The Ultimate Beginners Guide To VPNs

Last updated on October 14, 2018 Views: 2765 Comments: 2

You’ve probably heard the term ‘VPN’ before and wondered what it was and why everyone in the tech world is talking about it.

In this beginner’s guide to VPNs we will explain what a VPN is and why you should be using one if you want to protect your private data online.

We will look into the pros and cons of using a VPN and will explain exactly how a VPN works and more importantly how to choose your perfect VPN for ultimate online safety.

In this article

What is a VPN?

A VPN or Virtual Private Network is a form of technology that allows you to access the internet privately, away from the prying eyes of your Internet Service Provider, the government, and potential hackers. It does this by acting like a tunnel that routes your connection directly to the web, meaning no one else can steal your private or sensitive data.

A VPN adds an essential extra layer of privacy to your online activity, by encrypting your data (turning information into special code) so your private searches, passwords, and other sensitive material cannot be read by others.

A VPN also enables its users to pretend that they’re in a different country, which means you can access content that might not have been available otherwise.

Check out our tutorials and reviews of some of the best VPNs out there.

Do I Need a VPN?

VPNs are now very popular amongst regular internet users but the technology was first created when large corporations, educational institutions, and government agencies wanted to find a cost-effective solution to secure communications between their networks.

Private lines between businesses are expensive, so VPNs are used as a cheaper alternative, allowing companies to carry data between their networks safely.

There are many VPN providers available right now and the market is competitive. You can get a VPN to suit your every need, whether it’s VPN for Android, VPN for iOS, or VPN for Windows. Just ensure you do your research first to pick the right provider your requirements.

I Use Free Wi-Fi Do I Need a VPN?

How many times do you use the free wifi connection at your local coffee shop or log onto wireless hotspots such as “free airport wifi” without giving it a second thought? When you log in to a public wireless server you have absolutely zero protection against hackers who can easily steal your private data, passwords and bank details.

Hackers have been known to create fake “twin hotspots” so you would have no way of knowing if the wireless hotspot you’re using is genuine or not. Using a laptop VPN ensures that your private data is encrypted and therefore hidden from data thieves.

Top Reasons To Use a VPN

  • Maintain privacy – a VPN hides all of your online activity from your Internet Service Provider (ISP) and government
  • Help you evade censorship set by your school, Internet Service Provider, government or work – there are also many countries with strict censorship laws, North Korea and China being probably the worst with over 6 million websites blocked. Using a VPN will bypass these restrictions with ease
  • Allow you to access services otherwise denied by your geographical location– if you are not located in the correct Local Area Network (LAN), you can still access services such as Netflix, BBC iPlayer and YouTube, anywhere in the world
  • Help protect against hackers – use your laptop safely in public areas knowing that your private passwords, banking information, and online data are encrypted against data theft
  • Safer downloading– using a VPN means you can safely download via P2P (peer-to-peer) file-sharing networks without having your Internet Service Provider spying on you

How Can a VPN Help Students and Employees?

There are often internet restrictions in the workplace and in school and there’s nothing worse than finding out that your favorite website is blocked. In this situation a VPN can be an absolute life-saver.

You just need to log in and browse away knowing that your online activities are completely safe from prying eyes.

Take a look at the best VPN for schools here.

Why a VPN Is Essential For Those Who Download

If you Torrent or share files via peer-to-peer file sharing networks then you need a VPN. Whether your downloads are legal or illegal, there’s a chance you could get into some serious trouble as the copywriting laws are strict when it comes to TV shows, e-books, movies, and music.

Save yourself a huge fine or jail sentence and get yourself a VPN.

Check out the best VPN for torrenting here.

Who Is Stealing Your Online Data?

It isn’t just hackers that can steal your private information. Large corporations also take your private data and sell it on to advertising companies so they can use your information without you even knowing.

Basically, every single thing you do online can be accessed by your ISP (Internet Service Provider) and the only way to stop this is to use a secure, encrypted connection through a VPN.

Why Frequent Travelers Need a VPN

When it comes to traveling – airports, cafes, and public spaces are the most unsafe locations to use free wireless hotspots. Not only this but if you often travel to different countries then you will be aware that it can be impossible to watch your favorite TV shows or access your favorite websites online as they’re blocked in some locations.

A VPN can digitally show you up in a different location so you can access your usual websites safely. To protect your information while abroad and ensure that you can access the relevant websites from anywhere in the world then you will need a good VPN for traveling.

How Does a VPN Work?

When you don’t have a VPN, every time you access the internet you’ll go through to your ISP or Internet Service Provider which will then connect you to the desired website. This means that anything you are trying to access online will automatically go through your ISPs server where they can view your private data.

When you use a VPN, you are able to connect to your ISP server via an encrypted connection, which means that only you and your VPN server can view the information.

It’s important to note that a VPN doesn’t replace your Internet Service Provider and that your ISP still provides your internet connection. The role that the VPN plays is to provide a secure, encrypted ‘tunnel’ to which it directs your online activity.

Here is a detailed video that goes into further detail on how a Virtual Private Network works:

What is VPN Encryption?

The reason that your online data is secure when using a VPN is because the VPN software encrypts your information. In basic terms, this means that the data is coded and only those with authorization can decode it.

A VPN encrypts your data before it goes into the ‘tunnel’ and also when it leaves, which is called end-to-end encryption. This ensures that even if a hacker was able to intercept the information, they wouldn’t be able to decipher it.

The Disadvantages of Using a VPN

You might be wondering if using a VPN is safe to use or if it provides the perfect solution. But all we can say is that it doesn’t matter whether you are looking for the best VPN on the market, free VPN or premium VPN…no VPN is without its disadvantages, no matter how small.

  • Premium VPNs are rarely free

The VPN market is highly competitive and most premium services including VPN services require a paid subscription.

While there are free VPN downloads available, you definitely get what you pay for in this market and we recommend trying a free 30-day VPN trial on a subscribed service before you buy.

There are plenty of VPN reviews out there which offer advice as to which VPN software is best to buy

  • Using a VPN can be tricky

Using a VPN easily can depend on your technical know-how. Most are pretty easy to install and use but if you do find it tricky then rest-assured that most VPN software also comes with great customer service, which can help you with the set-up

  • VPN regulations are changing 

Some countries such as Iran and China are cracking down on VPN use and so it’s vital you keep up-to-date on VPN laws and regulations to check that you’re using the software correctly

  • Your VPN provider can see what you’re doing online

When you use a VPN your online activity bypasses your Internet Service Provider but goes directly through your VPN provider.

The difference here is that your VPN service provider is fully committed to protecting your privacy. There are also further measures you can take in order to remain anonymous to the company

  • Data loss and performance 

If you sign up to use a low-quality VPN then chances are you might encounter data loss and performance issues. Network issues that occur outside of the private network is often beyond the control of the VPN administrator

  • Slower internet 

It takes processing power for your VPN to encrypt and decrypt your information and this can slow down the service. You’re adding another element to your web processing by using a VPN as your data will need to travel a little further

vpn locations

Different Types of VPNs – Which VPN is Best For You?

The main purpose of a VPN is to keep your data totally secure and the way in which it does this is via a complex set of algorithms which encrypt your data. Each method has its advantages and disadvantages with regards to security, speed, and ease of configuration.

Here are the most commonly-used VPN protocols:

  • TLS & SSL

TLS is a new version of SSL which is the method used to secure HTTPS sites. TLS is generally said to be better than SSL as it provides better protection against cyber attacks

  • PPTP 

Point-to-Point Tunnelling is the original VPN protocol which was developed for dial-up networks for Microsoft. It’s faster than newer additions as it’s less advanced but is considered to be one of the lesser secure VPN protocols

  • L2TP/IP Sec 

This is a highly secure and moderately fast protocol developed by Cisco and Microsoft in the 90s. It’s built into most computers and mobile phones today

  • Open VPN

One of the newer protocols. This is widely recognized as the safest and is very difficult to block

What’s The Difference Between a Business VPN and Private VPN?

There’s a good chance you’ve used a business VPN before when working from home. VPNs were initially designed for business purposes to enable employers to remotely access the work server safely. Many businesses use a VPN to protect their networks from IP leaks.

The market for personal VPNs has grown exponentially as people have discovered how to overcome content restrictions and protect their private data. The role of the VPN is the same in both instances.

Are VPNs Legal?

In most countries around the world, VPNs are completely legal and there won’t be a problem downloading the software onto your device.

Can You Use A VPN in all Countries?

There are a number of countries that try and block VPN use as they do not allow unrestricted access to the internet. In IranChina, Russia, and Oman, VPN use is only with government-approved VPNs. In North Korea, Iraq, Turkmenistan, and Belarus, VPN use is completely banned.

Make sure you’re up-to-date with VPN laws before visiting a new country.

How Do You Choose The Best VPN?

Before you do your research for the best VPN to use, you’ll need to look at the reasons that you want to use a VPN and create a list with your priorities at the top.

Some of the higher rated VPNs offer a wide variety of locations, features, and prices. Some are better suited for the casual user while others are aimed at people who intend to download and share a lot of content and want to search privately.

What To Look For When Choosing a VPN

  • Price – Do your research before you commit to a VPN. There are some big differences between paid VPNs and free VPNs but surprisingly the more expensive VPNs aren’t always the best
  • Speed – You will always lose a little speed while using a VPN but speeds vary massively from provider to provider. Research before you buy
  • Protocol – Each VPN protocol has its advantages and disadvantages. But this needn’t be a problem for most users
  • Privacy – All VPNs promise privacy but the depth of privacy can vary from provider to provider. See below for more details
  • Security – Research which measures the provider has taken to prevent unwanted access to your data. Make sure you’re using HTTPS whenever possible and be careful what you download. Some VPN providers offer Anti-Malware and Anti-Spyware features
  • Availability on Different Devices – If you’re paying good money for a VPN provider then look for a company that provides VPN access across several devices
  • Number of Simultaneous Connections – Some VPN providers will limit the number of devices they serve at a time whereas others will offer the option of connecting more than one device
  • Customer Support – Solid VPN customer support is invaluable, especially if you are new to using it
  • Free Trials and Money-Back Guarantees – Look out for this before you subscribe. This feature gives you the chance to try before you buy and test a few different VPNs
  • Software – Look for a platform that is easy to use. Some VPN packages offer additional features like DNS leak protection and a kill switch. Both extra security measure worth having
  • Cross-Platform Support – Check that the VPN works on all of your devices. Most VPNs will support iOS, Windows, Android, Mac OSX
  • Logging – Does your VPN provider log your data? Make sure you know your provider’s logging details before signing up.

Is Subscription VPN Better Than Free VPN?

One of the hardest decisions when choosing a VPN can be whether to opt for a free VPN download or paid premium VPN download. There’s a noticeable difference with free VPNs vs paid VPNs.

Firstly, free VPN services need to get their money from somewhere and so you should exercise caution when taking this option as some free VPN providers have been known to sell their user’s data while they are connected. Some of the free VPNs do offer a good range of features though, so if privacy isn’t your main concern then this option might be good for you.

Paid VPNs can be expensive, but most offer a free 30-day trial or a money-back guarantee so you can test the goods before you commit to a subscription. Generally, subscription VPN providers take privacy, performance, and customer care a lot more seriously, and they also rarely show ads which is always a bonus.

Whether you choose a paid subscription VPN or free VPN download, make sure you properly do your research before signing up.

I am I Anonymous When I Use My VPN?

Unfortunately not. Normally your VPN provider would know where you are and would be able to see your online activity. If you’re looking for extra privacy then the best option is to go for a “no-logs” VPN service provider who promises not to log information about you unless they need to for technical reasons.

However, in reality, authorities can legally demand that a service provider keep logs on specific individuals. Although the “no-logs” VPN providers tend to only keep connection logs, which record your connection data, (dates/times) and not your usage data which record your browsing history.

In some cases, VPN providers accept payment anonymously, using anonymously bought store cards or even cash sent through the mail. This would ensure that the company wouldn’t know your name, address, and bank details, but of course they’d still know your real IP address.

Can You Torrent Using a VPN?

Many people choose to use a VPN for this sole purpose but do your research before signing up for a VPN provider as they don’t all allow torrenting.

Do VPNs Work On Smartphones?

Yes. Most VPNs work on mobile devices and are compatible with iOS and Android. For this to work you’ll need to download the app version of the software first and also bear in mind that some VPN providers don’t allow simultaneous use on multiple devices so you’ll have to do your research before signing up.

How Safe Are VPNs?

Pretty safe. A good VPN service will give you a high degree of privacy and you’ll be protected against government surveillance, stop your ISP from knowing your every move, and prevent tracking from copyright owners if you illegally download media.

If police, government or authorities take an interest in you, a VPN will not protect you.

What is a VPN Router?

The usual way to use a VPN is to install the software onto each device you wish to connect. There is an alternative method however, and this is to set up your router so it’s connected to your VPN service. The obvious benefits of this include: having all your devices protected through the router and being able to connect smart TVs and gaming consoles which otherwise wouldn’t be able to run VPN software. Lastly, as the router is considered to be one connection it means you can have unlimited devices using your VPN router.

What is a vpn router?

The disadvantage of using a VPN router is the amount of processing power required. Most standard routers can’t handle the amount of processing power involved with encrypting and decrypting data. If you choose to run VPN software on a router, make sure the router has the hardware required so it doesn’t slow down your internet connection.

In Summary: Why Do I Need a VPN?

To summarize, we believe that a VPN is an incredibly useful tool in keeping your personal data private and secure.

A VPN enables safe internet browsing in public locations and forms a strong layer of protection against hackers trying to steal your private data. A VPN download is also super useful when it comes to accessing blocked content from different countries.

Article comments

D says:

Can you use a vpn for calls, FaceTime and Skype conversations?

John says:

Yes. But you have to make sure the service supports them. Both ExpressVPN and NordVPN do a great job with both Skype and Facetime