If you are reading this article, it is safe to say that you are on the right path to better securing your online presence. To assist in setting up and configuring a virtual private network (VPN), let’s cover a few basics to ensure we are all on the same page.
At a high level, a VPN is a way for you to extend your private network’s protection across the public internet. A VPN provides numerous benefits to end-users, including enhanced security through encryption, obfuscation, authentication, and other uncommon features like geo-relocation and increased performance. No matter your reason, using a VPN service adds a layer of protection against unforeseen security-related events.
Setting Up a VPN
Setting up a VPN can be relatively painless once you understand what is needed. Generally, you will need all supporting information from your current VPN provider to connect, including server name, region, internet protocol (IP) addresses, and credentials. Other information required for set up includes knowing which protocol to use and operating system (OS)-related information, which we will cover in detail later. Lastly, if you use a proxy, you will need that supporting information, but this is an uncommon situation for most users.
Step 1: Get All of Necessary Components Together
To prepare for this setup, it is essential to have the following items ready for use to ensure a smooth process.
- Laptop/desktop computer with internet access (mobile devices not recommended as admin features are not available on all device platforms)
- VPN service information (have your account information readily available for whatever VPN service you have selected to use)
- Understand what you are trying to get out of a VPN as this will help when choosing which protocol or geo-location to use during setup
- Admin permission on all devices involved
Step 2: Prep Your Devices
Before moving forward with configuring your new VPN solution, you must disable all existing VPN solutions as this will have a direct effect on the set up of where you want to connect from. It is also important to note that if your employer owns the machine that you are installing a VPN on, you should make sure you have full permission to install another VPN solution on the machine. More likely than not, most enterprises will have a VPN solution for everyone to use by default.
Lastly, ensure you have the admin credentials handy for all devices to get the new VPN solution installed. It will be necessary to download any software required and make any applicable changes to the local firewall.
Step 3: Download and Install VPN Clients
You must be familiar enough with the OS version that you are currently running so that you know which download to pursue. No matter the VPN service you choose, most should support the major operating systems, but you should look into it before purchasing as not all support all mobile OS versions like Android or IOS.
Once you have the correct installer download, it is crucial to follow the VPN provider’s documentation to complete the initial tool install. These steps may be in the form of a PDF downloaded with the installer file or a graphical user interfaces (GUI) wizard, which will walk you through the steps required to give the solution permission to install on your system.
Step 4: Log in
The following are some examples of actions that are recommended you implement if you are not prompted automatically upon initial login. Depending on the service and the OS, your experience may vary slightly:
- Change your password. If this is your first time logging into the solution, it may encourage you to change the base password that you provided during purchase.
- Enable two-factor authentication (2FA), which is highly recommended but not required. 2FA in most solutions may involve either receiving a text message code to your phone or setting up a code retrieval process within a third-party code generation app like Google Authenticator.
- Enable notifications (this allows you to stay on top of important announcements, changes, and updates available for your solution.
- Download the mobile app. Most VPN services offer a free mobile app to help better manage your connections on the fly.
Step 5: Choose Your VPN Protocols
VPN protocols are simply the method your VPN service will use to connect you securely to your destination. Each protocol differs as some are better as encryption but slower in speed while others can offer better autonomy but may be restricted from certain geo-locations. Below is an overview of the top most common protocols and what they do best:
- Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol (PPTP): This is considered one of the original protocols and still widely used at the enterprise level today. Enterprises tend to use PPTP because it is easy to set up and provides fast transmission speeds. Unfortunately, with the fast speeds comes a lack of security (only supporting 128-bit encryption). Suggested use is within a more extensive scale semi-trusted network.
- Secure Socket Transport Protocol (SSTP): SSTP creates the best of both worlds. It offers fast speeds and a high encryption rate (2048 bits) compared to PPTP. SSTP is most commonly used within Microsoft devices and may be affected by any Microsoft related vulnerabilities as they arise.
- Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol/IP Security (L2TP/IPsec): This combination provides the most flexibility when it comes to supported operating systems and advanced features. L2TP/IPsec offers several different authentication methods, including the standard credentials, certification, or key exchange. One big downfall with this protocol is it is resource intrusive and bandwidth-heavy.
- Internet key exchange (IKE or IKEv1 and IKEv2): These are the all-around most preferred protocols. Offering both decently high speeds and strong security (256-bit encryption). All while keeping its bandwidth latency very low. Also, IKEv2 provides a stable, consistent connection across most devices that includes native support for most issues that users may encounter.
Step 6: Fine-tune Your Connection Settings
It is crucial to ensure everything is configured correctly to avoid any unwanted troubleshooting that may preside after the fact. To prevent this, double-check your connections settings and provide the following are in place:
- The connection protocol setting is correct based on your needs
- If you plan to have multiple VPNs, label and describe each one appropriately
- Ensure that all proxy information is accurate and up to date
- Make sure you have the latest version of your VPN software
- Update all OS-level patches and security updates
- Store all credentials/tokens/keys in a secure location, such as with a password manager
How to Set Up a VPN in Windows 10
Setting up and configuring your VPN service on a windows machine is simple as long as you have all the necessary information on hand:
- Navigate to the windows search bar and type in VPN, click VPN settings.
- On the pop-up screen, click “add VPN connection” to get started.
- The next screen is where you will fill out all required connection information, including selecting which protocol you want to use.
- Once created, you can choose to enable, disable, or even change advanced settings, including credentials or VPN connection properties.
For a more detailed walkthrough of setting up a VPN on a Windows machine, visit this page for more information.
How to Set Up a VPN in Chrome
Since the Chrome OS is a bit different and is built heavily into the Google Play store, you should check to make sure your VPN solution does not offer a prebuilt application before starting this process. If there is not an app available, then proceed with the following steps:
- Click the time icon in the bottom-right corner, then click on Settings
- Click on add connection
- The next screen is where you will fill in your supporting VPN information, including connection protocol type
If your VPN requires that you add a certificate, one can be added by performing the following steps:
- Navigate to Chrome/Setting/Certificates
- Click on the Authorities tab
- Locate and upload your VPNs certificate here before filling out the connection details.
How to Set Up a VPN on an Android Device
Now, depending on your current running version of Android, the process may vary a bit but should be roughly the same. As noted with the Chrome OS, you should check the Google Play store to see if your VPN has a supported app that you can download and have it all configured for you.
- Navigate to Settings, Network & Internet, advanced then VPN.
- Click the little key icon shown.
- If your setting is not the same, you can always search for VPN within the settings.
- Press the add button.
- Create your VPN profile, which is where you will add all applicable information.
- Click save once completed.
- Once saved, you should see the configuration on the main VPN screen.
- Click on it and log in using the provided credentials from your VPN provider.
- Click save to finish.
On mobile devices, transfer speeds may be significantly impacted. If you notice that your speeds are lacking when watching videos or gaming, you can toggle off the VPN to restore normal speeds.
How to Set Up a VPN in Mac OS
The process is pretty straightforward, but you may notice a few additional options not previously seen on other operating systems. One option, in particular, would be to choose the VPN interface you would like to use. Options include thunderbolt, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and Ethernet ports. Mac provides these to allow users even more granularity when pertaining to the specifics around their configured VPN.
- To get started on macOS, you will want to navigate system preferences and click on the Network tab.
- Once opened, you will want to click the little plus sign in the bottom-left corner and use the interface menu that pops up to fill out the details required for your VPN of choice.
- Once completed, click the create button.
- You will then be prompted for the credentials of your VPN provider. Enter this information, click OK, and connect.
How to Set Up a VPN on an IOS Device
Like Android and ChromeOS, you are encouraged to search the Apple Store to see if your VPN provider has a prebuilt application that can assist with VPN set up.
- Go to settings and click on general.
- Scroll until you locate the VPN option and click on it.
- Tap on “Add VPN Configuration” and choose the security protocol that you want to use.
- After this, go back one screen and add in the rest of the supporting information required like description, server, and IDs.
- Then, you will be prompted to add your username and password for your VPN solution.
- An additional dialog is required if using a proxy, which can be configured in Settings > Wi-Fi > HTTP Proxy.
- Finally, tap done and toggle the status switch to “On” to enable the VPN.
Frequently Asked Questions About VPN
Please review the following list of commonly asked questions related to the use of VPNs in general. Hopefully, they will provide you with the guidance needed to make the right choice on a VPN or help you determine if you want to use a VPN in the first place.
Why You Need a VPN
VPNs offer security and autonomy when using the internet. Without one, you risk exposing your internet habits online to anyone watching or monitoring your actions. At a minimum, it is recommended that you use a VPN when engaging in the following activities:
- Online shopping
- Online banking
- Doing your taxes (using online tax preparation software)
- Using social media platforms
For any activity that requires you to utilize sensitive data or information that you wouldn’t want anyone to see potentially, you should enable your VPN.
Should You Create Your Own VPN or Buy One?
How Do you Choose the Right VPN?
Choosing a VPN service does not have to be complicated. As long as you know what you want out of a VPN, you can tailor your search around your goals. For example, if you prefer reputable brands that are trusted and convenient to use, you might go with NordVPN or Norton Secure VPN.
You may also want something that provides more control over the advanced options on the platforms, giving you the ability to control factors like security, logging, and server selection. If this is the case, look into solutions like TorGuard or ExpressVPN.
Lastly, if you are focused solely on price, you may want to look into solutions that offer flexible pricing options, money-back guarantees, and free trials of the full product like IPVanish, Private Internet Access, and Surfshark.
Free or Paid VPN?
Overall, the main differences between free and paid VPNs will be exposure, availability, and support. It may be great to have a VPN service that you do not have to pay for. However, remember that your availability may be limited to only a few servers. Also, the solution may provide a weak level of security that won’t stop advanced malicious actors.