In this guide about VPNs, we will explain to you just what a VPN is, how it functions and how you will be able to pick the right one. As VPNs are becoming more and more popular all over the world, we feel that a guide like this one is just what you need.
What is a VPN?
VPN is a technology that allows you to access anything online safely as it reroutes all of your data through a secure connection. This technology also hides your real IP address, thereby protecting you from any harmful entity online looking to cause you trouble. The many benefits of using a VPN are mentioned as following.
With a VPN, you can:
- Get around censorship blocks and access geographically restricted content
- Hide your online activity
- Get you access to streaming sites like Netflix, Hulu, BBC iPlayer and Amazon Prime Video
- Download torrent files safely
- Use public hotspots safely
How Does a VPN Work?
A VPN server transfers a user’s encrypted data and wraps it with a header that contains rerouting information. This particular process gives the data a chance to safely travel through either a shared or a public network without the issue of being detected by prying eyes. These data packets, without proper decryption keys, might as well be garbage to a hacker who picked up the transmission. All you need to know that a VPN is a point to point connection between you and your receiving server, whichever part of the world that might be in. The example of remote workers was just one of the many who actually need VPN connection on a daily basis to survive online.
How Secure is a VPN?
The matter of VPN security has been under much debate from IT specialists all over the world. There are two main factors to be considered regarding this matter.
- VPN limitations based on type of technology used by the VPN provider.
- Data retention laws of the country the VPN originates from.
At the end of the day, a VPN is only as secure as the encrypted tunnels it provides users.
VPN Tunneling Protocols
It is VPN tunneling protocols that determine how data transmission is done. Protocols that are most commonly used are PPTP, SSTP, L2TP, IKEv2, and OpenVPN. Here is a brief description of what each of them do.
This protocol was designed by Microsoft so it is compatible with old Windows OS and is also fairly easy to setup. However, by today’s standards, it doesn’t provide ample security. You should avoid a provider that only offers this protocol as that wouldn’t make for an entirely secure VPN.
This is a combination VPN that contains both PPTP and L2F protocols. This protocol uses certain keys to establish a secure network for your data tunnel but the process of getting there isn’t entirely secure. Though IPsec does improve the security a bit, there have been reports of NSA cracking through this protocol.
This is yet another protocol built by Microsoft. Since SSL and TLS’s strength is reliable on symmetric-key cryptography, its setup requires two parties to unlock and decrypt the data within. All in all, we recommend using this protocol to enhance your VPN security and to ensure your data isn’t leaked to prying eyes.
This Microsoft built protocol can be considered an upgrade to its predecessors. It is a much more secure tunneling option.
As far as protocols go, this is the best one yet. It is an open source project which means that thousands of developers all over the world are working hard to improve this protocol. It involves the use of keys that ensures that only the receiver and the sender can decrypt the message. If you require military-grade protection in your VPN, we recommend sticking to OpenVPN protocol.
Does A VPN Make Me Fully Anonymous?
A VPN does take you as close to fully anonymous as possible. Without the use of a secure VPN connection, all your browsing history is vulnerable in front of government agencies and hackers. When you use a VPN, many of these problems go away. A VPN makes it appear as though the transmissions being sent from your device are indeed being sent from some other corner of the world, instead of where you are from.
Following are a few questions you can ask a VPN provider to asses just how secure the service really is.
- Does this VPN keep logs?
- What happens to my logs if the government requests them from you?
- Is the encryption provided by your VPN protocols sufficient to keep me anonymous?
Not every VPN will be able to check all of these boxes which is why we recommend you stick to one that comes as close to all, as possible.
Why Do I Need a VPN?
People use VPNs for all sorts of reasons online, but most of all, they are used to maintain anonymity. If that is something you are interested in, following are the other benefits you will be able to avail with a quality VPN subscription.
- Defeating censorship
- Streaming online
- P2P file sharing
- Securely accessing public hotspots
Free VPN vs Paid VPN
Running a good VPN service means that it is going to cost you money due to the infrastructure, data transfer, robust servers and employees that are constantly at your beck and call. When a service like this is provided for free, the provider will obviously skimp on some important basics. They might even end up logging your activities without informing you because hey, if you’re not paying them, why would they answer to you for logging you? With a free VPN, issues such as ads and your data being sold to third-party applications becomes a problem, all of which you wouldn’t have to face with a paid VPN service. The minimum monthly amount you pay for a VPN, seems insignificant in the face of the numerous advantages you receive after subscribing to a paid service.
Cost of a VPN
The average cost of a VPN service in the market today is around $2.91 a month which can give you an idea about how much a VPN will cost you yearly. It is uncommon that a VPN will cost over $10 monthly, which means there is no reason why you can’t settle for a less expensive VPN out there. Most popular VPN services have constant discount deals going on if you are someone interested in subscribing to their service for one or more years upfront. Take the example of Private Internet Access which is on our top list of reliable and quality VPNs, it only costs $6.95 a month but if you subscribe to it yearly, it reduces your monthly cost to $3.33 which is 50 percent less than the initial cost!
VPN & Tor: Using Them Together
Tor and VPN are very different but when they are used together, the amount of security they provide you is unmatched.
- Tor provides you with the ability to reroute your data connection through a number of different nodes, while also heavily encrypting it.
- Now what a VPN does is provide Tor with the necessary servers to perform that act, one at a time. Using Tor means that you get the service for free without any limitations to the free version.
The best thing about Tor is that it is 100 percent free for all, and there are no limitations to the free version. The next part however is how to connect Tor with your VPN. Let us tell you how it is done.
- Enable the VPN you use normally
- Open your Tor browser and then connect the VPN with Tor
During this stage, your will need your VPN and Tor running simultaneously. The only downside to this procedure is that it is going to slow your device down a bit, more so than when you use a VPN alone. But the privacy you avail at the end of it all is worth it.
For anyone trying to maintain their anonymity, IP leaks can be a huge problem. This is not a core VPN problem but rather a system one at that. This kind of problem will take place without a VPN service. However, if your VPN fails to hide your real IP when you are online, third-parties may quickly figure out your actual IP. The best VPNs in the market are equipped to stop this from happening at all costs. As we mentioned earlier, IP leaks do tend to occur on a daily basis and cannot be blamed entirely on your VPNs. Something as simple as your browser extensions can cause this problem too. The immediate solution is to carefully vet the VPN you are deciding to subscribe to and run leak tests online to see if they actually provide the kind of security that they are promising.
This is a kill switch feature which allows your internet to automatically be turned off if the encryption connection provided by your VPN isn’t securely in place. When there are connectivity issues with your internet, this feature which is offered by most reputable VPNs out there can block all online activity until your VPN is up and running again. If your VPN does not come with a kill-switch and a connectivity issue comes up, a lot of your data might be leaked to the same parties you are trying to protect yourself from. Therefore, we recommend going for a VPN provider which gives you a kill switch feature.
For beginners, choosing a VPN can be a daunting task mostly because most people don’t know what they need to look out for. Features such as IP leaks and Kill Switches may sound important after reading all we have said, but if you didn’t know what they were, you wouldn’t have known just how badly you need them. This is why it is recommended to always read up on a particular service before you make your decision.