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What Is a VPN?
A VPN, or Virtual Private Network, is a digital network which enables users to protect their privacy whilst online. It uses certain technologies to enhance the security of networks both public and private, including both broadband and internet hotspots.
VPNs are useful both for individual users and organisations/businesses, offering a secure, private way of both sending and receiving data online.
VPNs act as a connection between two or more devices which allows the user to access websites from anywhere in the world whilst keeping their location anonymous through a secure medium.
This is done by routing the internet connection on a device through a private server, instead of the ISP (Internet Service Provider). This way, the data transmitted to the internet directly from the VPN, rather than from the user’s computer. Thus, VPNs are essential for maintaining anonymity on the internet. Through the use of the ISP, nobody can trace your internet activity and hackers are unable to access your personal information.
It’s important to note that if using a VPN on a device that’s already compromised by malware, the VPN won’t prevent you from being spied on while using this device.
How Do VPNs Work?
A VPN essentially does the user’s browsing for them, enabling people to access sites freely whilst stopping providers from tracking what they visit. When a VPN is activated, it creates an encrypted tunnel between the device and the internet, hiding users vital data by making it virtually incomprehensible without a key/password.
When using a VPN, users’ data is turned into unreadable code, traveling between the VPN server and the computer. This will also mask the device’s actual IP address with one of the VPN provider’s servers. With a VPN, people can browse the internet with ease, knowing that their personal information is effectively protected.
Types of VPNs
There are a number of different types of VPN services out there. Different types of VPN function in slightly different ways which can affect your internet experience. Below is a list with some of the main types of VPNs:
- IPSEC (Internet Protocol Security) – secures internet communication across an IP network.
- L2TP (Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol) – usually used alongside another VPN security protocol in order to make the connection highly secure.
- SSL (Secure Socket Layers) and TLS (Transport Layer Security) – create a VPN connection which restricts specific applications without limiting the complete network. This is a good way of restricting specific websites and applications.
- PPTP (Point to Point Tunneling Protocol) – works by encrypting data via encapsulated data packets.
- SSH (Secure Shell) – controls software communication via a command line. It uses public key encryption to make the connection more secure.
- OpenVPN – used for open source VPN. It works by creating Point-to-Point or Site-to-Site connections.
Why Would I Need a VPN?
People use VPNs for a range of different reasons, however, arguably their key benefit is to protect users’ personal information when browsing the web.
Think, for example, when you’re connecting to a public WiFi network in a café, train station, or otherwise, do you ever wonder whether someone could be looking at your browsing activity? Whilst many may not give this a second thought, it’s reasonable to entertain this concern, considering the array of forces that could be out to get your data.
Particularly in this online-centric world, where almost everything is done digitally, connecting onto a public WiFi network could expose your private information to thieves and other untrustworthy eyes – whether this is your banking data, or other bits of personal information you’d prefer to keep private.
VPNs are used to help prevent this from happening, turning users’ personal data into incomprehensible, encrypted code.
When Should I Use a VPN?
You should use a VPN to help protect your privacy whilst browsing, whether this is in public or in the comfort of your own home. It’s important to note that whilst using a VPN service in the U.K. isn’t illegal, you must adhere to certain guidelines whilst using it.
Experts advise always using a VPN for services such as online banking. This is especially important when accessing online banking out of your house, although even when home you should use a VPN for increased security. Online banking on your phone and mobile banking apps are additionally susceptible to security risks. When using a VPN on all devices, you are limiting the exposure of your information to cybercriminals.
What Is the Best VPN?
There are a number of top-quality VPNs out there, helping to keep your details private whilst browsing online. At the minute, we’d say ExpressVPN is one of the best VPNs to explore, due to a few different reasons…
- It’s packed full of security smarts.
- It’s reliable.
- It’s got great user experience on a range of different devices (e.g. mobile, desktop).
- Offers 24/7 human customer support.
While these are by no means the only features that make ExpressVPN a fantastic choice to opt for, they do certainly make the VPN experience fantastically smooth, effective and reliable.
How to Choose the Best VPN for Me
Not everyone will want the same thing in a VPN, there are a number of different factors you should consider when choosing a VPN, helping you to find the best service to meet your needs. Below is a list with some of the main things to consider when looking for a VPN:
What Do I Need the VPN For?
Establish what you’ll be using the VPN for and filter your search down to the VPN services that can provide this. For example, is the VPN for individual use or for the entire household? Are you wanting it to stream online movies? Do you want to keep yourself protected when using public WiFi? Each of these needs with require particular services to accommodate them, so it’s firstly good to look into what you want out of a VPN, and only pick services that can cater to this.
Is the VPN Service User-Friendly?
It’s not just the tech savvy that want a VPN. For those who aren’t accustomed to the complexities of certain services’ setups and user-interfaces, you’re much better off going with a VPN that has a friendly, easy to follow user-interface.
Is Your Device Compatible?
Some VPNs are unavailable for certain platforms. While most of them support the main Mac, Android, Windows and iOS, it’s vital that you check to ensure the device you want the VPN for is compatible with the service you choose.
How Much Are You Willing to Pay?
Compare the best VPNs for your needs, and get a feel for the typical pricing of this. Figure out how much you’re willing to pay, and opt for services that offer everything you’re looking for at a reasonable price for their offering. Make sure you’re not lured in by temporary deals and apparent free services – as these will often not reflect the full price of using the VPN long-term. Ensure you have thoroughly looked into the plan and know exactly how much it will cost before giving them your payment details.
How Much Do VPNs Cost?
The cost of a VPN service will vary depending on the plan you go for, as well as the provider. Below are a few of the prices you can expect to find when exploring VPNs:
|TorGuard||$9.99 (charged monthly)||$19.99 (charged quarterly)||$29.99 (charged semi-annually)||$59.99 (charged annually)|
|NordVPN||£9.20 per month (1-month plan)||£5.38 per month (1-year plan)||£3.84 per month (2-year plan)||£2.69 per month (3-year plan)|
|VPN Area||$9.90 per month (1-month plan)||$2.99 per month (36-month plan)||$2.99 per month (36-month plan)||-|
|ExpressVPN||£10.39 per month (1-month plan)||£8.01 per month (6-month plan)||£10.39 per month (15-month plan)||-|
Who Is the Best Paid VPN Provider?
For the best VPN provider, it will depend on what you need from this service, and the best deal out there for this. Some of the best VPN paid-for services you may want to explore include the following:
- Express VPN.
- Nord VPN.
- VPN Area.
Prices for these top VPN services can be found in the table above. It’s important to have a clear idea of what you want from your VPN to truly find the best paid VPN for you.
When Are the Best Times to Buy a VPN?
Similar to laptops, smartphones and other types of tech devices, we’d recommend you purchase a VPN during sales periods – e.g. Black Friday.
However, while people can get some fantastic deals on VPNs during the sales seasons, you may not want to wait around for this. Some VPN services offer excellent deals throughout the year, meaning you don’t have you wait months on end for a good deal to come about.
Especially if you’re wanting your VPN for security reasons, why wait to ensure your private information is kept secure for the sake of a few quid? Therefore, the truly best time to buy a VPN service is whenever you need it.
Which Free VPN Is Best?
The best free VPN services we’d recommend is TunnelBear. However, if you’re considering using a free VPN, there are a few things you should know about. A free VPN may seem too good to be true, able to have complete anonymity browsing the web, without fear of being tracked, unblocked streaming sites, and a sense of privacy – all for free no less!
So, is this too good to be true? Before searching for the best free VPNs out there, it’s firstly important to learn about how these services work, and how providers afford to offer their services for free.
It’s unlikely that any free VPN will be able to match the very best VPN services out there. However, for those more casual with their VPN usage, free VPNs can be a handy and effective service. For example, they may not be able to provide you with a worldwide Netflix library, however they can help you to access emails securely on a public WiFi network.
Some free VPNs have hidden costs, you may end up having your browser injected with ads, or potentially have your data sold – the exact opposite of privacy. That’s why it’s important to be careful when exploring free VPNs, and comparing their services to the paid ones, to see which one best meets your VPN requirements.
What Is a Good Speed for a VPN?
A good speed for a VPN depends on what you want from the service. Depending on the VPN, it can affect the speed or the server, as well as the number of servers available. Some VPNs pride themselves on their high-speed servers. Others prioritise how many devices can depend on their services at any given time. These are some of the key features you will see various VPN providers describe when selling their products. Always take into account server speed when choosing the best VPN for your needs.
What Are the Benefits of Using a VPN?
Use Public Wi-Fi Safely With a VPN
When connecting onto a public wifi network, like a hotel or restaurant, the connection is not secure. These wifi services do not offer encryption security, making your browsing public for hackers or spies in the vicinity. Even inexperienced hackers look to public networks as an easy way to access unencrypted data from unwitting users. When using a VPN in a public place, you hide your hotspot from any prying eyes and protect your information, allowing you to browse in confidence.
Phone Calls With a VPN
Another benefit of using a VPN, is the ability to make online or internet phone calls safely. Usually, this type of call is very susceptible to being hacked or recorded (e.g. unencrypted Skype calls). Using a VPN will protect your privacy for these type of calls. Although, it must be noted that this is often at the cost of a slower connection.
Use Search Engines Without Logging your Search
Did you know that every search you ever make in a search engine is categorised? This affects future searches and connects them all to the IP address of your device. Here, it can be accessed by anyone, with the potential to use your personal information. If you use a VPN, it acts as a shield protecting your IP address. This, in turn, will keep your searches confidential.
Depending on your line of work, researching a competitor, a certain public figure or even criminal track records, may be your day-to-day. All of this is connected to your device’s IP and, as such, has the potential to trace back to you. When browsing with a VPN, you are free to do this research without any trace.
Override Restricted Networks With a VPN
Many institutions put a blanket block across certain websites. An example of this would be schools or workplaces, which limit access across all devices on the system. A VPN would allow you to override these restrictions and browse the internet freely.
Override Country-Specific Restrictions With a VPN
When visiting certain countries, you will face restrictions to your internet browsing. China is probably the most well-known example as Facebook and WhatsApp are blocked for all citizens. Thus, when visiting these countries, your device will also be limited based on the country’s policies. However, when using a VPN you are able to override these restrictions and access any pages you choose.The VPN also hides your browsing activity. However, it must be noted that the consequences faced for doing this may be severe, depending on the country. Thus, always make sure that you are using a watertight system in which the VPN is constantly blocking your activity.
Access Your Favourite Entertainment
Local broadcasting channels are not easily accessed when abroad. Netflix, and other streaming services, have different libraries country-by-country. This means that when travelling, or moving abroad, you may not be able to access your favourite shows. When using a VPN, your IP address is not defined by your location. Thus, you can choose where you want to browse from and are free to stream whatever you want.
Transfer of P2P File
P2P file sharing comes under fire a lot with questions of legality and profit, specifically the sharing of music and movie files. However, it should be noted that using a VPN can allow the download and upload of P2P files privately, whilst simultaneously hiding your location. Although it will slow your bandwidth down.
Are VPNs Safe to Use?
VPNs are actually known for increasing safety. If you use a VPN, you are not determined by geographic location. Thus, the chances of your activity being observed or tracked is largely reduced. Trustworthy and reliable VPNs offer high-security services, ensuring your privacy as you browse the internet safely.
Is it Legal to Use a VPN?
In the UK and other countries VPNs are totally legal and there are no laws against using a VPN or changing an IP address. However, using a VPN will not protect you from engaging in criminal activity online. Although VPN services aren’t banned in the U.K., in certain countries they are, including Iraq and North Korea, whilst the likes of China and Russia are only able to use VPN services that have been approved by the government.
Using a VPNs For Business
There are many benefits to using a VPN for your business, most of which are related to protecting sensitive information. With an increasing amount of data breaches, companies are becoming more and more vulnerable to exposing private internal data including client information.
In a recent survey by Ponemon Institute, 67% of Small-Medium Businesses reported attacks in the last year. By being proactive about data protection, this can prevent large-scale data breaches from occurring.
VPNs can be invaluable for securing business data. They can be implemented across a network, thus securing the network and making it more robust.Through this, you can use your own private network to establish a safe connection and prevent exposure to cyber-attacks.
Another increasingly relevant factor for businesses is a remote workforce and flexible working style. With the risk of remote working and employers using their own devices, this is a further risk to the company’s overall cybersecurity. VPNs can encompass many different devices across a private network from everything to printers to laptops. This means that you can find a suitable plan in which all employee devices can be protected by the same private network.
With remote access VPNs, employees can log on from wherever they are in the world and access the private network associated with the company VPN. That way, they are able to access necessary resources whilst simultaneously ensuring that the business data is protected.
Another factor in the favour of VPNs for businesses is the fact that they are relatively cost-efficient. Although there are free VPNs on the market, they do not tend to boast the same high-level security, nor other selling points, of a paid VPN. When it comes to protecting your company’s data, there are many cost-effective paid subscription services which can efficiently protect your business. A trustworthy VPN service can be one of the best investments a small business can make to protect their workforce on a large scale and offer high-level encryption of data across all employees.
VPNs for Streaming
Streaming services tend to change their streaming libraries region by region. This means that a program you are able to access easily in the UK, may not be accessible when abroad. Netflix, Pandora and Hulu are all examples of streaming services that operate in this way. When using a VPN, you can manage your device’s own IP address allowing you to choose the streaming country of your choice. For many, this is the U.S. as this usually offers the largest and most varied streaming libraries.
VPNs for Gaming
Like streaming, VPNs can also be a useful service for gamers as it allows you to unblock country-restricted games. Additionally, it can help you save money as games are priced differently depending on region. It has the potential to increase your server speed and protect you from things like DDoS attacks. Gamers are vulnerable to many security and privacy risks which could open them up to not only their gaming account details but also the bank account details used to pay for it. Even more worryingly, your ISP holds valuable information about your browsing habits which can be sold onto advertisers in the future. A VPN can protect you from all of these risks.