The ultimate guide to VPN for beginners in 2020

Last updated by   Rob Githinji
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The ultimate guide to VPN for beginners in 2020

According to several reports, most of the time, the victims of cyber-attacks are those users that do not pay much attention to the virtual trail of personal information they leave behind while online.

That is why Virtual Private Networks or VPNs were developed, to keep you and your data safe on the internet by ensuring that your security is top-notch. In this guide, we will explain to you that what a VPN is, how secure it’s, the legal implications of utilizing VPNs, and all in all, all the basics one needs to know about this widely-trusted internet security tool.

Introduction to VPN

A VPN or a virtual private network is an emerging technology (in fact, it’s a very much established one now) that is used to protect user data and connection over the internet by directing it through an encrypted channel. As an encrypted connection, a virtual private network or a VPN ensures the user’s connection over the internet from their device to all the networks is safe and secure.

The secure connection assists in ensuring sensitive data and information are safely transmitted from one end to another, safeguarding users from unauthorized eavesdropping on their traffic. This allows users to conduct work uninterrupted.

Initially, VPNs were created to service corporations by protecting their sensitive data, but personal VPNs are becoming popular among individuals increasingly.

Using a VPN helps in securing your browsing information while browsing online. For a first-timer, VPN services appear to be tiresome. Although VPN has a lot of complex procedures in the background; but yes, many VPN providers are trying to make things more comfortable even for the most computer illiterate persons.

What is a VPN?

As we all know by now, VPN also means Virtual Private Network. During browsing, a computer operating system transfers packets of data with servers around the world. These servers save the user’s digital content and browsing history, leaving the user data and browsing history exposed to government bodies, internet service providers, and even hackers.

To avoid all this, VPN is the surest way to keep your information safe from snooping parties by ensuring your internet experience and connection is as secure and private as possible.

The legality of VPNs

At present, there is a lot of misinterpretation surrounding the legality of VPNs. Some quarters say they are illegal, while others argue they are legal.

The truth of the matter is VPN is still a relatively new technology in the world; hence governments are yet to put clear regulations in place to guide this technology. Notably, as it has been the norm, governments tend to put laws on technology much later after their launch.

Many countries in the world permit the usage of VPN while others restrict it. For example, Asian countries such as North Korea and China are notoriously known for their discrimination towards VPN usage. Russia and other European nations also do not allow the utilization of technology, but the rest of the world is pretty much okay with VPNs.

How secure is a VPN?

As we all know by now, browsing the internet without any protective measures in place makes you and your data vulnerable online.

Hackers are not the only ones after you, your ISP monitors and records every activity you do over the internet. While many might want to argue the internet is a secret place, nothing can be this much misleading.

Without a VPN, it is impossible to hide behind your computer or device as everything you do over the internet can be pointed back to you using your IP address. The IP address is a unique combination of numbers that are uniquely assigned to every device on the internet.

How Secure is a VPN?
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The job of a VPN is to secure all your IP addresses by acting as the intermediary. A VPN encrypts your data even before you connect to an internet connection, preventing any other third party from knowing what you are doing.

After encrypting your data, your connection gets sent to a VPN server where your data is further encrypted. After passing the secure VPN server tunnel, your computer is assigned a brand new IP address, which is linked to the service provider.

Once your data packets depart from the VPN servers, they are transported to the anticipated webpage or website similar to any other form of web traffic.

Those procedures make it harder for third-parties to gather your information as the entire process works both ways, in sending and receiving. So anything you download or view goes through the same encryption process.

All in all, using a VPN for your browsing purposes is a very secure way of surfing the internet. Even if someone manages to access and view your data, they would not be able to make sense out of it — thanks to the VPN encryption processes.

Encrypting your data

Encryption or scrambling is a security method that is used to encode information. After encryption, the information is unreadable for everyone who views it except the user who has the correct decryption key. Upon encryption, your browsing data is made to look like random strings of numbers enabling you to have a secure connection.

The encryption process is relatively simple contrary to popular belief; your ordinary raw browsing data is converted by a secret key that is only accessible by yourself. No other individual or party can make sense of the scrambled data, keeping it safe as you surf the internet.

There are several different secure encryption protocols used in the world today, with the AES 256-bit encryption being the best. Banks, financial institutions, and government institutions use the AES 256-bit encryption method in their operations.

VPN protocols

VPN service providers have multiple security protocols they can use to protect your browsing information as it passes through the individual VPN server.

VPN protocols are responsible for defining how the VPN handles data transmission over the VPN server. Some security protocols are better than others as they offer several protocols for users to select. Some of the well-known VPN protocols include:

OpenVPN

As an open-source encryption protocol, OpenVPN is known industry-wide as the most reliable and secure VPN encryption protocol in the world today.

Thanks to its encryption usage on both ends, most of the high-end VPN service providers prefer using this extremely secure security protocol. In OpenVPN, only the sender and the receiver of a connection has the key to the encryption code.

One of the main advantages of OpenVPN protocol is that it is being upgraded continuously. OpenVPN is based on the SSL and TSL security protocol and is wholly open-sourced (as its name suggests).

SSTP

Also known as Secured Socket Tunnel Protocol, the SSTP protocol was developed by Microsoft and is available on Windows running devices.

The SSTP shares a lot of security similarities with OpenVPN in that only two parties of the connection can unencrypt the data. As like OpenVPN, SSTP is a very secure option.

PPTP

PPTP or Point-to-Point Tunnel Protocol is one of the oldest forms of VPN protocols built by Microsoft. PPTP is known to be the fastest VPN protocol, but it is considered to be one of the least secure security protocols available in the market today due to its weak encryption.

PPTP was designed to cater to the needs of new dial-up connections.

L2TP/IPsec

The L2TP/IPsec protocol is a security protocol that does not offer any encryption. As a combination of two separate protocols, the IPsec and Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol or L2TP protocol, the L2TP/IPsec protocol is relatively easy to implement.

The L2TP/IPsec protocol uses keys to encrypt and unencrypt data on the receiver and senders end. While this might appear to be similar to how OpenVPN operates, the way L2TP/IPsec performs its operations is very different.

L2TP/IPsec is not as secure as other options as many government agencies, and large corporations are believed to have already developed a way to bypass this protocol. Despite its low-security rating, many VPN service providers use the L2TP/IPsec protocol in their operations mainly because it is already built inbuilt into a lot of mobile devices.

IKEv2

The IKE2 or the Internet Key Exchange version 2 security protocol is one of the latest Microsoft protocols in the world today. It is a combination of many previous security technologies made by Microsoft, making it an excellent option for VPNs.

TLS and SSL

The SSL or Secured Socket Layer is the original protocol that was used to secure websites on the internet. You might have heard of the term somewhere on your browser when you are about to connect to an HTTPS webpage or website.

TLS or Transport Layer Security is the upgraded version of SSL. It provides better service in providing a secure connection.

Free or paid VPN?

There are free VPN services available over the internet, and they can assist in encrypting traffic. Of course, the old age adage, “you get what you pay for,” applies with VPNs.

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Free VPNs usually have less bandwidth and a higher latency as compared to their paid counterparts. In other words, a free VPN is noticeably slower in comparison to the paid ones. Many free VPNs also use older and less secure security protocols, leaving their users vulnerable to attacks.

The average cost of a quality paid VPN is approximately $5 a month. If you can afford, you should only settle for a paid VPN — I use ExpressVPN (if you ask me).

If you need a VPN sometimes only for a bit of privacy, a limited free version of a VPN might do the trick for you.

But if you are super-conscious about your internet security and don’t want your connection speed to be compromised, you should settle only for a paid VPN.

Torrenting, watching Youtube and Netflix while using a VPN

You can use a VPN for torrenting, watching streaming services like Netflix and YouTube, and on Smart TV and Kodi.

Using a VPN on a Mobile Device?

It is possible to use a VPN on your smartphone, and it is recommended that you do so, especially if you connect to the internet using public WiFi when working or traveling. Notably, devices that frequently connect to public WiFi hotspots are usually at high risk of being compromised.

Using VPN on a Local Network

As using a VPN might not interfere with other computers and devices on a local network, using a VPN might interfere with your ability to interact with other computers on the network. This varies from one VPN provider to another provider.

Kill Switch, and how it prevents IP leaks?

A kill switch is a functionality that automatically kills your ability to access the internet if the secure encrypted connection is disconnected. The kill switch will block all browsing activities until the safe connection returns.

Some VPN service providers have an inbuilt kill switch in their services as a way to keep user information protected at all times.

IP leak is the event where the VPN fails to hide the user’s IP address as they browse through the internet.

What is the best VPN to get?

Different VPN providers have a range of various features, and the needs of each user vary, too. So, no option fits everyone.

For example, on one hand, one would only want to enjoy streaming services such as US Netflix or Amazon Prime. But on the other side, one would like to avoid government spying or keep his political activities at bay from the authorities.

Also, some people only wish for an easy-to-use VPN program to protect their privacy easily whenever they go online. No matter if you are a computer genius or an average Internet user, a quality VPN service is the one you’d need as it will be straightforward to use.

We believe no one should be spending extra time to figure out something complex when they are spending money on a service.

Another thing worth noting is, some VPN providers keep logs (a record of outgoing and incoming connections). That might be a concern for those who are worried about the authorities.

So, it’s in your best interest to research (and think) properly before labeling any VPN service as the ‘best’ for you.

Taking everything into the account that matters concerning the best VPN selection, every one among us at PrivacySavvy is of the opinion that ExpressVPN is an excellent option as a whole.

Because of its top all-around features, ExpressVPN fits the needs of a wide range of users. It’s easy to set up, use, does not affect connection speed, supports all the devices and secure protocols, and most importantly, doesn’t monitor user activity or keep traffic logs.

Bonus: Some Quick VPN FAQs:

Can the police track a VPN?

Yes, they can get help from your ISP (Internet Service Provider) to see if you are connected to a VPN server. If your VPN provider is willing to cooperate with authorities for any reason, they can hand your activity logs over to the police as the ISPs can track users even when they use VPNs.

Can a VPN steal passwords?

If you have got an encrypted VPN and set up it correctly, it will protect you from ISP snooping. So, alongside never stealing your passwords, a quality VPN will help you stay at bay from the snooping eyes. All in all, neither will a VPN steal your password nor help you steal someone else’s password.

Is VPN safe for online banking?

VPN encryption prevents your private information from leaking, even if you’re connected to a public Wi-Fi hotspot. When using VPNs for internet banking, a VPN creates an encrypted connection between the bank’s established server and user. Because of that, it becomes safer to transmit confidential details. So yes, given that you’ve got a quality VPN provider that’s fully-encrypted, you’ll be safe while using VPN for online banking.

Can someone track you if you use a VPN?

A VPN (Virtual Private Network) encrypts users’ traffic from their device to the VPN network’s exit point. Therefore, a VPN is not likely to safeguard you from advertisers and other third-parties all the time. The matter of the fact is, there are some ways with which authorities can trace users with some methods, and admittedly, VPNs can also leak your IP addresses at times. So, yes, people can locate you online (especially authorities, if they want it badly) even if you are using a VPN.

Should I keep my VPN connected all the time?

The short answer is, no, it is not necessary to keep your VPN connected all the time. In fact, in a few cases, it’s beneficial to switch your VPN off. For example, if you have to log into your PayPal, you should keep VPN disconnected to have a smooth experience while sending or checking payments). But yes, if you value web privacy a lot, then you should have your VPN connected throughout the time you stay connected to the internet.

Does VPN use more data?

The way VPNs work are they use encryption for protecting the data that gets transferred through the server. And, to make data readable only to the VPN server and your computer, encryption scrambles it. That whole process increases your internet data consumption on your device, so yes, when using the internet, your data usage spikes by a small percentage. That’s going to be around 5 to 15% only, though.

Will VPN slow down my phone or computer?

Unlike the fact that a VPN can slow your internet speed down (about 10 to 20%), it most likely will not make your phone, computer, or other devices slow.

Images courtesy of Pixabay.

About the author

Rob Githinji
Rob Githinji

Robert is a cybersecurity, privacy, and blockchain pundit with vast experience in diverse editorial positions at major news outlets. Apart from writing, Rob is kool kat, an amateur footballer and a lover of nature.

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