In this article, I will try to work on all the concepts that encompass this technology. What is VPN and what is it for, what are the advantages of using it and how does the technology work in practice?
Complete Guide on VPN | Need to Know Everything Before Using
During the course of the article, I will also take the opportunity to share some VPN options that, after evaluating them, seem good for both beginners and experts.
If you want to start using a good VPN, we recommend that you take a look at our review of which are the best free VPNs.
What is a VPN and what is it for?
A VPN or Virtual Private Network (in English, Virtual Private Network) acts as a protected tunnel that begins with us and reaches the servers of the VPN provider. Thanks to strong encryption, no stranger can see what we do on the Internet.
If we want to protect ourselves through VPN technology, we really don’t need to know anything about encryption protocols and such.
All that is required from our side is that we download a VPN application, log in, connect to a server and with that we are (in theory) almost 100% protected.
Without a VPN service, everything we do is recorded on the web. If we connect to Wi-Fi networks in our workplaces, the IT department can see exactly what we do.
The same goes for public Wi-Fi networks, which we find, for example, in airports, restaurants and cafes. The person in charge of the Wi-Fi connection always has full control over its activity.
This also includes our financial information, Google search history, and the videos we watch when it comes to platforms like YouTube.
In other words, we connect to the Internet and since we have no protection, authorities, copyright organizations, hackers and the like can see what we are doing in detail.
The entire Internet is made up of a huge number of servers that often communicate with each other. Because of this, we may visit some websites while other sites remain inaccessible due to, for example, region blocks or paywalls.
The way the Internet is designed means that we always leave little traces behind us. This probably doesn’t matter if we upload photos of kittens or watch some Netflix series.
But when it comes to more important things, like sensitive emails and bank transfers, it’s not so much fun knowing we’re being tracked.
This is what happens when we are connected through a VPN:
When we are connected to a VPN server, we are protected against “snoops”, while the level of online security gets a big boost in the right direction.
The VPN tunnel that you see in the middle of the image above (with the padlock activated) acts as an encryption intermediary that solves many problems:
- The spies only see that we are connected to a VPN server, nothing more.
- No one can identify who we are and what we use to surf the web.
- All data is encrypted. If someone were to check what is sent and received, they would only see a completely useless combination of letters and numbers.
In other words, our Internet connections become much more secure with a VPN connection.
What is the most secure VPN?
All VPN companies promise exactly the same thing. Our Internet connection will be secured with “military-grade encryption” or “bank-level security”.
But do they tell the truth? Sometimes, but not always. Below, we take a look at what level of security might differ between two different VPN providers that promise exactly the same thing.
Modern VPN protocols should be available
There are secure VPN protocols (for example, OpenVPN), and other rather insecure ones that can be broken in just a few minutes (for example, PPTP).
A VPN provider worth its salt offers a 256-bit OpenVPN connection; we shouldn’t settle for anything less secure than that.
Logging policy must be strong
When we sign up for a VPN service, our ISPs and other spies cannot track us. But this has a big disadvantage: now it can be done by the VPN.
However, all of us who pay for a VPN can rest easy. Premium providers like ExpressVPN and NordVPN never keep any sensitive logs. They also do not cooperate with any government or copyright organization, nor do they intend to do so in the future.
Unfortunately, we cannot say the same about free alternatives whose business model is to collect sensitive data and then sell it to third parties. But we will talk about this in more detail below.
Important factors to consider before choosing a VPN
The above factors are by far the most important, but there are more to consider, such as pricing, potential security leaks, and much more.
But as I just said, the most important thing is that all modern VPN protocols are offered and that the logging policy is firm. Let’s see this more in depth.
It is always the VPN protocol that determines how the data travels within the VPN network. The most common VPN protocols are:
- Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol (PPTP) – One of the oldest VPN protocols in the world with a distinct advantage: It can be used on virtually any device and is easy to activate on Windows PCs. But that’s where the fun ends.
The level of security is acceptable at best, and this protocol is only used by companies that want to browse more securely. But we home users should bypass this protocol, so if the VPN provider only offers PPTP support, rule it out!
- L2TP / IPsec (Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol): Much more secure than PPTP, but not bulletproof. L2TP is a VPN protocol that in its basic design does not use any type of encryption. For this reason, the protocol is always used in conjunction with IPsec to increase security. Also, L2TP uses something called double encapsulation, so it was well received at launch. The first cabinet establishes a PPP connection to an external host and the second cabinet contains IPsec for extra security.
- SSTP (Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol): Like PPTP, this protocol is also developed by Microsoft shopping mode. The protocol uses SSL/TLS encryption (a common method of protecting web pages) and since both the sender and receiver must approve the transmission, this VPN protocol is considered secure.
- IKEv2: You guessed it! shopping mode Microsoft is also behind this encryption protocol. IKEv2 is fast and secure and is most commonly used on iOS devices. Because the level of security is very high, this protocol can be used regardless of the device you connect to.
- OpenVPN – The best VPN protocol in the world in terms of speed and level of security. With open source code, hundreds of volunteers can also improve its security and performance with each passing year. And because it’s open source, we can be sure the protocol doesn’t contain any nasty backdoors or the like.
- WireGuard: a light and flexible protocol for the future. It is predicted to take the throne after OpenVPN, but it is not fully developed yet, and until that happens, we should stay away.
In short, the OpenVPN and IKEv2 protocols should be considered the most secure. The other protocols mentioned above should only be used if you have no other choice.
AES 256: The industry standard for encryption and can, for example, be used with the OpenVPN protocol. According to many, AES 256 is the best and most efficient encryption standard, and that’s true. Also, the AES 256 standard has never been hacked, so it will be around for a long time too.
AES protection is also available as AES 128, which also offers complete protection, although not as strong. AES 512 is under development, but it won’t appear for a few years.
How does VPN encryption work?
In short, encryption means that we put an extra layer of security on the information that is sent. To give an example:
- We send a message through the web.
- A secret encryption key makes the message unreadable to unauthorized persons.
- The message is sent (no one has any idea what the message contains).
- Finally, the same message can be unlocked and read by a recipient with the correct key.
In VPN connections, what we already know is the AES encryption that is applied. All major VPN providers offer AES 256 encryption, and they are all high-performance, high-security options.
The level of security a VPN provider can offer largely depends on what types of logs they keep. For example, VPN companies may store:
- Connection Logs – Tells you what time we connected and from which specific VPN server.
- Information about how many devices we use at the same time: harmless.
- Payment records: These are always encrypted and cannot be used to track us.
- Email Logs – These are also encrypted and cannot be used to find out who we are. In any case, sign up with an anonymous email address like the one offered by Protonmail.
- IP addresses: Although these are also encrypted and generally cannot be used to track us down, alarm bells are ringing. From a theoretical point of view, they can find out who we are if this kind of information is saved.
- Traffic Logs – Describes exactly what we do on the web. Usually, only free VPNs keep this kind of logs.
Ultimately, the general rule of thumb is: the fewer logs you keep, the better.
Is it legal to use a VPN service?
Yes almost always. More specifically, VPN connections are fully allowed throughout the Western world, including: Scandinavia, the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom.
Keep in mind that our physical location is always important from a legal point of view. If we are in Spain and we browse through a US server, Spanish law always applies.
Does using a VPN make you completely anonymous on the Internet?
Without a VPN connection, anyone could see what you do online. A person with some level of access or some digital tools can take a closer look at everything we leave behind on the internet. For example when we surf the Internet in the office.
If we use a VPN service instead, all Internet traffic is encrypted and therefore it is almost impossible for our fingerprints to be intercepted.
Take a look at the following factors before deciding completely:
- Does the VPN provider keep any logs? If so, which ones?
- How is payment information encrypted?
- Are the security and encryption protocols strong enough?
In short, and as I am sure you have already understood, not all VPN companies are equally good or safe to protect us online.
Is using a free VPN safe?
No, in many cases they are even scams. Servers must be kept in good order, staff must be paid, etc. If the VPN company we use is not paid, then our information is probably their main source of income. Because they have to get money from somewhere to keep the company.
Since they don’t naturally make money (i.e. through monthly or yearly fees), ads may be displayed in a timely and timely manner, and all traffic may be recorded for later sale to advertising agencies, etc.
So it’s even better to trust ISPs to keep you safe than using a free VPN. But beware, it is not advisable to blindly trust that either.
What is the price of a good VPN?
So far, as I write this article, I have reviewed more than 55 VPN providers and the average cost is around €5/month. Some VPN providers are a little more expensive, like Perfect Privacy, but they also have an otherworldly level of security.
However, we should never pay more than €10/month. At least for me, that’s the limit. Also, when it comes to longer subscriptions, we can also save quite a bit.
With ExpressVPN we pay $11.99 if we subscribe monthly, but if we buy the three-year variant, we will only pay €2.45/month. In other words, the savings we get from being loyal customers is huge.
Watch content from other countries on Netflix thanks to VPNs
Going into regional unblocking and copyright, we are left with the question of whether we can watch Netflix with a VPN. The answer is yes.
You are not breaking any law. They will not persecute or arrest you. As long as you pay for your Netflix subscription every month, I don’t think they’ll worry if you’re accessing the service with an IP address from another country to watch content that’s not available in your region.
More specifically and according to some studies, this is done in 75% of cases.
Why do the streaming giants block content by region?
The short answer is that those who produce movies and TV shows want to make more money. If we take Netflix as an example, they don’t own all the material, they buy it from various TV companies and movie studios. Sometimes Netflix even sells its own series and movies to various TV channels for more revenue.
That said, big companies impose special conditions when materials are sold to each other, such as:
- “You can see film X in the United States, but if you want to offer the same film in Europe, you have to pay more.”
As you may have noticed, the copyright system is fully implicated in the movie industry, and it is always us who are affected, while the streaming giants shower in money, Uncle Scrooge style.
How does regional blocking work?
Broadcast companies use advanced proxy solutions to keep customers in the “wrong” countries away from material destined for other regions. But luckily, VPN technology also comes to our rescue here.
All we have to do is change the server to a suitable country. For example, to access Netflix offerings in the United States, North American servers are most appropriate.
Using a VPN allows you to browse more securely
This is a big reason why many people choose to pay for a VPN. In principle, all premium providers provide full support for Torrent and P2P traffic, with very few exceptions.
Torrenting, by the way, is a rewrite of the Bittorrent protocol, a wonderful technology that allows us to quickly share large files with other users. The technology itself is totally legal, but downloading copyrighted files is not.
Here it is important to examine how VPN providers relate to file sharing. But we’re in luck: Almost every major option allows us to partake in this lofty pastime, including ExpressVPN, Cyberghost, NordVPN, VyprVPN, Surfshark, and many more.
When it comes to torrenting and P2P, it’s also important to take an extra look at the logging policy . If no sensitive logs are kept, we can be sure that the VPN company will not keep any file sharing logs either – that’s a green light.
Another important factor, of course, is speed. Sharing files over a slow connection is never recommended.
In many cases, a good rate of speed is a difficult factor to achieve. All VPN providers sell “blazing fast speeds”, but before we signed up for the service we have no idea if this is true or just marketing.
Fortunately, I have done a speed test, and among the best performance alternatives we find ExpressVPN, NordVPN, and Cyberghost, which I have coincidentally already mentioned several times in this article.
Can we use VPN on iOS and Android?
Many of the top alternatives also offer mobile VPN apps.
Among 10 top-performing VPN options I’ve been reviewing, ExpressPVN, NordVPN, Cyberghost, and Tunnelbear are the best VPNs for Android.
A few years ago we had to go to Settings > General > VPN to be able to connect to the service. But today, this is automatic on both Android and iOS, as all important settings can be approved through our fingerprints or with our face. Therefore, the installation process has been sped up from several minutes to… nothing?
Since there are several free VPN apps for Android, I also have to warn you about something.
And according to another report, about 40 percent of free apps on Android contain viruses, spyware, or some other type of threat. In other words, you should never go for the free options: use a premium service.
Use a VPN on your Smart TV or with Kodi
Since both Kodi and Smart TVs require an Internet connection to work well, a VPN service can protect us in a good way. If we, for example, protect our streaming sessions through Kodi, no one but us will know what we are watching.
There are mainly two ways that we can use a VPN to protect our smart TVs and Kodi devices.
Install the VPN service directly on the device
Many of the premium options have Smart TV-compatible apps, especially for Android TV. With an Android-equipped TV or Kodi box, just go to Google Play, download the app, sign in, and connect to a server.
Since Kodi works on many more devices than just Android and Android TV, it is also important that the VPN provider offers apps that are easy to use and compatible with more devices.
I can tell you that Cyberghost, ExpressVPN, and NordVPN work well for both Kodi boxes and SmartTVs.
Install the VPN service on the router
Kodi can be used on pretty much every device out there, and there is often no problem installing a VPN service on the device you use with Kodi.
But when it comes to other gadgets like Chromecast, Chrome OS, Rasberry Pi, and Roku devices, it gets even more complicated.
In that case, we only have one option left: install the VPN on the router. This shouldn’t be considered an emergency fix, but it’s really the best we can do. We will talk more about this in the next section.
How to configure a VPN on the router?
There are many ways to connect to a VPN server, and the best option is to take it directly to the router. Thanks to this, we will never have to install an application on the devices on which we want to browse safely.
In other words: our phones, Smart TVs, Kodi, laptops, tablets and other devices are automatically protected as soon as they connect to the Internet.
But how do we do this? First we need to make sure that our router works with a VPN service. We can usually find this out by looking at the manufacturer’s website or sites like the DD-WRT Database.
By installing third-party software like DD-WRT or Tomato, your router will get necessary support like OpenVPN and many other benefits.
However, the big drawback is that the installation process itself (or the so-called “flash”) is somewhat difficult for beginners to implement.
In my opinion, a dedicated VPN router with built-in support for OpenVPN is the best option. Vilfo has up to eight times more potential than a standard router and is by far the best option for those interested in using a VPN.
Of course, the choice is entirely up to you, but in my experience, a router with native VPN support provides the smoothest, most seamless experience.
In any case, you can always look up information on how to get into your router and set up a VPN manually.
VPN and Tor Browser: are they compatible?
The technology used by Tor and VPN technology are very different, even if they are used for the exact same thing: to protect us online.
Tor uses a large number of nodes to keep us anonymous on the Internet, and with VPN technology, one server is applied at a time.
These technologies work very well separately but we can use both at the same time to get the most robust protection.
There are two options to choose from: first connect to a VPN server and then start Tor, and vice versa: first start Tor and then connect to a VPN server. The first one is called “VPN over Tor” and the second one is called “Tor over VPN”.
In my opinion, the best way to do this is to run VPN over Tor. Thanks to this type of connection, we obtain excellent protection along with all the advantages offered by the Tor network.
But of course there are drawbacks. Due to the way the Tor network is built, we will most likely get slow speeds, plus we also built a VPN connection into the game, so this will slow down even more. But as I say, if you are looking for extreme anonymity, then VPN over Tor is the best option.
IP leaks and Kill Switch tools
An IP leak occurs when the VPN provider we use cannot hide our IP address effectively. For example, if we want to take a look at the otherwise region-locked US Netflix catalog, we go to the site > connect to a VPN server > and nothing happens. The streaming service is still blocked… what’s going on?
In these cases, we could have been involved in an IP leak: our real IP address is accidentally revealed and Netflix takes it into account to finally “kick us out”.
But I want you to understand that it doesn’t have to be the VPN provider’s fault if we experience an IP leak. Sometimes it can be the router, sometimes the browser, and sometimes various plugins that we use in it.
Kill Switch Tool
The Kill Switch feature is the best we have for preventing IP leaks. Thanks to this tool, if we lose the connection with the VPN servers, our Internet connection is completely turned off.
If this happens, the fist can end up on the table (from the anger we caught, hehe), but the alternative, an IP leak, is not much better, listen to me.
I myself have been using various VPN solutions for over 5 years and have tried loads of them. In all this time, the Kill Switch will have been executed at most four times, which cannot be considered a high frequency at all.
Almost all premium providers offer Kill Switch solutions: ExpressVPN and NordVPN are two good examples.
Difference between VPN and SmartDNS
SmartDNS technology, as the name implies, is smart, but we don’t get any new, public IP addresses. SmartDNS technology also does not claim to use any kind of encryption, and the level of security is worse if we compare it with VPN technology.
However, the SmartDNS variant has an advantage. This technology works very well for us to access foreign streaming services, although if you want to do it anonymously, then a VPN is what you need.
CactusVPN and VyprVPN offer a SmartDNS and VPN solution in one package. In other words, we do not have to choose between the two options.
Your Internet provider (ISP) is manipulating the speed
Almost all Internet operators are manipulating the connection speed in the evenings and weekends when the load is higher.
By the way, this is not a myth, but something that is well known and is written in the terms that you have accepted when becoming a customer of your operator. Can you check it.
In other words, Internet operators can limit certain bandwidth-hungry services like YouTube, Netflix, HBO, and more, to even out the server load. But we can get rid of this with a VPN, as internet operators won’t know what we’re doing online and thus can’t manipulate our connections.
How does the refund policy work and how do we use it?
Thanks to the “money back guarantee”, we receive a refund if we are not completely satisfied, and to use it we only have to contact customer service.
VPN providers often add some hurdles in refund policies, such as:
- You can only use X (usually 3-10) GB before the warranty expires.
- The money-back guarantee is only valid for X (normally 3-45) days.
Cyberghost offers, in my opinion, the best refund policy. It is extended for 45 days if we subscribe for 6 months or more; 14 days for monthly subscriptions.
Is it a good alternative to pay with Bitcoin?
Absolutely, but it’s not a deal breaker. All payment information is encrypted and can never be used to track us, no matter how we pay for it.
Beyond that, the refund policy never applies if we choose to pay via Bitcoin. But that already depends on you; if it’s Bitcoin you want to pay with, ExpressVPN, NordVPN, and Cyberghost already allow it.
The time has come to end this post with a summary of this complete VPN guide, emphasizing the advantages of using one of these services:
- Our Internet connection is encrypted and we are protected from anyone trying to spy on us.
- We can take advantage of regionally blocked services, such as the Netflix catalog in the United States.
- We maximize our anonymity online.
- Internet operators can no longer manipulate our connection (at least not so easily).
- The level of security improves significantly when we connect to public Wi-Fi networks.
I invite you to leave a comment below to know what you thought of this guide and which VPN you will use in case you are thinking of buying one. We hope you liked this guide!
If you liked the Complete Guide to VPNs: what it is, how it works, what it is for and how to choose one and would like to continue reading similar content, you can visit the Security category . And don’t forget to leave a comment.