As international cyberattacks continue to threaten humanity’s most critical assets, including hospitals, water supply systems, energy resources, and financial companies, many internet users are still struggling to see the correlation between our loss of privacy and the state of global internet security. It’s time people put an end to their ignorance and start taking charge of their online privacy.
A virtual private network (VPN) isn’t going to solve every problem, but it makes a great way to start reclaiming control over who can see your activity and more importantly, who cannot see it. If you’re running an online business or managing a remote team, using a VPN to hide your internet protocol (IP) address is an absolute necessity.
It may sound a bit technical now but, in this article, you’ll learn how to set up and use a VPN and stay protected online, regardless of which device or internet network you’re using.
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What Is a VPN Used For?
A VPN is a software application that you install on any of your internet-connected devices to hide your activity from third-party threats. By routing all your activity and communications through secure, encrypted tunnels, the VPN stops snoopers and hackers from finding your location, internet service protocol (ISP) provider, and other sensitive bits of information that would otherwise be freely exposed for anyone to see.
It also prevents advertisers from collecting information about your browsing and shopping habits that they can later take advantage of for their personalized marketing campaigns. Finally, it helps in situations when you want to access the internet from a different location to use services that aren’t available in your country like TV broadcasts and online gaming platforms.
How Do I Know I Need a VPN?
If you want to maintain anonymity online, using a VPN is always a good idea. However, there are some situations when it becomes an absolute necessity:
- Use a VPN if you spend a lot of time surfing the internet from a public network, such as those used in cafes, hotels, and public transport networks. You never know who’s out there, waiting to steal your data.
- You should also use a VPN if you suspect that your ISP is selling your private information to third parties. Believe it or not, this is 100 percent legal in many countries.
- You need a VPN if you keep seeing targeted ads and you’re worried about your privacy.
- You can use a VPN if you want to watch your foreign TV or use remote online services uninterruptedly.
What Is the Best VPN and How Do I Choose One?
There are many VPN providers out there offering different features and capabilities. A good VPN is usually measured by the following characteristics:
- The number of devices you can install the VPN on with a single user account. Decent VPNs usually cover three to five devices for an individual license, with a greater selection of options for business accounts.
- Number of server locations that you can connect to the VPN from. The more servers available, the less likely you’re to experience server overload that slows down your internet connection.
- Bandwidth, connection speed, and disconnection rates: These vary between providers, with free VPNs usually being the slowest and least reliable. Mind that a slow internet speed is a result of multiple factors and isn’t necessarily related to your VPN speed. A VPN almost always slows down your connection to some extent.
- Secure, up to date internet protocols: While all VPNs offer an IPv4 protocol, prioritize those that offer IPv6 as well.
- Customer support options with 24/7 availability via chat, phone, email, or remote control assistance.
- Killswitch to turn off your internet connection automatically if, for whatever reason, the VPN times out.
- Pricing: Generally speaking, you get what you pay for. It’s OK to use a free trial to see how the VPN performs, but if they promise you a lifelong free VPN, that’s when you should get suspicious.
- Activity log: Avoid VPNs that log your activity as they contradict the entire purpose of using a VPN
Do I Have To Pay for a VPN?
A free VPN almost always includes hidden costs. Some VPNs are known to log your activity, which means that when it’s switched on, any information available to your ISP becomes available to your VPN provider as well.
In extreme cases, the free VPN provider may even inject malware onto your device. This contradicts the purpose of using a VPN completely, and you should avoid it at any cost.
Some free VPNs with good reviews include Atlas, Windscribe, and ProtonVPN, but they reserve their best features for paid users.
Are VPNs Legal?
Some countries, such as China, Russia, Iraq, North Korea, and others, have banned the use of VPN and made it illegal. The rationale behind that is that VPNs assist criminals in maintaining anonymity, making it difficult for law enforcement agencies to locate them. VPNs may also infringe copyrights when they’re used to consume content outside a particular geographic area.
It’s unclear how exactly those countries enforce their VPN prohibition, but to be on the safe side, it may be a good idea to temporarily switch the VPN off when visiting those countries.
What Device Can I Use a VPN With?
Generally speaking, VPNs are intended to work with any internet-connected device. While most computers, laptops, smartphones, and routers should be compatible with the majority of VPNs, not all VPNs are compatible with all types of devices, and vice versa.
For example, if you’re using internet of things (IoT) devices like a smart refrigerator or an autonomous vacuum cleaner, you may not be able to install a VPN on them because they don’t use a standard operating system like macOS, Windows, or Android.
Likewise, some VPNs won’t be compatible with more standard use cases like Apple Watch, Sony PlayStation, or Amazon Fire TV Stick. So, before you decide which VPN provider to choose, make sure they work on the devices you have by consulting with their customer service or sales representatives.
Finally, How Do I Use a VPN?
Once you decide which VPN you want to go with, you need to install and activate it on your device. Most VPN providers have a pretty straightforward onboarding process, which generally includes the following steps:
- Sign up for the service by providing your email address and payment details for paid VPNs.
- Download the VPN app to your device, either from their website or one of the app stores.
- Select a location you want to connect to the internet from.
- Surf the web with a clear mind.