What Is a VPN and How Does It Work?

A VPN (virtual private network) service is a program that gives its users access to proxy servers in order to bypass internet geo-blocks.

In essence, a VPN serves two main functions: to hide your public IP address and encrypt your internet traffic.

VPN software forms an encrypted connection between your device and the websites and applications you use. It does this by connecting to a secure VPN server.

When you connect to a VPN server, your public IP address is replaced with the server’s IP address. This can make it appear as if you’re browsing from a different city or country.

Encrypting your data transfers and changing your IP address significantly improves your internet privacy, security and freedom.

How Do I Set Up and Use a VPN?

The process of setting up a VPN depends on the device you’re using it with.

To set up a VPN on a computer or smartphone, simply sign up to the VPN service on its website and use the download link to install the software on your device. Then, sign in to the application with your account details and you can begin to use the VPN.

To use a VPN on Fire TV devices, subscribe to a VPN with a Fire OS application and then search the Amazon App Store for the app. Install the app on your device, sign in with your account details, and then launch the application to start using it.

To use a VPN on devices like Apple TV and games consoles, you’ll need to subscribe to a VPN service with Smart DNS functionality. Once you’ve done so, use the DNS credentials provided by the VPN and then update your device’s DNS settings accordingly to start unblocking content.

VPNs are legal in most countries, including the US, UK, Canada and Australia.

However, VPNs are illegal in Belarus, Iraq, North Korea and Turkmenistan. There are also government restrictions on VPN usage in China, Iran, Oman, Russia, Turkey, and the UAE — although they’re not banned completely.

Are VPNs Safe?

VPN software itself is completely safe to use. In fact, VPNs are actually designed to make using the internet even safer.

The problem is not all VPNs are trustworthy. When you connect to a VPN server, the responsibility for your data shifts from your ISP to the VPN company.

You’re trusting that the company’s claims about its logging policy are honest, and that the VPN itself truly encrypts your data and hides your IP address without leaks.

That’s why it’s so important to carefully research which VPN to choose, and to prioritize services with verified strong security measures and private logging policies.

Many free VPNs, for example, put users at greater risk than using no VPN at all. Some popular free services sell user data to third parties, leak your true IP address, and even make you vulnerable to malware.

Finally, even if you’re using a safe VPN, it’s your responsibility to ensure your activity doesn’t break laws or regulations in your jurisdiction.

Is It Worth Paying for a VPN?

Free VPNs come in a wide spectrum of quality, just like all VPN software. Some free VPNs are perfectly safe and capable of encrypting your data and hiding your IP address. However, even the best free VPNs are limited by data caps, slower speeds, torrenting restrictions, and inferior streaming capabilities.

It costs money to support a server network, maintain strong security, and constantly refresh IP addresses. Due to the extensive resources required, it simply isn’t possible to match premium VPN services completely for free.

While you can get some of the benefits of VPN software with a free service, it’s absolutely worth paying for a VPN subscription if you plan to use a VPN for streaming, torrenting, or handling sensitive data.

The top VPN services will cost you the equivalent of a few dollars every month, but it’s a small price to pay for improved privacy, security, and freedom online. They’ll also allow you to unlock a huge amount of value from your existing subscriptions, especially to streaming services.

What Are the Limitations of VPNs?

VPN services are great for improving your online security, privacy, and freedom. But even the best VPNs come with limitations.

Using a VPN doesn’t guarantee your online privacy, for example. By routing your traffic through a remote server, you move the burden of trust from your Internet Service Provider (ISP) to your VPN service provider.

Below are some things that VPN software can’t do:

  • Provide complete virus and malware protection. Always use trusted antivirus software, even if your VPN has a malware-blocking tool.
  • Store all your passwords securely. Some VPNs now offer password managers, but we suggest using established ones like 1Password.
  • Increase your internet speed. The only exception is if your ISP is throttling your connection.
  • Block ads. Some VPNs come with an ad-blocker. If yours doesn’t, it’s worth getting one. We recommend uBlock Origin.
  • Make you completely anonymous. VPNs can improve your privacy, but they can’t make you completely anonymous. There are other ways to track your activity online including browser fingerprinting, tracking scripts, and traffic analysis.