VPN 101

what is a vpn

So, what exactly is a VPN?

Before we go through the more complicated aspects of a VPN, it’s always a good idea to learn the basics. 

“VPN” stands for virtual private network. It gives online users an isolated digital tunnel that can access the internet safely and securely. Essentially, the purpose of a VPN is to keep your private information hidden from prying eyes.

In this article, we’ll be taking a detailed look at the features of a VPN, how it functions, and why you should consider investing in a virtual private network. 

What does a VPN do?

A VPN routes your personal computer, laptop, or mobile device’s internet connection through a private server rather than your internet service provider (ISP). Simply put, it redirects the data through a secure pathway, acting as an intermediary that shields your information from any surveillance. 

A reliable VPN with secure encryption hides your Internet Protocol (IP) address – a numerical label assigned to a particular device – and cloaks your identity behind a wall of ciphers. 

If the data becomes intercepted by anyone other than the intended recipient, the VPN’s encryption jumbles the information so that only the original destination can decipher it.

What is VPN protection?

To ensure that confidential information doesn’t get stolen by cybercriminals and other opportunistic elements, a VPN uses a process called “encryption” to make it unreadable. Encryption scrambles a message or file using a special algorithm, in which the receiving party deciphers with a digital key that only the VPN provides. 

Although this may seem like a recently developed high-tech instrument, encryption has roots that stretch back to ancient medieval books and manuals. For instance, during the Second World War, an encryption tool called “Enigma” was used to transmit messages between warships and submarines. This code was cracked by Alan Turing, a British mathematician who also constructed one of the prototypes for modern computers.

Modern encryption methods have become more involved during the past few decades. NordVPN, one of the leading companies in the bustling virtual private network industry, uses an algorithm called Advanced Encryption Standard, or AES-256. Like its wartime predecessors, AES-256 makes it extremely difficult – almost borderline impossible – to unscramble your data. It’s a technology that intelligence agencies use to secure information at the top-secret level.

$3.49 /mo
  • Panama based
  • 3rd party audited
  • Huge servers network

How secure is AES-256? So reliable that someone would have to build next-generation supercomputers to unscramble encrypted files. Even then, it would also take millions, if not billions of years, for these supercomputers to guess all the possible combinations generated by AES-256.

Most, if not all, VPNs on the market utilize this encryption technology. To make things even better, you don’t need a military superpower’s budget to have the same kind of protection that the intelligence agencies enjoys. For a monthly subscription price that sometimes goes as low as $1.95 a month, you can benefit from the privacy and security used by the highest levels of government intelligence.

How many types of VPNs exist today?

Although newer versions of VPNs are updated continuously, most of the existing ones fall under these categories:

1. Standalone VPNs

Most commonly used by private individuals, Standalone VPNs such as NordVPN and ProtonVPN use programs and applications that re-route your data to a private network before connecting your device to the internet. You’ll find free and paid versions of standalone VPNs on the web or in the Google Play and Apple store. They’re simple to use, efficient, and, most of all, very affordable.

2. Browser VPNs

Some browsers, such as Google Chrome, can be optimized with VPN add-ons. The Opera browser, for instance, has its built-in VPN. Although these services are useful, they are limited in their capabilities, since browser VPNs only work while you’re using the browser itself. Other applications, such as Spotify, Microsoft Office, or gaming platforms such as Steam or Twitch, will not be protected. It’s a better option to invest in a standalone VPN from a reputable company to gain the full security and privacy your devices need. 

3. Amalgamated or Corporate VPNs

These are the VPNs that corporations or public institutions use to connect their staff members. Using this network, employees can communicate on a private intranet using password-locked profiles and applications. The digital infrastructure needed to create this system often requires substantial financial investment, which only large conglomerates and governmental agencies can afford. 

So how to download and set-up a VPN?

Downloading, installing, and setting up a VPN is relatively easy. A quick search on Google, the Google Play store, and the iOS App Store will populate dozens of results within seconds. Because there are many offerings on the market today, the only difficulty you’ll face is choosing the right VPN that suits your budget and requirements.

Reliable VPNs can be downloaded and installed, much like other programs, regardless if you’re using a PC or a Mac. Even though companies have different methods of delivering their products and services, you should be able to install and run a VPN on several different devices using only one provider. 

Click the download button, unpack the application, wait for the program to install. Simple, right?

Which is the best free VPN?

$6.63 /mo
  • Swiss based
  • 3rd party audited
  • Secure Core - Double VPN
$3.33 /mo
  • Free plan with 500mb limit
  • 3rd party audited
  • GhostBear VPN Protocol

Hands down, this has to be ProtonVPN free trial version. You won’t be able to find anything like it on the market – they offer unlimited data on both their free and paid VPN services, so if you want to test drive a reliable private network without any risk or hassle, ProtonVPN would be a great choice. 

That being said, free VPN – even the Proton’s – have limited functions. You can’t, for instance, connect ProtonVPN’s application to another device unless you pay a small monthly fee. 

Also, the speed of free VPN can often be lackluster. If you’re planning to utilize VPN for streaming services such as Netflix, or VPN for P2P torrents, or VPN for the Kodi app, using free accounts can cause frequent buffering issues, annoying lag times, and poor image quality. This isn’t to say that free VPNs shouldn’t be used – on the contrary, because ProtonVPN and a host of other companies offer unpaid trial services, you should take advantage of them.

What is the best VPN?

This all depends on what you value most from a VPN service. Do you want top-notch security, or do you want unlimited access to content that usually remains behind a restrictive digital wall called a “geo-block?” For those looking to have ironclad protection, NordVPN, ProtonVPN, and Surfshark VPN are the best choices. 

$3.49 /mo
  • Panama based
  • 3rd party audited
  • Huge servers network
$6.63 /mo
  • Swiss based
  • 3rd party audited
  • Secure Core - Double VPN
$2.49 /mo
  • RAM-only servers
  • Quick VPN connection initiation
  • Works in restricted and censored locations

Nord and Proton are backed by some of the strongest privacy laws in the world, so you won’t have to worry about your data being leaked or sold to nefarious elements. Surfshark, on the other hand, is the VPN of choice for those who want to access locked content, such as international versions of Netflix or Amazon Prime. 

The prices between these companies will vary, so it’s good to do a little research before committing to a specific service.

How to watch Netflix or other streaming sites with a VPN?

Because of its ability to cloak your location, a VPN can unlock restricted content that’s reserved for international streaming services that lie beyond your particular country. 

If you live in Canada, for instance, and you want to see what the American version of Netflix has to offer, go to your VPN app startup page and select a custom country from one of its server locations. The VPN will disguise your actual IP address and replace it with an appropriate one instead. 

This way, the Netflix servers are tricked into thinking that you’re watching from New Jersey when, in fact, you’re sitting comfortably inside a living room in Vancouver. 

Can VPN function on Android devices and iPhones?

Of course! Most VPN companies have cross-platform functions, meaning that you can install them on all your computing devices. Take note that this benefit often only applies to paid subscriptions. If you want to ensure that your smartphones and tablets are protected 24/7, you might have to settle for a month-to-month or annual term. But, as we’ve mentioned before, most VPN are budget-friendly, with a wide range of prices.

Which, incidentally, brings us to our final question:

How much should you expect to pay for a VPN?

Again, this will depend on your personal needs and preferences. 

Let’s take NordVPN as an example: their one-month plan costs $11.95, which is billed monthly. However, subscribing to a yearly or bi-yearly contract saves a lot more money in the long term. Nord’s 1-year plan is a mere $6.99 per month, with a single payment of $83.88 annually. Their limited two-year program is even better – you’ll end up spending an unbelievable $3.49 a month on a separate bi-annual fee of $83.76.

If that sounds too good to be true, wait till you browse the offers made by Surfshark, Proton, and other VPN providers. Like Nord, they also come up with limited price discounts to stay competitive. We can’t stress this enough – do some research first, try out the trial versions, and see which VPN fits your lifestyle. 

There’s a wide, wide world of choices waiting for you. And all it takes to unleash these possibilities is a single mouse-click.