Every smart internet user knows that when it comes to privacy and protection from the many prying eyes on the internet, a Virtual Private Network, or VPN, is your best bet, especially when connected to public Wi-Fi networks.
From identity thieves looking to access your sensitive information to advertisers that study your online behaviors, a VPN can often be your first line of defense against the online threats that lurk on your home desktop and your local Starbucks guest network.
What does a VPN do?
Before you set up your VPN, it’s important to understand the benefits of this tool to maximize your experience. Depending on the VPN you choose, once you activate, your VPN will:
Cloak your IP address
Your web traffic will be routed through the VPN’s “encrypted tunnel” and appear to come from the VPN’s server. This will hide your real IP address and essentially, your location — IP addresses are distributed geographically.
“Throttling” is the process of your internet service provider slowing speed or limiting bandwidth during certain high-speed activities, like HD streaming or gaming. Luckily, your VPN will mask your IP address from online threats and your ISP, which can help keep your speeds consistent no matter what you’re doing with your internet connection.
Encrypt data transfers
A good VPN will “encrypt” or padlock your data so that only permissible computers on either end of the tunnel will be able to “decrypt” or unlock your data.
Bypass web restrictions
Because you’ll be browsing anonymously, you can access websites and applications with geographical restrictions or blocks. These benefits make VPNs especially popular choices in countries where internet censorship is prevalent.
How to choose a VPN
There’s a lot of subscription VPN services out there, varying in price, terms of service and even location. Compare and contrast a few important details before you select the right service for you.
- Paid pays off: A free service has to make their money some way and if they aren’t requiring payment from you, they just might be selling your data to the highest bidder instead. The average VPN can cost $3 per month, so looking at services in that price range isn’t a bad place to start your search.
- Reviews matter: Look to a credible source for a review on a potential VPN to avoid native advertising. In some cases, the sparkling review you look to as a guiding light could be written by the service themselves.
- Read the permissions: That “permission agreement” that pops up during setup is more than just a step in the process. Take a good look at the kinds of information the service is asking to access. Also, look at terms of service to see which information the VPN collects and what it’s planning to do with it. Good terms of service statements will plainly state what you can expect from the services, whereas a suspicious VPN will leave an air of mystery around their intent.
- Encryption is provided: Encryption works to scramble your data so that it’s only legible to permissible parties. Use services that are known to provide maximum security like OpenVPN.
- Get a “kill switch”: Select a VPN that has a built-in “kill switch” or auto-shutoff if the encrypted connection fails. This feature will stop all network traffic in and out of your computer if your VPN leaves you vulnerable to threats.
Making sure your VPN meets these basic requirements can ensure your data is in the hands of a trustworthy source and not someone looking to sell it.
How to set up your VPN
You’ve done the research and you’ve decided on the VPN that best meets your needs. Now, install the VPN of your choice via an app on any of your devices that require protection, including mobile devices, laptops and desktop computers. You’ll generally pay one monthly fee for security on a limited number of devices, so select yours and make them count.
Once you log into the app, you’ll be connected to the closest VPN server in your area to maximize speed and reduce latency. If you’re looking to get your VPN service app-free or are concerned with app security, configure your device directly to the service.
Set up a VPN on MacOS
To manually add a VPN to a Mac OS device:
- Choose the apple symbol in the left upper corner and select System Preferences.
- Choose Network and then click the + symbol to begin.
- Select VPN in the dropdown menu and then fill in the VPN type and service name.
- Click Create and add the server address, remote ID and local ID.
- Select Authentication Settings and enter the username and password you’ve set for the VPN
- Click OK and then Connect to finish.
Set up a VPN on Windows
Add a VPN to your Windows device without an app by first creating a profile for your new service.
- Open the main menu using the Windows button and then choose Settings.
- Choose Network & Internet and then select VPN.
- Select Add a VPN connection and build your profile with a VPN connection name of your choice, the server address, VPN type and your sign-in information.
- Choose Save to install the new service. Return to the VPN main menu to connect.
Opt for your device to save your sign-in information so you can stay connected to your VPN without manual setup later.
Set up a VPN on iOS
To manually add a VPN to an iOS device without an app:
- Open the Settings menu and choose General.
- Select VPN and then Add VPN Configuration to install the new service.
- Choose Type to select a security protocol, which should be provided by the VPN.
- Navigate back to the Add VPN Configuration screen, and then add the VPN’s server address, remote ID and local ID.
- Enter or create a username and password to your device if you haven’t done so already.
- Select Done to go back to the VPN screen and toggle the status switch to ON to activate.
Set up a VPN on Android
Some VPN services may vary when it comes to Android setup, however, the manual configuration should be fairly straightforward no matter what:
- Open the Settings menu and select Network & Internet and then Advanced.
- Choose VPN and press Add to install the new service.
- Create a screen lock or password if you’ve yet to do so through Google.
- Fill in the details of your VPN profile using the name, type and server address and then click Save.
- On the main VPN screen, find the name of your new VPN and click to put in your name and password. Choose Connect.
You also have the option to set your VPN to save your account information and stay connected.