What is a VPN?

Sean Jackson
August 27, 2020

A Virtual Private Network (VPN) can allow you to access parts of the web that wouldn’t be available to you otherwise.

For instance, websites that are banned in certain countries will be available through a VPN that’s in a legal country.

Compared to traditional web surfing, VPNs give you a unique amount of security and privacy.

Normally, your activities on the web are open and available for tracking from your Internet Service Provider (ISP), advertising agencies, companies and even hackers. 

You may benefit from using a VPN if you're looking for heightened security online as well as fewer restrictions on your online activities. Learn more about what VPNs are, how VPNs work and how you can get started using a VPN on your own devices.

A VPN creates a secure, private connection between itself and another network over the internet. When a user is connected to a VPN, the computer or device they are using can perform as if it’s in the VPN’s local network. 

While you’re using the internet through a VPN, it will look as though you’re in the same location as the VPN server. This means you could be surfing online from the U.S. through a U.K.-based VPN. Any websites you visit will think you’re in the U.K. and can show you content specific to that region. Your internet access is also completely secure and encrypted.

When searching for a VPN, you should evaluate the following factors:

  • Server location
  • Speed
  • Enhanced security features, such as encryption and a dedicated IP address
  • Ease of use and customer support
  • Cost

VPNs are legal in most countries, though their legality doesn’t cover all activities. In reality, VPNs are commonly used for torrenting (peer-to-peer file sharing) and for accessing content that isn’t available in their country.

How Does a VPN Work?

VPNs work through servers around the world that provide secure connectivity and temporary IP addresses for its users. When you purchase or download a VPN server, it’ll begin working as soon as you’re online. You can use VPN for cell phones as well as laptops and desktop computers.

Through a VPN, your activity online is only visible to the VPN server and any of the websites you’re visiting. Usually, almost anyone would be able to access your IP address, which provides your location. All of your activity is usually also visible to companies that wish to track user data or serve you ads. With a VPN, your IP address is usually masked with an alternate IP address, and your activity is securely encrypted. 

VPNs cannot hide your activities from the site you’re visiting. You’ll still be subject to sites’ different cookie policies, which means your VPN IP address can still be tracked from those sites.

To keep your activity and information secure, VPNs use different types of security protocols. The most used protocols include:

  • PPTP – Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol provides a fast connection and works with a variety of devices. The downside of PPTP is that it’s one of the oldest security protocols and is at a higher risk of security breaches.
  • L2TP – Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol, also known as L2TP/IPsec, offers higher security than PPTP but it’s known to be slower. L2TP is also known to be blocked through some types of website firewalls.
  • SSTP – Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol is known to be highly secure and is one of the more modern security protocols. Unfortunately, it only works with Windows devices.

By placing all your trust in a VPN server, keep in mind that the provider still has the opportunity to leak your data or information. If you’re using a VPN with poor security, you may also be risking your computer to viruses or data breaches. Reputable VPN servers are used widely and user reviewers are available online to help you determine which offering is the most trustworthy. 

How Much Does a VPN Cost?

VPNs are usually priced on a monthly subscription basis. Each month you pay, you can easily log in to your VPN and use it as often as you need. 

On average, most VPN providers will cost around $4 to $15/mo. There are also free VPN servers available, but these may come with heightened risks. The security protocols with free VPNs usually aren’t as reliable as with free servers. Furthermore, some free VPN providers might capture users’ data, including your actual IP address and user activity. Using a free VPN may be pointless if you’re trying to maintain your privacy and security, though reputable providers do offer highly-rated free options.

Some of the top-rated VPN providers include:

How to Set Up a VPN

There are two ways to set up a VPN. The first is to download the VPN onto your device. After installing, you’ll want to follow the set-up instructions. This includes connecting you to one of their servers and allowing permissions to read files/content. The whole process takes a few minutes.

You can also manually add a VPN to your router. To do this, follow the manufacturer’s instructions of your router to access its settings. You can then enable the VPN and enter any specific settings your VPN requires. Since this can be a difficult process, it’s ideal to consult with the company’s help desk if you run into any problems. 

Should I Add VPN Security to My Home Internet?

Using VPN security for your home internet can be beneficial for a variety of reasons. These days, most everyone has experienced a host of privacy concerns. There are social media data breaches, stolen identities, a lack of privacy online and much more. 

A VPN internet server will keep you protected by hiding your data and activity from third parties as well as your internet service provider. For a very low price per month or even for free, a VPN allows you to search the web safely and stress-free.