How to Set Up and Use a VPN

What a VPN Does and Does Not Do

When you switch on a VPN, your traffic is routed through an encrypted tunnel to a server operated by the VPN company. That means that your ISP and anything (or anyone) connected to your router won’t be able to see your web traffic. From the VPN server, your traffic exits onto the public internet. Unless you’re headed to a site that uses HTTPS, your traffic is no longer encrypted.

Because your traffic appears to come from the VPN’s server, your actual IP address is effectively hidden. That’s important, because IP addresses are distributed geographically and can be used to find your rough location. If someone checks your IP address, they’ll see the IP address of the VPN server. This can come in handy if you want to spoof your location.It’s also important to remember that when you’re connected to a VPN, the VPN now has as much insight into what you do online as your ISP would. A good VPN should never sell your data, and should go to great lengths to ensure it retains as little information about you and your activities as possible. These measures to protect your privacy should be clearly outlined in the company’s privacy policy.While some VPN services claim they can block malware, we recommend standalone antivirus software for your computer, because these tools are designed specifically to protect your computer from malicious software.

Phishing attacks—when an attacker uses a bogus website that mimics a familiar one to trick you into entering your login credentials—are so common as to almost be mundane, so stay alert. You can protect against the dangers of phishing sites and password breaches by using a password manager, because recycled passwords are a major point of failure. We’re particularly fond of Dashlane and Keeper password managers. While you’re locking down your passwords, be sure to switch on two-factor authentication wherever possible.

How to Choose a VPN ?

It’s also useful to know where a VPN company is based. Keep in mind that this isn’t always the physical location of the business, but a legal distinction that outlines what jurisdiction the company operates under. NordVPN, for example, is in Panama, while ProtonVPN is in Switzerland. That means that these companies are not beholden to data retention laws, which would require them to hold on to certain information that could be obtained by law enforcement. Hide My Ass VPN, on the other hand, is based in the UK, which has more intrusive laws.

The most important thing about a VPN is trust. If the location, pricing, or terms of service don’t fill you with confidence, try another service. In all our VPN reviews, we make sure to report on all of these issues and highlight anything we think is confusing or problematic.

Free or Paid VPNs?

Many VPN services offer a free trial, but usually for a limited time. Others, like TunnelBear and AnchorFree Hotspot Shield Elite, have totally free versions but may limit some features to paid users. ProtonVPN is our top choice for free VPNs because it places no data limitation on free users.

Getting Started With a VPN

Once you’ve installed the apps, you’re prompted to enter your login information. In most cases, this is the username and password you created when you signed up for the service. Some companies, such as Mullvad and ExpressVPN have unusual login systems that provide customers with more privacy but can be confusing at first. Be sure to read the instructions carefully.

Once you’re logged in, your VPN app usually connects to the VPN server closest to your current location. That’s done to provide better speeds when using the VPN, as performance degrades the farther the VPN server is from your actual location.

Choosing a VPN Server

Choosing a server depends entirely on what you want to accomplish. For better speeds, you should choose a nearby server. Some VPNs include options to automate this process. To access region-locked content, you’ll want a server that’s local to content you want to watch.Some VPN companies have specialized servers for streaming video. These specialized servers are useful because streaming services such as Netflix block VPNs. At issue are the licensing deals Netflix secures with studios, which provide different content for different regions. 

Advanced VPN Settings

Most VPN services include some kind of Kill-Switch feature, which prevents your computer from transmitting or receiving information if the VPN becomes disconnected.Most services offer an option to select a VPN protocol. This can be intimidating, since they have weird names and companies rarely provide information about what these are, and what changing the protocol will do. It’s open-source, so it has been picked over by many eyes for any potential vulnerabilities. IKEv2 is also a good, secure option if OpenVPN is not available. Note that on some platforms, such as macOS and iPhone, OpenVPN is not always available, because of additional restrictions placed on developers. The best VPNs for iPhone give you access to the latest and greatest protocols available on that platform.

When Should I Use a VPN?

VPNs for Android and other mobile devices are a little trickier, particularly if you frequently move in and out of cellphone coverage. Each time you lose and regain data connectivity, the VPN has to reconnect, which adds a frustrating wait.Most mobile devices can automatically connect to any familiar looking Wi-Fi network. That’s out of convenience to you, but it’s trivially simple to impersonate a Wi-Fi network. Your phone may be connecting to a digital honeypot without you even realizing it. At minimum, you should use a VPN when connecting via Wi-Fi to keep your data safe, even if your device falls for an attack like this one.Many VPNs have settings for how and under what circumstances they should reconnect if they become disrupted. We honestly cannot think of a reason you wouldn’t want your VPN to try reconnecting and encourage everyone to make sure their settings reflect this.

How to Use a VPN For Streaming With Chromecast or AirPlay

Chromecast and AirPlay let you share music and video from your computer or mobile device to speakers, TVs, and streaming boxes. But all of them require Wi-Fi, which can be a problem when you’re using a VPN.When a VPN is engaged, your traffic is moving through an encrypted tunnel to a distant server. These devices are looking for data coming from the same network they are connected to, not back from a VPN server.The simplest solution is to switch off your VPN, but that’s not your only option. You can use split tunneling, as mentioned above, to route only the traffic you want secured through the VPN. Alternatively, you can install a VPN on your router.

VPNs Aren’t Rocket Science

Too many of you aren’t using a VPN, and maybe that’s because they seem like arcane security tools. But many companies have worked hard to make them friendly and easy to use. Most are now set-and-forget security tools, as it should be. A VPN is one of the best and easiest ways to guard your web traffic from.

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