How to use a VPN

6 min
Using a VPN

Virtual Private Network is a service for everyday web browsing that can greatly benefit your online security. However, the multitude of options, programs, and VPN settings can confuse even the most advanced internet user. Read on for tips on how to obtain and utilize this sort of online protection.

Let’s get started with a question: why should I be using a VPN at all? Well, the most common reason is still to bypass geographical restrictions. VPN allows to access content blocked in some geographical regions. This popular use case has led to people underestimating many other possibilities of VPNs, such as overall online security improvement. Encryption that VPNs use protects your data from online attackers and altering your IP address improves your privacy, as it gets far harder to track you down. 

But getting back to the main point, let’s ask ourselves:

How to get a VPN?

First, you need to pick the service provider. There are many to choose from worldwide, so this first step might actually be the hardest one. Before you install a VPN, consider the following:

  • Be cautious with freeware. It’s better if a program has two versions: free, but limited and full, paid. It means the producer doesn’t hide his source of income. Fully free VPN services without a paid plan could nag you with advertisements, be unencrypted, or worse: log and sell your private data.
  • Encryption is a must if you wish to fully exploit the potential of a VPN. 
  • Connection speeds. Unfortunately, it’s only possible to verify the speed once you actually start using a VPN. But if you intend to stream high-quality videos, study all the available information on the provider’s website and make sure there are no bandwidth limits.
  • Data logging. Those who are sensitive about their privacy wouldn’t want their browsing history to be available even to the VPN provider. But various policies or even local laws might force VPN services to store a lot of significant information about you. Read the details of the end-user agreement if you are looking for the utmost confidentiality.

Another aspect is usability. If you wish for minimal effort when using a VPN, aim for an app with a simplified user interface. The connection and configuration process can be automated by the software. You just switch the service and pick the desired location.

How do I get a VPN?

You don’t need to be a technician to benefit from using a VPN. Many producers make their applications very user-friendly, requiring only an installation. Download an appropriate installer for your operating system from the chosen provider’s website and follow the installation guidelines (these should be simple enough). Some manufacturers provide VPN extensions for popular browsers like Google Chrome, too. Those are really easy to set up but remember they don’t cover all of your device’s connections.

On a mobile device, you have two basic ways (assuming your supplier supports your operating system). The first one is to check a web page’s download section. It usually includes all platforms the VPN can function on. From there, you will most probably be redirected to Google Play (on Android) or App Store (on iPhone/iPad). But if you’re not sure yet which solution is right for you, go the other way. Start at the store itself, where you can easily look at various apps available. This method also gives you the opportunity to compare VPNs by their user’s reviews.

How to set up a VPN

After you have downloaded and installed a chosen app, it’s time to get it running. Details depend on the design of a specific app. Setting up a VPN connection with the user-friendly apps mentioned above is easy, but they don’t offer many options. This is actually an advantage if you trust your provider and just need your VPN to work. The interface should include an on/off switch and a choice of target locations. If you have created an account in your chosen service, then there will also be a login/password form. Afterward, using a VPN should become mostly unnoticeable. Once started, it runs in the background and silently protects your browsing.

There are some very important use cases, however, that might require additional VPN settings. You might have had contact with them already in the times of the global COVID-19 pandemic. Many workplaces have their own restricted intranets. The employees normally connect by plugging in an Ethernet cable or connecting to the Wi-Fi. But working remotely requires safe access outside of the office. This is where the VPN comes along. A VPN server running at an institution allows for establishing a virtual tunnel from any remote location to the protected local network. But in most cases, there is no special application for the specific workplace VPN. Instead, users are given the server address and their personal credentials to log in. In such cases, it is best to use your built-in operating system’s VPN configuration. Let’s have a look at a Windows 10 example.

How to create a VPN with Windows?

First, open the Settings and go to the Network & Internet section. There, you’ll see VPN settings in the left-hand menu. The idea is to set up and remember a VPN connection so that in the future you can reconnect instantaneously. 

Choose “Add a VPN connection” option at the top. From there, you need to fill in the individual form fields according to your target VPN configuration. Ask your network administrator for help if you’re not sure.

The configurable elements are:

  • VPN provider – the built-in, Windows, should suffice for any everyday task.
  • Connection name – should signify a specific VPN, in case you specify several of them.
  • Servers name or address – obtained from your administrator.
  • VPN type – connection protocol(s) applied in this configuration.
  • Type of sign-in info – typically user name and password. VPN always uses a cryptographic certificate issued by a trustworthy organization, but usually, you are not required to install one manually.
  • User name and Password – these fields are optional as you can enter them later on when signing in.

After entering correct data, you will be able to connect via the new VPN channel with a single click:

This is just a Windows example. Android, iOS, and macOS operating systems all support VPN natively, too. You can configure it on any device and benefit from a protected channel without an app.

Is using a VPN app better than manual configuration?

After finding a step-by-step instruction on how to use VPN manually, you may wonder why to download an additional program at all. There are some advantages to it, which are:

  • Ease of use. First and foremost, a well-designed app is user-friendly. It deals with authentication certificates and server addresses. It also handles most errors that can arise during the connection. 
  • Automation. Manual configuration of a VPN requires at least filling in a form like in the above example. This requires a basic knowledge and some deeper insight in case anything goes wrong. On the other hand, the app usually has all the necessary data hidden under the hood. It allows for smooth cooperation with supplier’s servers.
  • Hidden features. Often the end-user doesn’t really realize all capabilities of the software he/she owns. Those could include a residential VPN (offering millions of IPs worldwide), a kill switch (protection when VPN goes down) and double VPN (second encryption for maximum safety). Whether they are present or not depends on your specific product. But it could be really tricky to implement them yourself, or even impossible without owning an extensive network of VPN servers.
  • Professional support. This depends on the manufacturer’s offer. Some present only a contact form and a user’s manual. Others provide extensive FAQ sections, blogs, live chats and even telephone support. But if you configure your VPN yourself, you are mostly left on your own. 

With all the perks of a VPN app, don’t get discouraged when facing a manual setup. Not every workplace is able to create or buy a VPN app for its employees. When in doubt, refer to online articles explaining how to use VPN. Many providers run their own blogs with useful tips and tricks on the general topic, not their own apps only.

How to disable VPN?

Finally, there is this last question: how to turn off VPN? After all, this sort of virtual channel always introduces some computational load. It might slow down your downloads and streams. You might also simply decide you don’t need a VPN after all. Luckily, most VPN providers promote online privacy and freedom. Therefore, it is very easy to disable their services, too. Just proceed with want you want to do:

  • Turn off. Dedicated programs have an on/off switch or a Disconnect button. So have operating systems in appropriate sections of built-in VPN settings.
  • Disable auto-startup. VPNs often run in the background, where you don’t need to worry about them. To stop them from running at device startup, search in their (or your system’s) configuration options. For instance, in Windows 10, go to Settings → Apps → Startup and find your VPN app on the list.
  • Uninstall. When you have configured a connection manually, simply delete it from the list (see above). If you have an app, use its uninstaller or a feature of your OS for adding/removing programs.

Setting up and running a VPN is quite a complicated procedure. Luckily, there are tools that automate almost everything. You just need to take action and add this extra security solution to your everyday online experience. Get a VPN and browse safely!

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