A virtual private network, better known as a VPN, gives you online privacy and anonymity by creating a private network from a public internet connection. VPNs mask your internet protocol (IP) address so your online actions are virtually untraceable. Most important, VPN services establish secure and encrypted connections to provide greater privacy than even a secured Wi-Fi hotspot.
A virtual private network is a key privacy tool that you should use when you’re logging onto the internet from a public place such as a coffee shop, hotel lobby, or any other spot that offers access to free public Wi-Fi.
A VPN creates a type of tunnel that hides your online activity, including the links you click or the files you download, so that cybercriminals, businesses, government agencies, or other snoops can’t see it.
Surfing the web or transacting on an unsecured Wi-Fi network means you could be exposing your private information and browsing habits. That’s why a VPN should be a must for anyone concerned about their online security and privacy.
Ever log into your online bank account in your hotel’s lobby? Or maybe you’ve paid your credit card bill online while sipping a mocha at your favorite coffee shop. If you’ve done this without first logging onto a VPN, you could have exposed your private information and browsing habits to hackers and cybercriminals.
Unless you are logged into a private Wi-Fi network that requires a password, any data transmitted during your online sessions could be vulnerable to eavesdropping by strangers using the same network.
That’s where a VPN comes in: VPNs encrypt your data while online, scrambling it so that strangers can’t read it. The encryption that a VPN provides keep your online activities private, everything from sending emails and shopping online to paying bills or chatting with your doctor.
A VPN can also hide your IP address so that snoops don’t know that it’s you who is surfing the net, downloading files, and commenting on Reddit groups. How does this work? A VPN encrypts the data you send and receive on whatever device you’re using, including your phone, laptop, or tablet. It sends your data through a secure tunnel to the VPN service provider’s servers. Your data is encrypted and rerouted to whatever site you’re trying to reach.
A VPN enables you to connect to the internet in an encrypted fashion, which adds security and privacy to your online browsing. This is especially important when using public Wi-Fi. That’s because it’s easier for identity thieves and other cybercriminals to eavesdrop on your online activity and steal the personal information you send and receive when you are using public Wi-Fi.
It gets worse. You may think you’re using the free public Wi-Fi provided at an airport, hotel, or coffee shop. But you may have logged onto a Wi-Fi network created by a cybercriminal. Once you’re on this network, the hacker can easily spy on your browsing and steal any personal information that you include in email messages or forum chats. If you log onto your online bank or credit card accounts, the cybercriminal might snag your log-in information.
A VPN, though, allows you to use inherently non-private public Wi-Fi by creating an encrypted tunnel through which your data is sent to a remote server operated by your VPN service provider. The VPN server then sends the data to the site you’re seeking to connect with, encrypted and safe from the prying eyes of identity thieves and other cybercriminals.
This isn’t to say that VPNs don’t come with challenges. They can sometimes slow your computer’s performance, especially if your VPN’s servers are geographically distant. For best performance, consider a VPN with servers located around the world. That way, your data can be routed through a closer location.
Some VPN services limit your usage. For instance, they may limit the amount of data you can send in a single connection or over a period of time. They might also limit the speed of the data. This can be common with free VPN services.
VPNs essentially create a data tunnel between your local network and an exit node in another location, which could be thousands of miles away, making it seem as if you’re in another place. This benefit allows online freedom, or the ability to access your favorite apps and websites while on the go.
Here’s a closer look at how a virtual private network works. VPNs use encryption to scramble data when it’s sent over a Wi-Fi network. Encryption makes the data unreadable. Data security is especially important when using a public Wi-Fi network, because it prevents anyone else on the network from eavesdropping on your internet activity.
There’s another side to privacy. Without a VPN, your internet service provider can know your entire browsing history. With a VPN, your search history is hidden. That’s because your web activity will be associated with the VPN server’s IP address, not yours. A VPN service provider may have servers all over the world. That means your search activity could appear to originate at any one of them. Keep in mind, search engines also track your search history, but they’ll associate that information with an IP address that’s not yours. Again, your VPN will keep your online activity private.
A VPN can hide a lot of information that can put your privacy at risk. Here are five of them.
It’s no secret where you go on the internet. Your internet service provider and your web browser can track just about everything you do on the internet. A lot of the websites you visit can also keep a history. Web browsers can track your search history and tie that information to your IP address.
Here are two examples why you may want to keep your browsing history private. Maybe you have a medical condition and you’re searching the web for information about treatment options. Guess what? Without a VPN, you’ve automatically shared that information and may start receiving targeted ads that could draw further attention to your condition.
Or maybe you just want to price airline tickets for a flight next month. The travel sites you visit know you’re looking for tickets and they might display fares that aren’t the cheapest available.
These are just a few isolated examples. Keep in mind your internet service provider may be able to sell your browsing history. Even so-called private browsers may not be so private.
Anyone who captures your IP address can access what you’ve been searching on the internet and where you were located when you searched. Think of your IP address as the return address you’d put on a letter. It leads back to your device.
Since a VPN uses an IP address that’s not your own, it allows you to maintain your online privacy and search the web anonymously. You’re also protected against having your search history gathered, viewed, or sold. Keep in mind, your search history can still be viewed if you are using a public computer or one provided by your employer,school, or other organization.
You might pay for streaming services that enable you to watch things like professional sports. When you travel outside the country, the streaming service may not be available. There are good reasons for this, including contractual terms and regulations in other countries. Even so, a VPN would allow you to select an IP address in your home country. That would likely give you access to any event shown on your streaming service. You may also be able to avoid data or speed throttling.
A VPN can help protect your devices, including desktop computer, laptop, tablet, and smart phone from prying eyes. Your devices can be prime targets for cybercriminals when you access the internet, especially if you’re on a public Wi-Fi network. In short, a VPN helps protect the data you send and receive on your devices so hackers won’t be able to watch your every move.
Hopefully, you’re not a candidate for government surveillance, but who knows. Remember, a VPN protects against your internet service provider seeing your browsing history. So you’re protected if a government agency asks your internet service provider to supply records of your internet activity. Assuming your VPN provider doesn’t log your browsing history (some VPN providers do), your VPN can help protect your internet freedom.
Identity theft occurs when thieves steal your personal information and use it to commit crimes in your name — like taking over or opening new accounts, filing tax returns in your name, or renting or buying property. A VPN can help protect against identity theft by helping protect your data. It creates an encrypted tunnel for the data you send and receive that’s out of reach of cyberthieves.
If your smartphone’s Wi-Fi is enabled at all times, your device could be vulnerable without you ever knowing it. Everyday activities like online shopping, banking, and browsing can expose your information, making you vulnerable to cybercrime.
A VPN can protect the information you share or access using your devices. That’s especially important when using a public Wi-Fi network, where a cyberthief on the same network could capture your login credentials and the credit card number you type in when you shop online.
You can’t prevent identity theft. No one can. Some security aspects — like a data breach at an organization where you have an account — are out of your control. But a VPN can help safeguard the information you send from and receive on your devices.
If you’re logging onto the internet from your home? Do you need a VPN?
Probably not. When you established your home Wi-Fi network, it is likely that you protected your network with a password. Because of that, you may not need the added security of a VPN to shield your online activity.
Investing in a VPN for home use, then, might be a waste of money, unless you want to keep your web surfing private from your internet service provider (ISP) or if you choose to access streaming content or sports coverage that you couldn’t otherwise access from your location.
Tempted to invest in a VPN service provider for home internet access? You could do that, but it might not be a wise financial move. It’s worth noting you might consider a free VPN, but those services may cover their costs in other ways such as selling your data to third-parties for marketing purposes.
There are exceptions where you might consider using a VPN at home. You might want to use a VPN if you’re worried about your ISP tracking your online activity. If you connect to the internet through a VPN, the provider of your internet services won’t be able to see what you’re doing online.
However, the company that provides your VPN service will. If you trust that company more than your internet service provider, then using VPN at home might make sense.
There’s another reason to use VPN. It can help you stream content or watch sporting events that aren’t available in your location. Keep in mind you should understand any contractual agreements you’ve accepted with your streaming provider. Further, governmental regulations in other regions or countries might make this a bad idea.
The VPN market is crowded with options, so it’s important to consider your needs when you’re shopping for a VPN.
Think about what is important to you. Do you want to be able to surf the web anonymously by masking your IP address? Are you afraid that your information could be stolen on public Wi-Fi? Are you a frequent traveler who wants to be able to watch your favorite shows while you’re on the go.
A good VPN can help you check all three boxes, but here are some other points to consider.
A smart way to stay secure when using public Wi-Fi is to use a VPN solution. But what’s the best way to choose a virtual private network? Here are some questions to ask when you’re choosing a VPN provider.
There are many points to consider when you’re choosing a VPN, so do your homework to make sure you’re getting the right fit for your needs. Regardless of which provider you choose, rest assured that a good VPN will provide more security, privacy, and anonymity online than a public Wi-Fi hotspot can.
It’s tempting to choose your VPN provider based on price. After all, we all want to spend as little as we can each month, right?
But focusing only on price could be a mistake. You want your VPN provider to protect your online privacy and encrypt the data you send and receive. You want it to be reliable. And you want fast connections. All of these factors are just as important — if not more so — than price.
That being said, most providers of VPN services charge similar prices, usually ranging from $9.99 to $12.99 a month, with some exceptions. When looking at prices, though, make sure to understand what you’re getting.
A provider, for instance, might charge you as low as $4.99 a month to provide VPN protection on one device. It might charge $9.99 a month, though, to provide the same service for 10 devices. You might also be able to reduce your monthly rate by signing up for a longer term. You’ll typically spend less on a monthly basis if you sign up for a yearlong VPN plan than if you elect to pay on a month-by-month basis.
Many of the top providers offer free versions of their VPNs. But the free versions may be limitations — for instance, on how much data you can use.
Some VPN providers offer free trials of their paid versions. The trials typically run for about a month. Some allow to access most of the VPN features of the paid service, although there may be data limitations.
If you sign up for a free trial, you provide the same personal and payment information you’d use if you were signing up for the paid service. You can cancel your account before the end of the trial. If you don’t cancel, the provider will begin to bill you for continuing service.
Keep in mind, some free VPNs may collect and share or sell your data to third parties for marketing purposes, while others may not block ads.
More important than price is the number of servers your VPN provider offers. In general, the more servers, the better.
Why? VPNs that don’t offer a high number of servers will often be plagued by slow online speeds. That can be a problem if you’re first connecting to a VPN and then downloading files or streaming videos.
If too many users are on the same server, that server can get overloaded. Once that happens, you’ll notice a slowdown in your browsing speed.
When looking at a VPN provider, then, make sure you sign up with one that does offer a high number of servers. How many servers is enough? There’s no one answer for that. But VPN services that boast 1,000 servers or more may be less likely to get overloaded.
This is fairly self-explanatory: You want a VPN service that works with the operating systems on your laptop, smart phone, desktop or tablet. Fortunately, paid services tend to work on all the major operating systems. Finding a VPN provider that works with your devices’ operating systems, then, shouldn’t be difficult.
You might understand that you need the privacy protection of a VPN when you’re accessing the web through your laptop or desktop. But many of us spend a lot of time visiting websites, watching videos, and playing online games through our mobile devices. Because of this, it’s important to rely on VPN services when using your mobile devices, too.
Fortunately, most major VPN providers — especially those that charge a fee — offer mobile services, too. All of the companies in our list, for example, do this. Finding a VPN service that can protect your phone and tablet, then, shouldn’t be a challenge.
Think of how many devices in your home connect to the internet. You have your laptops, tablets, smart phones, and voice assistants. You might even have smart appliances that access the web.
That’s why it’s important to work with a VPN provider that allows several devices to connect to it at one time. That way, you can have both your laptop and your children’s tablets routed through a VPN at the same time.
Some VPN providers might offer different plans that allow for a higher or lower number of simultaneous connections. In general, you can expect to pay more for a greater number of connections. Top providers allow you to connect 10 or more devices simultaneously.
Pop-up ads can be annoying and dangerous. They can slow your browsing speeds and clutter your screen when you’re trying to watch videos or read a blog post. Even worse, cybercriminals often use pop-up ads — if you click on them — to infect your computer with malware.
That’s why ad blockers are so important: They help to keep these ads from showing up on your screen when you’re surfing the web. This can improve speed — web pages load faster when they’re not bogged down with ads — and help keep your devices safe from ads littered with malware.
You want a VPN service that blocks ads, then. Again, most paid services will do this. And you can see that each VPN provider in our list does block ads.
What if your connection with your VPN provider drops? Usually, your laptop, smartphone or other device will revert back to public Internet Protocol address provided by your home Internet Service Provider. This means that snoops could then be able to track your online activity and see your IP address until you connect back with your VPN provider.
Some VPN providers offer a kill switch feature to deal with this. If the VPN connection drops, the kill switch is designed to instantly sever your connection to the internet. This way, your IP address and online activity aren’t visible to anyone else.
Paid VPN services usually promise that they won’t log your data. That’s a good thing: If your VPN provider is logging — or tracking — your activity online, what’s to stop it from one day sharing or selling your browsing history with businesses or government agencies?
The logging of data is why many tech experts recommend that consumers avoid free VPN services. These services might log your data and then sell them to others as a way to make money because they are not collecting monthly subscriptions.
Remember, the purpose of a VPN is to protect your online privacy. So it’s wise to consider a VPN provider that doesn’t log your data.
Learning about VPNs may seem like it requires a specialized vocabulary. Here’s a glossary with definitions of some of the most common terms you’ll see.
Encryption is essential to helping keep your data unreadable by hackers, private companies, and possibly by government agencies. Encryption jumbles up your data so that others can’t make sense of it without the specific decryption key. AES, which stands for Advanced Encryption Standard, was an encryption method developed by Belgium cryptographers Joan Daemen and Vincent Rijmen. In 2002, AES became the U.S. federal standard for encryption. It has since become the standard form of encryption for the rest of the world, too.
A record of all your internet activity using a particular web browser, including keywords you searched for and websites you accessed.
One of the main reasons users rely on VPNs? They want to get around geo-restrictions. These restrictions are often put in place by entertainment companies that only want to distribute content to certain regions. For instance, Netflix might offer content in the United States that it doesn’t show in the UK. It might offer programming in the UK that Netflix users in the United States can’t access. By using a VPN with an IP address based in the UK, U.S. viewers can try to access Netflix programming that isn’t available in their home country. The VPN service — and the VPN connection — hides the location where the actual internet connection is made. Check your streaming service agreement for its Terms of Service, and also be mindful that some countries may have penalties for using VPN to circumvent its rules.
A record of all your internet searches using the Google search engine.
IP stands for Internet Protocol, and an IP address is a series of numbers and periods that identifies a computer that’s using the Internet Protocol to send and receive data over a network.
IPsec is a series of protocols, or rules, that virtual private networks use to secure a private connection between two points, usually a device such as a laptop or smartphone and the Internet. Without these protocols, VPNs would not be able to encrypt data and ensure the data privacy of users. The name IPsec stands for Internet Protocol Security.
Short for Internet Service Provider, this is a service you pay for to connect to the internet. ISPs can record your browsing history and may be able to sell it to third parties, for marketing or other purposes.
Users sign up with a VPN provider for online privacy and data security. But what happens if a VPN provider’s network connection fails? Your computer or mobile device will default back to the public IP address provided by your ISP. This means that your online activity can now be tracked. A kill switch, though, prevents this from happening. If your VPN provider’s connection fails, the kill-switch feature severs your connection to the Internet completely. This way, your online activity won’t be monitored by others. Not all VPN providers offer this feature, so look for it when shopping around.
The acronym L2TP stands for Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol, and is a series of rules that allow internet service providers to allow for VPNs. L2TP on its own, though, does not encrypt data, so does not provide complete privacy for users. That’s why L2TP is usually used with IPsec to help protect the online privacy of users.
A wireless network in a public place that allows you to connect a computer or other device to the internet. Public Wi-Fi is often unprotected and potentially accessible to hackers.
A service that allows you to search for information using keywords on the internet. Many popular search engines record your search history and can make money off that information.
A company that provides a virtual private network — essentially routing your connection through a remote server and encrypting the data.
You probably have plenty of devices connected to the internet at any one time, everything from your smartphone to your laptop to the desktop computer in your home office. Many VPN providers now offer protection for all your simultaneous internet connections with one account. This is important: You might think to log into a VPN before searching the internet on your laptop. But if your smartphone isn’t protected by a secure VPN, your browsing activity on that device won’t have protection.
A VPN gives you online privacy and anonymity by creating a private network from a public internet connection. It masks your internet protocol address to keep your online actions private. It provides secure and encrypted connections to provide greater privacy and security for the data you send and receive.
A virtual private network connection allows you to access the internet through a remote server, hiding your actual location and browser history, and encrypting your data.
This refers to the privacy that using a VPN provides. For instance, a VPN encrypts your data, disguises your location, and conceals your browsing history and the data you transmit via the internet.
A VPN client makes it easier for users to connect to a virtual private network. That’s because it is the actual software that is installed on your computer, phone or tablet. The most common operating systems, such as Android, Windows, and iOS, already come with VPN client software pre-installed. However, many users choose to work with third-party VPN clients that offer different features and user interfaces.
VPN protocols are similar to a set of instructions. VPN providers use these protocols to make sure that users are able to connect securely to a virtual private network. There are several VPN protocols available, all with their own strengths and weaknesses. OpenVPN is one of the more popular protocols. Users like OpenVPN because it is secure and works with most operating systems. The biggest downside of OpenVPN? It can offer slower connection speeds than other protocols.
Synonymous with VPN service, this is a service you sign up for that allows you to connect to a virtual private network by providing a temporary IP address that hides your actual address.
VPN services allow you to connect to the internet through remote servers that they either own or have access to. This disguises your location.
A service you sign up for that allows you to connect to a virtual private network by providing a temporary IP ddress that hides your actual address.
You might sometimes hear your virtual private network referred to as a VPN tunnel. This is just another name for the encrypted connection between your device — a laptop, phone, tablet or desktop computer — and the internet. You can create a VPN tunnel at home or on public Wi-Fi. Once you are using a VPN tunnel to connect to the internet, your ISP, private companies, or the government can no longer see the sites you are browsing or the links you are clicking. A VPN tunnel also hides your IP address. Instead of showing your real location, the sites you surf will only register the location of the VPN provider with which you are working.
A web browser that includes a built-in VPN service, allowing you to hide your browsing activity on the internet.
A record of what you searched for on the internet. Your internet service provider and your web browser likely have a complete history of your internet search activity.
A wireless network using a radio frequency to connect your computer and other devices to the internet and each other.
A virtual private network, better known as a VPN, protects your identity and browsing activity from hackers, businesses, government agencies, and other snoops. When connecting to the internet, your data and IP address are hidden by a type of virtual tunnel. This keeps others from spying on your online activity.
When you sign up with a VPN provider, you first log onto that service before you connect to the internet. Once you are connected, others can’t see your activity. Your VPN provider will encrypt your data, scrambling it so that hackers, government agencies, and businesses can’t see what websites you visit, messages you send, social media sites you use, or files you download.
A quality VPN is a safer way to search the internet. Without a VPN, your browsing and downloading activity could be visible to hackers, snoops, and cybercriminals. A hacker could intercept your email messages, mine personal data such as your Social Security number, or uncover the password to your online banking portal or credit card. Any of this could expose you to identity theft or fraud. That’s why logging onto a VPN, which protects your privacy, is one of the safest ways to browse the web.
VPNs are not illegal in the United States. However, not all countries have the same laws regarding these services. For instance, China, Russia, and North Korea either regulate or ban VPNs. You should know, too, that if you commit an illegal act online using a a VPN, that act is still illegal. Customers often use VPNs so that they can stream sporting events and TV shows that they may be blocked from accessing in their own region. Using a VPN to pretend that you are logging onto the internet from a different location might violate the service agreements of streaming services.
You can choose from many free VPNs. This could be useful if you are on a limited budget. Be aware, though, that free VPN services might not provide the same type of browsing privacy that pay services offer. Free VPNs have to make money somehow. They might do this by tracking and collecting your browsing data and selling it to third parties, like advertisers. Others might hit you with a steady stream of online ads. Free VPNs might be easier on your wallet, but using one might compromise some of your privacy.
There aren’t too many negatives of using a VPN. A possible one? A VPN could result in a slightly slower internet connection. That’s because a VPN encrypts the data you send and receive, which could result in a lag while you browse the internet or download files.
VPNs are especially useful when you are browsing the web through public Wi-Fi, whether you are at a coffee shop, hotel lobby, or public library. But a VPN can also protect your privacy when you’re at home, keeping your browsing safe from prying eyes. You can also use a VPN to access streaming content from your home that might be otherwise locked in your area.
With a VPN, you log onto the internet through another provider. This hides your actual IP address. If someone is trying to spy on your browsing activity, that person will only see the IP address of one of your provider’s servers, not yours.
Your VPN provider should both encrypt the data you send and receiveyour data and hide your IP address. This means that criminals, hackers, and others won’t be able to track your online activities. However, your internet service provider — also known as your ISP — can determine if you are using a VPN by looking at your IP address. If it doesn’t match, your provider will know that you are using a VPN when connecting to the internet. Fortunately, your internet service provider still won’t be able to track your browsing activity if you are using a VPN.
If you want the most protection, you should leave your VPN on at all times. You should especially leave your VPN on when you are logging onto the internet using public Wi-Fi. These connections are notoriously unsecure, providing tempting targets for hackers and cybercriminals. You should also use a VPN whenever you are logging into your credit card or online banking accounts. You don’t want to expose this sensitive financial information to online thieves.
If you connect to the internet through a VPN, your internet service provider can’t see your browsing history and downloads. That is one of the main benefits of a VPN: keeping your browsing history private from your internet service provider.
A VPN will consume more of your battery’s power when it is on. This can be a problem when you are using a VPN with your smartphone. Many VPNs do come with a “power saver” feature, though. This automatically turns your VPN off when your device’s screen turns off. Then, when you turn your device back on, the VPN automatically turns itself back on, too.
Because a VPN encrypts the data you send, such as when you enter your log-in credentials, it can protect you while you are visiting your bank’s online portal. Snoops won’t be able to see your log-in information if you first connect to a VPN. This is especially helpful if you must access your online bank through a public Wi-Fi connection. You should only do this in an emergency because such online connections are so vulnerable to hackers. But by logging onto public Wi-Fi through a VPN, you can block your browsing activity from cybercriminals, hackers, and other spies.
VPNs use a variety of different protocols. Older protocols, such as PPP and PPTP, are considered less secure. Here are some of the types of security protocols.