What Is VPN? Everything You Need To Know in 2021

The truth is that the Web isn't as open as you might think. On top of that, it's filled with threats whose aim is to exploit your private data. For example, you can't access certain geo-restricted websites, or your ISP might be throttling your Web connection. Also, we have malware, risky Wi-Fi connections, and other types of online dangers. The only way to overcome all these obstacles is by using a VPN. So, what is a VPN in the first place? How do they work, and how do they protect your privacy? Can VPNs keep you truly anonymous online? Let's find out!

What Is a VPN? Why Do You Need One?

A VPN is a type of software that lets you establish secure connections (encrypted data tunnels) using your existing Web connection, for the purpose of disguising your online identity.

Speaking of the need to create secure connections, you might not even be aware that you offer a lot of information that malicious actors would love to exploit. Some of it is obvious - such as your credit card number, passport details, bank account logins, and so on. That’s why finance-related websites and other online services that 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 your bank because the information is written in a special code. In other words, it’s encrypted.

That's great for your bank-specific data, 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 privacy-intruding corporations and governments as well.

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 protecting your 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. To learn more, check the links below.

VPN Interface Mockup on Laptop

How Does a VPN Work?

Once you connect to a VPN server, three things will happen. That would be - 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.
  • Encapsulation: This is the key to how a VPN hides what sort of data you’re sending. It wraps your data 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 piece of the VPN puzzle. This is how the VPN scrambles your data so that even if someone analyzes your data packets, it won’t make any sense of that data. Without a special key to unscramble the information, it’s all just gibberish, and only you and the VPN have copies of the encryption keys.

If you'd like to take a closer look at each of these components, we have a dedicated guide on how VPNs work - with plenty of in-depth information about what happens as you use a VPN service. And to explore further, see the links below.

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, your ISP can decide to take all the packets labeled 'Netflix' and make them wait in line while other packets get to zoom by.

Because of the way VPNs work, your ISP suddenly can’t see that information anymore since it’s all hidden inside your VPN tunnel. That means you get all the speed your connection can provide, minus a little VPN overhead, of course. So, if you ever wondered how to bypass ISP throttling, you’ve just found your answer.

2. Unblock Content on the Internet

If you use a VPN, it won't be possible for any website 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.

Therefore, 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 new 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 Wi-Fi 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 any device to ensure that no matter which shady venue’s Internet connection you use, it’s as safe as your own home connection. So, here's how to use public Wi-Fi safely, and here are the best VPNs for public Wi-Fi hotspots.

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 Wi-Fi.

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. That means there's a small group of countries where VPNs are illegal. In the rest of the world, VPNs are completely safe to use.

Are VPNs Safe to Use?

A VPN isn't only highly safe to use - it's highly recommended to use because it encrypts your Web connection. So instead of your data being fully visible to anyone, it becomes hidden.

This is done using VPN protocols that dictate the way your Web data is handled. Some protocols, such as PPTP and SSTP, allow you to browse the Internet speedily, but they don't bring the best possible security. So, if you need total protection, you should rely on OpenVPN and IKEv2.

On top of that, we now have next-generation protocols that offer something impossible to even comprehend until now. They promise both incredibly fast Web speeds while giving you the highest possible level of encryption. To learn more, check some of the latest news about WireGuard and Lightway.

How Do VPNs Affect My IP Address?

VPNs change your IP address, typically assigned to your device by your ISP (Internet service provider). That's one of the ways VPNs protect your privacy.

It's often said that VPNs hide your IP address, which stands true. However, know that your IP won't simply vanish. Instead, your VPN will replace it with its own IP, which can point to a different country if you decide to use a VPN server in a different country.

That's precisely how you can unblock websites, as they won't know your true location. To learn more, here's how to change your IP address using a VPN app.

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, which we recommend for more advanced VPN users. 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.

Can a VPN Track My Online Activity?

In theory, yes - a VPN can track your online activity as you use its VPN servers to reroute your Web traffic. However, not every VPN will track what you do online.

That's precisely why you need to be careful when choosing a VPN. Our strong recommendation is to pick a VPN with a proven and verified no-logs policy. Those VPNs have been audited to test their claims, and they'll have zero knowledge of your online activities.

Some of the VPNs that have been audited in the past are ExpressVPN, NordVPN, TunnelBear, ProtonVPN, VyprVPN, and PureVPN. To discover more, check out the best no-logs VPN, and don't forget to check out the links you'll find just below.

What Is a VPN Server?

A VPN server is a crucial part of any VPN network. That's because as soon as you connect to a VPN server, all your Web data gets a new and encrypted route.

Differently said, one of the main purposes of VPNs is to reroute both your incoming and outgoing Web data through a server of your own choosing. While doing so, your data travels through a VPN tunnel, making it invisible to anyone else.

In general, we recommend using a VPN with plenty of servers, which provides you with better performance and brings the ability to unblock a larger number of websites. To help you find such a VPN, we've listed the VPNs with the highest number of servers.

Can My ISP See That I Am Using a VPN?

Yes, your ISP will see you using a VPN. However, it won't see the contents of your VPN tunnel, which means that your privacy will be kept safe in the most secure way possible.

As mentioned in this article, your Web traffic won't simply vanish once you start to use a VPN. However, it will be placed into a secure and encrypted VPN tunnel, making your data scrambled and out of anyone's reach. That's why your ISP will see that you use a VPN - but it won't see what you do online, which is how you can hide your Web browsing history.

To learn more, here's what exactly your ISP sees when you use a VPN. And also, learn more about the possibility of your VPN being blocked by your ISP.

Can I Use a VPN for Torrenting?

Yes, absolutely! In fact, a P2P VPN is your best shot at downloading torrent files anonymously - without being afraid of receiving a copyright infringement notice.

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, 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 guide to downloading torrents, P2P traffic uses a network of computers to create a chain of command. Therefore, as long as you're in that network, your 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 and 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 I 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 that might not be available in your country.

If you want to stream media using a VPN, we highly recommend checking the best VPNs for streaming. However, it's also a good idea to check different VPNs based on your favorite streaming platforms.

With this said, here's how you can watch Netflix, Hulu, Hulu + Live TV, Paramount Plus, Discovery Plus, Disney Plus, YouTube TV, Amazon Prime Video, and HBO Max outside the US.

How Do I Troubleshoot a VPN Problem?

If you pick a trustworthy VPN, you'll have several ways to troubleshoot any issue, as today's VPNs come with comprehensive customer support systems.

Practically any reputable VPN out there offers live chat functionality on its website. This lets you talk to customer support in real-time, which is often the quickest way to resolve issues. Other than that, you'll get to contact your VPN via email, check its documentation yourself, following tutorials, and more.

In case you aren't afraid to tinker with VPNs yourself, we've prepared some helpful guides on fixing the most common issues with VPNs. With that said, take a look just below.

Will a VPN Slow Down My Web Connection?

When using a VPN, your data travels through an additional server. This means it has a longer route, which is one of the reasons why you might experience some throttling.

Different VPNs impact your Web connection in different ways, so make sure to do your research before buying a subscription. With that said, here's how much a VPN can slow down your Internet speed. And in case you've been wondering if a VPN consumes more data than normal, keep in mind that you won't even notice that overhead.

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.

How Much Do VPNs Cost?

Commercial VPNs are subscription-based services. With that said, most 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 from around $10.00 to around $15.00 per month. However, paying upfront usually brings you steep discounts of more than 50%.

That 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 (check out the cheapest VPNs available today). 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?

Not many VPNs bring free-of-charge trials. That's because it would be easy for individuals to use different email addresses and 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 providing such data, 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 Completely 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 can't bring the same level of security as commercial VPNs do.

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 Best VPNs in 2021?

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. For more information, check how we review VPN services and read our guide to picking a VPN.

1. ExpressVPN - TechNadu's #1 Recommendation

Editor's Pick
Servers
Countries
Apps
Windows
Android
Mac
iOS
Linux
Router
Chromebook
Kindle
Nook
Chrome
Firefox
PlayStation
Apple TV
Xbox
Amazon Fire TV
Roku
Parallel Connections
Live Chat

Out of all three of these top VPN services, ExpressVPN has the most welcoming startup offer (and it's one likely to bring everything you'll look for in a VPN). That's because you can use the service for up to 30 days and get all your money back (if you decide to change your mind).

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. And, of course, ExpressVPN has been audited to validate its claims of privacy and security.

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. CyberGhost VPN - Best for Absolute VPN Beginners

Servers
Countries
Apps
Windows
Android
Mac
iOS
Linux
Router
Chrome
Firefox
PlayStation
Apple TV
Xbox
Amazon Fire TV
Samsung Smart TV
All game consoles
All smart TVs
Parallel Connections
Live Chat

Coming from Romania, plenty could be said about CyberGhost VPN. This is a user-friendly option with numerous servers spread across the globe. You can use CyberGhost VPN not only to protect your Web data but to unblock websites. You can also 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 CyberGhost VPN review.

3. NordVPN - Best VPN for More Advanced Users

Servers
Countries
Apps
Windows
Android
Mac
iOS
Linux
Router
Chromebook
Chrome
Firefox
PlayStation
Xbox
Amazon Fire TV
Nintendo Switch
All game consoles
Chromecast
Parallel Connections
Live Chat

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. Aside from that, you'll also want to know about obfuscated servers, usable even in highly restricted networks.

NordVPN has a strong, fast network and the company has a no-logging policy, which means 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.

How to Install & Use a VPN?

VPNs are available for just about any device or platform out there. With that said, check out the following guides produced by our team on how to get started with VPNs:

As you'll see in this guide explaining what a VPN is, our strong recommendation is to use ExpressVPN. One of the reasons we recommend it is that it's compatible with over 60 devices. So, here's how to download, install, and use ExpressVPN.

What Are VPN Routers? Should You Use One?

The best way to secure multiple devices at once is to buy a VPN router. By running a VPN that way, every device connected to that router 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. With that said, make sure to check out how to choose a VPN router before buying one.

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. The concept here is to buy a router compatible with DD-WRT so that you can install DD-WRT yourself, followed by installing a VPN of your own choosing.

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.

FAQ

Can a VPN Be Blocked?

Yes, VPNs can be blocked in many different ways. ISPs can try to block VPNs, as well as media streaming websites that must respect their broadcast licenses.

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?

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 recommended for the most cautious of VPN users.

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

Do I Need an ISP to Use a VPN?

Yes, you need an Internet provider because a VPN doesn't grant you access to the Web on its own. Instead, it works within your existing Web connection.

Are VPNs Hard to Use?

VPNs are incredibly simple to use. All their technology hides behind user-friendly interfaces, which means even complete beginners won't have a hard time using one.

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.

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.

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.

However, in some specific cases, it's possible to use VPNs and proxies together.

We hope that you liked our comprehensive guide trying to answer the question of - what is a VPN? If you have any questions for us, make sure to post them just below. And finally, thank you for reading!

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