VPN: What Is It? (The Ultimate Mega Guide For Beginners)

VPN-means-virtual-private-network

VPN services don’t just hide your real location.

Don’t want anyone snooping on your private information? Don’t know what a VPN is?

Or are you just searching for ways to beef up your online security while you browse the online world safely?

Believe it or not, but there are millions (and probably billions) of people just like you.

So why think about security then?

Securely a hacker or cybercriminal wouldn’t pick you out of so many people all over the world?

Well, we’ve got news for you.

Your data is not safe.

The reasons for that fact are many.

But they all point to one thing.

That is, you must protect your data and your online privacy in an active manner.

The best way to do what is to get a VPN service for all of your devices.
Not just for your desktop computer.

In this super-awesome-bigger-than-life guide, we’ll explain everything there is to explain about a VPN service.

We’ll talk about what a VPN is and what does it do.

Moreover, we’ll also discuss the merits and demerits of using a VPN.

More importantly though, we’ll also enlighten our readers on how they can purchase the best VPN for their needs and requirements.

What Is A VPN Service?

A VPN stands for Virtual Private Network.

It is basically a safe and secure connection which goes over a public network.

Public networks like “the internet” and other networks that are owned privately.

VPN services do a great job of adding that extra bit of security layer to a user’s privacy which safeguards all their online activities.

To protect you and your data, a VPN will usually encrypt your internet traffic and connection regardless of your device.

But that doesn’t even cover the crust of what a VPN service can do in its entirety.

A VPN also allows users to use the internet privately.

And the best thing is that users can surf the internet without ever having to worry about cybercriminals and online hackers.

How Did VPN Services Come About?

The widespread use of VPN services probably started with the evolution of giant entities such as educational institutions along with government organizations and corporations.

All of the above-mentioned entities wanted to secure their online communications.

These communications took place exclusively through their own networks.

And these entities were able to do that with the VPN technology.

If you really think about, there is no other way corporations could have secured their sensitive communications.

Of course, one can always sign up for dedicated private lines but these are expensive.

It doesn’t matter how many businesses buy one of these the fact remains that even if all the players in a given network buy these lines, they still remain very pensive.

VPN services, on the other hand, changed the game completely.

How?

Let’s put it this way.

VPN services enabled businesses and companies to utilize the internet and use it to transfer data, in a secure manner, to and from their online networks.

And do that while reducing costs significantly.

Needless to say, VPN services delivered more than what these companies expected.

But Virtual Private Network services, in today’s world, aren’t limited to businesses only.

Individual users can also use Virtual Private Network services to access the internet even when they aren’t present in the same Local Area Network.

As mentioned before, Virtual Private Network services also secure communications through encryption.

Individuals could, after signing up for a Virtual Private Network service, leverage this technology and use the internet or any other type of public network securely.

Here is the thing though.

A user has to go through the process of authorization before accessing a Virtual Private Network.

It is usually done with the help of a unique username that is able to identify the user and a strong password.

Do I Need A VPN Service? Why Should You Use A VPN Service?

You already know that Virtual Private Network services allow users to connect to the online world via the internet through a service that is operated by the Virtual Private Network service provider.

YOur data is secure via encryption as it travels the online world from and to computer machine you’re using.

In fact, you could be using a smartphone or a tablet, it wouldn’t make any difference to a Virtual Private Network service.

A Virtual Private Network service does all of the above by rerouting a user’s internet traffic through a Virtual Private Network server.

This enables Virtual Private Network services to do a lot of other things as well.

Some of which are,

  • Protecting user privacy.
    A Virtual Private Network service does that by hiding a user’s internet activity.
    From who you ask?
    It hides this information from government organizations and internet service providers.
  • Helping users to steer clear web censorship.
    You may not know this but governments along with ISPs and school/offices do censor web access to their users in order to keep information from them.
  • Allowing users to access different online services.
    Some online services aren’t available to users simply because of where they live.
    NObody needs to tell us that isn’t fair.
    A Virtual Private Network is the only way around it though.
  • Helping and protecting users from cybercriminals and other hackers who are hard at work in trying to rob users of their private and personal information.
    This is especially the case when a user is connected to a WiFi hotspot that is public.
  • Allowing users to download files through P2P (peer to peer) networks and other file-sharing networks, safely.

 

Benefits Of Using A VPN

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There are so many benefits of using a VPN service.

Using a Virtual Private Network can grant users a lot of advantages.

But it really comes down to the type of user you are or anyone else is.

The advantages of using a Virtual Private Network service will vary according to the activities of the user who uses the Virtual Private Network service.

Generally speaking though, a Virtual Private Network is an excellent way of increasing the strength of your security.

A Virtual Private Network can also help users to access online resources on a given network that, that user may or may not be able to connect to otherwise.

With that said, it is true that what a user can do with a Virtual Private Network is dependent entirely on how the user intends to use the service.

Everybody is different.

They are different in the sense that their requirements are not the same.

But a Virtual Private Network can evolve itself to the needs of the user.

Not the other way around.

So, here are some of the ways in which people from different professions can benefit from a Virtual Private Network service.

VPN For Students

School and company networks are usually restricted or limited.

If you need to access a resource that is outside the network, then you’ll need a Virtual Private Network service.

A Virtual Private Network service will take care of all your specific-network-access needs no matter where you are (at home or even while traveling).

What if you already have a Virtual Private Network service available?

Then most of your search should be over.

You don’t need to buy anything else.

Use your Virtual Private Network service to connect to the internet while you wait at an airport or use a cafe’s WiFi network.

To do that, simply turn on your Virtual Private Network service and bang: the Virtual Private Network service will make you invisible to people who want to snoop on your internet connection.

VPN For Regular Downloads

What if you have a torrent client and want to download a file through torrenting?

Can a Virtual Private Network service help you there?

Yes.

But it depends.

It depends on what you are downloading.

You could be downloading something illegal.

Or something legal as well.

Either way, you are probably better of at blocking companies and organization who want to come through your machine’s door and look at your private stuff.

Simply put, if you want to stay safe while torrenting then you need a Virtual Private Network service.

Besides, it is always better to part with a couple of bucks by signing up for a Virtual Private Network service than to, potentially, pay a fine or even pay the massive costs of going to court over downloading something objectionable.

 

VPN For Online Security And Privacy

Most users on the internet are not comfortable with the fact that someone can potentially look through and read everything they have put up online.

Of course, you want to share yourself with the world, but you want to do it on your own terms.

What about privacy and security? Do these bother you knowing that the likes of NSA can now monitor pretty much everyone in the world, let alone US citizens?

If the answer to any of the above questions is a yes then you need a VPN service.

A VPN service will safeguard your communications with techniques such as encryption and other security tools.

 

VPN For People Who Travel A Lot

If you’re the type of a guy who travels a lot and constantly visits countries other than your native one, then you need a Virtual Private Network service.

Why?

Well, for one, what if you want to watch a TV program that is only available in your native country?

You do know that not every TV program airs in every country on earth right?

If you don’t want to wait for your favorite program till you come back home then you need a Virtual Private Network.

And we haven’t even talked about the issue of limited access to online content and other streaming services just because of your native country.

If you want to bypass all of those restrictions then you need a Virtual Private Network service.

A Virtual Private Network service is a fantastic tool for those who want to spoof their location and change it to whichever country they like.

All Virtual Private Network services offer this feature.

The only thing you need to do is to connect to a Virtual Private Network server and then select the geographical location of your choice.

No more blocked Netflix or Hulu.

Chances are that you probably fall into one of the above-mentioned categories of users.

It doesn’t matter if you don’t fall into one or fall into many.

Virtual Private Network services work for everyone.

In other words, user profiles aren’t relevant to Virtual Private Network use.

You can benefit from a Virtual Private Network service no matter what you do on the internet.

A VPN service is a must if you value your online safety and security.

Do remember that there are lots of other scenarios that can pop up while you’re traveling.

You could be forced, because of unavailability, to use a specific cafe’s WiFi which might not be trustable.

If that’s the case then remember that a hacker could easily put your online information risk via that unsafe cafe’s Wifi.

In the online world, people are always looking for the easy prey.

Don’t allow yourself to easily give away your private information to these predators.

To put it another way, a simple $5 to $10 per month purchase should not deter you from signing up for a Virtual Private Network service that can protect you from all hackers and other online cunning intruders.

How Does A VPN Work?

VPN-is-simple

VPNs aren’t complicated. But they aren’t simple either.

This is the way a normal user connects to the internet.

When you boot up your machine and open up your internet browser, you don’t automatically connect to the thing known as the internet.

First, you always connect to your internet service provider.

Your internet service provider, then connects you to all the websites you could ever want to view.

If you didn’t spot the pattern here then let us spell it out for you.

Everything you do, all of your online traffic along with anything left, is first passed through your internet service provider’s servers.

Naturally, that means that your internet service provider has the power to view everything you view/have viewed in your entire online life.

A VPN service changes that.

VPN services usually connect users to a Virtual Private Network server that is operated by the Virtual Private Network services themselves.

These Virtual Private Network servers are not just any servers.

They are encrypted Virtual Private Network servers and hence provide users an encrypted connection.

For clarity’s sake, here is the situation when you use a Virtual Private Network service.

With a Virtual Private Network service, all of the user’s online data first travels from the user’s computer and then through the Virtual Private Network server.

As mentioned before, this Virtual Private Network server is encrypted.

That means, the only two people who can see what you’re doing via a Virtual Private Network server are you and your Virtual Private Network service provider.

Do take note that a Virtual Private Network isn’t a replacement for your internet service provider.

Your internet service provider still provides you an internet connection.

The only thing that a VPN service does is make sure that your data is transferred only via a private network in the online world.

A VPN service does that via two methods.

First is encryption.

Second is tunneling.

Let’s discuss each of them in turn.

 

Say Hello To Encryption

What does encryption mean?

Encryption is basically a process.shutterstock_309691097

This process converts a user’s information and other types of data into a form that is different from the original.

This “form” is called a ciphertext.

The Ciphertext form ensures that the only person who can view the data is the user after the user goes through a process of authorization.

On its own, a ciphertext, doesn’t block hackers from viewing or even accessing the code.

Ciphertext only makes the data and information unreadable to users who are not authorized to view/access it.

Let’s Talk A Bit About Network Tunneling

There are two other terms of the same phenomena known as network tunneling.

Those other terms are,

  • Port forwarding
  • Encapsulation

Basically, a network tunnel enables one given network to transfer the data on it through the use of some other network’s connection.

The only way this arrangement can work is through encapsulation.

Each network carries packs within it.

In network tunneling, a network protocol that belongs to one network is transferred by another network.

The network protocol itself is encapsulated within the second network’s packs.

Now, let’s come to the arrangement that is present in case of a Virtual Private Network.

See, there are these TCP/IP packets that are usually carried by the internet.

A Virtual Private Network provider takes advantage of the above-mentioned fact and embeds one of its own network protocol within those packets (TCP/IP ones).

Consequently, data can move through one network to the other in a secure manner.

Still confused about how a VPN works?

Then watch the video below.

 

What Are The Disadvantages Of Using A VPN Service

By now you should know that data travels between two parties when you use a Virtual Private Network service.

One is your computer and the other is a Virtual Private Network server.

Moreover, this data and transfer of data is encrypted.

While this allows the Virtual Private Network to secure your communications, it also comes with its own set of drawbacks.

Let’s understand that a bit better by looking at the details.

Internet Service Providers (ISPs) Don’t Have A Single Way To Know What A User Is Doing Online

This doesn’t sound like a disadvantage right?

Maybe.

But you need to know that a Virtual Private Network plays a very impactful role in your online activities.

Internet service providers can’t see what you’re doing because your data is encrypted.

But.

ISPs can know that the users, i.e you folks, are connected to the internet/are online/using a Virtual Private Network service.

Appearances Can Be Deceiving. Users Access The Internet Via A VPN Server’s IP Address

We know what you must be thinking.

This isn’t exactly a disadvantage or is it?

We’ll say, maybe it is, maybe it isn’t.

It depends.

Do you want to be able to access geo-restricted content that is made available only to people who live in a specific country?

Websites track your internet activity.

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They do it because they want to know some things about you.

Mostly though, they want to know where you’re from.

With a Virtual Private Network service, they can only know your Virtual Private Network server’s location which may be in the US while you’re in Iraq.

The only way for anyone to know your true location is if your Virtual Private Network service provider hands it over.

Apart from that, for all intents and purposes, your real IP address is safe and hidden from prying eyes.

Should I Use Public WiFi? Are They Safe?

If you’re using a Virtual Private Network service then Public WiFi hotspots are probably okay to use.

See, when you use a Virtual Private Network service, you’re mostly safe because the internet connection between the user’s device (your device) and the connected Virtual Private Network server is completely encrypted.

Let’s say someone manages to grab a hold of your data as it is moving over the Wifi.

Well, then the data would be of no use to him/her because your data is encrypted.

And when a data is encrypted, it is safe.

No matter where it is.

With you or the hacker.

Can A VPN Provider See What You Do Online?

Let’s get this straight.

People who use a VPN service are doing two things.

First, they are taking their privacy away from their internet service providers.

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Why?

Because an ISP has little to no interest or profit in protecting your privacy. It just doesn’t commit. Simple as that.

Second, people who use a VPN service take their privacy away from their ISPs and entrust it the VPN service provider.

How is it any different than before?

Well, it is different in a fundamental way.

A Virtual Private Network service’s only purpose of existence is to protect your privacy.

But let’s say you don’t trust the Virtual Private Network service provider either.

Good news.

There are many other ways in which you can reveal as little information to your Virtual Private Network service provider as you want.

Data Loss And Other Types Of Performance Issues

VPN service that market themselves as “cheap” are mostly low-quality VPN services.

You need to stay away from them.

Generally speaking, the internet doesn’t really have a Quality of Service department.

This results in problems such as loss of data and performance issues.

A VPN administrator cannot control network conditions that don’t come under its private network.

And when network conditions turn from bad to “worse” there is little anyone can do about it.

Companies who value their time and money do not hold back from spending big on VPN services to ensure that a VPN service uses a QoS for its private network.

Does A VPN Service Make Your Internet Service Slower?

Remember when we talked about techniques such as encryption and decryption?

Well, we didn’t mention that in order for these techniques to be implemented, a lot of processing power is required.

Another thing that is required in huge amounts is time.

The stronger an encryption method gets, the slower the user’s internet connection gets.

It’s as simple as that.

But we’re living in the 21st century.

VPN-is-for-everybody

Virtual Private Networks have to deal with a lot of problems to make sure that users have a nice experience while using them.

That means, most of us have a modern computer.

Modern computers are powerful machines

ANd hence can reduce the time delay because of a Virtual Private Network service and its features to a bare minimum.

Another reason why a Virtual Private Network service slows down internet connection is that of the extra distance a user’s data has to cover quickly.

Whenever you make use of a Virtual Private Network, you basically force your data to take an extra journey to the Virtual Private Network server and then to its final destination.

Your data will first go through the Virtual Private Network server and then reach its predetermined location.

How do you mitigate this problem?

It is rather easy.

Just connect to a Virtual Private Network server that is closest to your original location geographically speaking.

You can also use a Virtual Private Network server that is, instead, closer to the website that you want to visit or view.

What happens when you connect to a Virtual Private Network server that is located at the other end of the planet?

As you can probably imagine, your internet connection slows down because the data now has to travel a longer distance.

Example

Suppose you live in the UK but want to access a TV show that is only streamed in the United States of America.

So view that show with a Virtual Private Network service, you must connect to a server that is located in the US.

If you want to minimize the time delay because of the Virtual Private Network server, then you should select the server that is closest to the UK.

Looking at a map, it should not take you long to realize that within the USA, you should connect to a Virtual Private Network server that is on the East Coast.

If you choose your Virtual Private Network server location in a wise manner, then you can drastically reduce the distance the data must travel.

In the end, all of this will save you time and hence increase the speed of your VPN-connected internet connection.

Apart from that, the speed of your VPN service is also heavily dependant on the VPN server itself.

VPN services can be separated by features such as,

  • The bandwidth available to each user
  • Process power available to its VPN servers
  • Number of users who use the same server at any given time

These factors determine if a VPN service will be fast or slow.

What Are The Types of VPN

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As indicated earlier, Virtual Private Network services use complex encryption methods to protect user data and prevent hackers from intercepting the data when users visit different sites private or public.

To accomplish this, VPN services encrypt data with various sophisticated algorithms that ensure user privacy and data integrity.

Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol Known As L2TP

If you have two websites, and there is some data that has to go between the two, then this is the protocol that is most suitable.

The L2TP sometimes uses the IPSec protocol as its security layer.

This basically ensures the safe transfer of data packets that are encrypted via L2TP over the internet.

How is L2TP different from PPTP?

It is different in a small way.

Mainly that L2TP requires users to utilize certificates.

Shared keys can also work.

Point To Point Tunneling Protocol Known As PPTP

If you want to use the internet to form a connection between any remote client and a given private server then Point to Point Tunneling Protocol is the way to go.

For one, PPTP protocol is the most common Virtual Private Network protocol today.

Most of the top tier Virtual Private Network service providers provide this Virtual Private Network protocol simply because of its ubiquitousness.

The other reason it is so widely used is, it is very easy to use and pretty straightforward to understand and operate.

Moreover, it comes as a default technology in all Windows operating systems.

It has the necessary features to authenticate both the user and the Virtual Private Network server through simple credentials such as a username and a password.

IP Security Known As IPSec

As with all the other Virtual Private Network protocols, this protocol is also used to secure user data that is transferred over the internet.

It uses two modes.

Tunneling and transport.

The user can pick between the two in order to encrypt their data using any Virtual Private Network service that offers this protocol.

What is the difference between the two modes?

Well, the transport mode encrypts user messages from within the data packet.

The tunneling mode encrypts the data packet in its entirety.

If you ever hear someone talking about security overlays in a Virtual Private Network protocol context then know that they are talking about IPSec Virtual Private Network protocol.

Transport Layer Security Known as TLS And Secure Sockets Layer Known As SSL

Virtual Private Network services that use TLS and SSL basically utilize cryptography (which is itself one type of encryption) in order to secure user data as it moves between different computer networks.

All Virtual Private Network protocols use a special method of authentication called Handshake.

The handshake authentication method basically outlines how the server and client must create an online connection.

It also defines the required network parameters for the connection.

How does the handshake method successfully create a connection?

The details are great, but in one line, know that it uses a certificate to authenticate any given connection.

What is a certificate then?

A certificate, in this context, is a cryptographic key.

It is stored both on the Virtual Private Network server and the user machine.

VPN-is-a-must

Different users have different needs. And hence there is a huge variety of Virtual Private Network services.

Corporate VPNs. Commercial VPNs. Difference Between Corporate VPNs And Commercial VPNs.

We alluded to this fact before as well.

VPN technology can thank companies for its birth and quick evolution.

Because of the VPN technology, company employees could work remotely by connecting to their corporate networks in a secure manner.

VPN technology also allowed these works to access useful resources even when they were not in their offices.

That time has long passed now.

But Virtual Private Network services still offer this service.

Those that do, are known as private Corporate Virtual Private Network services.

Commercial Virtual Private Networks are different.

They are in the market in order to supply Virtual Private Network services to individual customers.

You know, the everyday folk.

Commercial Virtual Private Network services concentrate their efforts on providing access to the internet to individual users in a private manner via their own Virtual Private Network servers.

Commercial and Corporate VPNs also have many similarities as well.

Both greater details on their differences and similarities will not be covered in this VPN guide.

Is It Legal To Use VPN Services?

The short answer is yes.

But you must read the long answer to understand the short answer.

Privacy, in most countries, is considered to be a legal right.

There is not a single country out there, except for maybe North Korea, that doesn’t allow its citizens to have this right.

Using a Virtual Private Network service is perfectly legal in over 99 percent of the places on earth.

Countries such as China and Iran have a different system though.

They have restricted internet access to their users.

The main reason for that is they want their citizens to be accountable for what they do in the online world.

VPN’s do exactly the opposite of that.

They provide users with an unrestricted internet access where no one can hold them accountable to anything or anyone.

Hence, these countries along with some others, have banned VPN services.

Moreover, countries such as China and Iran also prevent their citizens from accessing VPN services that are located overseas.

As you can probably imagine, people do have methods to bypass these blockades and can use VPN services successfully if they know how to.

How To Choose A Good VPN Service?

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You should not be surprised to know that VPN services aren’t all equally good.

Some are better than the other.

Therefore, to know which one is the best, you must first question yourself.

And then come up with a plan on how you intend to use the Virtual Private Network service.

But it is true that all of the best Virtual Private Network service providers have some things in common.

Generally, while selecting a Virtual Private Network service, you should look at features such as,

  • Variety of locations
  • Extra and modern features
  • Price
  • Speed

Some VPN services are exceptional in one department while average in the other.

There are VPN services tailored for the absolute beginners and then there are others which are suitable only for experienced users.

Then there are Virtual Private Network services which focus on users who like to download a lot of stuff.

A vast majority though, focus on users who want total privacy and anonymity.

If you want to choose the best Virtual Private Network for your needs and requirements, these are the attributes you should watch out for.

 

  • Price
    There are two types of VPNs when it comes to price.
    There are free VPNs and paid ones.
    Do proper research before you decide which one is right for you.
    Keep in mind though that when it comes to VPN services, more expensive doesn’t always mean the better.
    There is little to no correlation between a VPN’s price and it’s quality of service.

  • Speed
    By their nature, Virtual Private Network services slow down internet speeds.
    But the magnitude of that “slow down” depends on the Virtual Private Network service itself.
    It varies from Virtual Private Network service to Virtual Private Network service.
    The best way is to look at several Virtual Private Network providers and then go with the one you feel is the fastest if you’re looking for that.

  • Privacy

    All Virtual Private Network service providers offer privacy.
    But the quality and depth of the privacy offered vary from one Virtual Private Network to the other Virtual Private Network.

  • Protocol

    No one VPN protocol is the best protocol.
    Each VPN protocol comes with its own set of advantages and disadvantages.
    Though, average online users can forget about tinkering with VPN protocols because it’s just not required.

  • Security

    Security involves VPN services employing different methods to make sure that user data is safe and inaccessible.
    But all the security in the world will not help you if you don’t follow some standard practices.
    For example, you should always use HTTPS on every website you visit.
    Never download a file from a source you don’t trust or know.
    A VPN service can protect you to some extent with advanced features such as Anti-Spyware and Anti-Malware, but in the end, it all depends on the user.

  • Proper Multiple Device Support

    VPN services aren’t exactly cheap.
    Therefore, to get the best value for money, you should sign up for VPN services that offer dedicated apps for all major devices.
    Not only that, they should offer the same quality experience across all devices.
    Fortunately, most of the premium VPN service providers offer dedicated applications for both mobile and desktop.

  • Number of VPN Servers And Location Of VPN Servers

    If you’re the kind of user who signs up for a VPN service because it unlocks geo-restricted content then you need to make sure that a VPN service offers plenty of VPN servers in all major locations of the map.
    A decent VPN service for this purpose should have corporate and exit locations.
    These technologies can help users get through content restrictions all over the internet.

  • Number of Simultaneously Connected Devices

    Truth be told, most modern users now have multiple devices that they want to connect.
    VPN service providers do support multiple number of devices but many VPN services restrict the number of devices you can connect with a single account.
    Of course, we’re talking about devices that are connected at the same time.
    Otherwise, you can connect as many as you want given you don’t connect them at the same time.
    We’ve come across only a few VPN service providers that offer users to connect as many devices as they like, at the same time, without any additional charge.

  • Customer Support
    Customer support is vital for users who are new to the business and need help in setting up the VPN application.
    New users also want someone to explain to them all the new features they don’t understand.
    In cases like these, it is absolutely important for a VPN service to have good and speedy customer support.
  • Free Trial And A Long Money-Back Guarantee

    The VPN industry is a very competitive one and hence any VPN service provider that is looking to make money and stay in the business must offer free trials.

  • Multiple Platform Support

    Providing support for different type of devices is one thing.
    Supporting different platforms is quite another.
    Before signing up with a VPN service, always make sure that it offers support for all of your devices regardless of their operating systems.
    Most top VPN services offer support for all major platforms such as Windows, iOS, Android and Mac OS X.
    Other platforms such as Blackberry and Windows mobile is slightly less common though.

  • Log Policy

    If a VPN service logs your data then it isn’t any good or is it?
    Always ensure that a VPN service provider is clear about its log policy.
    The research should be done before you sign up and not afterwards.

 

Just because you have checked all of the above-mentioned attributes doesn’t mean a VPN service is any good.

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There are lots of other pitfalls to avoid and scams to stay away from.

But if you do take proper notice of the above-mentioned attributes then you increase the chances of signing up for a legitimate VPN service.

Why Should I Pay For A VPN Service? Free VPN vs Paid VPN

Good question.

The thing about free Virtual Private Network services is that they are unreliable.

And hence should always be met with a hint of suspicion.

Virtual Private Network service providers have to invest a lot of money to run their business.

And if a specific Virtual Private Network service provider is not charging for the service, then it begs the question how are they supporting or sustaining their business model.

We’ll tell you how they run their business.

Most free Virtual Private Network services sell user data to third-party bidders.

Sometimes these free Virtual Private Network services also show users contextual advertisements while they are connected to the Virtual Private Network service.

To be fair to free Virtual Private Network services, some of them do offer exceptional features.

But if you want to use a Virtual Private Network service to secure your privacy, then free VPNs are not eh way to do.

It is best to avoid them at all costs.

VPN-hides-users

While there are some good free Virtual Private Network services, they are very few in number.
Even then these free VPN service providers have limited features to offer.

And are painfully slow.

They might suffice the casual user but not someone who is serious about his/her privacy.
Of course, you can always try out a VPN service for free and then later pay for the premium version.

Paid VPN Services

Paid VPN services are different.

They have basically sworn to protect your privacy and anonymity.

Along with that they also offer great performance.

Moreover, paid Virtual Private Network services do not show advertisements.

But do they log your activities or other information?

It depends on the Virtual Private Network service itself and there is no general answer to that question.

You can sign up for a subscription-based Virtual Private Network service for as little as $5.

Even the most expensive ones only cost $10.

Replace two cups of coffee a month and you can easily pay for a Virtual Private Network service.

If you want to use a free Virtual Private Network service then do so.

However, if you want state-of-the-art protection and privacy then go with paid Virtual Private Network services.

Of course, the final decision is yours to make.

Always research thoroughly before making any investments.

Best VPN Services

The VPN market is filled with some great Virtual Private Networks.

Most of them are sufficient for the average user.

But underneath all the advertisements, each VPN service has its own strong and weak areas.

In the end though, it comes down to the user, you, and what the user wants to do with a VPN connection.

We have reviewed almost every VPN service under the sun and have come up with the best VPN service providers we think deserve your attention.

You can check out complete reviews and comparison of the best Virtual Private Network service providers in the market.

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Are VPNs Invincible? Does A VPN Make You Anonymous To Everyone?

No.

A VPN service doesn’t make you totally anonymous.

And for good reason.

We’ll discuss that later.

But for now, you should know that your Virtual Private Network service provider can know what you are doing on the internet and who you really are.
With that said, Virtual Private Network services do offer exclusive privacy features and online services that make you almost anonymous and protect your privacy to the fullest degree.

Let’s say you are a user who wants to sign up for a Virtual Private Network service only because he/she wants privacy.

Then you should sign up for VPN services that have the “no logs” features enabled by default.

Do take note that some VPN service providers do keep logs on their users and their activities.

They do that in real-time too.

VPN services don’t monitor user activity and information unless it becomes absolutely necessary for legal or technical purposes.

In some countries though, law enforcement authorities can legally force a Virtual Private Network company to keep logs on some of their users.

Law enforcement agencies can also put out of gag order to the Virtual Private Network service so that it cannot alert Virtual Private Network users of the fact that the Virtual Private Network company is monitoring them.

But that’s okay since this doesn’t happen often.

It is only done when law enforcement agencies specifically demand for it.

Since Virtual Private Network service providers want to stay in the business, they usually comply with law enforcement agencies.

And cooperate with them too if it means they’ll be able to assist them in catching hackers and criminals.

If you are someone who is wanted by law enforcement agencies then a VPN service won’t benefit you that much.

What About Compulsory Data Retention?

You want to sign up for a VPN service because you want privacy.

Well, in that case, always pay attention to where that Virtual Private Network is located.

Virtual Private Network service providers based in countries that are in Europe have to follow strict data retention laws that require Virtual Private Network companies to keep user logs for a particular period of time.

However, VPN service providers that are based in countries such as,

  • Netherlands
  • Sweden
  • Luxembourg
  • România

do not keep user logs.

Or at least they are not required to.

That doesn’t change the fact that if a VPN service provider is located in a country that forces it to keep logs, then it will keep logs. Period.

No amount of “no-log policy” marketing is going to change that.

How To Pay For A VPN Service Anonymously?

People aren’t just plain old people.

Most of them have their own eccentric needs.

Some users are privacy maniacs.

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And these type of users want privacy from start to finish when it comes to a VPN service.

Paying for a Virtual Private Network service in an anonymous manner does grant a user extra privacy.

But not all Virtual Private Network services allow you to pay anonymously.

You can however, pay Virtual Private Network companies through pre-purchased store cards.

We even know one Virtual Private Network service that allows users to purchase their Virtual Private Network service by paying through cash sent by mail.

If a Virtual Private Network service doesn’t know your address or bank details or even your name then all of that adds up extra privacy.

Of course, VPN services will still know your real IP address so you better watch out.

What Is No-Log Policy?

A thing about no-log policy is that just because a VPN service says it doesn’t keep logs doesn’t mean it doesn’t.

We’re not calling all VPN service providers as frauds.

What we are saying is that Virtual Private Network service providers tend to play with words a little.

So when a Virtual Private Network service says it doesn’t keep logs, what it really means is that it doesn’t keep usage logs.

But what about connection logs then?

Well, most of the Virtual Private Network service providers keep those.

You will need to pay attention to the company’s no-log policy in order to read between the lines and figure it out for yourself.

But before you do, have you ever wondered, what is the difference between usage logs and connection logs?

Let’s Talk About Usage Logs

Usage logs are simply records.

Records of your internet activity.

It includes information related to the websites you visit and when you visit them.

Needless to say, usage logs are the most sensitive ones because any compromise here can cause a lot of damage to customers.

What Are Connection Logs?

These are also a type of record but only store the metadata about a user’s connection.

It doesn’t store any information about internet usage.

So what data gets recorded in connection logs?

Well, it depends on the Virtual Private Network service provider.

Some record more things than others.

Most of the time though, Virtual Private Network service providers will record information such as the time a user connected to their network and for how long the session last.

They might also record how often a user connected to their VPN servers.

As you can probably imagine, most users are totally fine with Virtual Private Network services keeping this information in their logs.

But there are always those users who are just ultra-privacy conscious.

There is no doubt about the fact that these “connection logs” can be used to identify users.

Information contained within the metadata can also be used to discover usage patterns.

Some of the top VPN service providers boast about keeping no logs whatsoever.

Sometimes, they use the term zero-log policy.

If you are that concerned about your privacy then these type of VPN server providers are right up your alley.

Again, do proper research before signing up for a VPN service provider.

Does A VPN Make You Safe

VPN-for-your-machine

Reputed VPN services will grant users a great amount of privacy.

Users who connect to the internet via a Virtual Private Network service are protected against most surveillance programs.

These are mostly carried out by government agencies and ISPs.

Virtual Private Network services can stop ISPs from spying on you too.

Nobody can know what you’re doing online.

So what if you want to take this opportunity and download illegal media?

Well, first you shouldn’t do that.

But if you do, a VPN service will hide your activity.

That’s just the way VPN services work.

Not that they actually want you to engage in copyright violation.

Despite that, don’t bet on a VPN service to come to your aid if you get chased by the police or other law enforcement agencies.

A Virtual Private Network service will block agencies from tracking you but if law enforcement agencies specifically come after you then a VPN service has no other option but to comply.

Is It Safe To Torrent With a VPN?

Again, it depends on the VPN service.

If it allows users to torrent then you can.

Users can also engage in P2P file sharing and downloading if a Virtual Private Network gives permission for it.

From our research, most Virtual Private Network service providers don’t allow users to engage in torrenting or P2P.

Some have specialized servers for it, but that’s it.

You need to check the company’s profile beforehand just to make sure.

Do note however that whenever you downloading something using torrent technology, every other user who is downloading the same file can see your real IP address.

In fact, everybody can see the real IP address of everyone else.

That’s how torrenting works.

With a VPN service, that changes.

A VPN service hides your IP address and shows one of its own server’s IP address.

And hence users will see the IP address of the Virtual Private Network server instead of your own.

This is an area where Virtual Private Network service providers get into a lot of trouble.

Why?

Because customers will be customers.

And they will use Virtual Private Network services to download copyrighted material from the internet.

When that happens, Virtual Private Network services get slapped with copyright infringement notices.

Most Virtual Private Network services have no other choice but to cooperate with the law and will give up user data of its customers who engage in torrenting.

THere a few Virtual Private Network services that will first issue warnings to offending customers and then will disconnect their connections if they don’t stop.

An even fewer number of Virtual Private Network services permit P2P file sharing and downloading.

In fact, they also protect your identity while you engage in torrenting.

So make sure that your potential VPN service has a no-log policy.

It can come in handy once you start downloading files through P2P network.

Can I Use A VPN On My Smartphone?

VPN-for-you

Yes.

VPN services do work on mobile devices.

In fact all the top players in the Virtual Private Network industry support platforms such an Android and iOS for their services.

A VPN service for the mobile platform works exactly the same a switch a desktop machine.

It encrypts user data and then hides the user’s real IP address.

It does that for all online connections.

Nevertheless, for users who want to make sure that their identity is hidden and privacy maintained, using Virtual Private Network services on mobile apps is not a good idea.

Because unlike desktop applications, mobile apps have multiple ways of knowing what a user is doing online.

How?

For starters, smartphone application can easily access GPS data.

Then there is the Apple ID that exposes more user information to snoopers.

The same goes for Android ID’s as well.

Your contact list and messages aren’t safe either.

What can you do to avoid this problem then?

Well. the solution is simple enough.

All you need to do is not use apps.

Use the official website of the service that you want to access.

You should do that with your internet browser.

That way you’ll be able to maintain your privacy without much effort.

Smartphones, by design, are insecure devices.

Even with the help of a VPN service, your smartphone cannot be made spy-proof.

VPN Router. What Is It?

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Normally, when you sign up for a VPN service, you must install the included VPN app on all of your devices.

One by one.

As you can imagine, that takes a lot of time.

Plus, you don’t really know if a VPN service supports all of your devices.

Or maybe you have too many devices and have reached the limit of simultaneously connected devices.

In these cases, it is better to simply install the Virtual Private Network on your internet router.

You can make your router connect to the Virtual Private Network service of your choice.

But why should you do that?

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Here is why.

  • When you connect to your VPN service via your router, all devices that are connected to the router automatically get protected.
  • With a Virtual Private Network-enabled router, you can protect other devices such as gaming consoles and smart TVs.
    These devices, on their own, are not able to run Virtual Private Network application.
    They can connect to a router though.
    If your router is protected by a Virtual Private Network service, you can protect all your devices
  • The best part is that most VPN services consider your internet router to be one single device as far as VPN connections are concerned.
    Theoretically speaking, a user may connect an unlimited number of devices to a VPN-protected router and not go over the limit.

Surely there are some disadvantages as well.

Yes there are.

You need a lot of processing power if you want to install a Virtual Private Network application on your router.

The reason for that is the process of encryption and decryption.

These processes push your processor to its limit.

Most routers that are available in the market can’t handle that sort of data and power requirement.

But you don’t care.

You want to run your Virtual Private Network app on your router.

Well, in that case make sure that when you buy the router you buy the one that supports VPN apps.

IF you do that, you will be able to install VPN software on your router and plus, won’t slow down your internet connection.

Virtual Private Network Is Not Perfect. Here Are Things A VPN Can’t Do.

We’ve already established that if you want to drastically improve your privacy and online security then you need to use a VPN service.

But remember, there is a limit to everything.

And a VPN service certains comes under “everything”.

A VPN service does not grant its user complete and absolute anonymity.

As indicated earlier as well, if law enforcement agencies have got your number then there is little that a Virtual Private Network can do.

This, by the way, is a blessing in disguise.

Why?

Because, now, if you see a VPN service provider offering “complete anonymity” to its users, you would immediately know that the company is trying to take users for a ride.

Moreover, VPN services can’t stop websites who want to track users.

Virtual Private Networks only hide a user’s real IP address.

And it certainly helps when it comes to maintaining privacy.

But most of the websites use different technologies for tracking users.

There are tons of analytic software out there.

free-VPN

Most websites use advanced tracking technology to know more about their visitors.

These advanced technologies include cookies and a new term known only as browser fingerprinting.

So, again, a Virtual Private Network can do nothing against people who are trying to track you in this manner.

However, this shouldn’t deter users from employing other methods to stay anonymous.

There are certain browser tweaks and out-of-the-box plugins that can help users stay under the radar.

SCAM VPNs

The two VPNs we would explicitly recommend our readers to stay away from are the following,

  • Hola VPN
  • MySafeVPN

To read more about how and why MySafeVPN looks set to be a scam Virtual Private Network go here.

As for Hola VPN, the story is a bit complex.

Long story short, Hola VPN is not just bad for the VPN industry, it is bad for the internet as a whole.

They might advertise themselves as a free VPN but in reality, the company runs more like a botnet.

This can have serious consequences as far as the end user is concerned.

When you use Hola VPN, you expose yourself to being an exit node. You could be tracked.

You could be involved in some kind of malicious code execution and even root code execution.

Hola is not a reliable VPN service.

If you have installed it on any of your devices you need to uninstall it right now.

Hola is basically a peer-to-peer VPN service.

This might sound pretty but in reality, it is not.

It just means that other people, who are complete strangers to you, can use your internet connection to browse the internet.

IF they go to an illegal website and do some nasty stuff, to the website it would seem like you did it.

And there is no confirmed way of proving that you weren’t the person that accessed, let’s say, that illegal child pornography website if someone else does so via Hola VPN.

Moreover, with Hola VPN you could also become an exit node.

It’s like running your own Tor network right from the comfort of your room.

Not pretty right?

The EFF has advised users to stay away from becoming a Tor exit node.

Other reasons why you should not use Hola VPN are following,

  • Hola VPN sells your data to third-party buyers and doesn’t care what they do with your data.
  • They are unclear in their privacy policy and terms of use.
  • People can literally run programs on your machine without your permission

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Conclusion

A VPN is an insanely practical security tool that you can use to secure your personal data and guard your privacy.

And it does that for a small amount every month.

With a VPN service, users can rest assured that the chances of them getting hacked are indeed minimal.

Moreover, it stops marketing companies from tracking your every move online.

We sincerely hope that this super awesome guide has helped you to understand everything there is to understand about VPN services.

By now you should also know that VPN services offer when they say “features” and how you can search for your ideal VPN service.

If you still have some doubts in your mind or just want more information about VPN services, then you can always use the comments section below and we’ll get in touch.

 

Zohair

Zohair

Zohair is currently a content crafter at Security Gladiators and has been involved in the technology industry for more than a decade. He is an engineer by training and, naturally, likes to help people solve their tech related problems. When he is not writing, he can usually be found practicing his free-kicks in the ground beside his house.
Zohair

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