What is VPN - Featured

The truth is that the Web isn’t as open as you might think. In fact, you are most probably encountering roadblocks every time you go online. For example, you can’t access certain geo-restricted websites, or your ISP might be throttling your Web connection. On top of this, we have malware, vulnerable Wi-Fi connections, and different types of online dangers. The only way to overcome all these obstacles is by using a VPN. And without any doubt, VPN applications have become a highly trending topic these last couple of years. So, what are VPNs, in the first place? How do they work, and how do VPNs protect your privacy? Can VPNs keep you truly anonymous online? Let’s find out!

Plenty could be said about VPN applications, and we’ll try to answer all your questions. So, make sure to stick with us until the end of this article, and you’ll have a pretty clear idea of how VPNs work and what to expect from this technology. So, let’s get started.

What is VPN & Why Do I Need It?

Even though you might not think so, you offer a lot of information that other people would love to have. Some of it is obvious, such as your credit card number, passport details, bank account logins and so on. That’s why bank websites and other services which send and receive sensitive information have special technologies to protect that information. Your bank should have an address that starts with ‘HTTPS‘ rather than ‘HTTP‘, which shows that it’s secure. No one can ‘listen in’ when you send your username and password to the bank because the information is written in a special code. In other words, it’s encrypted.

This is great for your bank-specific details, but there’s still a lot of information you’re broadcasting on the Internet which you may not want other people to know. It’s not just criminals either. You also have to think about corporations and governments as well. And this is precisely where VPNs come into play. Designed to encrypt your Web connection, hide your online whereabouts, and make sure no one knows what you do online, VPNs have become the ultimate tool for online security and privacy.

You need a VPN because you deserve not to be spied on. You deserve to have control over your privacy and you certainly deserve to feel safe in your own home. A VPN is a key tool for making a safe and private Internet experience a reality.

How Does a VPN Work?

VPN-related technologies come down to three main components: encapsulation, encryption, and authentication. Here’s what each of these is capable of doing.

  • Authentication: The easiest one to understand is authentication because we all deal with it every day. You have to prove to the VPN that you are really who you say you are. One way VPNs do this is through a plain old username and password. They also make use of sophisticated certification technologies that improve the layers of security beyond just a simple login.
  • Encapsulation: This is the key to how a VPN hides what sort of data you’re sending. It wraps your data packets, like video streaming or torrent packets, in its own VPN-specific packets. It literally encapsulates the data so that anyone who inspects a packet will see the same VPN-branded data no matter what’s actually in there.
  • Encryption: Encryption is the last (but not least) piece of the VPN security puzzle. This is the way that the VPN scrambles your information so that even if someone analyzed your data packets, it won’t make any sense to them. Without a special key to unscramble the information, it’s all just gibberish and only you and the VPN have copies of the keys. The encryption offered by the best VPN services is so good that even the computers available to governments would take billions of years to crack by brute force.

In case you’d like to take a closer look at each of these components, we have a dedicated guide on how VPNs work – so make sure to give it a thorough read.

Is it Safe to Use a VPN?

If you don’t have any type of protection when connecting to the Web, all your Web data freely flows from and to your computer. There’s no active layer present, which means that third-parties can easily collect various information about you, and ultimately – take advantage of your personal data.

A VPN isn’t only safe to use – it’s highly recommended to use because it encrypts your Web connection. Instead of your data being fully visible to anyone, it becomes hidden. This is done by using VPN protocols that dictate the way your personal data is handled. Some protocols, such as PPTP and SSTP allow you to browse the Web in a speedy way, but they don’t bring the best possible security. So, if you need total protection, you should rely on OpenVPN and IKEv2.

Is It Legal to Use VPN Applications?

VPNs protect your right to privacy, and as such, they are legal in the majority of countries. However, there are a few examples of totalitarian and authoritarian regimes where the flow of information from the outside world is supervised. This means that there’s a small group of countries where VPNs are illegal. In the rest of the world, VPNs are completely safe to use.

Can You Use a VPN for Torrenting?

If you know how torrents work, you already know the importance of protecting what you do online. Even if you stick to legal torrent websites only, many ISPs will throttle your Web connection, preventing you from downloading torrents. As you can already imagine, this is where VPNs for torrenting come into play.

As noted in our Ultimate Torrent Guide, P2P traffic uses a network of participating computers to create a chain of command. Therefore, as long as you’re in that network, your private information (like your IP address and your location) becomes visible to other participants of that network. By using a VPN, you can hide that information from other P2P users as well as from your ISP. So, make sure to have a VPN the next time you use any of the popular torrent clients or any of the worldwide-used torrent websites.

Can You Use a VPN for Media Streaming?

Yes, you can use a VPN for media streaming – especially if you want to unblock new types of websites or new types of content. However, you need to know that not every VPN can unblock plenty of websites, which depends on the technology that powers them.

If you want to stream media using a VPN, we highly recommend checking the best VPN for streaming. However, it’s also a good idea to check different VPNs based on your favorite streaming platforms. With this said, we have the best VPNs for Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Hulu, Fox Sports GO, YouTube, and more.

Do VPNs Slow Down My Web Connection?

When using a VPN application, your data has to travel through an additional (secure) server. This means that is has a longer route, which is one of the reasons why you might experience some throttling. Different VPNs impact your Web connection speed in different ways, so make sure to do your research before buying a subscription.

To help you find the best VPN, we have our own guide to the fastest VPNs right now. But also, remember that there’s plenty you can do to speed up slow VPNs, which also depends on the type of VPN protocol you plan on using.

Can I Create My Own VPN?

It’s interesting to note that you can even create your own server if you’re willing to dive into a DIY project. However, it’s important to know that creating your own server can be more expensive in the long-run than simply getting a commercial VPN subscription.

There are several ways to create your own VPN, like using a VPN-compatible router or turning your old computer into a server. You’ll find all the information you need from our guide to set up your own VPN server at home.

What Are VPN Routers?

As you already know, you can install a VPN on Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, iOS, and many other platforms. However, the best way to secure multiple devices at once is to buy a VPN router. By running a VPN on the router level, every device that connects to that router immediately gets the protection provided by your VPN service.

We’ll be honest with you, and we’ll say that installing a VPN on a router might be a bit technical for inexperienced users. However, there are many helpful guides online, including ours. Also, make sure to check out how to choose a VPN router before buying one.

NETGEAR R7000 Router

In addition to using VPN routers, you can also use DD-WRT routers. As their name says, these are powered by open-source DD-WRT firmware which is easy to use and comes with plenty of fine-tuning. And the best thing is – there are plenty of different options out there. We have our guides for the best DD-WRT routers under $50 as well as routers under $100, in addition to the best DD-WRT routers overall.

How Much Do VPNs Cost?

Commercial VPNs are subscription-based services. With that said, the majority of VPNs come with several subscription plans, allowing you to pay on a monthly or yearly basis.

In general, the least affordable way is to pay monthly. This way, VPNs can cost you from around $10.00 to around $15.00 per month. However, paying upfront usually brings you steep discounts of more than 50%. This means that if you break down their yearly prices into monthly payments, you’ll need to pay from around $2.50 to around $8.00. Of course, by choosing a yearly plan you need to pay for the whole year upfront.

It’s also worth mentioning that you can find some pretty great deals from time to time. We have our article on the best VPN deals right now, which we frequently update, so make sure to take a look.

Can I Try VPNs Free of Charge?

Considering that VPNs are premium-priced options, not many of them bring free-of-charge trials. That’s because it would be easy for individuals to use different email addresses and to take advantage of those trials. However, here is a list of free trial VPNs that don’t charge you.

Please note that the majority of VPN trials will need your personal information. So, if you aren’t comfortable to provide such information, here are the completely free VPN trials, where no sort of information including your credit card isn’t required during the signup stage.

Are There Free VPN Services?

There’s no need to hide the fact that some VPNs offer their services free of charge. However, since you’re not paying for those, you become the product. As shown by the numerous reports before, free VPNs leak your personal data. They also collect your personal data and sell it to advertisers. And on top of that, they simply can’t bring the same level of security as commercial VPNs can.

So, can you find free VPNs out there? Yes, and you don’t even have to look too hard. Should you use those VPNs? Definitely no, since free VPNs aren’t safe and they can easily become a gateway to malware, adware, and more.

What Are The Advantages of Using a VPN?

There are numerous benefits to using VPNs. So, let’s take a brief look at some of the most prominent ones.

1. Speed Up Your Web Connection

There’s a big global fight going on right now over the fact that Internet service providers are deciding to slow down some online activities. While that shiny new fiber connection will blast along at full speed on Facebook or other light websites, it slows to a crawl when you try to stream video or download software.

The little packets that make up your sent and received data are all marked with a tag. So it can decide to take all the packets labeled ‘Netflix’ or and make them wait in line while other packets get to zoom by. Because of the way a VPN works, your service provider suddenly can’t see that information anymore, since it’s all hidden inside your VPN tunnel. This means you get all the speed your Internet connection can provide, minus a little VPN overhead of course. If you ever wondered how to bypass ISP throttling, you’ve just found your answer.

2. Unblock Content on the Internet

Due to the way a VPN works, it’s not possible for the website that you want to visit to know your true location. If the VPN service has a server in the right part of the world, it will look to that site as if you’re in that country. This means that you can access content from all over the world. For example, you can watch American Netflix, Hulu, and HBO GO just about anywhere in the world. Furthermore, you can use country-specific services like PlayStation Vue, Sling TV, DirecTV NOW and more – even if you’re not in the USA.

It’s not just about getting to see a cool video clip either, VPNs provide a way to see websites and content that certain governments don’t want their citizens to see. So if you live in a country that censors the Internet, a good VPN could open your eyes to a world of differing opinions. We recommend reading our guides on the best VPN for China, UAE, and Turkey – which is where online censorship is at its strongest.

3. Make Public Hotspots Safe

The problem with public Wi-Fi networks is that they are, well, public. There’s no telling who else is on the network with you and do you really trust the local burger joint to have top-notch Internet security? The good news is that you can set up a VPN on your Windows PC, macOS, Android or iOS device to ensure that no matter which shady venue’s Internet connection you use, it’s as safe as your own home connection.

4. Secure Your Mobile Internet

As soon as you leave the comfort of your home Wi-Fi hotspot, you’re probably switching to your mobile data provider. If you don’t have a VPN on your phone, you’ll start leaking private data through your mobile provider the second you’re out of your home Wi-Fi range. Just as it does when you use public WiFi.

5. Protect Peer-to-Peer File Sharing (Torrenting)

Peer-to-peer technologies such as BitTorrent are still controversial for a lot of people. Mostly because it’s associated with all the illegal uses. BitTorrent technology itself is perfectly legal and there are plenty of legitimate uses for it. Some online video games use it to help improve patch download speeds. Open-source software creators such as Canonical use it to spread things like Ubuntu Linux while keeping their server costs low and even the UK government and NASA have used the technology.

Since VPNs protect your online traffic and hide what you do online, they’re perfectly usable for torrenting as well. However, to make sure that your Web connection speed doesn’t suffer, you need to check out the best VPNs for torrenting.

Which VPN Service Should You Choose in 2019?

Here are the top three best-ranked VPN services you’ll find today. In case you need additional recommendations, check out the best VPNs right now.

1. ExpressVPN

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Out of all three of these top VPN services, ExpressVPN has the most welcoming startup offer. You can use the service for up to 30 days and get all your money back. ExpressVPN has support for protocols like OpenVPN and supports the strongest encryption and privacy technologies. While their network doesn’t have the sheer number of servers that other top VPNs do, they have a very good spread across different regions.

One of the coolest things about ExpressVPN is that you can actually order a router that’s preloaded with their software, easily and instantly blanketing your entire home in a cloud of private, anonymous Internet connectivity. To learn more about this VPN provider, here’s our ExpressVPN review.

2. NordVPN

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NordVPN is a technical leader in the consumer VPN business and they’re one of the few VPN providers whose technology can get around VPN blocking by certain services. One of the best things about NordVPN is that they have specialized servers. The one that’s relevant to most of us is the dedicated peer-to-peer file sharing server. NordVPN will automatically shift you over to one of these optimized servers as soon as it detects that you’re trying to use the protocol.

If you’re an absolute privacy seeker, you’ll also want to know that NordVPN provides dedicated Tor network servers. This means that you can combine the privacy features of Tor with VPN technology for a killer solution. NordVPN has a strong, fast network and the company has a no-logging policy, which means that they couldn’t give up your info even if they wanted to. As you can see in our NordVPN review, this VPN provider has numerous tricks up its sleeve. So, take a deeper look at this option.

3. CyberGhost VPN

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Coming from Romania, plenty could be said about CyberGhost VPN. This is a user-friendly option with numerous server spread across the globe. You can use CyberGhost VPN not only to protect your Web data but to unblock websites. You can use it to visit media streaming platforms, download torrents, and much more.

One of the strengths of this VPN is its rapid evolution. It brings a major new version of its apps on a yearly basis, and CyberGhost VPN is also expanding its server count in a rapid way. With this said, you can be sure that a long-term investment in this VPN will most definitely pay off in the long term. For additional info, turn to our CyberGhostVPN review.

How to Install & Use a VPN?

You’re probably wondering how to get access to this technology. Well, you should know that VPNs are no longer overly technical solutions. On the contrary, they are very easy to install and use, where the easiest way to get started is by installing the chosen VPN app on your computer, smartphone, or tablet. Follow our dedicated OS guides to Install a VPN on,

And when it comes to using VPNs, the situation is simple. All you have to do is launch the application, click on the server you want to connect to, and your VPN will do the rest of the job on its own.

FAQ

We want to make this article as helpful as possible. This is why we’ll provide answers to the most commonly asked questions. Keep on reading to learn more about what is VPN and how this type of application can be used.

Can a VPN Be Blocked?

Yes, VPNs can be blocked in many different ways. Sometimes, ISPs block VPNs services (which is what happened in Russia, for example). At other times, individual websites block VPN services, which are mostly media streaming websites that can’t be used outside of their ‘supported territories’.

However, it’s often said that there are very few ways to permanently block VPNs. Also, almost any website out there can be unlocked, one way or the other. To learn more about how this can be done, here’s our article on how to bypass VPN blocks.

Can a VPN Be Hacked?

These days, almost any device or technology can be hacked, especially if it’s connected to the Web. Even though a VPN should keep you safe in 99.9% of the situations, there are ways for hackers to intercept or even steal your data.

As described in our article on whether VPNs can be hacked, this type of software plays a crucial role in keeping hackers at bay. However, there are other measures you can take (aside from using a reliable VPN service) to make sure you’re as safe as theoretically possible.

Can I Combine VPN and Tor?

Yes – you can combine VPN and Tor if you seek total online anonymity. This is a two-step security shield, where your VPN protects your personal information from anyone else on the Web. And by using Tor, you can hide your personal data from your VPN. This practically makes you 100% invisible online.

We have a handy article on combining a VPN, Tor and a virtual machine – which is perhaps the most effective way to safeguard your privacy and your personal data.

Can My Internet Provider See My VPN?

As you know, VPNs are designed to anonymize your Web traffic. This means that even though your ISP can see you using a VPN service, your data still remains anonymous. In other words, your ISP might be able to see your VPN usage. However, it can’t see what you do online while being protected by your VPN.

Do I Need an ISP to Use a VPN?

Using a VPN means using your existing Web connection and turning it into a highly useful connection. In other words, you still need to buy an Internet plan for an ISP (Internet Service Provider).

Are VPNs Hard to Use?

Back in the old days, you’d have to practically be a trained network engineer to get a VPN set up. These days, things are quite different. All the best VPNs have extensive documentation and other helpful material to make sure you get up and running quickly.

It can be as simple as downloading a program to your computer or changing some settings on your Internet router. On mobile devices, you can often just use an app provided by the company to set it all up. Once you’re up and running it should be smooth sailing all the way. As long as the VPN company stays in business, you’ll be in business too.

Are VPNs and Proxies The Same?

No, they are not the same – even though VPNs and proxies are two technologies that have the same root. However, these days, VPNs and proxies are two separate technologies that re-route your Web traffic for different purposes. The main difference is that your communication over a VPN is encrypted, while your communication over a proxy isn’t. As such, proxies can be used to unblock some websites, but they don’t provide any security for your private data.

Are There Any Reasons Not to Use a VPN?

While we can easily talk about all the reasons you should be using a VPN, you might be wondering if there are any reasons to avoid using a VPN. It can’t all be good, right? If you care about privacy, security or anonymity at all, then there’s no question about the need for a VPN. However, there are a handful of situations where you may have to think a little about how a VPN will fit in with your needs.

  • Some VPNs may use a VPN protocol not compatible with a network you have to use at work. Which means it may have to be tweaked or you’ll need to look for a compatible alternative VPN.
  • There’s also a small CPU and network overhead associated with VPN use. If you have a very bad connection in the first place, that may be a relevant issue. However, these days broadband and network hardware are more than up to the task of dealing with it.
  • Sometimes, depending on where you are, VPNs might be blocked outright by your workplace or even the government itself. Luckily there are plenty of places on the net where you can find out how to bypass VPN blocks.

Dear readers, this is where we end our VPN guide. We hope that now you know what is VPN more clearly and that you’re willing to protect your privacy.

If there’s anything else you’d like to know, leave a comment below. Finally, we’d like to ask you to share this article online. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter, so let’s stay in touch. Thanks!