A VPN (Virtual Private Network) is a simple software that was created to protect your online privacy and make life harder for hackers by anonymizing your traffic and location. But you can also use it for many other things, whether that’s breaking geoblocks to access every streaming service in the world, downloading torrents fast and more.
After reviewing and analyzing everything they have to offer, I can honestly say that VPNs are super easy to use and everyone can do it. My simple, no-nonsense guide will teach you everything you need to know to get started.
What Can a VPN Do for You?
A VPN can help to protect you in a few key ways:
- VPNs encrypt all the data you send over the internet.
When you’re connected to a VPN server, all your internet traffic is encrypted. This means that nobody can see what you’re doing online, not even your internet service provider (ISP). And that means your ISP can’t throttle your speeds either, which it often does if you’re doing something speed-intensive like streaming or gaming.
Encryption stops hackers from seeing sensitive information that you enter into websites, like your passwords. This is especially important if you’re using public WiFi because it’s easy for cybercriminals to monitor your connection on public networks. But a VPN makes sure that even if someone stole your data, they wouldn’t be able to decrypt it or even understand it.
- Your VPN also masks your IP address.
Websites and services, like Netflix, use your IP to determine your location. When you connect to a VPN server, the websites you access only see the VPN’s IP address.
Because they can no longer see your real IP, they can’t see where you’re located. This is essential if you want to torrent, or bypass geoblocks and censorship. It means you can access any show, movie, or game in the world, and browse with complete freedom in every country you visit.
- Some VPNs block malicious websites, ads, and trackers.
Malicious websites can download malware and trackers onto your device without you knowing. VPNs with built-in protection help to prevent infections by blocking these sites before they can do damage.
Some also block ads and pop-ups. This stops malicious ads from infecting your device with malware, and it means you can enjoy streaming platforms, like YouTube, ad-free.
How Do VPNs Work?
Your VPN directs all of your internet traffic through to one of its servers, where it’s encrypted. For example, you might be in the UK and connect to a US server. The VPN sends your traffic from the UK to the US, completely encrypted. Because it’s encrypted, your ISP can no longer see the websites you access, where you’ve come from, or track you.
From there, your VPN server forwards your traffic to the website you’re visiting, for example a website, app, or streaming service like Netflix. The site sees the VPN server as the origin of your traffic, instead of your device. This means that it also sees your VPN server’s IP address instead of yours. The best VPNs use thousands of servers and update their IP addresses regularly, so sites don’t have enough time to blacklist and block them. And that means, you stay completely private and undetectable.
How Do VPNs Help Me Stream?
Streaming services, like Netflix and Hulu, use your IP address to find out where you’re streaming from. Once they know where you live, they control the content you can stream based on the distribution agreements they have in your region.
You can use your VPN to trick streaming services into thinking you’re based in another country. This way, you have access to extra content that isn’t available in your country.
For example, if you connect to a US-based VPN server, you can unblock Netflix US.
Are VPNs Legal?
The short answer is, yes! You can freely use a VPN in most countries, but there are some exceptions.
Countries like China and Iraq forbid the use of non-government VPNs. This means that approved providers have most likely complied with anti-privacy and censorship requirements, making their VPN services untrustworthy. Non-compliant VPN companies are usually blocked so that you can’t access their websites to download their apps once you’re in the country.
How Does a VPN Guarantee My Privacy?
VPNs handle a lot of sensitive information, so they need to have solid privacy policies and strong security measures. Some security features appear identical but do very different things.
For example, despite popular belief DNS and IP leaks are not the same thing. Informing yourself is crucial. Plus, some VPNs that can’t be trusted, so it’s important that you’re careful to choose one that is reliable and safe.
Reliable VPNs offer a variety of privacy-protecting features, like:
Tough anti-logging policies prevent VPN providers from recording your browsing activity. If they don’t log your information, they can’t disclose it to government surveillance agencies, even if they’re asked to. It also means that if the VPN becomes compromised, hackers can’t garner any of your information from the VPN servers.
DNS Leak Protection
Every time you access a website, your computer sends a request to a DNS server to learn the website’s IP address. Normally, this request would go to your ISP’s DNS servers, which reveals your browsing activity to your ISP.
When you’re connected to a VPN, your DNS requests are routed to your VPN’s DNS servers. Sometimes, though, your device can reroute your requests back to your ISP without you knowing. Simply, DNS leak protection prevents this from happening.
IPv6 Leak Protection
Even though IPv6 is now available, almost all VPNs still use IPv4 addresses. This creates the potential for a serious security breach.
If your ISP supports IPv6, and you access a website that also supports it, your traffic to that website will be routed through your ISP, and not your VPN. This would reveal your activity to your ISP, and your true location to the website.
Trustworthy VPNs disable IPv6 traffic to protect you from these leaks. You can still access IPv6-enabled websites, but you’ll do so using our IPv4 address.
WebRTC Leak Protection
Leading browsers like Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Internet Explorer and Opera, use WebRTC technology to communicate with each other. To do this, they need to know each other’s real IP address.
The techniques they use to get this information are more advanced than those that websites like Netflix use, so it’s harder to hide your IP from them. Third parties can exploit WebRTC to find out your real IP address and location.
A trustworthy VPN will disable WebRTC and shield your IP address to prevent this from happening to you.
Are There Any Negatives to Using a VPN?
The benefits of using a VPN heavily outweigh the negatives, but there are some drawbacks to be aware of.
Your connection speed will take a small hit.
It takes time for your data to travel, and when you’re connected to a VPN, it has to travel a little further to reach the VPN servers. It also takes a few seconds to encrypt and decrypt your traffic. So, it’s normal for your connection speed to decrease a little bit.