As identity theft becomes more rampant and government intrusion into our personal lives rises to a whole new level, many people are looking for ways to secure their personal information on the Internet. Completely abstaining from the web isn’t an option, so many people are looking to make their web data more secure. The best way to secure personal information on the web is through the use of a virtual private network or VPN. Here are 15 most frequently asked questions (and answers) about VPNs.
What exactly is a VPN?
VPN stands for “virtual private network.” The purpose of a VPN is to superimpose a private “tunnel” on top of a public network so that the public network acts like a private network. In other words, a VPN secures your data so that using the Internet is as safe as using a private network that only you have access to. VPNs protect all data sent between computers that are authorized to access the network.
Why would I use a VPN Service?
Many people think that only corporations and governments need VPN services because they allow employees to remotely access files, work from home, etc. In fact, a VPN can offer a lot more, including features that are of interest to private users. VPN networks can protect your identity and your financial information, maintain your anonymity while you browse the Internet, let you safely access public Wi-Fi hotspots, provide access to blocked services (your ISP or government blocks certain content), let you encrypt Skype calls, provide remote access to your files, and much more.
How do I get a VPN account?
The easiest way to obtain a VPN account is to purchase access from a VPN provider. Purchasing a VPN is no different than purchasing Internet access from an Internet service provider (ISP). Your VPN provider will take care of setting up and maintaining the network. All you need to do is log on and start securely browsing the Internet.
Can I use a VPN if I have a Mac?
Software for accessing a VPN usually runs on a server and not on your computer, making it a web service. That means you can access a VPN whether you are running Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, or some other operating system. Accessing a VPN can be as easy as accessing the Internet. In some cases you may have to download some software, but that can easily be installed on almost any device.
Is it safe to use a Free VPN Service?
This is a difficult question to answer. If a VPN provider does not have your best interests at heart, then your data may not be as safe as it should be. Remember that nothing in life is free, so you should always be skeptical of a “free” service or a deal too good to be true.
The best way to understand the relative security of a VPN provider is to determine how the service makes money. If they are selling your data, clearly they aren’t a safe service. There are safe free VPN services, but they are hard to come by and you have to perform your due diligence in checking them. The best solution is to find a paid service, based in a country with laws designed to protect consumers, and that has a strong commitment to service and your privacy.
Will a VPN slow down my Internet?
Some VPN services will slow down your Internet. This is especially true of most of the free services. For some of the best services, however, the VPN can improve Internet speeds by optimizing connections between two computers to limit the number of links in the chain. If you have a broadband connection, you likely won’t see any difference.
A VPN lets you safely and securely browse the Internet. What is more, it not only let’s you continue to use the Internet as you always have, it can actually enhance your Internet experience. For instance, because the VPN will assign you a new IP address to protect your security, it can allow your computer to act as though it is in a different location that it actually is. This can allow you to get around ISP firewalls, bypass government website restrictions, and access regional services that you otherwise could not.
What is the payment structure for VPN services?
You pay for a VPN just like you would an ISP, in monthly installments. Many VPN services offer tiered services, allowing you to choose the features you need. In the majority of cases, obtaining VPN services is like adding services to a telephone line. You pay for the services you want.
Do I need to have a subscription?
Most VPN services offer subscription plans as well as month to month service agreements. Some even allow you to only pay for VPN access when you need it. For instance, you might purchase VPN access while you are on a trip out of the country so that you can access files at home, bypass restrictions in the country you are visiting, or protect private communications. A good VPN service will offer a number of different payment mechanisms and service contracts to help you customize your experience.
How can I tell the difference between VPNs?
When comparing VPNs, you want to take note of the following:
Compatibility – Does the VPN run on multiple operating systems and devices? More importantly, does it run on the devices you want to use it on?
Encryption – 256 bit encryption is considered the best, but some services offer only 128 bit encryption. If a service offers you both, then you can use 128 bit when you need fast access and moderate security, saving the 256 bit option for your top security priorities.
Stability – Is the service reliable, can you access when you need to, and does it work with most Wi-FI hotspots?
Speed – Will the service slow down browsing and file access when you are on the web?
Setup – Is setup straightforward on the operating systems and devices you use?
Anonymity is one of the greatest features a VPN service can offer. If you choose a reputable VPN service, they will go out of their way to ensure that you remain anonymous. One way to ensure anonymity is to avoid logging what users do. Check to see if the VPN service you are interested in keeps logs. The best services do not keep logs, so there is no way to track your Internet use over time or connect activity back to you.
Do I have to use the VPN every time I go online?
No. A VPN service is something you connect to after you go online. You can choose to access the Internet with or without your VPN. You only have to use it when you choose.
What is a VPN Protocol?
A VPN protocol is the mechanism that a VPN service uses to secure information. There are several types of VPN protocol including IP Security (IPSec), Secure Sockets Layer (SSL), Transport Layer Security (TLS), Point-To-Point Tunneling Protocol (PPTP), and Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol (L2TP). Each offers different features, speeds, and levels of encryption. The best VPN services allow users to choose from several different protocols.
How can I use VPN on my mobile device?
Using a VPN on a mobile device such as iphone,ipad or smartphone is often no different than using it on a standard computer. Apps can be downloaded that allow you to access the features your VPN service provides. All you need to do is sign on and you can safely use any wireless hotspot without worry.
What are the speed and storage limitations of VPN?
Speed limitations usually depend on the type of service you choose. A good VPN service will offer speeds of 4-5 Mbps (assuming your broadband is already that fast). The best services can provide speeds in excess of 15 Mbps. It is generally only when accessing a VPN service via dial-up or older generation mobile networks (e.g. 2G) that speed limitations become significant.
Storage is generally not a concern with VPN services because files are stored on your computer or on a remote server. The VPN just offers a connection between computers. That being said, some VPN services do offer secure storage on their servers, so that may be an important criteria in your evaluation of which VPN provider is best for you.