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How to Choose Your VPN Service
What is VPN?
The word VPN has been spreading across the internet like wildfire due to its popularity exploding over the past couple of years. Virtual private networks are no longer a security-focused tool because it has many different and useful applications to regular internet users, but if you’re unsure how VPNs work, if they’re safe or what they actually do, then you’ve come to the right place.
In this extensive FAQ, we’re going to be answering some of the most common questions regarding VPNs so you can get a complete and full understanding of them.
Why Use a VPN?
There are plenty of different reasons as to why you would use a VPN, but the most common reason is for privacy.
Privacy will always be a concern for humans. Whether it’s protecting your passwords or even just your secrets from other people, we want to keep information to ourselves. With the modern age introducing technology into our lives at such a fast rate, it can sometimes be difficult to keep up with all the changes. We’re seeing a huge shift in how our information is being used for positive things on the internet, but we’re also seeing many negative changes too as a result of how much data we’re putting out there.
Why Do Websites Collect My Information?
Information is a powerful resource and that’s why it’s collected and sold. Collected data may be sold to other companies so that they can use your email or address in marketing, or your data might just be analyzed so that a company can make more informed decisions regarding their next big business move. As you can imagine, knowing everything about your customers is a great way to actually go about your business because you’ll know how to please them, you’ll know what they’re looking for and you’ll understand what it tarmation?kes to change their minds about certain products and services you offer.
For example, if you’re searching for clothes and high-end fashion, you’ll start to see advertisements for brands and clothes that are directed related to your interests. While this sounds like a great idea, it’s also incredibly invasive and some terms that you search or items you buy (for instance, a one-time gift, gag presents or private purchases) will also be added to your customer profile and these will start to show up everywhere as well. If you don’t want this to happen and you want to keep your privacy, then it’s important to make use of a virtual private network (VPN for short) to hide your data so that it isn’t sold or used as advertising fuel.
In short, websites collect information because they can, but also because it’s useful for their own purposes. It’s part of a technological movement towards “smarter” machines and services that learn from your tendencies. Although it’s incredibly useful and convenient at times, it’s also invasive and many people would prefer not to give out their information so willingly, hence the use of a VPN.
What Does A VPN Actually Do?
VPNs hide your browsing information by encrypting your data securely. This means it cannot be intercepted and it cannot be used by malicious hackers, but it also means that your privacy cannot be tracked or uncovered by other websites and services. In other words, it gives you complete anonymity on the internet.
It achieves this by “tunneling” your connection to a different location before it actually accesses the internet. When you connect to websites, you can imagine your data or requests being sent from your home personal computer, through your internet service provider, out of the country (if needed) and then directly into the server that is hosting the website that you want to access. By tunneling your connection to a different location first, all of your outgoing requests will start from a different geographical location.
Connections from a VPN are all encrypted, meaning they are completely secure and the traffic cannot be accessed by a malicious hacker and it is not saved by the VPN themselves, nor can it be traced back to you (unless the VPN allows this for its own security reasons, but more on this later).
As a result, VPNs will make you “appear” at a different geographical location. If you connect to a VPN then ask for Google or another service to find your location via an IP address check, then it might reveal you as being in a completely different country or similar.
So now that you have a good understanding of what VPNs can do, let’s take a look at some practical uses for a VPN.
- Improved security when browsing. Since none of your data or browsing history is saved, this means you can browse in complete confidence without worrying about anyone looking through your information or having any of your data be applied to your customer profile. This means your information cannot be saved, shared or sold and there’s no chance that any malicious hacker could monitor your information to use it for their own personal gain.
- Navigating around censorship. Internet censorship is different for many parts of the world, but one country where censorship is a major problem is in China. Traveling business personnel often find that the nationwide firewall in China is incredibly restricting. You can’t access many western websites such as Facebook or services like Skype because China has their own version of those programs that the government would prefer the public to use. China has its own reasons for restricting the use of foreign services, but this can be a pain for people who are traveling in China. A VPN can help you get over these restrictions and give you unlimited access to the internet even when you’re behind the Chinese firewall.
- Accessing region-restricted services. Have you ever been given a YouTube link by an overseas friend, only to realize that the link they provided was restricted in your country? You may have also experienced a difference in your Netflix choices and a friend’s choice from another country. This is because many of the internet’s services are actually restricted based on your region. By using a VPN, you can effectively bypass these restrictions so that you have full and unfiltered access to the internet and its content.
- Anonymity on the internet. The internet is a place that advocates freedom of speech. You don’t have a name or address attached to your name so it means you can say what you want and you (usually) won’t be penalized for it no matter how radical or strange your views are. However, this is only partially true. You will still have an IP address and a location attached to every action you do and this can be used to trace back to your home address. In order to prevent this, you can use a VPN service for complete anonymity on the internet. No one will be able to trace or find you, so you can use this for your own personal reasons.
- Improved speeds and connections to certain services. Due to the aforementioned tunneling that VPNs use, you can actually greatly improve your connections to certain services. Since your connection is directly sent to a location in another country before it’s routed to the website or service you initially requested, this means your connection has fewer places to bounce between before it reaches its destination. This drastically improves your connection speed to certain websites (though your mileage may vary) and reduces the chance that you’ll run into a server that has gone down, thus stopping your connection and making it slow to access certain sites.
These are just five of the most common reasons to use a VPN. They are all practical everyday uses for VPNs and should be the main reasons as to why you’d want to use one, but they don’t encompass every situation and there are some advanced reasons to hide your information as well.
How Do I Use A VPN?
VPNs come in all different shapes, sizes, and packages, so it can be confusing at first on how you actually use a VPN. In this section, we’ll be going through some of the most common questions that you’ll ask when you first get a VPN. We’ll be walking through this with simple steps that are common to most people that consider using a VPN.
Do I Have To Download VPN Software?
In short: yes. With some advanced exceptions, VPNs will always require you to download some form of software in order to use their services. This software will be used to connect to different servers, it will be used to change settings and you will need to log in using your personal username and password much like any other service.
If you’re an advanced user, then most devices and operating systems actually have VPN services built-in to their functionality that you can change the settings for. These features are what most VPN software packages use to access their networks–they just put a fancy interface over it to make it easier to access. However, the details you need will be provided by the VPN provider themselves, so this isn’t a “free” alternative for expert users.
What Devices Can I Use A VPN On?
Any device that has access to the internet and supports software will have access to a VPN. Desktop computers are the most common devices to access a VPN from, but you can also use it on your tablet, smartphone or even add it to your internet router to ensure that your connections are safe. This also means that you can use your devices on any operating system, be it a Windows computer, Apple laptop or even Android tablet.
What is the Cost of VPN?
There are plenty of free VPN services but these are generally not very secure and don’t offer good speeds. If you just need a simple VPN to browse the internet then you’ll be fine with a free VPN, but your privacy isn’t going to be as good as a private VPN that you have to pay for. Free VPNs typically don’t have much bandwidth either which means you’re not going to be able to use it for things like browsing and watching YouTube videos or content on overseas Netflix.
In short, unless you only need an emergency VPN for short-term use, a paid VPN is superior in every single way. Payments are usually made every month as a subscription, but it’s also possible to pay for a VPN as you use it. This depends on the service being offered and there will be more information about picking a VPN below.
How Do I Connect with my VPN?
You will typically open your VPN program, log in and then choose a server to connect to. Once you’re tunneled, all of your internet traffic will be routed to your chosen server or country and you don’t need to worry about anything else. Everything from your internet browsing to your music streaming and even Skype messages will be encrypted and secure.
Some VPNs work on a per-program basis, but this is more common when using a VPN for things such as accessing specific content or playing video games securely. These work by hooking onto the program that you use and it will only route that specific program’s internet traffic. This is more useful if you don’t want everything being slowed down by your VPN (if it’s a cheap subscription or limited) or if you have data usage caps for your VPN that you want to keep an eye on.
Different people will use VPNs for different reasons, so the location you choose will depend highly on what you’re using it for. If you’re using your VPN to browse Netflix or stream content from another country, then the server you pick should in some way be related to the country. For example, if you want to access Japanese websites and services, then you will want to use a Japanese server to tunnel your connection directly to Japan for better speeds and services.
However, if general use is your main concern then connecting to the fastest nearby server is enough for most uses. Some VPNs will automatically connect you to the fastest server, and the ability to change the one you connect to can be considered a relatively advanced feature.
Will my VPN be Constantly Active or can I Stop the Connection at any Time?
Only when the associated software is in use. You don’t need to be constantly connected to your VPN and you are free to revert back to your basic connection if needed. If for some reason, you need to quickly kill your VPN connection then it’s possible to just disconnect using the program with a KILL SWITCH. However, this will likely disrupt any kind of services you are using as your internet temporarily reverts itself back to its normal state.
Will I Get in Trouble for Using a VPN?
There are actually some countries that actively try to ban VPNs, but it can be difficult for governments to track down who is using a VPN and who isn’t. However, some countries actually hand out sentences for VPN usage, and this can be an incredibly stressful time if you’re a tourist that just wants to access websites back at home. Make sure you check the VPN laws in the countries that you are visiting before you use them so you can avoid getting into trouble. However, if you’re discreet about them, then most people won’t realize you are using a VPN in the first place.
Since VPNs are prime for criminal activity, it’s understandable that some countries are far stricter about VPN usage than others. In fact, some VPN services will state that, if forced to, they will reveal your information to the authorities if they notice you are using it for illicit means or illegal activity such as fraud, hacking, theft or child pornography. If you are detected engaging in these types of activities, then authorities will be attracted to you and there is a high probability that you will be caught.
Yes. Most VPN providers will give you around five or more connections to play with. This means you can use the same VPN account on your laptop, mobile phone, and desktop computer together. This means you can also share your account with friends and family members to reduce the costs. However, the bandwidth is typically shared so you can’t abuse it on multiple devices.
Will a VPN Improve My Internet Connection?
In some ways, yes. VPNs will typically advertise their maximum speeds (as will reviews) but if the maximum speed of a VPN exceeds your own internet connection, then you don’t suddenly get a faster connection. You will always be limited by the speeds that you have on your home connection.
However, since you will be tunneling your internet connection to a certain server, it does mean that you’re not going to be bouncing between multiple servers just to reach your destination. In practical terms, this means that you will experience lower latency when playing online games, but it won’t necessarily increase your speeds or make you stream videos faster.
Is There a Time Limit to How Much I Can Use My VPN?
VPNs will rarely advertise a data cap unless it is a pay-as-you-go affair. However, most VPNs will have some kind of fair usage policy to ensure that all of their customers get fair access to their services. This means if you’re constantly downloading data and stressing the VPN to its limits, you might receive an email talking about your usage and asking you to reduce the amount you use it or suffer from lower speeds.
What Do I Look For When Picking a VPN?
More and more VPNs are popping up in the industry because it’s a lucrative business. However, this just makes it difficult to pick which VPN is correct for you and you might find that there is just too much choice to compare. In this section of the FAQ, we’ll be discussing what makes a VPN a good choice and how you can determine what’s right for you be taking a look at the specifications and features of each VPN.
As mentioned before, free VPNs are not recommended for anything outside of light internet browsing due to the safety concerns and the low speeds. How much you should pay will generally depend on affordability, services, and speeds. Some VPNs are more expensive but have a fantastic track record of speeds, reliability, and privacy, while others are much cheaper and offer basic functionality but aren’t renowned for customer service.
How much you want to pay is ultimately up to you, but we would recommend taking a look at multiple VPNs and comparing price at the end instead of at the beginning.
How Do I Pick a VPN for My Needs?
First, identify what you’ll be using your VPN for. To help you out, we’re going to list the common uses of a VPN and what you should be looking for.
- Getting around internet censorship – If you’re just trying to bypass censorship temporarily (for instance, while on a trip to China) then you should look for pay-as-you-go services instead of subscribing for a month or more (unless you plan to be abroad for that long). Speeds don’t necessarily matter much, but reliability is a concern and you’ll want to check reviews to see if the VPN can actually get around the censorship or not. Some VPNs are actually blacklisted by countries and it’s impossible to access certain websites even with a VPN.
- Downloading or uploading lots of files – In the event that you want to download lots of files, you’ll want to have fast speeds and unlimited usage. If privacy is also a concern, then be prepared to pay a lot of money each month for a fast, reliable and unlimited service. Speeds and reliability will vary, which is why it’s important to at least get a free trial.
- Accessing region-restricted content – The term “concept” can be interpreted in a number of different ways, so it’s important to actually consider what you personally mean by accessing region-restricted content. If that means viewing videos that are locked to a certain country, then you will want fast VPN speeds to make downloading videos more easily. However, if it’s a special service or website that you want to access, then the first thing to check is that it actually works as intended.
- Protecting your browsing history and activity – One of the most common reasons to use a VPN is to protect your browsing history. This can be because you regularly use public WiFi connections or it could be because you prefer to have increased anonymity on the internet. In this situation, you need to focus on the terms and conditions of each VPN provider. In particular, you should be looking at the country that the VPN operates in and also their approach to logging. Some VPN providers have a strict no-logging policy while others will state what they log and how they can use that information or how long the store it for.