and I've seen gamers scream at their monitors when their ping time is especially long.
Some people have questioned VPNs because they don't understand how adding another layer between them and the gaming server would potentially reduce latency. Remember that you have the option of connecting to any server on your VPN.
It's likely that you'll get better ping times if you connect to the server location nearest to your game server.
Aside from that, having numerous server locations means you'll be able to play games on servers from nations and areas you wouldn't otherwise be able to access.
Is It Possible To Use A Free VPN?
There are a slew of free VPN services available, some of which are operated by reputable Internet security firms like Kaspersky. However, even considering these, there are frequently minor technical concerns.
Consider the following:
- Many free VPNs have bandwidth limitations.
- Typically, there are just a few locations and/or servers available.
- Your data's security may be in jeopardy.
- It's possible that the service's quality is questionable.
- Restrictions are usually in place.
Free service providers must make money from somewhere, and these businesses are in charge of your data.
What Does A VPN Service Cost?
With the exception of free VPN services, you should expect to pay anywhere from $2 to $10 each month, depending on a variety of criteria. The price of a plan is frequently influenced by its features and payment terms. The lesser the price is normally the longer the term you choose to pay for in advance.
Consider NordVPN, which charges differently depending on how long you want to use it. The monthly fee is $11.95, but if you pay annually, the monthly price reduces to $5.74. If you choose the three-year plan, you may get it for as little as $2.75 each month, which is a great deal.
Consider the advantages of being locked into a service for two or three years versus the money you'll save if you pay monthly. The precise location of the sweet spot would be determined by each person's personal choice.
Is it possible to pay without a credit card?
Credit cards make our digital lives so much easier since they are a reliable method of paying businesses. When it comes to VPN services, though, it may seem unusual to pay for privacy while employing a method that will undoubtedly identify you.
Fortunately, some service providers have recently begun to accept Bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies as payment. Check for the Bitcoin sign on the accepted payment methods page on the VPN's website to see if the service provider you're considering accepts Bitcoin.
Of course, if you opt for the Bitcoin payment method, there is no automatic renewal and you’ll have to go through the payment process each time you renew your service.
Of course, if you choose Bitcoin as your payment option, your service will not renew automatically, and you will have to go through the payment process each time you renew it.
Final Thoughts: Should I Invest in One?
Today's digital world is filled with danger. With everything from government snooping to hackers and scammers, keeping your digital activities private should be the rule rather than the exception. This is especially true of public networks, such as the GSM or LTE bands used by your mobile service provider, so be wise and utilise a VPN.
Allow me to share with you a very easy situation from a personal experience I had before to investing in the VPN narrative. After an event, I was sitting at a café with this young lady, and we were discussing online safety. I was astonished when she said she used a VPN even on her phone, so I inquired whether she was genuinely concerned about her security.
She showed me her phone app, which had a track of over 30 eavesdropping attempts just that day, and said that the number varied depending on where she was. That's absolutely terrifying.
If you're thinking about adding a VPN to your security arsenal, I strongly advise you to do so. Even if you aren't, I strongly advise you to do so. A VPN service is now a must, as the recent Krack attack demonstrated. Stay safe and don't make any mistakes.