VPNs for Beginners – Everything You Need to Know

article by Laura K. author
In this beginner's guide to VPN, there's everything your need to know about VPN explained. From understanding what is a VPN provider, how to use VPN, and how does VPN work, learn about using anonymous VPN technology to maximize your privacy and security online.

What is a VPN?

Let’s start with the basics, in true ‘VPN for dummies’ style:

What does VPN mean?

VPN stands for ‘Virtual Private Network’.

A VPN is a private network that can be accessed from a public internet connection. A VPN effectively encrypts and hides your internet connection, so your internet activity is anonymous.

 How does VPN work?

VPN encryption uses a range of different security protocols, such as Layer 2 Tunneling (L2TP VPN), Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol (SSTP VPN), and Point-to-Point Tunneling (PPTP VPN) that create a protected data ‘tunnel’ for your internet activity, so that you can surf the internet on public WiFi but with the safety of a private connection.

How to use VPN?

You need to connect to a VPN provider, whose VPN software connects to hundreds of servers all over the world. Select a VPN server in another country, and not only can you surf anonymously, but it can appear as if you are located on the other side of the world.

Do You Need a VPN?

VPNs are an invaluable tool to keep your internet activity private, secure and anonymous. There are a number of reasons why you might want or need to use a VPN, such as:

  • Security: It is convenient to be able to surf the internet at your local coffee shop. But public internet connections are notoriously insecure. While using a VPN, public Wi-Fi is much safer. VPN protects your laptop or mobile device from viruses, malware, phishing, IP leaks and other threats to your identity and personal data online, so you can do everything you need to do – including online shopping – with total security.
  • Privacy: A VPN allows you to surf the internet anonymously, with no recorded logs of your online activity. You can visit sites that are blocked on your home or work computer, without a trace.
  • Unblock geo-restricted content: There are many destinations in the world where the internet is restricted. In some countries, you may not be able to access certain sites due to government or copyright restrictions. With a VPN, you can spoof your location, enabling you to bypass local restrictions and access the websites you want.

Are VPNs Legal?

The right to privacy is a universally accepted notion – including online privacy. However, different countries have different laws regulating online privacy and accessibility, and VPNs are banned in certain countries. For example, China enforces rigid control of its citizens’ online activities, and in an attempt to curb VPN hotspot use, the Chinese government recently compelled Apple to remove VPN apps from the China Apple store. Also, several European countries have surveillance laws, including the UK, and these laws mean that VPNs are required to keep track of the user’s online activity, via ‘logs’. Unfortunately, VPN logs reduce your ability to make your internet activity private. So to answer the question, is VPN legal?, the answer is yes – in many countries.

Do VPNs Keep Logs?

A fully anonymous VPN connection is possible if the VPN does not keep logs. There are different types of logs that record details of your online activity.

  • Usage logs record your browsing history, such as IP addresses, times and metadata.
  • Connection logs show your connection data, dates and times, and may also include IP addresses.

There are a small number of VPNs that have a no-logs policy, which is ideal. However, most VPNs maintain connection logs to help optimize the network. It’s recommended to avoid a VPN that records usage logs. This way, you can help maintain your complete online privacy and safety.

Does a VPN Make Me Anonymous?

There are a number of reasons why people want an anonymous VPN.

  • They want to hide the fact that they are visiting certain websites.
  • They are trying to bypass local restrictions and censorship rules.
  • They want to protect sensitive personal information from being hacked or stolen.

Unless your VPN has a confirmed no-logs policy, your internet activity may not be as anonymous as you think. Read the fine print to ensure that the VPN you choose is definitely not keeping any types of logs.

What to Look for in a VPN

There are a great many VPN services on the market today. You may ask, how do I get a VPN? In order to get the best VPN for your needs, research is key. Here are the main features you need to look out for when choosing a VPN:

  • Price: VPN prices are competitive, so you should expect an affordable price. A free VPN is unlikely to give the level of privacy, security and speed that paid VPNs offer.
  • Security: This is a critical factor when choosing a VPN. Ensure the VPN uses advanced security protocols that are well maintained.
  • Privacy: Check out the VPN’s logging policy. Many VPNs make broad claims of ‘no logs’, but it is essential to read the fine print to make sure you know exactly what logs are kept.
  • Speed: Efficiency and reliability are really important when it comes to using a VPN. Make sure to choose a VPN that won’t let your connection speed ever go below 5Mbps.
  • Available Platforms: Your needs will depend on the type of computer and mobile device you use. Make sure to choose a VPN that supports your devices, whether PC, Mac, iOS, or Android.
  • Simultaneous Connections: Many VPNs support simultaneous connections on a number of devices. If you want to use the VPN on numerous devices at the same time, make sure to check how many connections are supported for same-time use.
  • Number of Countries and Servers: The more countries and servers used by the VPN, the better your chance for fast speed and good accessibility. Always check the list of countries and servers, which are displayed on the VPN’s website.
  • Kill Switches: Kill switches cut your VPN connection the second it detects that your VPN tunnel is no longer secure. A kill switch is key to maintaining online privacy, even in the event that the VPN drops out. Choose a VPN with an advanced, integrated kill switch feature.
  • Money Back Guarantee: In the event that the VPN doesn’t work as expected, or doesn’t provide access from your location, make sure to stay covered by choosing a VPN that has a money back guarantee or free trial
  • Easy Software Installation: You don’t want to waste time on a VPN that is tricky or cumbersome to install or use. There are many VPNs with great user interfaces. Trial a few different VPNs to see which works best.
  • Customer Support: 24/7 customer support via chat, email or phone is ideal. Some VPNs offer this level of customer support, so make sure to check the availability of technical support before making a commitment.

Can I Safely Torrent with a VPN?

Torrenting is a form of file sharing. When you torrent, instead of downloading a file from one source, the file is broken up into smaller sections. Your device downloads the ‘pieces’ of the file separately from different sources, and puts it together again.

Torrenting has some safety issues, namely:

  • The risk of downloading a virus or other threat from a shady torrenting site.
  • The risk of breaching copyright restrictions.

A VPN can help overcome torrenting issues by keeping your connection private and anonymous.

Should I Get a VPN When I Travel?

If you are traveling outside the US, you may not have access to US-specific websites, including streaming sites such as Netflix. Also, some countries have blocked popular websites and social media platforms due to government restrictions. For example, Facebook, Whatsapp, and Twitter are restricted in China, Iran and Bangladesh. If you are visiting these countries and others, without a VPN client on your device, you won’t be able to access these and many more websites that you use every day.

What is the Difference between Business and Personal VPNs?

It’s not just travelers that use VPNs. Many small and large businesses take advantage of the VPN tunnel to protect company data from IP leaks while enabling employees to work remotely. For businesses, IP VPN security is the name of the game, and scalability is important too. A business VPN should have the capability to grow with the company’s needs. Personal VPNs are used on an individual scale to protect personal privacy and anonymity online, and to bypass website blocks and content restrictions.

VPN versus Proxy

A proxy acts as an ‘intermediary’ between your computer and your internet connection. Your computer connects to the proxy, and then to the internet, so your internet connection appears to come from the proxy. On the other hand, VPN creates an entire virtual, private network of your own, and is much more effective at maintaining security and privacy than a proxy server. The proxy does not work with the VPN tunnel concept, and so your data is far more exposed to potential prying eyes. In order to overcome the inherent insecurity of public Wifi, VPN is a much better choice.

Get a VPN Today

There is no such thing as an absolutely private internet connection. However, VPN offers the best solution by far in terms of maintaining privacy, security and anonymity online, as well as the ability to bypass geo-restricted content. Once, VPNs were the domain of corporate businesses. Today, with the proliferation of VPNs for personal use, there is no reason not to take advantage of the range of affordable, user-friendly and advanced VPNs on the market.

If you made it so far, you defiantly understand how would you benefit for having a VPN. From the other end, you might be also a bit confused. We advise you to read our brief summery about the best vpn services. This would make your decision much more easier to make.

Kate Harrison says:

Will using a VPN give me the same speed as my regular internet connection?

Laura.k says:

Using a VPN tunnel is typically are not as fast as direct internet access. However, many VPNs today are extremely advanced, and you should be able to enjoy relatively fast speeds and comfortable web surfing via VPN.