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What is a VPN? Definition, Benefits, Protocols, Tools


A VPN, or virtual private network, is a private network that encrypts and transmits data while it travels from one place to another on the internet.

What is a VPN - Definition, Benefits, Protocols, Tools(1)

In the age of pixels, retargeting and privacy policy loopholes, more web users are shifting to protect their online identity and habits. 

This is where having a reliable VPN can come in handy. A VPN or Virtual Private Network is a network that lets you connect securely to the internet or any other network

On most computers, you’ll either have an antivirus or malware protection to protect you from malicious software and attacks locally. With a VPN, your information (including your IP address) is protected from hackers, spyware, and malicious attacks. 

Your IP address is like your home address on the internet. It’s unique to your PC and has details of your physical location, kind of machine you’re using and the kind of content you’re accessing online. 

Using a VPN connection allows you to mask your IP address with a virtual one, allowing you to surf the web anonymously and access content that may not be available in your location. 

In this article we’ll discuss what a VPN is, why it's important, how it works, its key features as well as how to get the best out of your VPN.

What is a VPN?

A VPN or virtual private network is simply a network that lets you connect securely and maintain privacy online. It encrypts or masks any data you enter over the internet so it can’t be intercepted or seen by your ISP (Internet Service Provider), hackers or the government. 

A VPN helps you to protect your identity and data especially when using public networks like airport Wi-Fis and cafe hotspots. Such open or public access networks are not secure and expose you and your PC to cyber threats, hackers and anyone else on a shared network.

They also come in handy when you’re trying to access unavailable content or content that is restricted in your location, including shopping and/or news sites.

How Does a VPN Service Work?

VPNs are useful tools for adding an extra layer of security especially when you are online. But how exactly do they work? And are they themselves safe as third-party online security tools? For starters let’s look at what makes up a VPN. 

VPNs are generally made up of multiple servers, each with a unique purpose. The most important functions are to authenticate your identity, authorize transactions and requests through your browser and account for what you do online. 

This ultimately helps in concealing your identity and online transactions from hackers and being spied on. 

First, a private and secure tunnel is created as the means of transferring data between your PC and the internet. The tunnel also masks your IP address and live location, making it impossible to find or track. 

So to anyone on the web who could potentially be spying or tracking your online sessions, they’ll only see your VPN’s IP address, while yours remains hidden. Most VPN service providers allow you to choose a location from which you prefer your IP address to come from.

Any data or online requests you make via a VPN goes through the VPN’s secure server first before being passed on to the web. This allows any data you transfer to first be encrypted which is what makes the connection and your data secure. 

All these multiple layers of protection explain why it’s called a virtual private network. It’s literally meant for your use only. Even your internet service provider can’t see what kind of content you’re accessing online. 

A big part of the security a VPN provides comes from encryption. This is simply a means of coding any information transferred between your PC and the internet to make it difficult to decipher. 

It’s like scrambling your data and transmitting it in a way that won’t make sense to anyone, unless they have the key to translate that code. That key however, is only available on your PC and the receiving server thus no one in between can interpret your data. 

Most VPNs use the highest industry standard encryption called AES 256-bit encryption. AES stands for Advanced Encryption Standard and 256-bit tells how complex the code used in encryption is in terms of number of possible combinations per character. 

In fact, AES 256-bit encryption is used by governments and most financial institutions to secure their data.

Why Use a VPN?

It’s clear VPNs allow you to have more security online. But why exactly do you need a VPN? What are the main benefits of using a VPN? For starters, your location will be concealed which can be helpful.

Vpn Benefits
Source: OpenVPN

1. Avoid ISP Tracking.

There are lots of institutions or individuals that can easily snoop on what you do online. Some are obvious like the government, but the biggest and often least considered is your ISP or internet service provider. 

Your service provider may be a telecommunications company like Verizon or a dedicated internet-only service provider. The truth is your ISP knows everything you do online. It can track all your online browsing sessions and may even store your browsing data.

In some countries like the UK, the data may be stored for as long as a year! In other cases, it may be sold to advertisers and businesses that are willing to pay for it, without your consent. It’s like advertisers buying a Facebook pixel about your likes and interests, without your permission. 

That’s how it seems as if some ads may be following you around on the internet or you keep seeing ads linked to your last Google search. 

If you’re keen on maintaining online anonymity and not having your data sold to the highest bidder, it’s worth using a VPN. 

A VPN will hide your online footprint even from your ISP and sites that may track your browsing history by encrypting anything you do online. No one will be able to keep tabs on or store what you do online which will ensure you have full online privacy.

2. Use Public Wi-Fi Safely.

The next most important place you need online security is when accessing a public network or public Wi-Fi. Using a public network exposes you to lots of security risks and cyber threats

For instance, an individual can create a legitimate looking “Wi-Fi network” with an internet connection right from their laptop using the hotspot feature. Anyone that gets their wifi signal may be able to connect and use the network normally like they would on any other Wi-Fi. 

The catch here is any information you or any other user enters online will be visible to that individual since it goes through that individual’s computer.

Use Public WiFi Safely
Source : Wallstreetinv

Be it login credentials, credit card information or anything else. All that information will show up on the person’s laptop making you prone to identity and credit card theft. This kind of cyber threat is called the man-in-the-middle attack

There are many others, like session hijacking where a hacker intercepts your connection and any information you share with other websites and through public Wi-Fi. He then clones this data on his computer so it looks like yours with a similar IP address. 

Session Hijacking
Source: Code Project

This lets him behave and act just like you would on the internet. For example, he can hijack your connection to your bank website or email after you log in. The website will not notice any discrepancy because on their end it would seem like you’re the one transacting business as usual. 

Using a VPN will encrypt any information you share, even including your IP address, making it indecipherable to any third party, no matter the network you’re on.

3. Get Fairer Pricing.

It’s common practice for some businesses to sell their goods and services at a higher price in different locations, especially where the perceived average income is higher. 

Businesses offer different pricing to people in different locations because they believe some may be able to pay more. This happens not only in physical store locations, but online too. A merchant or vendor will do this based on your browsing information simply to make more money.

A good example of this is airline websites. Among the many other reasons that influence flight pricing at any point in time, location also plays a role. Hence it’s not unusual to pay a little more if you’re booking from a big city or state. 

VPNs let you determine where you’d like your connection to look like it's coming from, even down to which province/region (VPN location-swapping). This will also help you get fairer pricing and also prevent your information being used against you by advertisers and businesses. 

Since advertisers are constantly buying information about their target market, an advertiser can sell you higher priced items based on information they get from your ISP. 

For example, a show that you were previously streaming for free suddenly comes with a price tag when a new season is released. A VPN will make it impossible for your ISP to know you’ve been watching that show, hence they can’t sell your data to anyone in the first place.

4. Access To Blocked Content And Websites.

Sometimes, you may try to access certain content which isn’t classified but restricted in your region. For example, you may want to subscribe to a particular streaming service, but find that it's only available in the US. 

Another example is when you’re looking to purchase a particular item from a website, but find that the site is blocked in your location or doesn’t allow purchases in your jurisdiction. Using a VPN will help you bypass those content blocks without having to ask a third party to get involved. 

Because your connection is encrypted, it easily cuts through such filters and comes out on the backend of your VPN provider’s server, cloaked. This lets you have access to all the content you want legally and without restrictions regardless of your location.

5. Prevent Censorship.

Freedom of information is a right, but you may not always find yourself in a jurisdiction that allows it. In some countries, governments exercise very strict control on what kind of information gets in and out of the country, including via the internet. 

For example, in China and North Korea there are pretty strict government rules and censorship on certain websites like Google, Facebook and Twitter. That implies any Google and Facebook related products like Gmail, Google Maps, WhatsApp and Instagram are also not accessible. 

Thus if you’re briefly visiting places like these, a VPN can be very helpful in circumventing such censorship just like it would when you access a blocked site. It would route your connection through a server in a country that allows full internet access without censorship. 

You may find this extremely helpful under certain circumstances. For example, if you are a business person or tourist that needs to quickly reach out to a close associate or family about something urgent, but can’t reach them on the phone.

Types of VPNs

The principle of how a VPN works is the foundation, but there are different kinds of VPNs which all achieve the same result differently. The type you choose will depend on different factors, which we’ll look at a little later in this article. 

For now, we’ll focus on the different kinds of VPNs and how they work. This should help you make an informed choice when choosing a VPN in future. Generally speaking, there are four basic types of VPNs; remote access VPNs, site-to-site VPNs, mobile VPNs and hardware VPNs.

1. Remote Access VPN

This is the most popularly used type of VPN. If you’ve ever used a VPN service before, chances are you used a remote access VPN. Remote access VPNs are the basis on which most other acclaimed commercial VPNs are built. 

This kind of VPN connects you to a secure remote server first so you can access a private network. The connection usually is encrypted for maximum security using a combination of SSL and AES 256-bit encryption

This server may be the gateway server for your service provider’s network. The gateway server will first confirm you or your device’s identity before allowing access to their private network and its resources. 

They’ll then use their network to hide your sent and received data from whichever external network you are connecting to. That’s how you get maximum privacy, access restricted content and protect your data from hackers and spying. 

Remote access VPNs are popular because they’re among the easiest to get started with and the most hassle-free to use, even for beginners. This makes it perfect for experienced web users and non tech-savvy folks alike. It is most suited for personal use

But if you’re a business user or looking for a VPN for corporate use, remote access VPNs may not work for your needs.

2. Site-to-site VPN

On the opposing side of remote access VPNs are site-to-site VPNs. They’re goal is to serve several users in multiple locations secure access to each other’s resources. 

Often these locations are fixed and the kind of resources being shared are usually not meant for public access. Basically, they connect one remote network to another remote network securely

For example, if you’re based in the New York headquarters of your firm but had to collaborate with team mates in the Berlin branch, a site-to-site VPN would solve this problem. 

It would make it possible to connect your firm’s local area network(LAN) to their LAN via a wide area network (WAN). Thus making it possible to securely share company data and resources between both branches .

Such VPNs use Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) clouds as opposed to using the internet as the medium for data transport. 

This kind of site-to-site VPN is called an intranet based site-to-site VPN. It’s a popular choice amongst companies with several branches across a continent or the globe even, like banks. 

The other kind of site-to-site VPN is called an extranet-based site-to-site VPN. Extranet-based site-to-site VPNs are used when an organization wants to limit access between two local area networks while they still share a wide area network. 

It’s kind of like having a shared sitting area within a house, but each person having their own private bedroom. 

The shared space allows you to share what you choose to and your bedroom allows you to have privacy. This kind of VPN is useful when two different companies need to work together. 

Site-to-site VPNs are best suited for corporations and large businesses that need secure communication between multiple departments or branches. They’re also not suited for beginners and need a high level of tech expertise and specialized equipment to set up. 

They also aren’t as flexible as other commercial VPNs because they are built to meet a specific need. For example, an employee using a site-to-site VPN may still choose to use a remote access VPN to go online because it’s built to provide security on the web.

3. Mobile VPN

Mobile VPNs are called so not necessarily because they run on mobile phones, but because of the kind of accessibility they offer. Usually a VPN only works on the device you’ve logged in from to connect to a network of your choice. 

If you end up needing to switch devices or face changes in connectivity or coverage, your session may be lost and you’ll need to log in all over again. 

Mobile User VPN Infography
Source: Watchguard

A mobile VPN or mVPN prevents this by allowing you to stay logged on always, no matter the device you use, changes in physical location or changes in coverage. The point of connection to a network can change without affecting the connection if you use an mVPN. 

It achieves this by using a “logical” IP address rather than a physical IP address that is permanently tagged to a mobile device, no matter where it goes. 

This is especially useful for businesses with staff that travel a lot to areas of differing connectivity and coverage. It switches easily across multiple private and public networks.

4. Hardware VPN

So far we’ve talked about VPNs that either need to be installed or work like a software-as-a-service basis. Both of these types are software VPNs. A software VPN may use some hardware to operate but there are VPNs that are solely hardware-based.

Hardware VPNs are dedicated network hardware that work just like a standard VPN; encrypting and processing data traffic that goes on a network. Ideally, hardware VPNs work best for businesses that have large needs or need a site-to-site VPN set-up.

Apart from the fact that setting up a hardware VPN may be expensive, time-intensive and need a lot of technical expertise, it has its perks. For starters, it offers a high level of security sometimes more than software VPNs. 

A hardware VPN also provides a dedicated IP address and convenient remote access to LANs and intranets. Your device’s central processing unit also benefits, as it takes off the workload associated with encrypting your data.

Best VPN Software Tools for More Online Privacy and Security

It’s clear VPNs are important if you’re looking for maximum online security and privacy. It’s also clear not all VPNs work the same or offer the same level of protection. So how do you know which VPN is right for you? 

We’ll review the best VPN software tools based on their features and value for money.

1. NordVPN

Best All-Round VPN with Extensive Server Locations

NordVPN is the Best All Round VPN with Extensive Server Locations

As one of the most popular names in the VPN market, NordVPN has built a reputation for being reliable, affordable and secure. The service comes with perks like double VPN security and an audited no-log policy so you’re sure your data is neither being tracked nor sold. 

Security wise, you’ll get the standard AES-256 bit encryption which you can layer on top of its double VPN system. Double VPN security here means your traffic and data is encrypted twice practically guaranteeing your info remains untraceable. 

This is helpful especially when you’re on public Wifi. You’ll also get DNS leak protection, proxy extensions for Chrome and Firefox plus strong block removal for streaming services like Netflix and iPlayer. 

In terms of pricing, NordVPN starts from as little as $4.32/month billed for 2 years which is an impressive 65% discount for first time users. You still have the option to choose annual billing at $4.92/month or monthly billing at $11.95 per month billed monthly. 

All plans allow you to connect up to six devices including mobile devices, smart TVs and routers so no need for any additional accounts just to protect more devices. It is also available on all major operating systems including Windows, MacOS, Linux, Android and iOS. 

If you need any help, you’ll find NordVPN’s resource library is filled with pretty helpful articles. In case those don’t help feel free to reach out to their responsive 24/7 live customer support or chatbot.

2. ExpressVPN

Best VPN For Speed and Reliability.

ExpressVPN is the Best VPN For Speed and Reliability

Coming in a close second behind NordVPN, ExpressVPN is a fast, multi-purpose VPN that prioritizes security above almost everything else. The service gives you a choice of 3,000+ servers in over 150 locations and 90+ countries. 

That means you can literally pretend to be anywhere in the world! You’ll also get up to five simultaneous connections at a time, meaning no need for multiple accounts just to use more devices. 

Its device compatibility is broad too including everything from Apple TV, Roku, Amazon’s Fire Stick, Xbox, PlayStations and routers. You’ll also have dedicated Chrome and Firefox proxy extensions. 

ExpressVPN’s security uses industry standard encryption combined with high level protocols like L2TP/IPsec and IKEv2. What’s more impressive is the fact that it is experimenting with its own Lightway protocol that promises faster speeds and reliability. 

Whether you’re a beginner or tech savvy person, the software is intuitive and easy to set up with compatible versions for Windows, MacOS, Linux and Android. In terms of cost, you can get started for $8.32 per month if you choose annual billing. 

Month-to-month billing goes for $12.95 per month and if you’re not sure, you can always count on their iron-clad 30-day money back guarantee.

3. CyberGhost

Most Affordable Remote Access VPN for Family Use.

CyberGhost is the Most Affordable Remote Access VPN for Family Use

As one of the more aesthetically pleasing options, CyberGhost’s interface is clean, easy-to-use and quite intuitive. It even comes with pre-built profiles designed specifically for your web activity, be it surfing the web or downloading torrents that can be set up in a matter of clicks.

It boasts of an impressive 10 million+ users and over 6,500 servers distributed across 90 countries. But its strongest selling point is its flawless compatibility with Windows on both desktop and laptop. 

Its built in features and functionality like smart rules offer an added layer ease-of-use. Smart rules let you automatically connect to your preferred server when launching an app like your web browser all improve your user experience. You can connect up to seven devices too. 

For non-tech savvy folks, CyberGhost VPN automatically connects you to the right server based on what you’re doing for example streaming or torrenting. Plus it supports Windows, MacOS, iOS and Android. 

Its ability to access blocked content is sometimes not reliable, for example streaming exclusive Netflix content in regions like Canada. But it offers a juicy 45-day money back guarantee which is uncommon amongst its competitors. 

Pricing plans start at $12.99 per month billed monthly, $3.99/month billed annually down to $2.25 per month if you subscribe for 39 months at a go. All annual billing plans are covered by their 45-day money back guarantee.

4. Surfshark

Best VPN for Unlimited Device Connections.

Surfshark is the Best VPN for Unlimited Device Connections

For bargain hunters who want unlimited connections at almost unbelievable prices, SurfShark is your best bet. The company has carved its niche as a budget VPN with a stripped-down no fuss but easy to use interface and strong geo-unblocking features. 

SurfShark offers above industry standard encryptions and security using the new WireGuard protocol which it adds on to its OpenVPN, TCP and IKEv2 options. On top of that, Surfshark has a private DNS, a double VPN hop and a no logs policy for extra security. 

Whether you plan to use the service for yourself or your entire household CyberGhost allows you to connect as many devices as you want, Amazon Fire stick included. It is compatible with WIndows, Mac, Android, iOS and Linux too. 

In terms of pricing, SurfShark scores big points with its pricing, starting from $2.49 per month if you subscribe for 24 months, $6.49 per month if you choose to sign up for 6 months and $12.99 per month for monthly billing. All plans are backed by a 30-day money back guarantee.

5. Hotspot Shield

Best For Both Free and High-speed Premium VPN protection.

Hotspot Shield is the Best For Both Free and High speed Premium VPN protection

Hotspot Shield is popular for its free VPN but offers a stellar premium VPN option. Its paid option gives you over 1,800 servers in 80 countries and up to five connections. Plus it’s the only option that also gives you a free 7-day trial. 

Though that may not sound like a lot compared to its competitors, it offers lightning fast speeds that dull the competition. This will come in handy if you need a VPN mainly for gaming, streaming or torrenting. 

In fact average speeds are in the region of 360 – 380Mbps if you choose US or UK servers. Other servers come pretty close too all thanks to its Catapult Hydra protocol. 

In terms of security, some concerns have been raised about its no log policy, but Hotspot Shield has publicly explained on its site what exactly that information is used for to allay any concerns. 

Speed aside, you get to use its SmartVPN feature which lets you set up filters for websites that you’d like it to bypass. So if you’re only interested in using your VPN for shopping and banking, the SmartVPN feature is a great tool. 

Choose any plan beyond its monthly pricing plan and you’ll get the benefit of its 45-day money back guarantee. Annual plans start from $7.99 per month for 5 devices and $11.99 per month for up to 25 devices including routers, smart TVs and Linux powered devices.

Key Features and Functions of VPN Software to Look For

With a myriad of options to choose from and an abundance of pretty impressive features, choosing a VPN service can get confusing. What kind of VPN service do you need? Is it worth paying more for a longer subscription or choosing a month-to-month subscription? 

What about security? Before you settle on a VPN service provider, it is worth paying attention to the following features and capabilities.

1. Service Jurisdictions

First thing to consider when choosing a VPN is where it operates out of. Different countries have different laws governing how service providers run. Equally your country of residence may have certain laws that make a particular service provider illegal. 

Some countries demand that VPNs store data from its users. Others have stringent copyright protections and enforcements in place. Either way, you may be at risk of having your data still being gathered or facing legal action for downloading copyrighted content.

2. Payment Options Available

The point of using a VPN is both security and anonymity. This applies equally in the kind of payment methods your service provider accepts. 

The last thing you want is to leave a paper trail of your transactions with the company by using your credit or debit card because this will be visible to both the service provider and your bank. 

Choosing a VPN that allows you to pay using cryptocurrency, prepaid cards or other payment methods helps you remain anonymous even as you transact business with them.

3. Tech Specifications

It doesn’t matter how responsive their customer care is or how sleek their website looks. What counts is your provider having the technical muscle to actually provide the privacy and security you need. 

For example, some free VPNs use old and outdated methods to provide the VPN functionality. However these methods are vulnerable and also provide slow connections.

4. Tunneling Protocols

Next in line to having the right specifications, your VPN should provide up-to-date tunneling protocols. Tunneling is how your VPN keeps your traffic data secure and concealed from any third parties. 

Some tunneling protocols like PPTP are almost obsolete. More recent, faster and secure options are available today like OpenVPN, IKEv2 and the newer and more popular WireGuard. Make sure your service provider offers multiple VPN protocols for better security.

5. Server Number And Locations

Server number and location directly affect the location and access options you have as well as your VPN’s speed. Your VPN service provider should offer servers in the country or countries you’re looking to access content from. 

Apart from having servers in the countries you want to connect to, it's also good to have multiple servers in varied locations. This will help prevent lag from crowding and too many server requests. 

Again, having more connection options for servers close to you greatly helps the speed of your connection.

6. Log Policy

Privacy and anonymity are part of the main reasons why most people choose to subscribe to a VPN service. A critical aspect of maintaining online anonymity is not having your activity logged

Some service providers have a strict no logging or no logs policy, while others are not as transparent. Choose a service provider that doesn’t track or store your personal logs. Even better, it helps to find one whose policy is audited by independent third-party

7. Support for Streaming and Downloads

A popular use for most VPNs is for streaming restricted content or downloading from torrent sites. Nonetheless, not all VPNs do a good job of allowing you to access blocked content from streaming sites like Netflix or BBC iPlayer. 

Some also may work better for sites that within its country of operations, others may not work as well. Likewise, some VPNs don’t support torrenting either. It helps to read online reviews to know what the general user experience is like.

8. App and Device Compatibility

Finally, you need to consider the kinds of devices you intend to use with your VPN. Are you going to use only PCs or mobile devices? What about other smart appliances like TVs, routers and even gaming consoles? 

Most VPNs do a good job of supporting multiple operating systems both on mobile and PC, but not many connect to other gadgets. Often your service provider would offer a different version of VPN for Mac and Windows. Be sure to check if your VPN supports all the gadgets you intend to use with it. 

Also, it's worth considering how many devices you intend to connect at a time. Usually your service provider gives an allocation for a fixed number of connections per subscription. 

If you have a lot of devices to connect, then it's worth going for a VPN that offers unlimited connections.

How to Set Up a VPN?

By now you probably understand what a VPN is, how it works and what some of its key features are. We’ve also listed some pretty good options in case you’re looking to try out VPNs and see what difference they make. 

So how do you set up a VPN? Do you need some special knowledge to set it up and run it? The fact is this depends on the kind of VPN you’re looking to set up. If you’re trying to build a site-to-site VPN or a hardware VPN then you may need considerable skill and expertise

Most other types of VPNs apart from remote access VPNs are often expensive and need expert skill not only to set up but also manage and keep running. Things like updates and fixes errors and bugs would all be part of keeping your VPN effective and running smoothly. 

However if you’re looking to set up a remote access VPN, you may not need more than a few clicks if on PC or mobile. Generally speaking, here are the steps involved in setting up a VPN. 

1. Download your chosen service provider’s app from their company download page.

This includes mobile and PC versions. 

  • Connect as many devices as possible as you’d want to protect as many devices as possible. 
  • Be sure to check for compatibility with your device OS versions as some VPNs have version-specific apps.

2. Next, login to your subscription account using the login details you chose during sign up. 

  • This will authenticate your subscription and allow you to connect multiple devices too. 
  • After logging in, your VPN may automatically connect to the server that’s closest to you so you can get fast connection speeds. The farther the server from your geolocation, the slower the connection becomes.
  • Once you begin connecting to the web, your remote access VPN automatically starts  working and your information is now secure. 

3. If you choose to configure your device’s network settings directly, you can follow these steps;

  • for device-specific VPN IP address configuration, refer to your service provider’s guide. 
  • to change your server from your provider’s recommended server, you can check from your provider’s list of available servers and choose a different server. 
  • Most service providers have this option, by showing you menus or drop-down lists of available servers. Some may further specify which ones are best for streaming and torrenting. 
  • You can experiment with multiple server locations till you find a server that works for you. 

VPN FAQs

Is using a VPN illegal?

This depends on your jurisdiction. Most countries will allow you to use a VPN freely. In other instances it may not be banned outright, but it may be looked upon by the government of the day as a hostile act since it wants full control to access.

And by all means using a VPN to commit a crime is still illegal. Always the laws in the country where you intend to use your VPN especially since laws may change with new governments. 

Is VPN safe for online banking?

Yes VPNs are safe for online banking.

Online banking without a VPN may expose you to security threats from hackers and spyware. A VPN is safe for doing your online banking as it helps ensure you keep your account details secure. So you can be assured that details like account numbers and passwords will be kept safe.

Can VPNs be traced?

While it’s not absolutely impossible to trace a VPN, it is extremely hard. By using a VPN, your IP address is changed and whatever you do online is encrypted for protection and privacy. .If you use a well-configured and up-to-date VPN, your activity should be difficult to trace

Sometimes a VPN may use outdated security protocols, like how some free VPNs use old technology to provide security. In such a case, the VPN may be easily compromised. 

There’s also the possibility of being identified or traced using your credit card information when you pay for your VPN subscription but ideally your VPN should guarantee that such information remains confidential and isn’t shared. 

Finally, if your VPN doesn’t store your data or session logs (no logs policy), that further reduces your potential of being traced.

Can I get hacked when using a VPN?

Yes, you can still be hacked while using a VPN. VPNs provide security by concealing your online data transactions and masking your IP address. This protects you from external cyber threats like spyware and third-party interference. 

However a VPN can’t protect you from native cyber threats or security breaches you cause by yourself. For example, accidentally introducing malware directly on your machine (USB or downloaded), falling prey to a phishing scheme or sharing your login credentials with your partner. 

In the above instances, there is little a VPN can do to protect you from a security breach. IT can however protect you from being spied on by governments and your ISPs, malicious web connections and websites that collect your data.

Is a VPN really worth it?

If you value online privacy and being untraceable then a VPN is definitely a worthwhile investment. VPNs protect you from falling prey to advertisers, government snooping and also help you access regionally blocked content. 

They even come in handy and may help you save money when shopping online by protecting you from price discrimination. Also you can avoid censorship and communicate promptly with whoever you need to, even when you’re in a different country.

Are free VPNs worth it?

Free VPNs may seem like an appealing choice to those on a budget. But they usually end up costing you more in terms of data loss and security breaches than if you had chosen a paid service.

For starters, most free VPNs allow ads because they need the revenue to keep the service running. Unfortunately sometimes these ads contain malware and bugs which could compromise the security of your PC by making it easier to get viruses and other malware. 

Again, free VPNs tend to be guilty of using third-party trackers in their software. In fact, one study found about 72% of free VPNs embed data trackers to collect user data. This data is then sold to advertisers or the highest bidder in order to generate revenue. 

The whole point of a VPN is to stay anonymous and keep your data out of the hands of such folks. Usually a paid premium service is more likely to protect your anonymity, privacy and not sell your data. 

Apart from selling your information, a free VPN is likely to do a poor job of unblocking restricted content from a streaming service like Netflix. 

A lot may not work at all. On top of that, free VPNs also have a frustratingly slow internet connection with severe limits on bandwidth and may not even allow downloads

Thus it’s worth spending a few extra dollars to get a premium service that will save you from these headaches.

Can I use a VPN on multiple devices?

Yes you can. Most VPN service providers allow a certain number of connections to multiple devices per subscription. So if everyone in your household wants to use a VPN it becomes easy. 

Another workaround is to connect the VPN directly to the main router. This will automatically protect any device that connects to the internet through that router.

What is VPN encryption?

Encryption is the coding process that your VPN uses to scramble your data or web traffic so it can’t be deciphered by third parties. It works by taking plain text and converting it into cipher text consisting of random characters. Only those who have the special key can decrypt it.

Just like how some websites use standard SSL encryption to protect any data you enter on their site, VPNs use encryption to code your data to keep it safe too.

How does VPN encryption work?

VPNs work by creating an encrypted link or tunnel between the server, the site you are trying to access and you. 

Just like in real life, if you were being followed by a helicopter and had to pass through a tunnel, they won’t be able to see you or anything that goes on within that tunnel until you exit. 

With a VPN this tunnel exits directly to the host server of the website you’re connecting to, making it impossible for anyone to even tell which sites you logged on to.

This secure connection also hides your IP address so that your data becomes almost impossible to intercept, track, alter or duplicate. VPNs use different security protocols like OpenVPN, SSTP and IKEv2 to ensure your data remains safe always.

What is AES-256?

The Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) is a one-of-a kind publicly available cipher approved by the US National Security Agency (NSA) for protecting top secret information. This military grade encryption protocol simply uses a 256-bit encryption key to encrypt or decrypt data files. 

A 256-bit key simply tells of how complex an encryption key is. Anyone trying to hack a 256-bit key will have to try a near impossible number of possible combinations (think billions) to be able to decode the key, even if they used very fast computers. 

Hence AES-256 is the preferred method of encryption of banks and institutions that transfer sensitive data over the internet or between networks.

What does a VPN server do?

A VPN basically creates a secure connection and scrambles any data you use during your online sessions. It does this through a virtual tunnel that also hides your IP address making you invisible online and also making it difficult for hackers to trace you. This gives you more security and privacy online.

How much does a VPN cost?

VPNs come in lots of price ranges from very affordable to somewhat pricey. How much you end up paying depends on the kind of service you choose and the features it gives you.

For example, Surfshark may offer pretty budget-friendly prices but not at the same speeds that NordVPN would give you. Also how much you pay would be affected by your billing plan. Generally choosing annual subscriptions save you more than paying month-to-month. 

Can a VPN see my passwords?

A VPN can see your password if the website where you are entering your data doesn’t have a secure connection or the lock symbol next to the web address in your browser. 

Using an HTTPS connection adds a layer of protection to any data you enter on a website and make it almost impossible for anyone to see your password information. 

For extra security, it’s worth choosing a known and trusted VPN service provider. Service providers with a strong reputation will choose to keep their customers happy over damaging their reputation with security breaches and bad reviews.

Which VPN Service Should I Choose?

VPNs are a great way to add another layer of security and privacy to your online browsing sessions and also between local workplace networks. They help to keep your information from being sold to advertisers by your ISP, snooping by governments and theft by hackers. 

The kind of VPN service you choose will be influenced by whether it is for personal or business use, the kind of devices you intend to use it on and even your geolocation. Remote access VPNs which are the most common kind are ideal for personal and family use. 

If you’re looking for a VPN that is reliable, fast and has a good number of server locations then NordVPN is a good choice. If you’re after sheer speed and the latest WireGuard security protocols, ExpressVPN offers some impressive features. 

Finally, if you’re interested in a budget-friendly option that allows you to connect unlimited devices, Surfshark offers competitively priced plans with unlimited device connections per subscription.

Written by
Martin Luenendonk
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