A VPN creates a secure connection between you and the internet. When you connect to the internet through a VPN, all your data traffic is sent through an encrypted virtual tunnel. This has multiple advantages:
- You’ll be more anonymous on the internet: your IP address and location won’t be visible to just anyone anymore.
- You’ll be safer on the internet: the encrypted tunnel will keep away hackers and cybercriminals and your device won’t be as vulnerable to attacks.
- You’ll be more free on the internet: by using different IP addresses, you’ll be able to access websites and online services that would otherwise be blocked.
Do you want to start using a VPN? We recommend ExpressVPN. This VPN has a lot of options, offers strong security, and has performed well in our tests. It even managed to take the number one spot!
An increasing number of people use a VPN while browsing the internet. VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. It’s an easy and efficient solution that offers you three essential things when you go online: more security, online privacy, and freedom. If you are unfamiliar with the concept of a VPN, it can seem quite daunting.
This page will explain exactly how a VPN works and why people use it. We’ll tell you everything you need to know about the advantages and possibilities of VPNs. We’ll also tell you about a couple of excellent VPN providers you might want to try out yourself.
What is a VPN?
When you’re using the internet, there is a constant process of your device exchanging data with other parties on the web. A VPN, or Virtual Private Network, creates a secure tunnel between your device (e.g. smartphone or laptop) and the internet. The VPN allows you to send your data via an encrypted, secure connection to an external server: the VPN server. From there, your data will be sent onward to its destination on the internet.
Forming a secure connection with an external server establishes three things. First, it helps you hide your real IP address. Second, it secures your data. And third, it allows you to use the internet more freely. We’ll explain all of that in more detail below.
Video Explainer: What is a VPN?
For those who are visually oriented, we made a short video to explain what a VPN is exactly and how it works. Enjoy! The article continues below the video.
How Does a VPN Work?
After subscribing to a VPN provider, you can usually download and install an easy application on your smartphone, tablet, computer, or smart-TV. With a couple of clicks, you select your preferred security settings and set up a safe connection with your desired VPN server. Connecting to a VPN is generally simple. When the connection has been established, the following will happen to your data:
- The VPN software on your computer encrypts your data traffic and sends it (via your Internet Service Provider) to the VPN server through a secure connection.
- The encrypted data from your computer is decrypted by the VPN server.
- The VPN server will send your data on to the internet and receive a reply, which is meant for you, the user.
- The traffic is then encrypted again by the VPN-server and is sent back to you.
- The VPN-software on your device will decrypt the data so you can actually understand and use it.
The VPN connection will encrypt your data traffic, making it much more difficult for hackers and other parties to intercept and view your personal information. The secure connection also provides the user with increased anonymity, because the internet traffic is rerouted through an external VPN server. Since you’re surfing the web via the IP address of the VPN server, your real IP address will remain hidden.
Normally, your location and even your identity could be revealed through your IP address, because it’s unique to your internet connection. By using a different IP (the one assigned to the VPN server) none of your actions online are traceable to you, allowing you to surf the web more anonymously.
The VPN application runs in the background of your computer, tablet, or smartphone. You can access the internet as you normally would and won’t notice anything different – save for the fact that you’ll be able to get around online restrictions.
Why do I Need a VPN?
Maybe you’re wondering if the use of a Virtual Private Network is really necessary. An increasing part of our lives takes place online. We do our banking, keep in touch with friends, check our medical records and work online. It’s important that all this information about you doesn’t just end up on the street. After all, you don’t just leave your bank invoices lying around. If you do not secure your internet connection, you run the risk that hackers, governments, your internet provider, websites, your employer and others will find out more about you than you would like. A VPN shields your data from all these groups.
What is a VPN used for? There are many different reasons for people to start using a VPN. The biggest ones can be summarized as follows:
- It provides you with more online security.
- It increases your online privacy.
- It allows you to browse the internet with more freedom (as it gets you around online restrictions and censorship).
- It makes public Wi-Fi safer.
We’ll explain exactly what this means in the following sections.
How a VPN offers online security
A VPN offers security because it heavily encrypts all your internet traffic, even before it reaches the VPN server. It also guides your data traffic through a much safer “VPN tunnel”. This makes it much harder for others, such as governments and hackers, to intercept and view your data. Therefore, it’s especially important to use a VPN when using (dangerous) public WiFi-networks.
At home or at work it can be equally helpful to use a VPN. Providers like NordVPN or ExpressVPN offer top of the line, AES 256 levels of encryption. With that kind of protection, you won’t have to worry about anyone gathering your data and using it against you.
How a VPN offers online anonymity and privacy
A VPN offers more online anonymity because you won’t be surfing the web with your IP address publicly exposed. A VPN allows you to be private about the websites you visit. Your personal IP address will be hidden as soon as you connect with the VPN server, as it will change to the VPN Server’s IP. Normally, others can link your online actions to your identity and your location based on your IP address. For instance, your internet service provider, the websites you visit and many governments can generally see everything you do online.
When you use a VPN, your online actions can only be traced back to the VPN server, but no longer to you (unless, of course, you’re logged into a certain website such as YouTube or Google). Many VPN services won’t disclose or even monitor what you do via their servers. You’ve thus become much more anonymous on the internet, since you can’t be identified or traced through your IP address.
How a VPN offers online freedom
VPNs can offer you more freedom online. It allows you to connect to servers all over the world. When you connect to a VPN server in a certain country, you’ll be able to access the internet as if you were physically in that country. This is useful, because the internet isn’t freely accessible everywhere. Some countries censor part of the internet or impose restrictions on social media sites or online streaming services.
If you are on holiday or have migrated, you might be unable to view your usual streams. A VPN will also enable you to connect to the internet via servers in your home country, so you can watch your favorite show or access blocked websites again. It also works the other way around: if you want to gain access to websites or streaming services from a different country (for example to watch a different version of Netflix), you can do so with a VPN.
If you would like to try out a secure VPN right away but aren’t sure which provider to pick, you can consult our top 5 of the best VPN services.
A VPN Protects You on Public Wi-Fi
If you are using a public Wi-Fi network, you are an easy target for hackers. A public Wi-Fi network is less secure than your private network. You don’t know who else is connecting to the network and who set it up. Hackers take advantage of the lack of security on public Wi-Fi and they can steal your personal and private information. We recommend always using a VPN on free Wi-Fi hotspots.
A VPN sends your traffic through an encrypted tunnel. Encrypting your data makes it almost impossible for anyone to see your data. It makes it very difficult for hackers, governments and your internet service provider to get access to your private information.
Is a VPN safe?
You may wonder how safe you are with a VPN provider. Your internet traffic is redirected and runs through the servers of the VPN provider. The provider can see everything you do if it would want to. Therefore, it’s important that you have confidence in your VPN service. Most VPN services do not log what you do and won’t store your data.
However, there are VPN services that abuse the data that travels through their servers and sell your data to advertisers, for example. This is especially the case with free VPNs. These are often not safe. Before using a VPN, it is therefore important that you do research in advance. We’ll give you a few recommendations for good and secure VPN services later in this article.
Does a VPN Slow Down Your Internet Connection?
Some people doubt whether they should use a Virtual Private Network because they’ve heard it can slow down your internet connection. It’s true that some VPNs have this effect. After all, a VPN redirects your connection through a remote server. This takes longer, so it could slow down your internet connection. However, this isn’t always the case.
There are many VPNs that do everything in their power to make your internet connection as fast as it can be (and sometimes even faster than you’re used to). If you want to make sure you end up with a fast VPN, check out our research on the fastest VPNs of this moment. All VPNs we recommend there have proven to work perfectly and cause little to no delays. Streaming, gaming, and browsing will go as fast normal, only with increased freedom, security and privacy.
If your internet speed is artificially restricted by your ISP or another party, a VPN can actually make your connection faster. The VPN ensures this limit no longer applies to you, so you can use the full potential of your connection.
Is Using a VPN Legal?
Some people wonder whether it’s legal to use a VPN. After all, the service enables you to become a lot more anonymous online, which can be quite useful for hackers and online criminals. If those people can’t be traced online, it’s much harder to punish them for their crimes, after all. Even so, this doesn’t necessarily mean a VPN is illegal.
On the contrary: many official companies and businesses work with VPNs and recommend the use. The European Union, too, supports internet freedom, which a VPN can give you.
Many countries consider the use of a VPN completely legal. Conducting illegal activities while using a VPN, however, remains illegal. Therefore, using a VPN for legal activities, such as browsing, gaming, Netflix, and YouTube, isn’t a problem at all. If you use a VPN to, for example, download illegal files such as unofficial copies of movies and music, however, you’re most likely going against your local laws. While the VPN gives you more anonymity online and makes it a lot harder for officials to trace you down, the downloading in and of itself is still illegal.
There are a couple of countries that do consider the use of a VPN illegal. If you’d like to know more about these countries and the legal and illegal use of VPNs in general, you can read this article. Using a VPN in most of the (Western) world won’t get you into any trouble. On the contrary: we’d recommend it.
Which Different VPN Protocols Are There?
VPN connections use an encrypted connection also called a tunnel. There are several ways (protocols) in which such a VPN connection can be set up. These protocols ensure that your data remains safe and can’t be read by others. The most common VPN-protocols are:
- OpenVPN: OpenVPN is one of the most widely used VPN protocols. It’s an open-source protocol that uses encryption based on the OpenSSL and SSLv3/TLSv1 protocols. Most VPN services support OpenVPN and it’s available for a lot of different platforms (e.g. Windows, Android, Linux, routers). Most consider OpenVPN to be the best choice. The only downside is, that it doesn’t work on Mac OS and iOS, so you need to use a different protocol for that (such as IKEv2/IPsec).
- IPsec/L2TP: this protocol combines IPsec for the encryption of data with L2TP for establishing a secure connection. Most operating systems include IPsec/L2TP, which is a good choice when OpenVPN isn’t available.
- IKEv2/IPsec: IKEv2 is a protocol based on IPSec. This protocol can quickly connect to and switch between networks. This makes it an ideal choice for smartphones because these devices tend to switch between Wi-Fi networks and public Wi-Fi networks regularly. According to some sources, IKEv2 is faster than OpenVPN. Nevertheless, OpenVPN is seen as the better protocol.
- PPTP: PPTP (Point to Point Tunneling Protocol) is one of the first widely used protocols. This protocol contains a few (potential) leaks. For this reason, its use is only advisable if speed is more important to you than safety. This could be the case if you want to bypass restrictions set up by streaming services.
- Softether: Softether, unlike other VPN protocols mentioned so far, is not a stand-alone protocol, but an open-source application that works across different platforms and offers support to VPN protocols such as SSL VPN, L2TP/IPsec, OpenVPN, and Microsoft Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol.
- WireGuard: WireGuard is a relatively new protocol that has been gaining in popularity. It runs on a Linux kernel and is aimed at performing even better than OpenVPN and IPsec. It’s still in development, so you’re better off using OpenVPN for now.
If you’d like to know more about the different VPN protocols and how they work, you can find a complete overview right here.
How to Set Up Your VPN
Setting up your own VPN connection is simpler than it might seem. Your VPN provider will do most of the work for you. First, you will need to find a VPN service that you like (on our site you can find reviews of the different providers as well as some recommendations).
When you find a VPN that fits your needs, you subscribe to their service and download and install the software they provide. Most VPN providers offer software for all types of devices and operating systems. You can download a VPN client for Windows, Mac, iPhone, Android, and sometimes Linux. Within this software, you can choose which protocol to use and which VPN server you wish to connect to. In just a few clicks you’ll be connected to a server.
Now you can use the internet in a safe and anonymous manner, free from any restrictions or censorship that your geographical location might impose! Installing a VPN is easy. Below, we’ll tell you how to do this in three steps.
Getting Started with a VPN in 3 Simple Steps
If you want to start using a VPN, but don’t quite know where to begin, you’re in the right place. We’ll walk you through three easy steps to get you started:
Step 1. Subscribe to a trustworthy VPN provider
For beginners we highly recommend using SurfShark or NordVPN. We tested these providers extensively and found them to be very suitable for beginners, as they are easy to understand and set up, while also being very fast. Moreover, these two VPNs allow you to secure multiple devices with a single subscription and offer a 30-day money-back guarantee. This way you can try them for a month without being stuck to a long-term subscription. Furthermore, using the links and buttons on our website will get you a discount with these providers.
You can check out our extensive reviews on our review page. We’ve also reviewed other VPN-providers of course. Some other impressive VPNs are PIA, CyberGhost, and ProtonVPN. The latter also happens to offer one of the best free VPN subscriptions, which you can read all about in our article about free VPN providers.
Once you’ve chosen your VPN service, you’ll have to subscribe to them. Create an account and make sure you have your log-in info at hand. You’ll need it in the following steps. As we’ve mentioned earlier, CyberGhost and NordVPN both have a money-back guarantee, so you can always try them out and get a refund if you dislike the service.
Step 2. Download the VPN app
Now that you’ve signed up to your preferred VPN provider, you simply need to download the VPN app of this provider on your Android smartphone, iPhone, tablet, or computer. Visit the website of your VPN provider to find the necessary software. Don’t download from a different source, as these downloads might contain malware. Once you’ve successfully downloaded and installed the software, you’ll be able to log in.
Step 3. Activate the VPN app and start browsing the internet safely and freely
Activate the VPN by pressing the connect button, and the VPN connection will be established. Generally, you won’t even notice it’s activated since it runs in the background of your device.
And that’s all there is to it! While the VPN is enabled, you’ll be able to browse the web far more securely, privately, and freely. The illustration below will shortly review the steps you’ll need to take to set up a VPN on your computer:
If you want to learn how to install a VPN on a specific device, such as a smartphone or smart TV, have a look at our ‘VPN setup’ section. The installation may vary, depending on your device and operating system. If you want to know exactly how a VPN works, keep on reading. We’ll explain that and more below.
Three Great VPN Providers for Beginners
If you’d like to start using a VPN, it’s easiest to choose a trustworthy provider and access the internet through their servers. We have tested most major VPN providers of this moment on their usability and quality. Most good VPN providers offer trails so you can check out there service free of charge. If you’d like to get started with a simple yet great VPN, we recommend ExpressVPN, NordVPN, or Surfshark.
ExpressVPN is one of the best VPNs we’ve tested so far. They offer several thousand fast and stable servers, applications for all devices, and a great customer service. This VPN also works with Netflix, so you can unblock all your favorite shows. ExpressVPN has a 30-day money-back guarantee, so you can try it out before getting a lengthier subscription.
ExpressVPN aims to offer you the best quality, and that comes with a price tag. They aren’t the cheapest VPN provider around, but with our special discount offer, you can get a subscription for $6,67 a month. This subscription allows you to protect five of your devices with ExpressVPN. You can read more about this provider in our full review of ExpressVPN. Click the button below to check out ExpressVPN’s website.
- Very easy to use VPN
- Perfect for anonymous browsing, downloading, and streaming (i.e. Netflix)
- 3000+ servers in 94 countries
A second VPN we’d like to recommend is NordVPN. This good and trustworthy service offers high levels of security. Its software looks sleek while also being easy to use. Its high levels of security cause NordVPN to be slightly slower than ExpressVPN, but it remains a very good option. For the quality they offer, they’re very affordable. Moreover, the applications are user-friendly and well-structured. Read more about this provider in our full NordVPN review.
NordVPN also offers more advanced options. These are great when you’ve gotten used to VPNs and are looking for specific features to help you out. For instance, NordVPN offers dedicated IP addresses and obfuscated servers, which make circumventing geo-restrictions, such as those enforced by Netflix, easier. Similarly, NordVPN also offers double VPN connections for extra privacy and security.
NordVPN has a 30-day money-back guarantee. They also have very affordable deals, especially on their long-term subscriptions. If you’re interested, you can check out their discounts by clicking the button below.
- Excellent protection and a large network of servers
- Nice and pleasing application
- No logs
Surfshark has earned a third place in our top 5. The biggest difference between Surfshark and many other VPN-services, such as ExpressVPN, is that Surfshark is much cheaper. The VPN-software that Surfshark offers is very user-friendly. With just a few clicks, you’ll have installed it and be connected to the perfect VPN-server. Then you’ll be able to use the VPN to surf while using a different IP address, so you can watch one of the many different local Netflix libraries, for example. You might want to watch one of the countless movies and series on the American Netflix. With Surfshark, it’s easy.
Aside from their standard VPN service, Surfshark offers plenty of additional features. If you’d like an overview of all the extra options this provider offers, you can have a look at our full review right here. To give you a short summary: Surfshark is a fantastic VPN for every beginning VPN user but is also suitable for the more experienced user who wants to have a wide array of possibilities at their disposal. Would you like to try out Surfshark? Click the button in the box below to visit their website.
- Very user-friendly and works with Netflix and torrents
- 30-day money-back guarantee. No questions asked!
- Cheap with many extra options
Extra advice: if you’d like to protect all your online devices with a VPN in one go, you could try to set up a VPN connection on your router. Installing this can be a challenge. We advise you to use DD-WRT router software. If you need help installing a VPN on your router, you can consult our article on this topic.
Why Would You Use a VPN?
There are many reasons why people might connect to a VPN, some of the most common are as follows:
Anonymity and privacy:
- Anonymity on the internet: A VPN connection hides your real IP address and location. With a VPN connection, you use the IP address that belongs to the VPN server you’re connected to. This way your own IP address stays hidden. Websites and other parties won’t be able to trace your online actions back to your location and identity, based on your IP address (provided your provider has an adequate no-logging policy). All they will see, when you are using a VPN, is a strange IP address that has nothing to do with you. With a VPN you can browse the internet anonymously.
- Downloading and uploading anonymously: Downloading certain Torrents is illegal in some countries and more than ever before downloaders are tracked down and sometimes even prosecuted. Of course, we are not advocating any illegal actions. However, we do understand people want online privacy and anonymity, not just when browsing the internet, but also when uploading and downloading files. To make sure nobody knows what you are downloading or uploading you can use a VPN. Because of the encrypted traffic and the rerouted IP address you can download anonymously with a VPN.
- Prevent companies from building a file on you: Advertising networks such as Facebook, Google, and Twitter are constantly collecting information about you through your online traffic. With this information, they can show you tailored ads but more importantly, they are free to sell this information to a third party. By encrypting your data using a VPN these networks will have a harder time collecting information on you. They will also have less influence on what you see online.
Safety on the web:
- Protection against hackers and governments: People are becoming more and more aware of their vulnerability on the internet. Without a secure VPN connection, it is much easier for others to intercept, view, and steal the data that you, often unknowingly, spread when you browse the web. Without knowing it, others could tap your devices and use your personal information. You can prevent this with a VPN because it encrypts all your internet traffic.
- Secure internet access on public Wi-Fi networks: Using a public Wi-Fi network can be very risky. Other users on the same network can easily tap into your data and personal information. Since you don’t want others to have access to, for instance, your email login, images/files or credit card information it might be wise to use a VPN connection. The VPN encrypts all of your internet traffic. A hacker will only see encrypted matter and won’t be able to see or use your personal information.
Remote access and bypassing internet censorship and geo-blocks:
- Bypassing censorship and geographical restrictions: For a normal internet user, there can be many restrictions as to what they can and cannot access online. For instance, you cannot watch all the content available on BBC iPlayer if you are not accessing the internet via a British IP address. Also, some streaming services like Netflix offer different content in different geographical zones. Some governments (e.g. China, Turkey, and Egypt) block access to certain internet services, such as WhatsApp, Skype, Facebook or Twitter. By changing your geographical location with a VPN, you can bypass these different restrictions. You can also get access to blocked websites.
- Access to your company’s network: More and more companies are giving people the possibility of working from home, or abroad for instance. Some people connect to the internet via a VPN to access the company network at home. This enables people to efficiently work from home.
To read more about the different reasons why people use a VPN please read our article on the subject: What are the advantages of a VPN?
What limitations do VPNs have?
A VPN has a lot to offer when it comes to privacy and security. However, it’s not the end all be all of cybersecurity and privacy. To browse the web safely and anonymously, you’ll need to observe some extra privacy measures, on top of using a VPN connection. For instance, you’ll still have to clear your cookies regularly. Moreover, there are also things a VPN simply can’t do. For instance, say you’re logged in to your Google account and reading up on every ice cream flavor in existence. In this case, Google can still identify you as the ice cream aficionado you are, VPN or no VPN. After all, they’ll simply correlate your search history with your account information, regardless of whether you change your IP address or not.
There are more ways in which online entities can determine your identity which a VPN doesn’t protect you from. When using Google Maps, for instance, you’re often required to turn on GPS. This means Google Maps can see exactly where you are. There are also more advanced ways that are used to identify internet users, such as browser fingerprinting. This method uses your browser’s and device’s settings to distinguish you from other internet users.
In other words, a VPN does significantly improve your online privacy and safety and is a vital part of your privacy and security precautions. However, it’s important to be aware of the limitations that VPNs have and the additional measures required to compensate for these limitations. Fortunately, we have an article that highlights these measures and helps you to be anonymous online.
What is a VPN – Summary
A VPN (Virtual Private Network) is a secure connection between you and the internet. It provides its users with more online privacy, security, and freedom. There are several ways to set up a VPN connection, but most private users do so by subscribing to a VPN service.
These are the main reasons people might want to use a VPN:
- You’ll be more anonymous online.
- You’ll be safer online and your data will be better protected.
- You will be able to circumvent censorship and geographical blocks.
There are a number of major providers that’ll give you access to servers all around the world for just a couple of dollars a month. These providers constantly make sure that their security and the speed of their servers is in order. After extensive testing, we have identified the best VPN providers for you.
A VPN won’t always be able to cover all of your online tracks: there are other methods that could result in uncovering your online identity. Techniques that use WebRTC leaks and browser fingerprinting could still collect data about you. Even so, a VPN will protect your online privacy very well in most cases. It could, for example, make it seem as if the device you’re using to connect to the internet is in New York, while you might actually be somewhere in Europe – or the other way around.
If you have a burning question about VPNs, we might be able to help you out. Simply click one of the queries below to see the answer. Do you have a question that isn’t answered in this list? Feel free to place a comment underneath this article, and we’ll help you out as soon as we can!
There is a large price difference between the various VPN providers. This makes it difficult to give a a clear answer to this question. That said, looking ath the better VPN providers, most VPNs will cost between $2 and $7 per month if you subscribe for a longer period of time. If you choose to take out a subscription for a shorter period of time, you have more control over the cancellation, but you often pay around $12 per month for the more well-known VPN providers.
There are also free VPNs. You don’t pay for these obviously, but limits on data or speed may apply. There is also a large number of free VPN providers who abuse your data or resell it to others. Always read reviews of VPNs to see if they are suitable for you.
There are many free VPNs to be found on the internet. However, not all of those VPNs can be trusted. Some free apps don’t secure your connection very well, while others might even install malware onto your device. Always make sure you’re using a VPN that offers a free service you can trust, such as Hide.me or ProtonVPN. Unfortunately, even good free VPNs often have speed or data limits.
If you want to start using a VPN, you’ll first need a VPN account. Choose a trustworthy VPN service and get a subscription with them. Install the software on your device and turn the VPN application on. In most cases, you’ll only have to click the big power button that’s shown in the app or on the dashboard to initiate the VPN connection.
A VPN is a secure connection between you and the internet. This connection is sent through an external VPN server, meaning your IP address, location, and data traffic remain hidden. Moreover, you’ll often be able to choose from different server locations, allowing you to access the web as if you were in a different country. This way, a VPN provides you with increased online privacy, safety, and freedom, which comes with all sorts of new possibilities.
A VPN creates an encrypted VPN tunnel between your device and the internet. All your online traffic is sent through this tunnel, meaning no one on the outside will be able to see what you’re doing online. The VPN also alters your IP address by changing it into the IP address of the VPN server you’re using. Therefore, your location will no longer be visible to everyone on the internet. The encrypted VPN tunnel is able to keep your data secure because it uses high-level encryption protocols.
A good VPN will allow you to watch Netflix movies and series that would normally only be available in different countries. The American version of Netflix, for example, has a bigger library than the versions in many other countries, including Spain, The Netherlands, and the UK. With the right American server provided by the right VPN, for example ExpressVPN, you’ll be able to access thousands of series and movies on Netflix.