Learning how to use a virtual private network, or VPN, is a good idea if you value privacy online. A VPN is a type of network that gives you more security as you use the internet, regardless of what type of connection you use.
How To Use a VPN in 3 Steps
VPNs are created using special software installed on whatever device you want to keep safe. These programs are often free, with the option to pay for the service for premium features. Free versions of VPNs usually have data caps, meaning you can only use them for so long before they no longer function.
Step 1: Choose a VPN Software
Choose a service based on your needs. VPNs are good for more than just privacy, so if you expect to use one for a purpose such as accessing international content, the server’s location might be important to you. There are many things to consider when learning how to use a VPN.
While prices for VPNs are often similar, there are differences in quality that you should consider. For example, no matter what type of information you’re transmitting, a VPN with a large number of servers tends to be faster than one with fewer servers. If you’re handling large files or streaming HD content, you may find your VPN unable to keep up if its speeds aren’t up to par.
The location of those servers matters, too. Even if the service has a large number of servers, if they’re far away, you may find their speeds lacking.
Looking To Bypass Censorship? Consider the Server’s Location
On the other hand, if you’re learning how to use a VPN so you can access international content, you may want servers that are located in other countries. If you live in a country that censors its internet, using a VPN residing in a country that doesn’t will allow you to access the content you otherwise couldn’t.
Many streaming services also have different content, depending on where their own servers are located. Even if you’re in a country that doesn’t have censorship laws, international licensing issues might mean some content is unavailable to you. Connecting to a VPN located in the country in which the content is available will allow you to access that country’s content.
Do You Want a VPN For Your Mobile Devices? Make Sure the Service Supports It
Not all services support mobile devices, such as cell phones or tablets. If you want to use a VPN on these types of machines, make sure the VPN you choose allows it and supports whatever operating system the device is using.
Step 2: Learn the Basics of Your VPN Software
While the experiences across different VPN software vary, the software options tend to be fairly similar in how they work. When learning how to use a VPN, understanding one generally means you can use others as well.
Connect to a Server
Your VPN will probably ask you what server you want to connect to. If you’re interested in protecting your privacy while accessing public WiFi, you’ll likely want to choose a server that’s close to you to optimize speed. On the other hand, if you’re using a VPN to access international content, you can pick a server located in whatever country you want to access content from. Click the connect button, and you’ll be using a VPN.
This is how you get started learning how to use a VPN. If you’re an advanced user, you may wish to change some settings such as using specific protocols, using split tunneling, or altering the encryption method, but you probably won’t need to worry about these settings if you’re just starting.
Step 3: Know What Else You Can Do With a VPN
We’ve mentioned the most common uses of VPN software, but these aren’t all you can do.
One use might be to hide your activity from your ISP. If you’re connected to a VPN, your activity is hidden from your ISP. You may wish to do this if your ISP forbids certain activities, such as downloading torrents.
Maybe you want to hide your browsing activity completely. On a regular network connection, your browsing habits are at least partially visible to one party or another. A VPN can serve as an iron curtain that protects your browsing activity from being viewed by anyone. When learning how to use a VPN, it’s important to know what you can and can’t do with one.
How Cybercriminals Steal Your Information
One of the most common methods a cybercriminal uses is a “Man-in-the-Middle” attack, which is when a third party directly intercepts communications between two entities. A variant of this is called the “Evil Twin,” which is when a fake public WiFi network is displayed using an access point. When your device connects to the malicious WiFi network, the party on the other end can see everything you’re doing and all information you input.
You can sometimes spot an Evil Twin if you see two public WiFi networks with similar names. If you can identify where the network is coming from, notify the staff.
If you’re learning how to use a VPN to prevent your information from being stolen, understand that such a service can prevent you from being a victim.
VPNs Are Not Perfect Solutions
It’s not just cybercriminals after your data. Big data companies and governments naturally see VPNs as the enemy of their business models or interests, and they’ve created countermeasures against VPN traffic. Advertisers have also become more sophisticated, and can sometimes break through a VPN’s wall of anonymity.
The capacity for these services to spoof locations, unblock streaming, and bypass censorship has been lessened, as companies and governments are discovering ways to detect and block VPN traffic or compromise the security of these services. Learning how to use a VPN is dependent on knowing its limitations.
While VPNs are far from useless and still work well for these tasks, they are not impervious to external threats. You can never be invincible when using the internet, no matter which VPN you’re using.
The Cons of Using a VPN
VPNs have numerous benefits, but they also carry some inherent issues.
Expect a loss of performance when using a VPN versus when not using a VPN. These services manipulate your data traffic to travel to other places before coming back to you, which will slow down how fast you can transmit and receive data. In addition, these programs take up hardware resources, such as processor speed and memory, so your device may feel sluggish when a VPN is in use.
Some countries have made VPNs illegal. China, for example, has strict control over its internet and relies heavily on censorship. If you’re caught using a VPN in a country that doesn’t permit its use, you may be subject to criminal penalties.
Finally, decent VPNs cost money. While you can often get discounts on monthly rates if you choose longer plan periods, expect to pay a fair amount if you want to use one for a long time.
VPNs Are Usually Legal, But Using Them for Criminal Acts Isn’t
Countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom, and most democracies allow the use of VPNs. However, while a VPN is typically used for the sake of privacy, you still aren’t allowed to abuse that privacy to commit illegal acts. Using a VPN to protect yourself from the law doesn’t mean you can get away with anything. You may not use a VPN to download copyrighted or illegal content, for example.
You shouldn’t expect a VPN to shield you from the judicial system. Law enforcement has sophisticated technology that can catch you, even if you attempt to use a VPN to hide your activity.
In addition, it is against some streaming platforms’ terms of service to use a VPN to access content that is not available in your country. If you’re caught doing so, you may be banned from using the platform.
VPNs Have Evolved From Their Original Use
The peer-to-peer tunneling protocol, or PPTP, is the precursor to the VPN. PPTP was a way to connect a computer to the internet with added privacy. As the internet has evolved, the need for security and privacy has always been a constant. Certain services such as antivirus software were one way to prevent issues at the end-user level, but soon it became necessary to protect the connection itself.
The very first VPNs allowed for a remote connection to a home network. While ostensibly for security, early VPNs were highly vulnerable to attacks that could disrupt the flow of data. They were also far slower than the services of today, which limited their use for end-users.
VPNs originated as a tool for businesses and governments. Learning how to use a VPN in the early days was mostly about protecting corporate or sensitive data. By using VPNs, they could ensure that their internal data was protected from external threats. However, after massive data breaches occurred in the early 2000s, everyday users started to want that protection for themselves.
Choosing a VPN With the Right Protocol
Not all protocols are created equal, and some are more secure or speedier than others. Therefore, you’ll want to make sure your VPN supports protocols that accommodate the tasks you want to do.
Consider this question: Do you want L2TP/IPsec or OpenVPN TCP for streaming movies? This matters because protocols can vary in both speed and security; some protocols are designed for speed, and some are designed for security. Depending on why you’re learning how to use a VPN, you’ll want to use a protocol that suits your needs.
OpenVPN is a newer protocol that has several things going for it. This protocol is open-source, meaning its developer code is made public. This is a good thing for you, as it means anyone can look at the code and spot vulnerabilities in it before cybercriminals do.
OpenVPN is very secure, by VPN protocol standards. It has military-grade, AES-256-bit encryption, 2048-bit RSA authentication, and a 160-bit SHA1 hash algorithm. All you need to know about these terms is that it means the protocol is exceptionally secure, so if you’re learning how to use a VPN for security purposes, OpenVPN might be the protocol you want in your service.
There are two varieties of OpenVPN: OpenVPN TCP and OpenVPN UDP. The TCP variety is designed to ensure a steady and reliable stream of data. The UDP variation, on the other hand, is geared more toward speed over reliability.
Speed is more important than reliability when streaming video, so OpenVPN UDP is better suited for this task. By contrast, reliability is more important than speed when handling sensitive information, so if you’re doing any sort of banking activity or handling other important information, the TCP variety might be the ideal choice, if that’s why you’re educating yourself on how to use a VPN.
L2TP, or Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol, and IPsec are two separate protocols. L2TP has no encryption whatsoever, and so has little use by itself. IPsec, on the other hand, does have strong encryption properties. It also has the bonus of having no known vulnerabilities or loopholes to be exploited.
Put together, these two protocols create a highly secure combination. They’re compatible with many different devices and platforms, and are user-friendly.
This security and versatility come at the expense of speed, as L2TP/IPsec is not a particularly fast protocol, making it generally ill-suited for gaming or streaming. If that’s why you’re learning how to use a VPN, you can do better.
Microsoft created the SSTP protocol, which stands for Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol. This particular protocol has been included in every version of Windows since Windows Vista.
SSTP is an especially secure protocol, combining 256-bit SSL keys for encryption and 2048-bit SSL/TLS certificates for authentication. Despite being designed for Windows systems, SSTP also works on macOS, Android, iOS, Linux, and BSD, making it a highly versatile protocol that is used on a wide variety of devices. However, while SSTP will work on these other non-Windows platforms, it will function best in its native Windows habitat. If you’re learning how to use a VPN for a Windows device, SSTP may be the ticket.
The Internet Key Exchange version 2 protocol combines stability, speed, and security. However, it is meant as a tunneling protocol, not an encryption protocol. This means it is rarely used alone, and is typically combined with something like IPsec to make up for its innate lack of encryption.
Despite these advantages, IKEv2 is not an especially popular protocol for use with VPNs, as it can be blocked by firewalls relatively easily.
Although it was created back in 1995 and has been all but replaced by newer protocols, PPTP is still used in some VPN systems today because of its blazing-fast speed. What it has in speed, however, it lacks in security. It’s thus less suitable for handling sensitive data, but can be exceptionally useful for streaming or gaming. If you want to know how to use a VPN for gaming or streaming, PPTP might be ideal.
This protocol is well-regarded for its versatility. In addition to running on macOS, Linux, Windows, and Android, it also works with FreeBSD and Solaris. It’s also friendly to use in conjunction with many of the other protocols mentioned on this list.
SoftEther is open-source, and it can bypass many types of firewalls. It’s faster than many other protocols, but also not as secure. It’s also a relatively new protocol, so it lacks extensive real-world testing. If you’re just now starting out educating yourself on how to use a VPN, SoftEther might be a little riskier than other protocols because of its newness.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) for How To Use a VPN
VPNs can be relatively simple services, but there are nuances about them that you might want to know.
Bottom Line on How To Use a VPN
Educating yourself on how to use a VPN can be as simple or as complicated as you want it to be, depending on your needs. While there is no such thing as complete security online, these services can greatly enhance your safety. If you want an extra layer of privacy to access international streaming content or bypass censorship, a VPN can help you accomplish all of these things. If VPNs sound like a solution that could suit your purposes, contact us for more information.