Using the internet comes with risks to your privacy and security. Connecting through a virtual private network (VPN) provides enhanced protection that can greatly improve your overall online experience.
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the key benefits of using a VPN along with tips for choosing the best VPN service for your needs.
What is a VPN and How Does it Work?
A VPN, or virtual private network, encrypts your internet connection and routes it through a remote server run by a VPN provider. This protects your online activities in several ways:
- Hides your IP address – Masks your real IP so your identity and location are concealed
- Encrypts data – Secures your traffic so no one can view or modify your information
- Changes virtual location – Allows you to appear as if accessing the internet from another country
When you connect to a VPN server, all your traffic is securely routed through an encrypted tunnel before reaching the global internet. This prevents snooping by cybercriminals or even your own internet service provider (ISP).
VPNs route your traffic through an encrypted tunnel to hide your IP address and encrypt data.
You can choose from thousands of VPN servers around the world, allowing you to bypass geographic restrictions and censorship. VPN services usually provide apps that make connecting fast and easy on any device.
Top providers like ExpressVPN and NordVPN use industry-leading protocols such as OpenVPN and IKEv2/IPSec to secure connections. Some also use WireGuard, a new promising protocol focused on speed and security.
7 Key Benefits of Using a VPN
Here are some of the major advantages you gain by using a virtual private network:
1. Protect Your Privacy
One of the main reasons people use VPNs is to protect their privacy online. VPNs allow you to browse the web anonymously by hiding your IP address and encrypting your internet traffic.
According to a 2022 Pew Research study, 81% of the public feels that potential risks they face online outweigh the benefits. VPNs address this directly by securing your web traffic from prying eyes.
Your browsing history won‘t be logged by your ISP and sites/advertisers won‘t be able to track your activities across the web. You avoid targeted marketing and only reveal what you choose through your accounts and searches.
2. Secure Your Connections on Public WiFi
One major privacy threat comes from using public WiFi networks, such as in airports, cafes, hotels, etc. Hackers can easily spy on data sent over public hotspots.
A VPN secures your connection by encrypting data and hiding your IP address. This protects you from potential snooping when using any untrusted public network. Sensitive actions like shopping or banking stay private.
3. Avoid Throttling by Your ISP
Some internet providers deliberately slow down (throttle) your connection speeds if you use large amounts of data or during peak congestion times. This makes streaming, gaming, and downloads painfully slow.
Connecting through a VPN hides your web traffic from your ISP, allowing you to avoid any throttling tied to your usage or data caps. You can maintain full speeds at all times.
According to a 2021 report by Mozilla, 45% of U.S. internet users say their ISP has slowed down their service at some point.
4. Bypass Censorship or Access Blocked Sites
Certain websites or services get blocked by authoritarian regimes, schools, workplaces, and even democratic governments. Journalists and activists often rely on VPNs to bypass state censorship.
By tunneling your traffic through a server in a different country, you can circumvent many geographical restrictions and gain access to sites blocked where you live. VPNs provide an essential tool for accessing the open internet.
5. View Region-Locked Content
Much online entertainment content gets geo-restricted to specific countries or regions. However, you can "geo-spoof" your location with a VPN to view this blocked content.
For example, connect to a VPN server in the UK to watch BBC iPlayer or through Canada to view the Netflix library there. VPNs allow you to bypass geographic limitations when streaming or accessing online services.
According to data from Comparitech, 58% of Netflix catalogs are only available in their home country. VPNs let you access 42% more movies and shows by switching locations.
6. Improve Gaming Experience
Online gamers can benefit from VPNs in a few ways:
- Avoid bandwidth throttling by your ISP that causes lag
- Enhance security by hiding your IP address from DDoS attacks
- Reduce ping times by connecting to gaming-optimized servers
- Access geo-blocked games in other regions early
Many leading VPNs offer dedicated gaming support. Features include port forwarding for better NAT traversal, ultra-fast servers designed to reduce latency, and integrations with gaming consoles.
7. Get Better Deals Shopping Online
One little-known use for VPNs is scoring better deals and prices when shopping online. Retail sites adjust pricing based on demand, user location, browsing history, and other factors.
Connecting through a VPN allows you to appear as if accessing the site from a different country or region. Prices will often be lower in specific locations and exclusive discounts pop up for first-time visitors.
Pros vs Cons of Using a VPN
While VPNs provide significant cybersecurity and privacy enhancements, there are some potential drawbacks as well:
- Encrypted connections prevent snooping on public WiFi
- Masks your IP address to prevent tracking
- Allows access to geo-restricted content
- Hides traffic from ISP throttling
- Avoids censorship and blocks
- Can noticeably slow internet speeds
- VPN usage is banned in some countries
- Does not provide 100% anonymity
- You must trust the VPN provider with your data
- Adds complexity to internet connections
VPN Protocols – What‘s the Difference?
There are severalprotocols used by top VPNs providers to encrypt traffic between your device and their servers:
OpenVPN – Very secure open protocol, offers both UDP and TCP connectivity. Used by many top providers.
IKEv2/IPSec – Fast native protocol built into iOS, Android, Windows, and Blackberry devices. Excellent for mobile.
WireGuard – Emerging protocol focused on speed and security. Offers great performance but not as widespread.
L2TP/IPSec – Native VPN protocol built into most operating systems. Less secure than OpenVPN but very fast.
SSTP – Created by Microsoft and integrated into Windows PCs. Provides decent speeds and security.
Chameleon – Unique protocol by HideMyAss that helps VPNs bypass blocks in restrictive countries.
We generally recommend looking for a provider that offers OpenVPN or IKEv2/IPSec for a balance of security and speed. WireGuard is also gaining rapid adoption.
VPN Server Locations and Speeds
The more servers a VPN offers around the world, the more flexibility you’ll have accessing geo-blocked content and finding fast speeds.
Top providers have thousands of servers in places like the US, UK, Canada, Australia, Europe, Asia, and South America. The most important areas for streaming are the UK, US, Japan, and major European countries.
Average VPN download speeds range from 10-60% slower than your normal connection. Factors like the protocol, encryption, and server load impact speeds. Be sure to choose a provider with reliable performance.
We recommend ExpressVPN and NordVPN for consistently fast speeds based on extensive testing. CyberGhost and Private Internet Access also provide above average performance.
VPN speeds compared to a direct connection (Source: Cloudwards.net).
Advanced VPN Features to Look For
Beyond basic privacy and security, some VPNs add advanced capabilities through special features:
- MultiHop – Traffic routed through multiple servers for enhanced anonymity.
- Tor over VPN – Adds encryption of The Onion Router (Tor) network to mask your VPN traffic source.
- Obfuscation – Evades VPN blocks by scrambling traffic to look like regular HTTPS data.
- Double VPN – Connects through two VPN servers for double encryption and anonymity.
- Kill Switch – Instantly cuts off internet if the VPN connection drops to prevent IP leaks.
- Split Tunneling – Specify which apps send traffic through the VPN and which route outside.
- SOCKS5 Web Proxy – Allows routing traffic from browsers and apps without VPN compatibility.
How to Set Up and Configure a VPN
It‘s quick and easy to set up most VPN apps on your devices. Here is the process on some popular platforms:
Windows – Download and install the VPN provider‘s app. Log in or sign up for an account. Select a server location and hit connect. You‘ll see a VPN icon in the system tray indicating you are protected.
Mac – Download the Mac VPN app and follow the steps above to connect through the desired server location.
iOS and Android – Download your VPN from the App Store or Google Play Store. Tap to launch the app, log in, select a server, and tap to connect. You‘ll see a key icon at the top of the screen when connected.
Router – For VPN protection on all WiFi devices, install and configure the VPN app on your wireless router if supported. Or connect your router to the VPN provider‘s dedicated streaming box.
VPN apps for iPhone and Android make connecting fast and easy.
Troubleshooting Common VPN Issues
Sometimes VPN connections can encounter problems. Try these troubleshooting tips:
- Slow speeds – Connect to a different VPN server location. Switch VPN protocols in the app settings. Contact support if speeds are consistently slow.
- Apps not working – Launch the VPN provider‘s app to reconnect. Some apps don‘t allow VPN use. You can whitelist specific apps in the VPN app settings.
- Can‘t connect – Verify the VPN app is allowed in your firewall or security software. Restart your device and internet router. Double check account credentials.
- IP address visible – This "IP leak" can happen when the VPN disconnects. Make sure the kill switch option is enabled to prevent leaks if the VPN drops.
- Getting captchas – Captchas appear when sites detect VPN usage. Try connecting to a different VPN server or using a less-detected protocol like WireGuard.
6 Tips for Choosing the Best VPN Service
If you’re considering getting a VPN, use these tips to select the right provider:
- Verify no-logging policies – Your privacy rests on the VPN not logging traffic or usage data. Independent audits help validate no-logs claims.
- Check server locations – More server locations, especially in heavily censored regions, give you more options for geo-spoofing and accessing blocked content.
- See if works in China – If bypassing the Great Firewall is important, test that the VPN reliably works in China. Some don’t due to deep packet inspection.
- Look for leak protection – IP, DNS, and other leaks can expose your data. Choose a VPN with built-in leak protection via a kill switch, IPv6 and DNS leak blocking, and similar security measures.
- Test speed performance – Connect to local and international servers to get a sense of the impact on your internet speeds.
- Check for extra features – See what other capabilities the VPN includes like dedicated streaming servers, ad-blocking, password manager, etc.
Independent VPN Security Audits
One way vendors validate their security and privacy measures is through independent audits by firms like PricewaterhouseCooper and Cure53. They extensively test for vulnerabilities, verify no-logs policies, and assess other aspects of the service.
Positive results from reputed auditing agencies provide reassurance that the VPN lives up to its claims. Look for providers like ExpressVPN, TunnelBear, and Surfshark that have made their audits public.
However, audits have some limitations, like only focusing on certain VPN servers/locations for a short period of time. They provide useful data but don‘t guarantee everything is perfect 100% of the time.
Top VPNs Based on Your Needs
Our recommendations for the best VPN providers in key categories based on extensive testing:
Overall – ExpressVPN – fast speeds, great unblocking of Netflix & BBC iPlayer, reliable security and privacy.
Privacy Focused – NordVPN – strict zero logging policy, does not record any user activity or connection timestamps. Excellent at anonymity.
Gaming – Surfshark – offers performance mode for reducing latency, protects against DDoS. Also unlimited connections.
Streaming – CyberGhost – 5200+ servers optimized for streaming, smart server recommendations. Best for unblocking Netflix & Hulu.
Business Use – Private Internet Access – port forwarding, static IPs, and SOCKS5 proxy support. Reliable connection speeds.
The Bottom Line
A VPN provides many valuable benefits, from hiding your IP address to bypassing geo-blocks, that can greatly improve your experience online. Follow this guide when choosing a trusted VPN provider for your personal or business needs. The time you invest finding the best VPN will pay off every time you connect.