Believe it or not but there is a lot more to actually setting up a VPN, or Virtual Private Network, than simply signing up for one’s favorite VPN service and then activating that service.
Readers should know that even some of the best VPN service providers in the world require the user to go through a bit of setup work.
This guide will show readers everything they need to know how to set up a VPN and how to use a VPN.
Our guide will also talk about how users can get the maximum benefit from this critical security and privacy tool.
With that out of the way, let’s begin our journey to learn how to configure a VPN service.
Why should I use a VPN service
No one needs any more convincing that every online consumer is in need of a VPN or Virtual Private Network.
A VPN service comes in handy whenever a given online consumer connects to the internet either on his computer machine or on his smartphone device.
We are aware of the fact that to some users that may sound a bit paranoid.
However, there are some real online threats out there.
We’re not saying that every user reading this guide will get hacked.
But what we are saying is that if smartphone devices and laptops have become such an integral part of our lives where we use them for work, leisure, financial transactions, and our medical records, does it really make sense to leave the security of all these things up to a simple belief that one would not get hacked?
Doesn’t it make sense to invest and ensure that no one is able to get to these pieces of information?
Readers need to remember that online threats are only getting worse.
Unscrupulous individuals on various WiFi networks are always making attempts to intercept the user’s private information.
Not only that, whenever the user connects to the wider world of the internet, his/her internet service provider actually has access to each and everything that the user sends over the internet.
One could legitimately ask, who gave internet service providers the permission to do that?
And the answer would be the Congress.
The Congress gave them permission to sell their customers’ anonymized data and information to third-party advertisers.
That’s not all.
Out there in the wide open world of the internet, spying agencies and advertising companies are busy tracking online consumers’ movements between different websites and discern their location.
The way they do that is via the user’s IP address.
We don’t mean to scare anyone, but the situation is a little less than ideal.
However, the simple fact is that the builders and designers of the internet did not intend to protect the user’s privacy.
They created the internet to enable people to exchange information easily and quickly.
The Internet, on its own, does not concern itself with issues such as encrypted communication, anonymization and/or user privacy.
With that said, it is also true that HTTPS has gone a long way towards securing the user’s information.
But even HTTPS can’t do much to guard against internet service provider’s snoopers or even some local network attacks.
This, as most of our readers would know, is a big problem for users who are constantly on the internet doing their work and connecting other people.
In fact, the problem is further compounded if the user has to make use of a connection that isn’t his or her.
We’re talking about network connections at a local coffee shop and/or hotel service.
What we mean to say is that unless and until a completely new network comes along which is more private and offers more security (the chances of that ever happening is zero) then the user is left with no other choice but to make use of a VPN service.
It is indeed the easiest way to ensure that one shares as little data and information as is possible.
Everyone who spends some time on the internet accomplishing some tasks has no option but to use a VPN.
Make no mistake about that.
What does a VPN do and what a VPN does not do
As is the case with any given security tool on earth, it is very important for everyone to understand the limitations that are associated with a VPN service.
The fact that VPN services too have weaknesses should not surprise anyone.
After all, one would never expect a kevlar vest to provide any sort of protection against falling out of an airborne airplane.
Similarly, a parachute would do nothing to stop a bullet.
Whenever a user switches on a given VPN service, the user’s traffic is automatically routed via a tunnel which is encrypted.
The encrypted tunnel leads to a VPN server which is operated by the same VPN service that the user has signed up for.
In other words, the user’s internet service provider and anyone or anything connected to the user’s WiFi router would not have any opportunity to see the user’s web traffic.
Once the user’s internet data/traffic exits the VPN server, that is the exact moment it enters the public internet.
Unless the user has the intention of heading to a website that makes use of HTTPS connections, the user’s traffic is no more encrypted.
However, because the user’s internet traffic appears to everyone else on the internet to have come from the VPN server rather than the user’s own machine, the user’s real IP address is essentially hidden and safe.
This is very important.
Because the way IP addresses work is that they are distributed geographically.
And if someone or something gets a hold of one, it is not hard to use them and infer someone’s actual location.
If there is an actor who has managed to check a given user’s IP address, then they would have the opportunity to see the IP address of only the VPN server through which the user sent his/her data.
This feature can come in real handy if the user has a desire to spoof his/her location.
If the user has the wherewithals to connect to a VPN server which is located in London, then the user can easily make it appear like he/she is accessing a given website or the general internet not from his/her real location but from the United Kingdom.
As mentioned before, a VPN can’t and won’t do everything.
It doesn’t have the power to complete anonymize the user’s internet traffic.
In order to do that, the user will want to make use of a service that goes by the name of Tor.
Tor is the best anonymization service that the world has ever seen and users can easily access the Tor network with a special edition of the official Mozilla Firefox browser.
So instead of simply piping up one’s data through one single intermediary which is a single VPN server, the Tor network has the resources to bounce around the user’s data through a variety of different volunteer computer machines.
What does this do?
It makes it a lot harder for people who are trying to track other online consumers and their activities to see what they are up to.
Apart from that, it is also true that websites are now advanced enough and complex enough to track the user’s movements via,
- online trackers
- web browser fingerprinting
and a ton of other tricky online tools.
If the user makes use of an ad-blocker such as Adguard and/or Privacy Badger, then that certainly helps to suppress all of these ever watchful nasty little things and can also make it a lot harder for advertising agencies to follow the user’s movements across the wider world of the web.
Lastly, just because a user has made use of a VPN service in no way means that the user can simply forget about the basics of online security.
We know of many VPN service providers who have claimed that they are able to block different types of malware for the user.
However, we do not think that is the job of a VPN service.
And hence we recommend that users should stick to standalone antivirus security products for their computer machine in order to have protection from malicious software.
On that note, it is also a good idea for users to make use of a password manager.
Because recycling passwords for different websites is considered as a major point of security failure.
There is another precaution that users have to take.
That precaution is common sense.
Online consumers must make use of common sense when trying to click on various links.
The same common sense should also come into play when users are trying to open up email attachments.
Then there is the very realistic problem of phishing attacks where an attacker makes use of a fraudulent website which mimics a familiar-looking-and-sounding website in order to trick the user into entering his/her login credentials.
These have also become quite common.
So common that now they are considered mundane.
In the end, users have to remain alert at all times when they are visiting sites they don’t trust.
How to choose the best VPN
Whenever we come across a new VPN service and want to review it, there are a couple of key metrics that we give the most attention to.
The number one thing that users must take into account when viewing a new VPN service is the number of simultaneous connections it allows.
A good VPN service always offers equal to or more than five simultaneous devices at any given time.
Another factor that users have to take into account is whether or not the seemingly great-looking VPN service allows users to have BitTorrent traffic on their VPN servers.
Our research shows that some VPN services allow that and some don’t.
Besides, it is never a good idea to run afoul of a given VPN company when one is paying the VPN service a monthly fee.
Now that we have mentioned VPN fees, perhaps it is a good time to mention the average cost of a modern and decent VPN service.
Our research shows that the average price VPN services charge their users is around $10.53 each month.
We are not saying any VPN service that charges the user more than $10 or $11 per month is a fraud.
But what we are saying is that if a VPN service is charging that amount of money then it should offer something significant in return.
So what is significant?
By significant we mean that the VPN service should offer users a great user interface or offer customers a good number of server locations.
These are things that VPN service providers have to do in order to sweeten the deal.
Users can usually get a huge discount if they show some commitment to the Vpn service.
Longer term contracts usually get all users the same amount of discount for the same features.
However, we always recommend that users should not hurry into buying longer term contracts.
And the reason why we want users to avoid those is that, they are an annoyance if the VPN service turns out to be not so good.
If and when the user feels happy with the chosen VPN service, that is the time to show some loyalty and commit long term.
Moreover, before users actually sign up for a VPN service, they should also ensure that they have read the VPN service’s terms of service.
What is terms of service?
It is a document.
A document that outlines what kind of information does the VPN service collects on its users and then what does it do with that data and/or information.
The majority of the VPN services are very clear in what they do with the user data they collect:
They don’t do anything with it.
Some say they do not log user traffic.
And that is great.
Then there are others that tell potential customers nothing about their data practices.
These are the bad VPN services.
The best VPN services are the ones that do not monitor any kind of data.
Readers must understand that is very important.
Because a VPN service has full access to each and every piece of data and/or information on the user THAT the user does not want anyone to see.
A VPN service is supposed to protect that information by not looking at it as well.
Our research shows that the best kind of VPN services are those that make all of these privacy issues clear.
As readers might expect, the worst ones have terms of service documents which are opaque on the exact details on how they protect user data.
The worse ones also tend to make use of a lot of written legalese.
Our recommendation is that if the user finds that trying to read and understand one of these terms of service documents feels like that he/she is trying to translate none other than the Dead Sea Scrolls then it is time to consider signing up for another VPN service.
To take an example look at TunnelBear.
This VPN service clearly outlines the company’s operation in an easy-to-read and easy-to-understand language.
The next thing readers need to know is where the VPN company is located.
On that note, readers should be able to differentiate between where the VPN service is located physically as a business and the jurisdiction the VPN service comes under.
This is called legal distinction.
It outlines the exact jurisdiction that the VPN company operates under.
To take an example, there is NordVPN.
NordVPN is based in Panama.
On the other hand, there is ProtonVPN which is based in Switzerland.
What does that mean?
That means that both of these VPN companies aren’t really beholden to any type of data retention laws.
Moreover, it also means that they don’t have to fulfill the requirement of holding on to various pieces of information on the user which law enforcement agencies could obtain at a later date.
Take a look at Hidemyass VPN as well.
This VPN service is based in the United Kingdom and it has way more intrusive data retention laws than Switzerland or even the US.
Readers need to understand that the most important aspect of any given VPN service is trust.
So if the VPN’s location, terms of service and pricing model do not fill them with a good deal of confidence then they need to move away from that service and try another one.
Best VPN services in the field
Our research shows that these are the best VPN service providers in the world right now,
- IPVanish VPN
- CyberGhost VPN
- TorGuard VPN
- TunnelBear VPN
- Private Internet Access VPN
Paid or free VPN?
Let’s break it down a bit.
Recent surveys conducted by reputable sources has shown some really interesting trends in the way people answer questions about VPN services and whether they would use them.
According to such surveys, around 60 percent of VPN users said that they could not bring themselves to pay more than $5 for a VPN service.
Apart from that, around 47 percent said that they only wanted to use a VPN service if that VPN service was free.
Unfortunately, the majority of the good VPN service providers are pretty much a far cry from being free.
There aren’t any good VPN services that come for $5 a month.
However, what we want readers to know is that they do not have to break the bank in order to get good VPN protection.
The best way to get cheap VPN protection is to purchase longer-term contracts after trying out a given VPN service for a month or two.
For example, our research shows that Private Internet Access is an affordable and rather excellent VPN service which costs users around $6.95 per month.
Now, that is pretty cheap.
But we usually warn beginner users that PIA offers a no-frills spartan user experience.
Leaving that aside, many VPN service providers offer their services for free with a free trial feature.
However, this free trial feature lasts only for a limited amount of time.
Other VPN service providers such as, AnchorFree Hotspot Shield Elite and TunnelBear have completely free versions as well but these free versions come with limited features when compared to the complete list of features available to paying customers.
To take an example, TunnelBear has a set monthly data allowance for users who use the service for free.
On the other hand, Hotspot Shield takes a different approach by having a free version that is supported via advertisements.
Then there is ProtonVPN which comes to the market straight from the creators of ProtonMail, a secure email service.
It too has a limited free edition of its premium VPN service.
Then there is Opera, the web browser which comes with a free VPN baked right into it from the start.
The good part is that, it charges users nothing for using the free VPN.
Apart from that, it is also true that Opera has developed separate and excellent VPN apps for platforms such as iOS and Android though we have heard that these are on the way out.
What we mean to say is that, there are a lot of options for users to have VPN protection wherever they go.
How to get started with a VPN services
The first thing users have to decide is which VPN service they want to sign up for.
After they have managed to settle on a single one, the very first thing that they should try to do is to first download the official VPN app from the VPN service.
Most of the times, the VPN service provides an official download page for this exact service on its official website.
So all that users have to do is go to the official website of their VPN service and download all the VPN apps for their laptops, desktops and mobile phones from that single page.
If the user has signed up for a good VPN service then it should not be hard for him/her to find dedicated VPN apps for a multiple number of platforms and for as many as five of their devices.
Most of the time, VPN services require the user to pay for a single subscription package with a set fee in order to avail a particular number of licenses.
Now, readers should know that the number ‘five’ that we have mentioned is the usual number.
Some VPN services offer more, some offer less and a few offer an unlimited number of devices.
Our research during researching VPN services for Mac has shown that sometimes VPN companies adhere to the practice of having different versions available on different platforms such as the Mac App Store if compared to the version which is available on the VPN company’s official website.
But this apparently is only so because VPN services want to comply with various Apple restrictions.
Nonetheless, figuring out what type of VPN work would work a given user is a tricky business.
That is the reason why we always break down the differences between different VPNs in our VPN reviews.
Coming back to the Get Started part, once the user has gone through the process of installing various VPN apps for his/her devices and runs the apps, the apps usually prompt him/her to enter his/her login information.
In the majority of the cases, this is the user’s password and username that he/she created when signing up for his/her VPN service.
There are some VPN services such as PIA (Private Internet Access) which assign users usernames which are different from the ones that the company has stored as their billing credentials.
Such VPN companies do this in order to provide customers with a greater amount of privacy.
Once the user has managed to log in to the VPN app, the VPN app usually forms a connection to that VPN server which is the closest to the user’s current location.
VPN services do that in order to provide users with better speeds when they are using the company’s service to connect to the internet.
This is in keeping with the fact that the farther away a VPN server is from the user’s actual physical location the more it will increase the reductions in the user’s overall speed and latency rates.
After reading all of this, users should now have complete VPN protection.
Now, they should rest knowing the fact that their VPN service is securely tunneling their information to the company’s VPN servers.
The other thing readers need to note is that they do not necessarily have to install the official VPN app.
Instead of doing that, users can simply configure their device’s related network settings in order to form a connection via a direct method to their respective VPN service.
Users who are more concerned about their privacy and the potential for different kinds of surveillance within the given VPN service’s app ecosystem might consider this as the better option for themselves.
The majority of the good VPN services that we have come across provide users with all the necessary documentation on how to configure their devices for best use.
How to choose a VPN server
There are times when the user may not want to connect to a VPN server the VPN app has recommended.
This is especially true for users who want to spoof their location.
It also happens with users who want to take part in BitTorrent activities via VPN services.
Of course, let’s not forget those users either who want to take advantage of different custom servers that their VPN service has allowed them to have a look at and use.
A lot of VPN services include a neat little interactive server app which comes as a part of their official app.
To take an example, there is NordVPN.
NordVPN allows users to click on the icons of countries present on the map in order to connect to various different VPN servers.
Our research shows that this is a useful way for anyone to understand where his/her information and/or data is going.
Apart from that, NordVPN also offers a list of VPN servers that users can select the best server from according to their own needs.
The other thing readers should know is that selecting a VPN server mostly, if not entirely, depends on what the user wants to accomplish.
In other words, if the user wants a bit of speed and security then he/she should choose the VPN server that is closest to the user’s own physical location.
In order to access content that is region-locked, the user would want a VPN server that is actually local to the exact content that he/she would like to watch.
Online consumers who want to watch something on the BBC would want to tunnel their traffic from a server that is located in the UK.
There are those VPN service providers that offer users specialized VPN servers for the purposes of streaming video.
Prime examples of such VPN services are NordVPN and KeepSolid VPN Unlimited.
But why are specialized servers useful?
They are useful because a lot of online streaming services such as BBC iPlayer, Hulu and Netflix regularly ban VPNs.
Netflix is the one that is the most aggressive in this regard.
At issues are all the licensing deals which Netflix has to secure with different studios.
To take an example. Netflix now has managed to purchase rights to offer Star Trek: Discovery only outside the US.
If a user wants to view the same TV series within the United States of America, they need to pay for the service that is called CBS All Access.
Our research shows that it is also a great idea to check and then see whether or not the VPN service that one has subscribed for allows users BitTorrent traffic on all of its servers or just particular ones.
VPN services such as NordVPN make it abundantly clear by marking all the servers it has cleared for any and all torrenting activities.
There are many others who follow similar practices.
On the other hand, there is TorGuard which is a VPN service built from the ground up for torrenting activities and also enables users to make use of the Torrent feature on all its VPN servers.
Then there are VPN services such as ProtonVPN and NordVPN which offer enhanced online security options.
We’re talking about features such as multihop VPNs and Tor.
As we have mentioned above, both of these features are terrific ways to protect one’s privacy.
Tor is the exact feature that users need in order to access all the hidden websites that exist on the Dark Web.
The multihop VPN service works in a similar way.
Instead of simply routing the user’s traffic via one single VPN server, the multi-hop feature forms a connection which tunnels the user’s information and data to one VPN server and then to another one.
In the end, both of these options offer users enhanced privacy in exchange for speed.
Users who have gone the route of opting to ignore all first-party apps and then configure their own VPN network settings in a manual way, should know that they would probably have to first enter and then save the information for any and all VPN servers that they want to use individually.
Advanced VPN settings
The actual set of security features in each given VPN service varies slightly from one VPN service to the other.
In other words, sites such as Security Gladiators and others can only generalize the VPN features a given user is likely to see when he/she opens up the Settings menu.
However, even with that, we encourage users to take the time and read through the given VPN service’s documentation and then try and click a few buttons here and three.
After all, the most effective method of learning how to use a given tool is to actually use the tool.
The majority of the VPN services in the market today include different kinds of advanced features such as the Kill Switch feature and others.
Once the user has activated this feature, the Kill Switch option blocks the user’s computer machine from receiving and/or transmitting any kind of information over the user’s internet connection unless and until the user or the user’s machine engages the VPN service.
As expected, the Kill Switch feature is useful for all those situations when the user’s computer machine disconnects from installed VPN service.
Moreover, a Kill Switch feature can also prevent tiny bits of information and data that may sneak through unencrypted.
Most of the good VPN services in the market today offer users options to select the type of VPN protocol that they want to use.
To some, this may sound intimidating.
Because almost all VPN protocols have weird official names and VPN companies tend to NOT provide any information regarding VPN protocols and what they really are.
Following from that, users have no way of knowing what would the VPN service do if they changed the VPN protocol.
Generally speaking, it is best for the user to leave VPN protocols and other such options alone.
However, users who are interested in knowing which is the VPN service provider should know that it is OpenVPN protocol.
Or at least it is the one VPN protocol that we at Security Gladiators recommend to beginner VPN users.
The main advantage of using the OpenVPN protocol is that it is open source.
Not only that, because of the fact that it is open source, security researchers have carried out audits on it and have picked it apart in order to find any potential security vulnerabilities.
For users who have subscribed to a VPN service that does not offer the OpenVPN protocol, there is always the iKEv2 protocol which is also pretty secure and probably ‘good’ as well
The other thing readers need to note here is that some of the mainstream devices such as iPhone and macOS do not normally allow VPN services to offer users the OpenVPN option.
Why is that?
It has something to do with security.
Regardless, it does put an unnecessary amount of restrictions on iOS and macOS developers.
In other words, the OpenVPN protocol is not always available to users.
Our research shows that the best VPNs for iPhone enable users to have access to all the latest and the greatest VPN protocols which are available on the given platform of the user’s choice.
Where should you use a VPN service?
We recommend that in order to have the best security possible, users should turn on a VPN service as often as it is required.
In an ideal situation (and thus not really practical) users should have the VPN service turned to ON all the time.
However, that is just an ideal situation.
And naturally, it is not achievable always.
At the very minimum though, we recommend that users should make use of a VPN service whenever and wherever they have connected to a WiFi network that is not in their control.
And that holds especially true if the WiFi network is a public one.
However, generally speaking, Security Gladiators recommends that online consumers should set their default mindset to turning on the VPN app for a secure connection as much as possible.
If the VPN service is causing a problem then the user has all the time available in the world to disconnect.
The case is different (in other words tricky) when it comes to VPNs for Android and various other internet-enabled mobile devices.
This is particularly true if the user frequently moves in and out of disjointed cell phone coverage.
What is happening is that each and every time the user loses and then regains data connectivity, the user’s VPN app has no option but to reconnect.
This process of waiting for the VPN app to connect can take time and can become frustrating.
The other thing readers need to understand here is that, users who are on their cellular internet connection automatically have more security since cell traffic is less likely to get intercepted.
With that said, it is also true that various security researchers have proven that there are ways to intercept cell traffic as well.
Readers also have to consider the fact that intelligence and law enforcement agencies have pretty much unfettered and effectively complete access to various telecom data.
Therefore, it is always a good idea to make use of a good VPN service even if one has a cellular connection.
Also, the majority of the mobile devices have the ability to automatically connect to various familiar looking public WiFi networks.
So at a bare minimum, the user should try and make use of a VPN service when they are connecting to the internet via a WiFi connection.
We want readers to understand that for modern hackers, it is trivially simple to actually impersonate a public WiFi network.
A ton of VPN services offer users settings for under what circumstances and how should their apps reconnect to the internet if the VPN connection is interrupted.
We don’t think anyone can come up with a reason why someone would not want to make use of a VPN service to quickly reconnect to the internet.
Users should also encourage everyone else to make certain that their VPN settings reflect this.
Online consumers who are deeply concerned about their VPN services slowing down their internet connections and/or blocking critical internet traffic, they should give a look to an option known as split tunneling.
Again, various VPN companies offer this feature under different names.
However, the gist of this feature is that users have the option of deciding which particular apps would have the ability to use the VPN connection for their internet traffic and which of the user’s apps would have the opportunity to transmit applications without the use of any VPN services.
To take an example, there is TunnelBear.
TunnelBear includes a neat option which allows users to not tunnel any kind of Apple apps in order to make sure that they are able to function without any problems on a Mac machine.
Gamers and frequent video streamers who need a VPN service must give a lot of weight to a feature like that.
How to make use of a VPN service for streaming with AirPlay and/or Chromecast
AirPlay and Chromecast allow users to share audio and video from their computer machine and/or mobile device to streaming boxes, TVs and speakers.
However, all of them require a decent WiFi connection.
This can be a big problem for users who have activated a VPN service on their system.
When a VPN service is activated, the user’s traffic actually moves through an encrypted tunnel.
This tunnel prevents all of the user’s devices from searching and finding each other even when on the same user-controlled WiFi network.
And that is exactly how a VPN should work.
If a VPN did not do that then anyone with enough skills and a will would snoop around the given network in order to see what the user is up to.
Unfortunately, this setup also means that devices such as AirPlay and Chromecast are unlikely to work if the user has activated a VPN connection.
So what is the solution?
The solution is simple.
Simply turn off the VPN connection.
However, there are other options for the user as well.
Users can make use of VPN services that offer the split-tunneling feature as we have mentioned above in order to route only that traffic which the user wants protected and secured through the VPN connection.
Moreover, users can also make use of VPN web browser plugins.
These provide benefits such as encrypting only the user’s web browser traffic and not touching anything else.
An alternative to that is to install a VPN service on the WiFi router.
Once done, it means that each and every single device that is connected to the WiFi router (anything from a smart juicer to the user’s smartphone device) would have its traffic fully encrypted.
That, to many, is a great option especially for a smart home that is heavily wired.
VPNs are not simple but they aren’t rocket science either
Our survey shows that a lot of online consumers are still not making use of a VPN service.
And part of the reason why that remains true is that to some VPNs still look like arcane online security tools.
However, a lot of companies have performed a lot of work in order to make all of their VPN apps friendly and fairly easy to use.
The majority of the elite VPN service providers offer apps which are more or less set-and-forget online security tools.
And this is how it should be.
We know that some still find the process of opening up their wallets and spending money in order to guard their machine against many potential threats but purchasing a VPN service is actually one of the most practical, useful and easiest things that online consumers can do.
VPN services are great at guarding the user’s web traffic against just about every type of bad actor.
All that the user has to do is to sign up for a decent VPN service.
We have already mentioned which one that is.
It is IPVanish.
And for good reason.
And it comes with a seven-day money-back guarantee.
So users do not have to take any risks when trying out IPVanish.
Click here to sign up for IPVanish from the official website and that too at a discount.
Click here to read our full IPVanish review.