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VPN is like a relay between your internet connection and the website you want to access. A VPN routes all of your internet traffic through a different network. This allows you to hide your original IP address from the website you are trying to visit. VPN also helps you prevent your data from being breached while using a public network. This can be very convenient for people who frequently surf over public Wi-Fi connections that can be accessed by multiple users.
VPNs can also be used to unblock websites that are restricted by your Internet service provider or blocked in your area. There are so many things to consider before choosing the right VPN for you. There are hundreds or even thousands of options on the market right now that can make the options overwhelming.
Choosing the right VPN
Before we dive into how to use a VPN, let’s quickly talk about what to look for. There are a few things to consider.
Free vs paid VPNs
Paid VPNs offer a much better quality of service with no ads, data caps, or speed limitations. They are also more feature-packed. There are some decent options that are free, but a paid service is much better if you are serious about your privacy and security online.
Ideally, you want a VPN that maintains zero activity or connection logs. Others may keep only connection logs, so it depends on whether you are comfortable with that. Anything more than that is completely impossible.
Where the VPN is based
This is another key factor, as privacy and data retention laws come into play. Better to steer clear of a service that is based on a “5-eye” location.
At the very least, you should look for features like a kill switch that blocks any traffic if the VPN connection goes down. Some more advanced features, such as obfuscation, antimalware, and more, are also available with some services.
Not all VPNs allow you to do what you want. Some do not allow access to streaming services, others do not support P2P, and many may not have servers in or around your country. Find out what you need a VPN for and filter out those that don’t offer that feature.
Easy to use
Almost all VPN services are very easy to use, but some are simpler and have fewer features (which can be a good thing) than others. There are many great options if you just want to touch a button and connect. Many will also let you dive into the settings and features if you like.
Price is often the most important factor when choosing anything. There are a ton of great options that are also relatively affordable. Long-term plans come with deep discounts most of the time, and specials and deals are usually available as well.
How to Use a VPN: First Steps
Once you have chosen the correct VPN service, you will need to sign up and pay for it. In most cases, an email address will be required to set up an account. Most VPN providers guarantee that the email address will not be used for anything other than customer service, but you may want to set up a fictitious account to add an extra layer of privacy.
You can use standard payment options like debit cards, credit cards, and PayPal. Some allow you to use cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and you may even have the option of using regional payment wallets or gift cards.
Some VPN services, like Mullvad, take anonymity to another level by not requiring an email address to sign up. The service also encourages the use of cryptocurrencies to pay for subscriptions, ensuring that the service has very little information about you.
Every good VPN service comes with apps for common operating systems like Android, iOS, macOS, and Windows. You will have to check and see if the VPN is compatible with other devices, such as Linux systems, game consoles, and streaming devices, if you need it. You can also consider setting up the VPN directly on a Wi-Fi router to cover multiple devices simultaneously.
You can download an app first and go through the registration process, or set everything up on the VPN website first. Mobile apps will be available on the Google Play Store and App Store and links for other operating systems should be easy to find on the VPN’s website. Just download and install the apps you need, log in, and you’re good to go.
Connect to a VPN server
Most apps will have a prominent connect button that you can tap to start using the VPN. The server closest to you, or the one the application chooses, will offer the lowest latency and fastest speed. If you’re looking to get started right away, just tap the button and you’re done.
However, you may want to know how to connect to a VPN server in a specific location. For example, you will have to connect to the correct server to access a streaming service. Some locations and servers are more compatible with P2P than others. Some VPNs clearly state what each server location is for.
Using ExpressVPN as an example, choose a “smart location” for yourself: the server with the lowest latency and the highest speed. If you are looking for something specific, tap on “Selected Location” to bring up the full list of servers. You can also “bookmark” your preferred options for easy access later.
Some VPNs like CyberGhost take the guesswork out of providing modes and purposes. You can select what you want to do and the application will make the best choice for you, which is ideal for first-time users.
Settings and functions
The settings and features sections are where things start to look different, but the basics remain. With any VPN, you have to find and flip the kill switch. This could go by a different name like Network Lock, Internet Kill Switch, and more, but the idea is the same across the board. This feature blocks any Internet activity and traffic if the VPN connection is interrupted.
You may see the option to choose the VPN protocol, with options like OpenVPN (UDP and TCP), L2TP / IPSec, and PPTP available. OpenVPN is definitely the best option. Of course, you can always set it to Automatic and the app will make the decision. However, this is not always ideal if the VPN still supports older protocols like PPTP.
Finally, you will find some advanced features depending on the service you choose. Some services offer ad removal and protection against malware, obfuscation servers, and much more. If these features are important to you, VPNs like NordVPN and Surfshark are great options.
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