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I have been using VPNs daily for over the past 5+ years, especially while traveling abroad. They’re just really excellent tools for securing online data and circumventing annoying restrictions.
I know that many people still don’t really understand VPNs, and that it’s hard to find comprehensive guides online. In fact, a lot of the articles I came across are hard to understand or downright contain incorrect information.
So, I decided to just put together my own introductory guide to VPNs — I provided detailed (but easy to understand) explanations of how VPNs work, covered why you should use VPNs in the first place, discussed what are the best VPNs on the market at the moment, and more. If you want to skip right to trying out a good VPN, I recommend ExpressVPN below (49% off using this link).
What Is a VPN?
A VPN is an online service that secures your online data and privacy. VPN stands for Virtual Private Network, and it’s called this way because it sets up a private network (also called a VPN tunnel or connection) that you use to securely access the internet.
To use a VPN, you first need to use a top VPN service. Then, you download and install its app on your device, open it, and then use it to connect to a VPN server.
How Does a VPN Work?
I’m going to provide 2 explanations. First, I’ll discuss how a VPN works in a very detailed, techy manner. And after that, I’ll also use an analogy to explain how a VPN works.
When you access the web, your connection first goes through your internet service provider’s (ISP) network. Your ISP assigns your device an IP address, which allows the device to communicate with other devices and online servers on the internet. Here’s how your internet connection looks like:
Your Device → ISP → Internet
Well, a VPN acts as a middleman between you and the internet. When you use a VPN, your connection goes through your ISP’s network, then reaches the VPN server, which finally forwards it to the internet. Here’s how a VPN connection looks like:
Your Device → VPN App → ISP → VPN Server → Internet
In addition, here’s a breakdown of what goes on behind the scenes when you use a VPN:
- First, you open a VPN app and use it to connect to a VPN server.
- Once you do that, the VPN app encrypts your data (makes it 100% unreadable) and forwards your connection to the VPN server via your ISP’s network.
- When the connection reaches the VPN server, the server decrypts your data and forwards it to the web. This way, all online services and sites will think your requests are coming from the VPN server, so they’ll only see the server’s IP address, while your IP remains hidden.
- Next, the VPN server receives the online data you requested (like a website), encrypts it, and sends it back to the VPN app on your device.
- The VPN app receives the encrypted data via your ISP’s network, and then decrypts it so that you can access the information.
That entire process looks like it’d take a long time, but it’s actually really fast — on average, it won’t take more than 5 seconds for everything to happen.
Imagine you’re sitting with your best friend in front of your house. You’re just wasting time chatting and browsing TikTok until your mom is done making lunch.
You suddenly get a craving for snacks and want to go to the nearby shop, but you can’t since your mom will see you. She specifically said you can’t have any snacks before lunch. And to get to the store, you’ll need to go past the kitchen window, so you’ll be in your mom’s direct line of sight.
But you find a workaround — you send your friend to the shop. Your mom will see him, but she won’t care because she said only you can’t have any snacks before lunch. So your friend goes to the store, grabs some snacks, comes back with them, and you both enjoy them together without your mom knowing what happened. And since your friend got the snacks, the store owner won’t be able to tell you mom that you were the one who wanted them.
In this analogy, your best friend is the VPN and the snacks are the sites you browse online. Your mom (your ISP) will only see your VPN going for snacks, so she won’t know you’re the one who actually wants them. This is the same thing that happens when you surf the web with a VPN — your ISP doesn’t know what sites you surf online, and all the sites you access will think your connection is coming from the VPN.
7 Reasons to Use a VPN
Here are the main reasons to use a VPN in 2023:
- Secure your online data and privacy.
- Improve your streaming experience.
- Protect your privacy while torrenting.
- Enjoy a better gaming experience.
- Prevent bandwidth throttling.
- Save money on flights.
- Circumvent government and network firewalls.
1. Secure Your Online Data & Privacy
VPNs create an encrypted connection for all of your data, so they’re excellent for security and privacy. When you connect to a VPN server, nobody can spy on your internet traffic — not your internet service provider (ISP), not your government, and not even hackers.
VPNs are especially useful when you use public Wi-Fi networks, as most of them lack encryption — so anybody could spy on all of your traffic that goes through such networks. I always use a VPN when connecting to public Wi-Fi while traveling to make sure all of my private information is 100% secure.
Plus, VPNs also protect your online identity by hiding your IP address, which reveals your location. When you’re connected to a VPN server, only the server’s IP address is visible, so nobody can use your real IP address to monitor your online browsing.
2. Improve Your Streaming Experience
Some streaming sites or certain streaming content are only available in specific countries. This is because streaming websites sign copyright and licensing agreements that dictate where they’re allowed to offer their services or broadcast certain TV shows and movies. For example, a website like Netflix might only have the legal right to broadcast certain TV shows in the US, the UK, and Canada.
A VPN helps you circumvent this issue because it masks your IP address. By doing that, it stops all streaming websites from seeing your real location — only the VPN’s IP address will be visible. So if you’re from the US and are traveling abroad, and you lose access to your favorite US streaming content, you can use a US VPN IP address to access it on vacation.
3. Protect Your Privacy While Torrenting
Using a VPN while torrenting provides additional privacy since it hides your IP address. That prevents anyone in the torrent swarm (including hackers and copyright trolls) from seeing your real IP address and using it to track your location. In addition, it also allows you to access all P2P sites that your ISP might have blocked.
In addition, VPNs create an encrypted tunnel for your data, which stops your ISP from seeing your P2P traffic. That way, your ISP won’t be able to block your P2P connections or limit your P2P speeds if they want to discourage you from torrenting over its network.
I don’t recommend using VPNs to torrent copyrighted files, as that is illegal. You should only use a VPN to secure your internet connection while downloading legal torrents. In addition, you should also check the laws in your country to make sure that torrenting is 100% legal.
4. Enjoy a Better Gaming Experience
Using a VPN while gaming might sometimes lower your ping. Basically, a VPN server might provide better routing to the gaming server, so that your internet connection will take a more “direct” route, which would result in lower ping. I can’t 100% guarantee a VPN will always lower your ping, but it generally did in my tests — I used ExpressVPN to play several rounds of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, and I had a ping of 111–123 ms (without the VPN, my ping was around 141–156 ms).
In addition, a VPN also provides good security for gaming since it prevents DDoS attacks. Since it hides your IP address, sore losers and hackers can’t use it to target your network with DDoS attacks, which would force you offline for at least a few hours.
5. Prevent Bandwidth Throttling
Your ISP can normally inspect your internet connection to see what sites you’re accessing — it can do this because your traffic goes through your ISP’s network to reach the internet. And if your ISP thinks that you’re using too much data on certain web apps (like a streaming site or an online game), it could throttle your speeds for it to limit your data usage.
But a VPN protects your internet connection by making it completely unreadable, so your ISP won’t be able to monitor your web browsing. If it looks up your connection, it will only see that you’re using a VPN, and nothing more. And since it won’t be able to see what you’re doing online, it won’t be able to throttle your bandwidth.
6. Save Money on Flights
VPNs could potentially help you save money when booking flights online by hiding your IP address — if travel and airline sites can’t see your IP address to determine your location, they might display different prices. For example, you might see lower prices for certain flights if you access a travel or airline website via an IP address from a low-income country or the country where the airline you want to fly with is based.
Now, I can’t guarantee you will always see discounts when using a VPN to book flights online. But I do this pretty often when traveling, and have usually been able to save money in 60% of cases — on average, I was usually able to save around $50 to $100 or slightly more per flight.
7. Circumvent Government and Network Firewalls
Certain countries (like China and Russia) use firewalls to restrict users’ access to the internet. Also, workplace and school/campus networks might use firewalls to block access to certain websites.
A VPN solves this problem by allowing you to access the internet via a new IP address, one that doesn’t have any firewall restrictions linked to it. Just keep in mind that not all VPNs work in restrictive countries or on restrictive networks — but I can confirm that ExpressVPN 100% works in such situations without any issues.
What You Can’t Use a VPN for
To clear up some myths, here’s what you can’t use a VPN for:
- Prevent malware infections.
- Make you completely anonymous on the web.
- Get rid of cookies.
- Bypass internet shutdowns.
- Encrypt your on-site traffic.
- Stop your ISP from seeing your real IP address.
Prevent Malware Infections
VPNs are not configured to prevent direct malware infections. So if you are connected to a VPN server and you download a malicious file, the VPN can’t stop the file from infecting your device.
Many top VPNs come with malicious site blockers, which stop you from connecting to shady websites that might host malware. But those kinds of security tools still don’t provide protection against malware-infected files. The only VPN that actually includes something like that is NordVPN — its Threat Protection feature actually protects you from malicious file downloads, but it’s still not as in-depth as a dedicated antivirus program.
That’s why I always recommend using a VPN together with an antivirus. An antivirus is a security service that’s designed to detect and prevent malware infections, so it’s the perfect security tool to use alongside a VPN.
Make You Completely Anonymous on the Web
A lot of VPN providers claim they provide 100% anonymity on the internet, but that’s not really true. A VPN hides your location and lets you securely access public Wi-Fi hotspots, but it won’t make you invisible on the web.
Here are the main reasons why VPNs can’t provide complete anonymity:
- Your VPN connection (and your web connections) goes through your ISP’s network, so it will always know you’re using a VPN to access the web.
- VPNs can’t stop websites from using browser fingerprinting to collect information about your device, such as its timezone, its language settings, and its browser version.
- If you use social media platforms, a VPN won’t anonymize all of the personal information you make public on them.
- When you make online payments, a VPN will secure your data, but it won’t stop payment processors from collecting and using your personal data (which they need to function).
Get Rid of Cookies
The best way to avoid cookies is to either delete them or just use your browser’s incognito/private mode. Alternatively, you can also use third-party browser extensions that allow you to quickly clear your browser’s cookies and cache.
Bypass Internet Shutdowns
An internet shutdown is when internet access is intentionally disrupted. This usually happens in many restrictive countries, where governments use this method to silence protests.
It’s impossible for a VPN to bypass an internet shutdown because a VPN requires web access. Without it, the VPN app simply cannot establish a connection to the VPN server. The only way to use a VPN in a region with an internet shutdown is if you somehow get web access, though that’s very unlikely to happen.
Encrypt Your On-Site Traffic
A VPN is only able to encrypt your connection to a website, which means nobody can spy on your connection to it — so nobody can see what site you’re browsing and what data you share with it.
But a VPN cannot encrypt the data you share on a website. Once you connect to the site, the VPN encryption ends. So if, for example, you access an HTTP website and share personal data on it, the site owner could potentially see it — to avoid this, you need to only use HTTPS websites, as they encrypt all on-site data.
Stops Your ISP from Seeing Your Real IP Address
When connected to a VPN, your ISP can still see your original IP address. That’s because your VPN connection originates from your device and it goes through your ISP’s network to reach the VPN server. So, your ISP sees the origin of the VPN tunnel, which is your IP address.
In addition to that, here’s what else your ISP sees while you’re connected to a VPN:
- Which port the VPN uses.
- How much data you exchange through the VPN.
- The IP address of the VPN server you connect to.
- When you connect to the VPN.
How to Choose the Best VPN
- Pick a VPN with excellent security and privacy features — You should only pick a VPN that has industry-standard security and privacy features, including military-grade encryption, a kill switch (disables web access if the VPN disconnects), a no-logs policy, and DNS leak protection. All the VPNs I recommend below provide this level of security and privacy (and more).
- Get a VPN with great streaming support — Not all streaming sites and content are available worldwide, so you might lose access to your favorite platforms and shows when you travel abroad. That’s why you should always pick a VPN that’s compatible with top streaming sites, like Netflix, BBC iPlayer, and Disney+ (ExpressVPN works with 100+ sites).
- Opt for a VPN that’s great for torrenting — I recommend only getting a VPN that allows P2P downloads, either across all or most of its servers. If the VPN provider also has extra P2P-related features like port forwarding and SOCKS5 proxy support (like Private Internet Access does), that’s even better.
- Choose a VPN with a large server network — Ideally, you should go with a VPN service that provides access to a range of servers across all continents. For instance, all of the VPNs I recommend below provide access to a VPN server in at least 80+ countries.
- Pick a VPN that has fast speeds — Using a VPN will always slow down your original internet speeds due to the added encryption and the distance between your device and the VPN server. That’s why you should only go for a premium VPN, as top VPN providers minimize the speed loss, so that it’s barely noticeable.
- Get a VPN that’s user-friendly — I recommend subscribing to a provider that has a VPN app for all desktop and mobile devices (if the VPN service also has apps for smart TVs, that’s even better). In addition, the VPN’s apps should be really intuitive and simple to navigate. And you should also consider picking a VPN that allows you to connect more than 5 devices at the same time (for example, Private Internet Access allows unlimited connections).
- Choose a VPN that has extra features — On top of masking your IP address and providing a secure connection that protects your data, the VPN should also come with additional features. This includes tools like split-tunneling, an ad blocker, or obfuscation.
- Consider a VPN that works in restrictive countries — Countries that censor the internet might also block access to VPN connections. If you live in or travel through such a region (like I sometimes do), it’s best to get a VPN that consistently circumvents firewalls. My #1 pick for this is ExpressVPN, as it works without issues in places like China and Russia.
- Select a VPN that provides good value — Finally, make sure to choose a VPN provider that has affordable prices, provides great savings via long-term plans, and comes with a generous money-back guarantee (a 30-day refund is the industry average).
3 Best VPNs in 2023
1. ExpressVPN — Best VPN Service on the Market in 2023
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ExpressVPN provides the best value on the market — it works with 100+ streaming services, has servers in 100+ countries, allows torrenting on all servers, has high-end security and privacy features, is super user-friendly, and comes with a risk-free 30-day refund.
ExpressVPN is without a doubt the best VPN on the market — it comes with industry-leading security and privacy features, it has a huge server network and provides the fastest VPN connection speeds out there, and it has excellent streaming and P2P support.
The VPN provider is extremely good at securing your internet connection — it uses advanced security features like perfect forward secrecy (changes the encryption key for each VPN session), full leak protection, and RAM-only servers, which only save data to the RAM so every VPN server reset wipes everything. Plus, ExpressVPN’s no-logs policy has been proven true by independent security audits and in a server seizure. I also like how the provider has features that protect you from malicious ads and shady sites, and that it provides obfuscation and works in restrictive countries without issues.
ExpressVPN also comes with servers in 100+ countries, pretty much providing worldwide VPN connection coverage. Plus, it’s extremely simple to use nearby servers to get the fastest speeds. And speaking of speeds, this VPN provider is ultra-fast — whenever I use it, sites, HD videos, and 4K videos always load instantly. Plus, you get access to split-tunneling, which lets you choose which apps use the VPN and which apps use your local internet connection (you can use this feature to get even faster VPN connection speeds).
Plus, the provider has intuitive apps for all devices, including Windows, macOS, Linux, iOS, Android, Android TV, and Fire TV. It’s also one of the only VPNs that comes with a router app, which is much easier to install and use than manually setting up a VPN on your router.
And ExpressVPN is the best VPN for streaming on the market since it works with 100+ streaming sites. This includes top platforms like Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Amazon Prime Video, and Hulu. Plus, it’s also excellent for Netflix, as it’s compatible with 15+ Netflix libraries.
What’s more, you also get excellent P2P support since the VPN allows torrenting on all of its VPN servers. On top of that, you get access to port forwarding (only via its router app), which lets you connect to more peers to get faster downloads.
ExpressVPN has plans that start at $6.67/month, which is affordable but I can see how some people might call it too pricey — still, keep in mind that this VPN provides excellent value, so it’s definitely worth the price tag. Finally, ExpressVPN also backs all purchases with a risk-free 30-day money-back guarantee.
2. Private Internet Access — Excellent Torrenting VPN with High-End Privacy Features
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Private Internet Access is an excellent VPN service that provides very good P2P support, really fast speeds on all servers, and excellent security and privacy features. It also allows unlimited connections, is super affordable, and comes with a no-questions-asked 30-day refund.
Private Internet Access (PIA) has some of the best P2P support on the market — it allows torrenting on all of its servers (located in 80+ countries), it supports port forwarding, and it also allows SOCKS5 proxy connections, which hide your IP address and allow you to enjoy super fast download speeds since they don’t encrypt your traffic.
Plus, PIA provides excellent privacy for torrenting — for starters, it has a strict no-logs policy that has been proven true in an independent audit and also in several court documents. What’s more, all of the provider’s apps are open-source, which means anyone can inspect the code for security issues.
And this VPN provider is very secure as well. It uses advanced security features like RAM-only servers, perfect forward secrecy (PFS), and full leak protection. Plus, it comes with obfuscation (although it doesn’t consistently work in restrictive regions like ExpressVPN) and a very good ad blocker.
I also like how fast PIA is — whenever I use it, I always enjoy smooth speeds for browsing, streaming, torrenting, gaming, VoIP calls, and more. And I have the same experience on both nearby and distant servers.
What’s more, this VPN has really good streaming support as well — it works with 20+ streaming platforms via dedicated streaming servers in 5+ countries. The VPN is compatible with top streaming services, but I still like ExpressVPN better for streaming since it works with 100+ streaming sites, so you get a better variety.
And PIA is also very easy to use, as it comes with apps for all major desktop and mobile devices. In addition, I really like how this VPN allows unlimited connections, as most top VPNs limit you to 5–10 simultaneous connections — this makes this provider a very good pick for large families or people who need to secure tons of web-connected devices.
Private Internet Access is super cheap, with plans starting as low as $2.03/month. And on top of that, the VPN provider also comes with a no-questions-asked 30-day money-back guarantee.
3. CyberGhost VPN — Very Good Streaming VPN That’s Great for Beginners
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CyberGhost VPN is a very good VPN for streaming that’s also great for beginners and really secure. It also provides fast speeds on both nearby and distant servers, has good P2P and gaming support, and has very affordable plans. It backs all long-term purchases with a generous 45-day money-back guarantee.
CyberGhost VPN is one of the best VPN providers for streaming on the market. It comes with tons of streaming-optimized servers that work with 50+ streaming services, including top ones like Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Amazon Prime Video, and Disney+. You also get excellent Netflix variety, as the VPN’s streaming servers are compatible with 15+ Netflix libraries.
On top of excellent streaming support, you also get great P2P support. The provider has 9,000+ P2P servers in 70+ countries, so it’s very simple to find nearby servers to torrent on to get good speeds. That said, I think it’s a shame the VPN is missing extra P2P-related features, like port forwarding or SOCKS5 proxy servers (Private Internet Access has both).
Also, CyberGhost VPN is very good for beginners — it has desktop, mobile, and smart TV apps that are super easy to navigate and use. I really like that there are helpful explanations for all settings and features. And I’m a big fan of the Smart Rules feature, which lets you automate VPN connections (for example, you can make the VPN app automatically connect to a VPN server and open a specific app on launch).
And this VPN has a huge server network and great speeds as well — it comes with 9,000+ VPN servers in 90+ countries, and it maintains really smooth speeds for all online activities across both nearby and distant servers.
Finally, I really like how secure CyberGhost VPN is — it has advanced security features like RAM-only servers and PFS, it provides strong leak protection, and it has an independently audited no-logs policy. Plus, it also provides access to NoSpy servers, which are ultra-secure VPN servers that are located in the provider’s headquarters, so only its staff has access to them.
CyberGhost VPN has very affordable plans that start at only $2.19/month. It provides a generous 45-day money-back guarantee for all long-term plans, and it also has a 14-day refund for the shortest plan.
Comparison of the Best VPNs in 2023
Common VPN Terms — Quick Explanations
|VPN Provider||A company that provides paid or free access to a VPN service.|
|VPN Client||The VPN application you download and install on your device.|
|VPN Server||The hardware that runs the VPN software, which also hides your IP address and encrypts your web data.|
|IP Address||A unique set of characters that is assigned to your device, allowing it to communicate with the internet and other web-connected devices and servers.|
|VPN Encryption||A security method that scrambles online data to make it completely unreadable.|
|VPN Protocol||A set of rules that establish how a VPN connection between a VPN app and a VPN server is handled. Popular examples of protocols include OpenVPN, WireGuard, and the IKEv2/IPSec tunneling protocol|
|Kill Switch||A security feature that shuts down all internet access if the VPN connection drops to prevent data leaks.|
|Obfuscation||A security method that makes VPN traffic look like regular internet traffic. This adds extra privacy and might help VPNs bypass government VPN blocks.|
|Split-Tunneling||A feature that allows you to choose which apps or sites use the VPN connection, and which apps or sites use your internet service provider.|
|Double VPN||A VPN connection that sends your data through 2 VPN servers instead of just 1 VPN server. This way, you get an additional layer of encryption.|
|Ad Blocker||A feature that stops ads from showing up on websites. On top of that, most VPN ad blockers can also block connection to malicious sites.|
|Proxy Server||A service that hides your IP address just like a VPN, but which doesn’t encrypt your data. That provides faster speeds, but you don’t get any security.|
|Smart DNS||A tool that spoofs your DNS traffic, allowing you to access streaming content. You can use a smart DNS to watch videos on devices that don’t support VPN apps (like gaming consoles, for example).|
|DNS, IPv6, and WebRTC Leaks||Different types of leaks that a VPN can experience, which can compromise your data while connected to the VPN. Most top VPNs provide built-in protection against such leaks.|
Frequently Asked Questions
What are VPNs good for?
VPNs have plenty of use cases — they keep your data safe on the web, they protect your privacy (hide your real-time location), they let you access streaming content when traveling abroad, they provide a safe torrenting experience, they improve your gaming, and more.
Do VPNs work with Netflix?
Yes, most top VPNs work with Netflix without any issues — ExpressVPN, for instance, is compatible with 15+ Netflix libraries (including Netflix US, Netflix UK, and Netflix Japan), also works with 100+ other streaming platforms, and provides the fastest streaming speeds on the market.
What devices do VPNs work on?
Most top VPNs work on tons of devices, including Windows, macOS, Linux, iOS, and Android platforms. If that’s not enough for you, try ExpressVPN — in addition to desktop and mobile devices, it also works on Android TV and Fire TV, and it even comes with a router app (most top VPNs require you to perform a manual setup on a router).
What’s the best VPN on the market?
ExpressVPN is the best VPN provider out there in 2023. It provides access to industry-leading security and privacy features, it works with 100+ streaming platforms, it allows torrenting on all of its servers that are located in 100+ countries, it has super fast speeds for browsing, streaming, and torrenting, and it’s extremely easy to use. Plus, its prices are affordable, and there’s a risk-free 30-day money-back guarantee.
Are there free VPNs?
Yes, there are free VPNs on the market, but I don’t really recommend using one. Most free VPNs have annoying limitations — for example, they limit how much data you can use per day or month, they don’t come with streaming and torrenting support, they have buggy apps, and they might log and sell your data.
It’s honestly much better to just use a paid premium VPN, like ExpressVPN — the provider is really affordable, it works with 100+ streaming sites and allows torrenting on servers in 100+ countries, it has super intuitive apps for all devices, it comes with industry-leading security features, and it’s the fastest VPN on the market.
What types of VPN services are there?
Here are the main types of VPN services you might come across on the web:
- Commercial VPNs — A commercial VPN allows any online user to connect to a VPN server to secure their online data and hide their IP address. Most commercial VPNs come with paid subscriptions, but some also provide free plans. A good example of a commercial VPN is ExpressVPN.
- Corporate VPNs — Businesses usually use a corporate VPN (also called a client-to-site VPN) to provide employees with secure remote access to company resources. Most corporate VPNs are developed in-house, but there are also third-party solutions on the market. Unlike commercial VPNs, corporate VPNs don’t really provide privacy since employers can enable traffic logging to monitor employees’ VPN activities.
- Mobile VPNs — A mobile VPN (also called an mVPN), is very similar to a corporate VPN since it provides secure remote access to company data. But a mobile VPN is designed to resist network changes, which means an employee’s VPN connection will remain stable when he/she switches from mobile data to a Wi-Fi network, for example. Mobile VPNs are called this way because they provide mobility since they can be used on any connection (they work on all devices, not just mobile devices).
- Site-to-Site VPN services — A site-to-site VPN links several networks that are located in different departments across multiple locations. Businesses usually use this type of VPN. For example, if company A has a site-to-site VPN client on one of its devices, and company B has site-to-site VPN server software running on its devices, an employee from company A could use the site-to-site VPN client to securely access data on company B’s servers.
Can you be tracked if you use a VPN?
Yes — in fact, if you get a VPN that lacks a no-logs policy, the provider could track your IP address and browsing traffic while connected to the VPN. That’s why it’s always important to get a top-tier VPN that has a strict no-logs policy (that has ideally also been proven true), like ExpressVPN for example.
In addition, keep in mind that your ISP can still track certain data while you’re connected to a VPN. It can still see which port the VPN uses, when you connect to the VPN, and how much data you exchange with the VPN. It’s not anything that could compromise your privacy, but it’s still worth mentioning.
Is using a VPN legal?
Yes, VPNs are legal in most parts of the world — it only becomes illegal to use such a service if you plan on using it to engage in criminal activities (like downloading copyrighted files, for instance). But pretty much all top VPNs have clear terms of service that say what you aren’t allowed to do with their services.
That said, there are certain countries that restrict VPN usage, such as China, Russia, and Iran. While VPNs are not 100% illegal in such places, there still are laws in place that regulate VPN usage. So I strongly recommend researching the local laws if you live in or travel through such countries to make sure you don’t break any laws by utilizing a VPN.
What Does VPN Stand for?
The term “VPN” stands for Virtual Private Network — it’s called this way since a VPN sets up a secure connection over the web that you use to access online content. And since that connection encrypts all of your data, it’s just like you’d be using a private network.
Does a VPN slow down your internet speeds?
Yes — in fact, all VPNs will cause some level of slowdown. That’s because a VPN encrypts your internet traffic, and that extra layer of encryption makes your connection slower. Also, the distance between you and the VPN server has an impact as well (the bigger it is, the more noticeable the slowdown).
That said, top VPNs minimize the speed loss, so that it’s not noticeable. They do this by only using servers with huge amounts of bandwidth, and by only using fast VPN protocols (like WireGuard, IKEv2/IPSec, or proprietary protocols).
But if you’re experiencing noticeable slowdowns even with a good VPN, here’s how you can fix this:
- Use a nearby server — If you connect to a server that’s physically closer to your location, you’re more likely to get fast speeds since it will take less time for the VPN to route your data.
- Use fast VPN encryption protocols — Many VPNs default to using OpenVPN, which is really secure but not really fast. If other protocols are available, like WireGuard or IKEv2/IPSec, use them instead to get faster speeds.
- Use split-tunneling (if available) — This feature allows you to choose which apps or sites go through the VPN. If you only route the apps you want to use through the VPN, you’ll get better speeds because there will be less data to encrypt/decrypt and route.
- Use a wired connection — While Wi-Fi is convenient, it can cause noticeable slowdowns if the signal is unstable. If you can’t improve the signal, just use a wired connection instead since its speeds don’t depend on a signal.
- Turn off background apps — Remember to disable web-connected apps that are running in the background and you are not using, as they could eat up your bandwidth and slow down your VPN speeds. For example, if you’re watching Netflix, you don’t need a P2P app or gaming client running in the background.
Will a VPN let me access Wi-Fi hotspots safely?
Yes, as a virtual private network creates a secure tunnel between you and the internet. Basically, it encrypts your online data, making it completely 100% unreadable. This way, hackers can’t spy on your internet connection and privacy — even if the hotspot you’re using doesn’t provide any encryption.
Do I need internet access to connect to a VPN?
Yes — it’s impossible to secure your data with a VPN if you don’t have internet access. To run, a VPN app needs web access, otherwise it can’t connect to its servers. This is why it’s also impossible for people in restrictive countries with internet blackouts to use VPNs.
Best VPNs in 2023 — Final Thoughts:
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