If you want to hide your web activity, unblock Netflix in another country, or bypass government restrictions, VPN is a useful and simple tool. But many people haven’t heard from it yet. That’s why I’ve put together this comprehensive guide to VPNs for you – from what they are in the first place to how you can use them to hide your IP address and encrypt your web traffic.
What is a VPN?
What is a VPN, and why do you need one ? A VPN is basically a set of servers that you connect to through your ISP (Internet service provider). Once you’ve established a connection to a VPN, a process known as tunneling, the servers act as your virtual home on the Internet. It’s like you’ve moved into a safer space, when in fact you haven’t moved at all.
When you search the web from this secure space, all data you send and receive is encrypted, thus offering you a good degree of confidentiality. Once logged in, your ISP, and even some surveillance agencies, will not be able to determine what information you are accessing or downloading.
What do VPNs do?
If I haven’t been clear enough yet: VPNs encrypt web traffic and change IP addresses. This means that your ISP cannot see what you are doing online or which IP you are browsing from. As a result, this tool improves privacy, security and access to websites.
How do VPNs work?
VPNs connect your device to a network, usually public, through an encrypted tunnel. The tunnel encrypts your internet activity and hides your IP address, replacing it with the IP address of the private server to which you are connected.
Most VPNs use the AES-256 bit encryption, which is the current standard in the field. To transfer data from a device to a private server, VPNs use protocols that store data in packets and ensure they are sent correctly.
Most software is equipped with the kill switch feature that disables web traffic when the VPN connection is not working, to guarantee your security and the protection of your online privacy.
Are VPNs Legal?
Many wonders if VPNs are legal in the first place. In France and the United States, VPNs are legal, but that doesn’t mean that everything a user does with them is legal. For example, streaming copyrighted works is still illegal, even if you are using a VPN.
Even though VPNs are legal in most countries, keep in mind that some countries have different laws regarding VPNs. Russia, for example, has banned the most popular VPNs we tested. So if you are traveling, find out about the laws of the country before connecting with your good old VPN.
Why do i need a VPN?
The decision to use a VPN depends on your tolerance to exposing your personal data, financial information, and browsing history. Without a VPN, you disclose your location and the websites you visit to advertisers, site owners, and even government agencies (not to mention hackers).
When you use a VPN, you hide your personal information. If you provide a credit card number, date of birth and address to register on a new platform, the VPN encrypts this data and secures it, so that it cannot be hacked.
A VPN protects your connection, which is the most common attack vector for hacking. The software is constantly running in the background, ensuring that your data is not compromised and protecting your identity.
The pros and cons of VPNs
VPNs are generally a net positive, but still have their drawbacks, like everything else in the world.
- Anonymity: The big advantage of VPNs is that they give you the privacy you never had while browsing the web. Even your ISP cannot see your online activity when you are connected to a VPN.
- Geographic emulation: By connecting to a server in another country, you can bypass government censorship and restrictions on websites. This tool gives you access to a free Internet, no matter where you are physically.
- Slower navigation speeds: All VPNs slow down your speed a bit, even the best ones, because data has to go through an encrypted tunnel instead of connecting directly to websites.
- Blocked servers: Although some VPNs allow you to bypass geo-restrictions, governments and streaming platforms are getting smarter and blocking VPN servers.
How to choose a VPN
There are many VPNs on the market. The main thing is to choose a VPN based on your specific needs and how you plan to use it. Of course, there are a few basic things you need to consider. For example, you’ll need a VPN with user-friendly software and enough simultaneous connections to install it on all of your devices.
It is also important to choose a VPN that actually protects your privacy. Ideally, the service should offer security features, super-fast speeds, servers around the world, and excellent customer service. Some services, like ExpressVPN, tick all of these boxes!
Finally, it is always good to check available discounts and make sure you get the best deal. But the final decision should always be based on your own priorities and your main reason for getting a VPN.
What’s the best VPN available today?
The competition for the best VPN gets harder and harder, but there is always a clear winner above the others: ExpressVPN.
One of the main strengths of ExpressVPN is that it is incredibly easy to use on any platform – whether it’s your phone, your PC or even a gaming console. It’s also suitable for streaming, easily bypassing the geo-restrictions of Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video. On top of that, it provides connections so fast that you can stream in HD or 4K, as usual.
To top it off, it offers a 30-day money-back guarantee, which means that you will be able to effectively test the service and its 3000+ servers for an entire month before the final purchase.
The best VPN services to date:
If you’re hesitating between two services and aren’t sure which one to buy, we’re here to help. We have compared all the VPNs with each other so that you can make an easy decision!
How to set up a VPN
If you choose the right service, setting up a VPN is a quick and easy process.
As a demonstration, I’ll show you how to set up ExpressVPN, my favorite provider. The first step is to download the app from the service’s website. The first step is to download the app from the service’s website .
After downloading it, you will need to install it on your device. Follow the instructions to install it on your PC or mobile device. You can also install a browser extension if you want.
After installing it, you just need to select a server and connect. ExpressVPN makes it easy to select the country you want to connect to and then select a server that’s optimized for download, speed, or browsing.
How we test VPN services
In addition to our interest in features, we run three tests on each VPN, on two different types of devices: Windows and Mac. We perform these tests on our Wi-Fi network, making sure that only we are using it. And we take the VPN-less measurements as a benchmark.
Here’s how we perform each speed and safety test:
- WebRTC leak test: To make sure our IP address is hidden by the VPN, we use the WebRTC leak test on the IPLeak site, making sure it shows a different IP address than our actual IP address.
- DNS leak test: The same goes for checking for DNS leaks, we use the IPLeak tool again, noting the change of IP address when a VPN is connected.
- Speed test: Finally, to check the difference in ping (latency), download speed and upload speed, we use the Speedtest from Ookla, which measures speed in ms for ping and mbit/s for upload and download speeds. Then we then do the calculation to know the impact of the VPN.
The best deals for a new VPN
I like to find good deals. So I spend a lot of time online looking for ways to save money. I noted that VPN providers regularly offer new coupons and deals. But, due to scam sites, it can be difficult to determine which ones are genuine and really work.
To solve this problem, my colleagues and I have created a page of current VPN coupons and offers, which we are constantly updating. Andwe check every offer to make sure it is still working in 2023.
Free vs paid VPN
In most cases, a quality paid VPN is superior to a free VPN. One of the main reasons for this is that it costs money to maintain a network of VPN servers, develop secure applications, and keep them up to date.
If the service is free, ask yourself who pays to make it work and what they get in return.
As the famous phrase goes: “If you don’t pay, you are not a customer, you are a product.” (1)
And this is true for some companies in the industry.
Alternatives to VPN
VPN is not the only tool that can increase your privacy, security, and/or freedom online.
Tor (abbreviation of The Onion Router) is a free network of servers or “nodes” that randomly route Internet traffic to each other to hide the origin of data.
Using Tor can significantly increase your anonymity (2) and using Tor in conjunction with a VPN creates the best privacy protection.
However, the biggest downside to Tor is speed. Since your traffic is transmitted through several hops, it can be difficult to transfer, download, or share files with Tor.
A proxy server is an intermediary between your device and the Internet. Unlike VPNs, however, most of the proxy services you find are quite slow and don’t offer any privacy or security benefits.
The so-called “free proxy services” are particularly dangerous, as they are a means for many providers to monetize your data, by selling it to third parties.
Neither Tor nor the proxy service can replace the benefits of a VPN. A reliable VPN is still the best privacy solution for most people.
More and more people are starting to realize that VPNs are very important for online security. In addition to protecting your privacy, they can allow you to bypass geo-restrictions, whether it’s to fight censorship or just to watch your favorite movies and series.
If you’re ready to take the plunge and invest in a premium provider, I recommend ExpressVPN first and foremost. It is superfast, secure and easy to use, making it an ideal choice for those new to the world of VPNs.
1. Philippe MABILLE, Si c’est gratuit, c’est que vous êtes le produit ! https://www.latribune.fr/opinions/editos/si-c-est-gratuit-c-est-que-vous-etes-le-produit-774672.html
2. Tor Project, Quelles protections Tor fournit-il ? https://2019.www.torproject.org/docs/faq.html.en#WhatProtectionsDoesTorProvide (en anglais)