About a decade ago, VPNs were considered complicated tools, and were used only by those with technical skills and experience. These days, their popularity has grown to where they are on almost every computer, and anyone can install and use it easily. VPNs allow you to protect your privacy while you surf.

 

What is a VPN?

VPN stands for Virtual Private Network, and is a service that is sold either standalone or as part of a larger project, like an internet security suite. When activated, a VPN allows you to connect to one of the servers that the VPN provider offers. A VPN simply reroutes your activity to one of its servers. Instead of connecting to your ISP’s servers, you connect to your VPN’s servers via an encrypted connection. These servers are usually spread out across the globe.

Different VPN providers offer different level of encryptions, but usually, all of the data that travels between your device and the VPN server is securely encrypted, allowing you to surf the web without exposing your personal details to your ISP, hackers, and any other entities that may be interested.

Why Do You Need a VPN?

There are a number of benefits to using a VPN, some are “nice to have”, while others are more significant.

  • Privacy and Security – When you use the internet, your activity can be recorded by your ISP (Internet Service Provider) for various reasons. A VPN encrypts your data so that ISPs cannot invade your privacy. This means that your ISP won’t be able to see which websites you visited since the activity will be on the VPN’s servers. They will, however, be able to see that you are using a VPN.
  • Public WiFi – Many of us use public hotspots, which can be very dangerous and leaves you vulnerable to hackers. A VPN ensures that they cannot hack you through the public network.

Overall, the benefits are pretty significant. There are a few downsides, of course. The first, is that it costs money, usually around $5-$10 a month, depending on the provider and package you choose. Some VPNs affect your internet speed, which should also be noted. Lastly, while you maybe using a VPN to keep your information away from your ISP, you are essentially trusting your VPN with that information instead. Keep in mind, that some VPNs keep your information, while others take certain measures to ensure that your activity is as private as possible.

How Do You Use a VPN?

Some VPNs are more complicated than others, and require a lengthy and technical installation process. Most, however, are very simple, and can be installed within a couple of minutes. Each VPN has a different interface, but there are a few commonalities that most of them share in how they are used:

  1. Open the VPN interface
  2. Choose a location from a list of locations (or servers)
  3. Click “Connect”
  4. Wait for the interface to let you know that you have successfully connected

That’s it. Your VPN will continue to work in the background, and everything you do online when it is connected will be encrypted through the server you connected to. Once you’re connected, you’ll be able to surf the web anonymously, hide your IP address, and protect your privacy and data when you’re connected to public networks. There are many other features available, so it is important to compare VPN providers before deciding which one to purchase.

How to Choose a VPN

There are many options to choose from, and it can be difficult to understand which one is best for your needs. There are a few things we recommend looking at before deciding:

  • Reliability – How long has the company been around? Are they popular? Try to opt for a brand name that has a history and has been around for a few years.
  • Support – Always check the support a VPN provider offers. Check what type of information is available, like a support or knowledge center and tutorials, how you can contact them (chat, phone, email), and what their availability is (office hours or 24/7).
  • Privacy – Every VPN has different security and privacy protocols. See what encryption technologies they use, and if they save your activity on their servers.
  • Features – Are there certain features that you need, or do you just need the basics? Every VPN offers different features, so spend a bit of time reading about them.
  • Speed – Some VPNs can slow your internet speed. If you use a VPN for browsing, that may not be significant, but if you use it from streaming and gaming, you’ll need a VPN that places an emphasis on maintaining high speeds.
  • Price – Prices are relatively similar between VPNs, but it is always a good idea to compare packages and prices to make sure you get one that is within your budget.
  • Does it actually work? If you want to use a VPN be sure to test out the trial first to see if it works on the desired device.
  • Guarantees – Does the VPN offer a money-back guarantee if you aren’t satisfied?

When you find a few good options, read reviews online to see what other people are saying about how each one works, and how easy the interface is. Most VPNs offer a trial, but if you find one that doesn’t, contact them and you’ll likely get a short trial period to test it out.

Conclusion

All VPNs are different, and some have very complicated and advanced features, while others are simple and straightforward. What they all have in common, is the ability to encrypt your data and activity by connecting you to a server of your choosing and protect your privacy. When comparing VPNs, remember that even their security protocols and encryption measures are different, so be sure to choose the one that is safest and most reliable for what you need. If you’re not sure, sign up for trials and take advantage of the money-back guarantees available to you.

Often times, you’ll find that certain VPNs don’t work with certain sites, while others do. You’ll want to test out your VPN before committing to a long term package.

Overall, the price is not that high to pay to give you peace of mind, and allow you to surf on any device without worrying about privacy and hackers.

Andrew Marsden
Andrew is an experienced IT consultant who specializes in internet security. Despite being much in demand by corporations across the globe, his passion for discussing the latest technology means Top 5 VPN users get the benefit of his vast knowledge and experience.
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