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

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VPN services don’t just hide your real location.

Searching for ways to beef up your online security? Don’t want anyone snooping on your private information? Don’t know what a VPN is?

Believe it or not, there are millions, possibly billions of people just like you who are looking for ways to keep themselves safe, but aren’t aware of what tools are available to them.

But why should you worry about online security? Surely a hacker or cybercriminal wouldn’t pick you when there’s billions of people all over the world. 

If you feel that you’re safe from hackers, we’ve got news for you.

Table of Contents

Your Data Isn’t Safe

There are many reasons that your data is at risk but they all point to one thing: you must take an active stance towards protect your data and your privacy. The best way to do this is to install a VPN on all of your devices, not just your desktop computer.

In this comprehensive mega guide, we’ll explain everything there is to know about VPN services. We’ll talk about what a VPN is and what it does to keep you protected. We’ll also discuss the merits and demerits of using a VPN. Most importantly, we’ll enlighten our readers on how they can purchase the best VPN for their needs and requirements.

What Is a VPN Service?

VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. Essentially, a VPN works by encrypting your internet connection and then routing it through a VPN server before connecting you to a public network. Public networks are things like websites that are owned privately, but are accessible by the public. 

VPN services do a great job of adding an extra layer of security to a user’s privacy to safeguard all their online activities. The encryption they use makes it so no one can see what you’re doing online and their servers make it so your IP address appears as though it’s from a different location than your real location.

While these aspects of a VPN are invaluable when trying to increase your online security, they don’t come close to covering the full scope of what VPNs are capable of. We’ll talk more about some of the capabilities of VPNs later on. 

How Did VPN Services Come About?

The widespread use of VPN services started with the evolution of giant entities like educational institutions, government organizations and corporations. These organizations wanted a way to secure their online communications, all of which took place through their own networks.

The answer to their problem was VPN technology. If you understand how VPNs work, there really wasn’t a better way they could’ve secured their sensitive communications. Of course, they could’ve used dedicated private lines but those are expensive and are more difficult to implement than a VPN.

The invention of VPNs completely changed the way that online security was viewed. While they accomplished their intended purpose, they had added benefits that made them even more useful than originally intended.

How Did VPNs Change Online Security?

VPN services enabled companies and other organizations to use the internet to securely transfer data to and from their online networks all while significantly reducing security costs. Needless to say, VPNs delivered more than what these companies expected.

Note

While VPNs were originally created for large organizations, they’re now available for individual users. Individuals can use VPNs to access the internet and send secure messages even when they aren’t in the same Local Area Network as their recipients.

As mentioned before, VPN services secure communications by using encryption. after signing up for a VPN service, users can leverage this technology and use the internet or any other type of public network securely.

Keep in mind that before using a VPN, a user has to go through the process of authorization. To make sure your connection is as secure as possible, you’ll need to use a unique username and a strong password.

Why Should You Use a VPN?

A VPN keeps you and your data secure by encrypting your internet traffic and routing your connection through a VPN server. This method is the same whether you’re using a desktop computer, a laptop or a mobile device.

While these are the core features of a VPN, they allow VPNs to do a lot of other beneficial things as well. Some of which are:

  • Protecting users’ privacy. A VPN does this by hiding a user’s internet activity and personal information from the prying eyes of hackers, government organizations and internet service providers or ISPs.
  • Helping users evade web censorship. You may not know this, but governments, ISPs and schools or offices 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. A VPN is the only way around these restrictions.
  • Protecting users from cybercriminals and other hackers who are hard at work trying to steal their personal information. This is especially important when a user is connected to a public WiFi hotspot.
  • Allowing users to safely download files through P2P (peer to peer) networks and other file-sharing networks.

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Benefits of Using a VPN

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There are many benefits to using a VPN service.

Using a VPN can grant users a lot of advantages, but it really comes down to the type of user you are to determine how a VPN can benefit you. Generally speaking though, a VPN is an excellent way to increase the strength of your online security.

A VPN can help users access online resources on a given network that the user may not be able to connect to otherwise. With that said, it’s true that what a user can do with a VPN is entirely dependent on how they intend to use the service.

Here are some of the ways in which people from different professions can benefit from using a virtual private network.

VPN Benefits for Students

School and company networks are usually restricted or limited. If you need to access a resource that’s outside the network, you’ll need to use a VPN. A VPN will take care of all your specific network access needs no matter where you are whether you’re on campus, at home or traveling.

What if you’ve already signed up for a VPN service? If this is the case, most of the work is over. You don’t need to buy anything else. Use your VPN 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 VPN and you’ll be virtually invisible to people who want to snoop on your internet connection.

 

VPN Benefits for Downloading Files

What if you have a torrent client and want to download a file through torrenting? Can a Virtual Private Network service help you there?

The short answer is yes, but it depends on what you’re downloading. You could be downloading something illegal or harmful to your computer.

Either way, you’re probably better off at blocking companies and organizations who want to come through your machine’s door and look at your private information. Simply put, if you want to stay safe while torrenting then you need a VPN.

Besides, it’s always better to part with a couple of bucks by signing up for a VPN service than to pay a fine or even pay the massive costs of going to court over downloading something illegal or copyright protected.

VPN Benefits for Online Security and Privacy

Most internet users aren’t comfortable with the fact that someone could potentially look through and read everything they’ve put online. Of course, you want to share yourself with the world, but you want to do it on your terms.

What about privacy and security? Does it bother you knowing that organizations like the NSA can monitor pretty much everyone in the world, especially U.S. citizens? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then you need a VPN service. A VPN service will safeguard your communications and keep hackers and government organizations alike from seeing your personal information and online activity.

VPN Benefits for Those Who Travel

If you’re constantly traveling for work or for pleasure, you need  VPN. Why? Well for one, what if you want to watch a TV program that’s only available in your native country? If you don’t want to wait to watch your favorite program until you come back home, you’ll have to use a VPN.

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 VPN service.

A VPN is a fantastic tool for those who want to spoof their location and change it to whichever country they like. All VPN services offer this feature. To use it, the only thing you need to do is to connect to a VPN server and select the geographical location of your choice.

Unblock Netflix or Hulu

One of the most popular uses for VPNs is unblocking streaming sites like Netflix and Hulu. These sites make certain content available only in certain countries, but these restrictions can be evaded by using a VPN. We have a video showing you how to do this.

Unblock Netflix US Version with Nord VPN (November 2017) 5 Simple Steps!

A VPN Is a Must If You Value Your Online Safety and Security

There are lots of scenarios that can pop up while you’re traveling. You could be forced by the scarcity of free WiFi to use a cafe’s WiFi which may not be secure. If that’s the case, remember that a hacker could easily put your personal information at risk via that cafe’s unsafe WiFi.

In the online world, people are always looking for easy prey. Don’t allow yourself to easily give away your private information to these predators. A simple $5 to $10 per month purchase shouldn’t deter you from signing up for a VPN service that can protect you from hackers and other online intruders.

How Does a Normal Internet Connection Work?

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

Before we dive into how a VPN connection works, let’s discuss how a normal internet connection works. When you boot up your machine and open your internet browser, you don’t automatically connect to the internet.

First, you always connect to your ISP. The ISP then connects you to all the websites you want to access.

Everything you do, all of your online traffic, is first passed through your ISP’s servers before it reaches the actual internet. Naturally, this means that your ISP has the power to view everything you access while you use the internet.

How Does a VPN Connection Work?

Before connecting you to the internet, VPN services connect you to a VPN server that’s operated by the virtual private network services themselves. These servers are not like normal servers. They’re encrypted and are able to provide an encrypted internet connection.

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

This is important:

With a VPN, all of your online data first travels from your computer and through the VPN server via an encrypted connection. This means that the only two people who can see what you’re doing on a VPN server are you and your VPN service provider.

It’s important to understand that a VPN isn’t a replacement for your ISP. Your ISP still provides you with an internet connection even when you’re using a VPN. The only thing that a VPN service does is make sure that your data is transferred via a private encrypted network.

VPNs Use Two Methods to Protect You and Your Data

Two different methods are used to protect you when you’re using a VPN. We’ll discuss them separately so it’s clear how they’re different and how each one is beneficial.

Encryption

What does encryption mean? Encryption is basically a process that converts a user’s information and other types of data into a form that is different from the original. This new form is called ciphertext.

When the data is transformed into ciphertext it ensures that the only person who can view the data is the user after they go through a process of authorization.

On its own ciphertext doesn’t block hackers from viewing or accessing the code that contains your data. It simply makes the data and information unreadable to users who are not authorized to access it.

Network Tunneling

There are two other terms of the same phenomenon known as network tunneling: port forwarding and encapsulation. Basically, a network tunnel enables one network to transfer the data on it through another 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. shutterstock_309691097

Now, let’s discuss the arrangement that’s present in case of a VPN. See, there are these TCP/IP packets that are usually carried by the internet. A VPN provider takes advantage of this fact and embeds one of its own network protocols within those packets. Consequently, data can move through one network to the other in a secure manner.

Still Confused About How a VPN Works?

If you’re still not sure about how a VPN works, maybe a visual explanation will help. Try this video:

VPN – Virtual Private Networking

Disadvantages of Using a VPN

By now you should know that data travels between two parties when you use a VPN service. One is your computer and the other is a VPN server. This data and the transfer of the data are encrypted.

While this allows the VPN 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.

ISPs Can’t See What Their Users Are Doing Online

This doesn’t sound like a disadvantage right? Isn’t this one of the purposes of using a VPN? What you need to understand is that a VPN plays a very impactful role in your online activities.

ISPs can’t see what you’re doing because your data is encrypted. While they can’t see your activity, they can see that you’re connected to the internet using a VPN. 

Users Access the Internet via a VPN Server’s IP Address

We know what you must be thinking: this isn’t exactly a disadvantage 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’s made available only to people who live in a specific country?

Websites Track Your Internet Activity

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They do this because they want to know some things about you. Mostly they want to know where you’re from.

With a virtual private network service, they can only know your VPN server’s location which may be in the U.S. while you’re in Iraq, for example.

The only way for anyone to know your true location is if your VPN service provider hands over that information. Apart from that, for all intents and purposes, your real IP address is safe and hidden from prying eyes.

Should I Use Public WiFi? Is It Safe?

Even if you’re using a VPN, public WiFi isn’t always safe to use. However, when you use a VPN, you’re mostly safe because the internet connection between your device and the VPN server is completely encrypted.

Let’s say someone manages to grab a hold of your data as it’s moving over the WiFi. The data would be of no use to the hacker because it’s encrypted. When data is encrypted, it’s safe no matter where it is.

Can a VPN Provider See What You Do Online?

People who use a VPN service are doing two things. First, they’re taking their privacy back from their ISPs.

Why?

Warning:

ISPs have little to no interest in protecting your privacy. There’s no money for them in protecting you so, from their standpoint, there’s no need to do so.

Second, people who use a VPN service take their privacy back from their ISPs and entrust it the VPN service provider. How is this any different? Well, it’s different in a fundamental way. A VPN provider’s sole purpose is to protect your privacy.

But let’s say you don’t trust the VPN provider either. What then? There are many ways in which you can reveal as little information to your VPN service provider as you want. shutterstock_86238010

Data Loss and Other Performance Issues

VPN services 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 fall under its private network. When network conditions turn from bad to worse there’s little anyone can do about it. Companies who value their time and money don’t hold back from spending big bucks on VPN services to ensure that the one they use ensures quality service on its private network.

Does a VPN Slow Down Your Internet Connection?

Remember when we talked about techniques such as encryption and decryption? Well, what we didn’t mention is that in order for these techniques to be implemented a lot of processing power is required. Another thing that’s required is time.

The stronger an encryption method gets, the slower the internet connection. It’s as simple as that. But we’re living in the 21st century, which means that most of us have a modern computer.

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

Modern computers are powerful machines. Therefore, they can reduce the time delay caused by a VPN and its features to a bare minimum.

Another reason why a VPN slows down internet connections is the extra distance a user’s data has to cover. Whenever you use a virtual private network, you’re forcing your data to take an extra journey to the VPN server and then to its final destination.

How do you mitigate this problem?

It’s rather easy. Just connect to a VPN server that’s close to your physical location. You can also use a server thats closer to the servers of the website that you’re trying to visit.

What happens when you connect to a VPN server on the other side of the planet? As you can probably imagine, your internet connection slows down significantly because the data now has to travel a much longer distance.

Suppose you live in the U.K. but want to watch a TV show that’s only streamed in the U.S. To view that show by using a VPN, you must connect to a server that is located in the U.S. If you want to minimize the time delay caused by the VPN, you should select the server that’s closest to the U.K. Looking at a map, it shouldn’t take you long to realize that within the U.S., you should connect to a server on the east coast.

If you choose your VPN server location wisely, you can drastically reduce the distance the data must travel. In the end, all of this will save you time and increase the speed of your VPN-connected internet connection.

VPN Servers Affect Internet Speeds

VPN features can be separated by into categories like:

  • The bandwidth available to each user
  • Processing 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.

Types of VPNs

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As indicated earlier, VPN services use complex encryption methods to protect users’ data and prevent hackers from intercepting the data when users use the internet.

To accomplish this, VPNs encrypt data with sophisticated algorithms that ensure user privacy and data integrity. Let’s take a look at some of these algorithms.

Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol

The Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol is also known as L2TP. If you have two websites and there’s some data that has to go between the two, this is the protocol that is most suitable.

L2TP sometimes uses the IPSec protocol as its security layer. This ensures the safe transfer of data packets that are encrypted via L2TP over the internet.

How is L2TP different from PPTP? It’s different in a small way. Mainly that L2TP requires users to utilize certificates or shared keys.

Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol

The Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol is also known as PPTP. If you want to use the internet to form a connection between a remote client and a private server then PPTP is the way to go.

For one, PPTP protocol is the most common VPN protocol today. Most of the top tier VPN providers use this protocol simply because of its ubiquitousness. The other reason it's so widely used is that it's easy to use and understand.

Moreover, it comes as a default technology in all Windows operating systems. It has the necessary features to authenticate both the user and the VPN server through simple credentials like a username and a password.

IP Security Protocol

The IP Security Protocol is also known as IPSec. As with all the other VPN protocols, this protocol is also used to secure user data that’s 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 VPN service that offers this protocol. What’s 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 VPN protocol context, then know that they’re talking about the IPSec VPN protocol.

Transport Layer Security and Secure Sockets Layer

Transport Layer Security is known as TLS and Secure Sockets Layer is known as SSL. VPN services that use TLS and SSL utilize cryptography, which is a type of encryption, in order to secure user data as it moves between different computer networks.

All VPN 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. This key is stored on both the VPN server and the user’s machine.

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

The Difference Between Corporate VPNs and Commercial VPNs

We alluded to this fact before: VPN technology can thank companies for its birth and quick evolution. Thanks to VPN technology, company employees could work remotely by connecting to their corporate networks in a secure manner. VPN technology also allowed these workers to access useful resources even when they weren’t in their offices.

VPNs still offer this service. Those that do are known as private Corporate Virtual Private Networks.

Commercial Virtual Private Networks are different. They’re in the market to supply VPN services to individual customers. Commercial VPN services concentrate their efforts on providing access to the internet to individual users in a private manner via their servers.

Is It Legal to Use a VPN?

The short answer is yes, but there are some things you should be aware of. Privacy, in most countries, is considered a legal right. Using a VPN is perfectly legal in over 99% of the countries on Earth.

This is important:

Countries such as China and Iran have a different system, though. They’ve restricted internet access to their users. The main reason for this is that they want their citizens to be held accountable for what they do online.

Using a VPN would allow citizens of these countries to avoid being held accountable for their online actions. VPNs provide users with unrestricted internet access where no one can hold them accountable to anything or anyone.

Therefore, countries like China and IRan along with some others have banned VPN services. As you can probably imagine, people have methods to bypass these blockades and can use VPN services successfully if they know how.

How to Choose a VPN Service

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You shouldn’t be surprised to learn that VPN services aren’t equal. 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 VPN.

Keep in mind that all of the best VPN providers have some things in common. Generally, when selecting a virtual private network service, you should look for features such as:

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

Some VPN services are exceptional in one department while average in the others. There are VPN services tailored for the absolute beginners and then there are others which are suitable only for experienced users. Then there are VPNs that focus on users who like to download a lot of files. The vast majority of VPNs focus on users who want total privacy and anonymity.

If you want to choose the best VPN for your needs, these are the attributes you should look for:

  • Price. There are two types of VPNs when it comes to price: free and paid. Do proper research before you decide which one is right for you. Keep in mind that when it comes to VPN services, more expensive doesn’t always mean better. There’s little to no correlation between a VPN’s price and its quality of service.
  • Speed. By their nature, VPNs slow down internet speeds. The magnitude of that slow down depends on the VPN itself. The best way to determine which one will reduce your speeds the least is to look at several VPN providers and then go with the one you feel is the fastest.
  • Privacy. All VPN providers offer privacy but the quality and depth of the privacy offered varies from one provider to another.
  • Protocol. No one VPN protocol is the best. Each protocol comes with its own set of advantages and disadvantages. That being said, the average VPN user can forget about tinkering with VPN protocols because it’s not required to use a VPN.
  • Security. VPN services employ 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. To get the best value for your money, you should sign up for a VPN service that offers dedicated apps for all major devices. Not only that, it 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 their locations. 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. 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 allowable simultaneously connected devices. Truth be told, most people today have multiple devices that they want to connect to the internet. VPN service providers do support multiple devices but many restrict the number of devices you can connect with a single account. We’ve come across only a few VPN service providers that allow 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 their VPN. New users also want someone to explain to them all the new features they don’t understand. In cases like this, it’s important for a VPN service to have good customer support.
  • Free trial and money-back guarantee. The VPN industry is very competitive. Therefore, any VPN service provider looking to be successful must offer free trials.
  • Multiple platform support. Providing support for different types of devices is one thing, but 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 of the top VPN services offer support for all major platforms including Windows, iOS, Android and macOS.
    Other platforms such as Blackberry and Windows mobile are less common, though.
  • Logs policy. If a VPN service logs your data then it isn’t any good, is it? Always ensure that a VPN service provider is clear about its logs policy. This research should be done before you sign up, not after.

While these features are important to check, they don’t necessarily guarantee that you’ll be choosing a quality VPN service. There are lots of 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.

shutterstock_649021654Why Should I Pay for a VPN?

Good question. The thing about free VPNs is that they’re unreliable and should always be met with a hint of suspicion.

VPN providers have to invest a lot of money to run their business. If a VPN provider isn’t charging for the service, then it begs the question of how they’re supporting their business model.

We’ll tell you how they run their business. Most free VPN providers sell user data to third-party bidders. Sometimes they also show users contextual advertisements while they’re connected to a VPN server.

To be fair, some free VPN providers offer exceptional features. Some free VPN services are great, but they’re few in number. But if you want to use a VPN to ensure your privacy, then free VPNs are not the way to go. Especially since most of them have limited features or are painfully slow.

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Paid VPN services are different. They’ve basically sworn to protect your privacy and anonymity. Along with that they also offer great performance. Moreover, paid VPNs don’t show advertisements.

But do they log your activities or other information?

It depends on the VPN service itself and there’s no general answer to this question.

You can sign up for a paid VPN service for less than $5 per month. Replace two cups of coffee a month and you can easily pay for a VPN. If you want to use a free VPN service then feel free to do so. However, if you want state-of-the-art protection and privacy then go with a paid virtual private network service.

Best VPN Services

The VPN market is filled with some great VPN providers. 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 and what they want to do with their VPN.

We’ve reviewed almost every VPN service under the sun and have come up with a list of the top 10 best VPN service providers. You should refer to this list to help you find the best VPN to suit your needs. 

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Does a VPN Make You Anonymous to Everyone?

In short, No. A VPN service doesn’t make you totally anonymous and for good reason. We’ll discuss that more later on. 

For now, you should know that your VPN service provider can see what you’re doing on the internet and who you really are. With that said, VPN providers often offer privacy features and online services that make you almost completely anonymous and protect your privacy to the fullest degree.

Let’s say you’re a user who wants to sign up for a VPN service only for the privacy features. Then you should sign up for VPN services that have the no logs features enabled by default. Note that some VPN service providers do keep logs on their users and their activities, but they should make their logs policy clear on their website.

VPN services don’t monitor user activity and information unless it becomes absolutely necessary for legal or technical purposes. In some countries, law enforcement authorities can legally force a VPN provider to keep logs on their users. Law enforcement agencies can also put out a gag order to the VPN provider so that they can’t alert their users to the fact that they’re being monitored.

This doesn’t happen very often, though. It’s only done when law enforcement agencies specifically demand it. Since VPN providers want to stay in business, they usually comply with law enforcement agencies. Occasionally they’ll cooperate with them as well if it means they’ll be able to assist them in catching hackers and criminals.

What About Compulsory Data Retention?

Chances are you want to sign up for a VPN service because you want privacy. In that case, always pay attention to where the VPN provider you’re using is located. VPN providers based in European countries have to follow strict data retention laws that require them to keep user logs for a particular period of time.

Warning:

However, VPN providers in countries like the Netherlands, Sweden, Luxembourg and Romania don’t keep user logs. Or at least they’re 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 zero-logs policy marketing is going to change that.

How to Pay for a VPN Service Anonymously

Some users are privacy maniacs, which is becoming more and more necessary as the world changes. These users want privacy from start to finish when it comes to a VPN service.

Paying for a VPN service anonymously grants a user extra privacy, but not all VPN providers allow you to pay anonymously. You can, however, pay for your VPN service using pre-purchased store cards. We even know of one VPN provider that allows their users to purchase their service by paying through cash sent by mail.

If a VPN provider doesn’t know your address, bank details or name then all of that adds up extra privacy. Of course, they’ll still know your real IP address so keep that in mind.

What Is a Zero-Logs Policy?

The thing about zero-logs policies is that just because a VPN service says it doesn’t keep logs doesn’t mean it’s telling the truth. We’re not calling all VPN service providers frauds. What we’re saying is that VPN providers tend to play with words a little. So when a VPN says it doesn’t keep logs, what it really means is that it doesn’t keep usage logs.

But what about connection logs? Well, most of VPN providers keep those. You’ll need to carefully read the company’s zero-logs policy in order to read between the lines and figure it out for yourself. As you’re reading, be sure you understand the difference between usage logs and connection logs.

Usage Logs

Usage logs are simply records of your internet activity. They include 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.

Connection Logs

These are also a type of record but they only store the metadata about a user’s connection. They don’t store any information about internet usage.

So what data gets recorded in connection logs?

Well, it depends on the VPN provider.

Some record more than others. Most of the time though, VPN providers will record information such as the time a user connected to their network and for how long the session lasted. They might also record how often a user connects to their servers. As you can probably imagine, most users are totally fine with VPN providers keeping this information in their logs.

That being said, there’s no doubt that these connection logs can be used to identify users. Information contained within the metadata can also be used to discover usage patterns, which can identify a user or be used to deliver advertisements if the connection logs are sold.

Does a VPN Make You Safe?

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Reputable VPN services will grant users a great amount of privacy. Users who connect to the internet via a VPN are protected against most surveillance programs. These are mostly carried out by government agencies and ISPs.

Nobody can know what you’re doing online.

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

First of all, you shouldn’t do that. But if you do, a VPN will hide your activity. That’s just the way they work. Not that they actually want you to engage in copyright violation or any other type of illegal activity.

Despite that, don’t count on a VPN provider coming to your aid if you get chased by law enforcement agencies for what you were doing online. A VPN will block agencies from tracking you but if law enforcement agencies come after you then a VPN provider often has no other option but to comply with their demands.

Is It Safe to Torrent With a VPN?

Again, it depends on the VPN provider. If it allows users to torrent then you can. Users can also engage in P2P file sharing and downloading if the VPN they use allows it. Some VPNs have servers specifically for torrenting.

You need to check the company’s policies beforehand just to make sure it’s allowable. Keep in mind, however, that whenever you’re 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.

This is important:

However, if you’re using a VPN, this is not the case. A VPN service hides your IP address and shows one of its servers’ IP address. Therefore, other users will see the IP address of the VPN server instead of your actual IP address.

This is an area where VPN providers can get into a lot of trouble. Why? Because some of their customers use the VPN services to download copyrighted material from the internet. When that happens, the VPN providers get slapped with copyright infringement notices.

Most VPN providers have no other choice but to cooperate with the law and will give up the data of their customers who engage in torrenting.

There are a few VPN providers that will first issue warnings to offending customers and then will revoke their connections if they don’t stop.

An even fewer number of VPN providers permit P2P file sharing and downloading. In fact, they also protect your identity while you engage in torrenting. So make sure that your VPN service has a zero-logs policy. It can come in handy once you start downloading files through P2P networks.

Can I Use a VPN on My Smartphone?

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Yes, VPN services do work on mobile devices. In fact all the top players in the VPN industry support platforms such as Android and iOS for their services.

A VPN service for the mobile platform works exactly the same as one on a desktop. 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 their privacy is maintained, using VPN services on mobile apps isn’t a good idea. Unlike desktop applications, mobile apps have multiple ways of knowing what a user is doing online. How? For starters, smartphone applications can easily access GPS data. Then there’s the Apple ID that exposes more user information to snoopers.

This is true of Android IDs, as well.

Your contact list and messages aren’t safe either. What can you do to avoid this problem? Well, the solution is simple enough. All you need to do is not use apps. Use the website of the service that you want to access using the 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 can’t be made spy-proof.

What Is a VPN Router?

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Normally when you sign up for a VPN service, you must install the 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 VPN on your internet router. You can make your router connect to the VPN server of your choice. But why should you do that?

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Well, here’s why:

  • When you connect to your VPN service via your router, all devices that are connected to the router automatically get protected.
  • With a VPN-enabled router, you can protect other devices such as gaming consoles and smart TVs. These devices, on their own, aren’t able to run VPN applications, but they can connect to a router.
  • Most VPN services consider your internet router to be a 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 set by the VPN provider.

Surely there are some disadvantages as well. Unfortunately there are. You need a lot of processing power if you want to install a VPN 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 on the market can’t handle that sort of data and power requirement. But you don’t care. You want to run your VPN app on your router. In that case, make sure that when you buy the router you buy the one that supports VPN apps. If you do that, you’ll be able to install VPN software on your router and it won’t slow down your internet connection.

What Can’t a VPN 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’s a limit to everything and a VPN service is no exception.

Note

A VPN service doesn’t grant users complete and absolute anonymity. As indicated earlier, if law enforcement agencies are after you then there’s little that a VPN provider 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 being dishonest. Moreover, VPN services can’t stop websites who want to track users. VPNs only hide a user’s real IP address, which helps when it comes to maintaining privacy. But most of websites use different technologies for tracking users.

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Most websites use advanced tracking technology to learn more about their visitors. These advanced technologies include cookies and a new term known only as browser fingerprinting.

Virtual private networks 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.

VPN Scams

The two VPNs we would explicitly recommend our readers to stay away from are Hola VPN and MySafeVPN. The story about MySafeVPN is fairly simple, but it’s a bit more complex for Hola VPN.

Long story short, Hola VPN isn’t just bad for the VPN industry, it’s 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 and 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 VPN is basically a peer-to-peer VPN service.

This 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 or do something illegal, it would appear to the website that you did it. There is no confirmed way of proving that you weren’t the person that accessed that illegal website if someone else does so on your internet connection via Hola VPN.

The EFF has advised users to stay away from becoming a Tor exit node, which is similar to what you’d be if you’re using Hola VPN. Other reasons why you shouldn’t use Hola VPN are:

  • They sell your data to third-party buyers and don’t care what they do with your data.
  • They’re unclear in their privacy policy and terms of use.
  • Other users can run programs on your machine without your permission.

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Conclusion

A VPN is an invaluable 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 getting hacked are minimal. Moreover, a VPN can stop marketing companies from tracking your every move online.

We sincerely hope that this guide has helped you to understand everything there is to know about VPN services. By now you should also know how you can search for your ideal VPN service and how to analyze the features they offer.

If you still have some doubts on 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. Thanks for reading!

 

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.

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