Are you interested in using VPN software? Looking for a way to stream freely or enhance your online security? Or perhaps you simply want to know more about what a VPN is or how it’s used? Whatever you’re after, we cover all you need to know about VPNs to make an informed decision – including whether you need a VPN and which VPN on the market might be the right fit for you.
Read on to find out all you need to know about VPN technology today:
A VPN is short for Virtual Private Network. As the name suggests, it is a way to access the internet and other online functionalities privately. This enhances security, allows you to maintain your privacy even on open public networks, and keeps you safe from risks online.
Essentially, a VPN acts as an extra step in the process from your device to internet access. In many cases, this means that you’re connecting to websites and apps from an entirely different location from your current one – which is added functionality that we’ll get into later. Using a VPN ensures that when you browse, you’re browsing in private – not even your actual IP address is visible, let alone any additional details.
Now you’ve got a better idea of what a VPN is, how does it work? As mentioned above, a VPN is essentially an extra step in the process between you and getting online, but that doesn’t entirely cover it. In essence, a VPN works by acting as the middleman between your computer and the internet. So when you start up a VPN, what you’re doing is creating a one-way data tunnel. You can access the internet, but the internet can’t access your private information or data.
The process of making your data private is known as encryption, and it’s an essential component of all VPNs. Encryption requires a complicated code – known as a key – to unlock your data and information, which means the provider can’t access those details. The VPN puts them under lock and key, instead providing their own data to the provider to maintain privacy online.
With VPNs now a household name, these pieces of software or additional tools are more accessible and more functional than ever before. Most publicly advertised VPN services are very user-friendly, practical, and easy to install. This makes it as simple as choosing your settings and hitting ‘go’ to get your VPN up and running – the software does everything else for you behind the scenes. VPN as a tool is more common than ever before, so it’s no surprise that user experience has improved over the years too.
The primary reason that many users choose a VPN is to be able to browse entirely privately, as well as to appear in a different location than you are. By changing your IP address – the unique signature of your specific internet connection – and replacing it with something else, a VPN can ‘trick’ websites and apps into believing you’re somewhere else in the world. Encryption, as mentioned above, is another feature of VPNs that further improves your privacy and your safety when browsing by making your actual location and data unreadable.
The kill switch feature, also known as a network lock, is a critical feature that many of the best VPNs have. This feature ensures your details are never made available to the internet provider by immediately shutting off your connection if the VPN fails. Once the VPN is restored, the link is restored. Why is this feature so important? When it comes to public WiFi, safety is a top priority. This ensures full anonymity and no chance of your data being transferred when you don’t want it to.
While, as with any software, you should always do your research and pick a reputable option for your VPN, generally speaking, these types of tools are highly trustworthy. Often located in jurisdictions where stringent privacy laws are required, and with their own internal encryption and security functionalities, the average VPN is highly secure and safe to use. VPNs also usually have no-log policies, which means your data and information are never stored with them – even when you’re using their services.
For much of Europe, Asia, Africa and the US, VPNs are entirely legal to use, but using a VPN to commit illegal acts is against the law. While it is rare, some countries where censorship is a far more widespread circumstance have banned the use of VPNs outright. But when it comes down to general online privacy and anonymity, VPNs are fine to use in mostly any country.
If you’re looking to invest in a VPN, picking one of the top options on the market is the ideal way to ensure you’re getting the best service for your dollars. Both ExpressVPN and ProtonVPN frequently feature at the top of the ‘best VPN‘ lists online, and for a good reason. Here’s why:
With 30,000 IP addresses and 94+ countries supported, ExpressVPN is an excellent all-rounder wherever you’re trying to connect from and to. Reported to have some of the best connectivity speeds out there – and proven high standards of privacy – ExpressVPN has topped lists since its creation and doesn’t look to be moving from those top spots any time soon.
For user-friendliness and convenience, ProtonVPN is an excellent option. This VPN leans heavily into providing top-notch security and privacy for its users—a concern for many of those seeking out the ideal VPN to use. The software even offers different features to match different users, making it suitable for those looking to go beyond the basic browsing usage for their VPN.
One of the best features of VPNs is the fact that you can tell a website or app you’re just about anywhere in the world. How does that benefit the content you can stream? Platforms like Netflix, Hulu, HBO, and more have region-specific content in many cases. This means if you’re in the US, you might be missing out on something great on Canadian Netflix, for example. Or, if you’re in the UK, you may not be able to access all that ESPN+ or Disney+ has to offer to US audiences.
By changing your IP address, you can tell that you’re not located in the place where your device is streaming from. A VPN allows you to change your IP address to look like you’re in a different country, giving you access to plenty more streaming opportunities. Plus, all those shows you’ve wanted to watch but could never find online.
If you’re planning on traveling abroad, a VPN is an incredibly valuable tool to bring with you. Firstly, hotel and public WiFi hotspots are never as secure as they say they are. If you want to continue to use your devices, then a VPN can ensure your data is never passed over to anyone else, and that your privacy is maintained wherever you happen to be.
In addition, depending on where you’re traveling to, using a VPN can ensure that individual sites aren’t blocked to you that may otherwise be blocked in the country you’re visiting. If you’re midway through a Netflix series, then a VPN can also allow you access to your account as it is at home, with your viewing library intact ready and waiting to stream.
Should you be forking out the cash for your VPN? Yes and no. There are plenty of free-to-use VPN options out there, such as HotSpotShield, ProtonVPN, and TunnelBear. While these are fantastic for occasional use, or for those less fussy about additional features and tools, free VPNs can feel limited over time.
You may lose out on the speed you’d get with a paid VPN, for example, or not have all the functionality you need to get the most out of your software. That’s not to say that free VPNs are bad. They’re a great way to access what you need and get the privacy you want without getting all the bells and whistles on top. Really, it’s down to personal preference and specific requirements as to what works for you. If you know what you need your VPN to do, you can then figure out whether free or paid tech suits you best.
When it comes to paid VPNs, you’re typically looking at a subscription model. This could mean a reduced cost for a yearly subscription, or regular monthly fees that can be canceled anytime to keep your membership going. This is a standard model for software of all types, so it makes sense that VPNs offer this same subscription-style payment process. It also ensures that the software is continually developed and kept suitable for users.
These days, just about any VPN has the speed to do all you need to do – whether it’s browsing online, streaming your favorite shows, or doing work abroad. But if you’re looking for that additional boost of speed, there are a few VPNs out there that are well-known for the speed they provide:
NordVPN is widely advertised, and if you’ve ever heard of VPNs, you’ve likely come across this particular software. As one of the best-selling options on the market, NordVPN also reaches impressive speeds in comparison to other options. This allows for convenient and fast connectivity, ideal for those that don’t like to wait around for a free or slower VPN to do what they need to do.
CyberGhost is a convenient and feature-filled VPN, that’s mostly used for Windows OS to provide the speed and flexibility needed for higher-end online access. With relatively low prices and a higher speed than many other options on the market, CyberGhost is an affordable choice for users looking for a specific Windows-based tool. While the VPN also has a mobile app, it’s not quite to the same high standard currently.
With all that information covered, is now the right time to invest in a VPN for your online usage? If the answer is yes, the first step to private, secure, and convenient browsing and streaming is downloading a VPN of your choice. Here’s how you can access and download VPNs on just about any platform or medium:
Possibly the most straightforward option, VPN clients and software can be downloaded directly from the website of the VPN provider – usually in .exe format for Windows VPN or .dmg for Mac VPN. Once downloaded, the VPN is then installed directly onto your computer, allowing you full use of settings and controls that interact with your whole computer. Desktop VPNs are best if you don’t just want a browser-specific experience, and instead want secure and safe internet access through a range of different programs and systems.
Browser extension VPNs are increasing in popularity rapidly, and they’re a great, lightweight option if you’ve got a specific functionality in mind for your VPN. Tools like Zenmate and Hola download as an extension onto your browser, where they have slightly more limited functionality to manage your online privacy. If you’re planning on using your browser to access streaming platforms or specific websites, an extension may be the best option for you.
More of us use our mobile devices for internet access than ever before – and often, we don’t even think twice about freely connecting to public WiFi to save on data. Mobile-based VPNs offer a way to ensure your security and safety on your smartphone when you’re online, and they can also be used to access websites and streaming apps in specific counties too. iOS and Android VPN can be downloaded from the Google Play Store and App Store directly, and can often be subscribed to through the store also.
While VPNs are most common on computers and smartphones, plenty of other devices in the home can be internet accessible. Smart TVs, for example, as well as routers can have specific VPNs. For these kinds of VPN, it’s best to consult the directions from the provider directly, as they may vary in how they need to be downloaded and installed.
Whether for privacy or for streaming with VPN, the VPN is a more common tool than ever for millions of internet users. If you’re looking to pump up your security and widen your online possibilities, then investing in a VPN – or trying out a free option – might be the right fit for you. With plenty to pick from, knowing the kind of thing you want and the functionality you need is the best place to start. From there, finding the best VPN for you is easy.