VPNs for Beginners – What You Need to Know - BestVPN.com
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VPNs for Beginners – What You Need to Know

Douglas Crawford

Douglas Crawford

January 20, 2016

What is a VPN?

A VPN, or Virtual Private Network, is a service that allows you to connect to the internet via a server run by a VPN provider. All data traveling between your computer, phone or tablet, and this “VPN server” is securely encrypted. As a result of this setup, VPNs: vpns_for_beginners

  • Provide privacy by hiding your internet activity from your ISP (and government)
  • Allow you to evade censorship (by school, work, your ISP, or government)
  • Allow you to “geo-spoof” your location in order to access services unfairly denied to you based on your geographical location (or when you are on holiday)
  • Protect you against hackers when using a public WiFi hotspot
  • Allow you to P2P download in safety.

In order to use VPN you must first signup for a VPN service, which typically cost between $5 – $10 a month (with reductions for buying 6 months or a year at a time). A contract with a VPN service is required to use VPN.

Grab a great VPN service today

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Note that using a VPN service does not replace the need for an Internet Service Provider, as it is your ISP that provides your internet connection in the first place.

A note on commercial vs. corporate VPN

VPN technology was originally developed to allow remote workers to securely connect to corporate networks in order to access corporate resources when away from the office. Although VPN is still used in this way, the term now usually refers to commercial VPN services that allow customers to access the internet privately through their servers.

This article (and the BestVPN website) deals exclusively with these commercial VPN services, and use of the term VPN here should not be confused with private corporate networks, which are an entirely different kettle of fish (despite similarities, and crossovers in the underlying technology.)

How does it work?

vpns_for_beginnersNormally, when you connect to the internet you first connect to your Internet Service Provider (ISP), which then connects you to any websites (or other internet resources) that you wish to visit. All your internet traffic passes through your ISP’s servers, and can be viewed by your ISP.

When using VPN you connect to a server run by your VPN provider (a “VPN server”) via an encrypted connection (sometimes referred to as a “VPN tunnel”). This means that all data traveling between your computer and the VPN server is encrypted so that only you and the VPN server can “see” it.

This setup has a number of important consequences:

1. Your ISP cannot know what you get up to on the internet

  • It cannot see your data because it is encrypted
  • It cannot know which websites (etc.) you visit because all internet activity is routed through the VPN server. Your ISP can only see that you are connected to the VPN server.

Your ISP can only see that you are connected to the VPN server.

2. You appear to access the internet from the IP address of the VPN server

  • If the VPN server is located in a different country to you, then as far as the internet is concerned you are located in that country (most VPN services run servers located in many different countries).
  • Anyone monitoring your internet activity from the internet will only be able to trace it back to the VPN server, so unless the VPN provider hands over your details (more on this later), your real IP address is hidden. This means that websites etc. cannot see your true IP address (just that of the server).

3. It is safe to use public WiFi hotspots

Because the internet connection between your device and the VPN server is encrypted. Even if a hacker somehow manages to intercept your data, for example by tricking you into connecting to an “evil twin” hotspot or packet-sniffing your WiFi data, the data is safe because it is encrypted.

4. Your VPN provider can know what you get up to on the internet

  • You are therefore shifting trust away from your ISP (which has no interest in, or commitment to, protecting your privacy) to your VPN provider who usually promises to protect your privacy.
  • More privacy-minded VPN services mitigate this issue by employing various technical measures to know as little as they can about you. More on this later.

5. Your internet will slow down because:

  • Encrypting and decrypting data requires processing power. This also means that, technically, the stronger the encryption used, the slower your internet access. However, given the power of modern computers, this issue is relatively minor compared to…
  • The extra distance traveled by your data. Using VPN always introduces another leg to the journey that your data has to travel (i.e. to the VPN server), and thanks to the laws of physics, the further your data has to travel, the longer it takes.

If you connect to VPN server located geographically nearby in order to access a website also located nearby, then you can expect around a 10 percent hit to the internet speed you get without using VPN. If you connect to a server half way across the planet, you should expect a much greater hit.

It is also a case that some VPN providers do better than others when it comes to speed performance, which is why every review we publish includes detailed speed tests This is due to factors such as server processing power, available bandwidth, and load (how many other people are using the server at the same time as you).

All other things being equal, for best performance when using VPN you should connect to the VPN server closest to the website or service you wish to use, and then as close as possible to your own location.

For example, if I want to access US Netflix from the UK I would connect to a server located in the US, but as close as possible to the UK (somewhere on the northern East Coast, such a New York, would be ideal).

See our top 5 fast and reliable VPNs now >

Is it legal?

Yes. In most countries citizens have a legal right to privacy, and as far as I know simply using a VPN service is illegal pretty much nowhere.

vpns_for_beginners

More repressive countries such as China and Iran, who understandably do not like the unrestricted and largely unaccountable access to the internet that VPN allows,do ban VPN services from operating in their country, and attempt to block users from accessing overseas VPN services.

Even in China, however, which has the most sophisticated internet censorship system in the world, such blocks are only partially successful (and we have yet to hear of anybody getting into trouble just for using VPN).

In Europe the threat of terrorism has been seized on by a number governments to introduce wide-ranging surveillance laws, and in many countries (such as France and the UK) VPN providers are required to keep logs of users’ activity. VPN users looking for privacy should therefore avoid any services based in such countries, and use servers located in countries where logs are not legally required.

Where do I start?

There are now a huge number of VPN services vying for your attention, and unfortunately not all VPN providers are created equal (far from it!) The first thing you should do, therefore, is to check out reviews and recommendations on sites such as BestVPN (hey, it’s what we’re here for!). For example, the most comprehensive summary is this page, of the best vpn services.

vpns_for_beginners
Probably the first thing to consider is what you mainly want a VPN for. Is it for privacy while surfing the internet? To download without looking over your shoulder? To evade the Great Firewall of China? Or just to access geo-blocked TV streaming services from abroad?

Although pretty near all VPN services cover the main basis to some extent, there is no such thing as a perfect VPN service. Things you should be looking out for include:

  • Price (of course!)
  • Speed – VPN always entails some internet speed loss due to extra distances traveled and the processing demands of encryption/decryption (as discussed earlier).
  • Privacy – all VPN providers promise privacy, but what does this actually mean? See “Does a VPN make me anonymous?” below for a discussion on this
  • Security – how good are technical measures used to prevent an adversary (hackers, the NSA, etc.) forcing access to your data. Again, see below for more details.
  • Number of servers/countries – If you need to connect to servers located all over the place, then the more the better, and the more likely it is that a server will be located where you want it to be.
  • Number of simultaneous connections – Some providers will only let you connect one device to their service at a time, while others allow you connect your PC, laptop, phone, Xbox and girl/boyfriend’s tablet all at once. The more the merrier!
  • Customer support – Many VPN users are still learning the ropes, so customer support that a) actually answers your questions in a reasonable timeframe, and b) knows what it is talking about, can be invaluable.
  • Free trials and money back guarantees: Perhaps the best way to decide if a service is for you is to try before you buy!
  • Software – VPN clients should not only look good good and be easy to use, but can add lots of funky features. The most useful of these are VPN kill switches and DNS leak protection
  • Cross-platform support – a service is no use if it can’t run on your device/OS. Support can include detailed setup guides for different platforms, or dedicated apps (as is increasingly common for iOS and Android devices).
  • Other bells and whistles – Some providers offer “stealth servers” for evading the Great Firewall of China, free SmartDNS or cloud storage, fancy security options (such as VPN through Tor), and more.

VPN is available for almost all computer-type devices, including desktops, laptops, smart phones, and tablets.

Just about every provider fully supports Windows, Mac OSX, Android and iOS platforms, and many also support Linux and Chrome OS (if only indirectly). Support for Blackberry OS and Windows Mobile devices, however, is much patchier.

To signup for a VPN service, simply visit its website and follow the links. Your provider will give give you instructions on what to do next, or our full reviews all have a “The process” section that runs through the whole process for each provider.

Interestingly, there does not appear to be much correlation between what you pay for VPN and the service you receive, so I again suggest that you read our reviews (including readers comments sections) and take advantage of any free trials and money-back guarantees to help you decide.

See our top 5 fast and reliable VPNs now >

Free VPNs

vpns_for_beginnersFree VPN services do exist, but these are almost severely limited in some way, or cannot be trusted not to just sell your data. Running a VPN service is not cheap, so you have to ask yourself how a free service can afford to operate. As the old saying goes, if you don’t pay for a product, then you are the product…

That said, some reputable free VPN services do exist, most notably CyberGhost’s free offering, which while limited, is enough for many casual users, and is transparently funded through its premium offerings. VPN Gate is another option, and is run by volunteers.

You should be aware, however, that no free VPN will give you anywhere near the performance or privacy benefits of a good commercial service.

Given that VPN typically costs the price of a beer or so per month, I strongly recommend splashing out on a fully featured service.

Does a VPN make me anonymous?

vpns_for_beginnersNo. VPN does not make you anonymous because the VPN provider can always* know who you are, and can see what you get up to on the internet. Privacy-oriented VPN services go to great lengths, however, to protect their customers’ privacy, which is why we say that VPN provides privacy (rather than anonymity).

Empty promises

The first thing to note is that while many providers promise to protect users’ privacy, such promises are not worth the digital ink they are printed on if they keep logs. No matter what they say, no VPN provider staff will go to jail (or ruin their business) to protect a customer. If the data exists, any VPN provider can be compelled to hand it over. Period.

Trust

If you want to use VPN to provide privacy, then only a ‘“no logs” provider will do. Unfortunately, when a provider claims to keep no logs, we just have to take its word for it (which is why the Edward Snowden’s of this world prefer to use Tor).

Choosing a VPN provider therefore comes down to a matter of trust, so how do you know a provider can be trusted? Well… privacy orientated VPN providers have built their business model on promising privacy, and if it becomes known that they failed to do this (for example by keeping logs even when they promised not to, and then being compelled to hand these over to the authorities), their businesses would be worthless (and they might find themselves liable for legal action by the compromised individual).

Real-time tracking

It should be understood that even when a provider keeps no logs, it can and will be able to monitor users’ internet activity in real-time (this is essential for trouble shooting etc. – all the more so when no logs are kept).

Most no logs providers also promise not to monitor users’ activity in real-time (unless necessary for technical reasons), but most countries can legally demand that a provider start to keeps logs of an individual (and provide a gag order to prevent the company alerting their customer of this).

This is, however, a specifically targeted demand or request (most providers will happily cooperate when it comes to catching pedophiles, for example), so only specific individuals already identified by the authorities need be too concerned.

Shared IPs

In addition to keeping no logs, any company that cares about protecting their users’ privacy also uses shared IPs. This means that many users are assigned the same IP address, so matching identified internet behavior with a specific individual is very difficult to do, even if a provider should wish (or is compelled) to do so. This goes a long way towards addressing the privacy issue outlined above.

What does ‘no logs’ actually mean? Usage logs vs. connection logs

When many providers claim to keep no logs, what they really mean is that they keep no (what we term) ‘usage logs’. They do however keep ‘connection logs’:

  • Usage logs – details of what you get up to on the internet, such as which web sites you visit etc. These are the most important (and potentially damaging logs)
  • Connection logs – many ‘no logs’ providers keep metadata about users’ connections, but not usage logs. Exactly what is logged varies by provider, but typically includes things like when you connected, how long for, how often etc. Providers usually justify this as necessary for dealing with technical issues and instances of abuse. In general we are not too bothered by this level log keeping, but the truly paranoid should be aware that, at least in theory, such logs could be used to identify an individual with known internet behavior through an ‘end to end timing attack

Some providers claim to keep no logs of any kind (“no logs providers”, and it is these that are generally considered best for protecting privacy. It should be noted that some critics argue it is impossible to run a VPN service without keeping logs, and those who claim to do so are being disingenuous.

However, as mentioned above, with a VPN provider everything comes down to trust, and if a provider claims to keep no logs at all we have to trust its ability to run to run the service in this way…

See our top 5 fast and reliable VPNs now >

Mandatory data retention

Something to be aware of when choosing a privacy-friendly VPN provider is where it is based (i.e. under which country’s laws does it operate). Many countries (including many European countries) require communications companies to keep logs for a certain amount of time, although whether these laws apply to VPN providers can vary somewhat (in Europe the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Romania, and Sweden are popular places to base a VPN service because VPN providers in these countries are not required to keep logs).

If a VPN provider is based in a country which really requires it to keep logs then it will do so, no matter what other impression it tries to give.

Paying for VPN anonymously

More privacy-minded VPN companies allow you pay for their services anonymously. The most common method is using Bitcoins**, but companies such as Private Internet Access will accept anonymously purchased store cards, and Mullvad will even take cash sent by post!
This adds an extra layer of privacy, as the VPN company does not know your real name, address, or banking details. It will, however, still know your real IP address*

In addition to the direct privacy benefits of paying anonymously, accepting anonymous payment is often a good indicator that a VPN takes privacy seriously (this is hardly a guarantee, but not accepting anonymous payment is definitely poor show!)

** Paying by Bitcoin is not inherently anonymous, but if the correct steps are taken then a high degree of anonymity can be achieved. Please see my guide to Buying Bitcoins to pay for VPN anonymously for more details.

An exception to the rule*

An exception to the rule that VPN providers always know who you are is if you use VPN through Tor. This means that you connect to the VPN service via the Tor anonymity network, so that your VPN provider cannot see your true IP address.

If you also signup using Tor, and use an anonymous payment method, you can achieve a very high level of true anonymity with this setup. Do be aware, however, that doing this combines the speed hit of both VPN and Tor, making internet connections very slow.

At the time of writing, only AirVPN and BolehVPN support VPN through Tor (as far as I am aware). For more details please checkout my article on Using VPN and Tor together.

So… am I “safe” if I use VPN?

Using a good no logs VPN service does provide a high degree of privacy. It will protect you from blanket government surveillance, prevent your ISP knowing what you get up to on the internet, prevent you being tracked by copyright owners when pirating stuff, and will even provide a fair bit of protection when engaged in low level criminal activities.

It will not, however, protect you if the police, your government, or the NSA, are specifically interested in you, and are willing to spend time and resources investigating what you do on the internet.

Journalists, whistleblowers, and others who need a very high level of anonymity should therefore use Tor instead (although VPN through Tor does provide some concrete benefits).

Stay Safe Online with a VPN

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How secure am I?

Encryption

vpns_for_beginners
VPN protects your data using encryption. I have two core articles discussing VPN encryption and the various terms used to describe it. They are rather technical for this beginners guide, but if the subject interests you then please do check them out:

The TL:DR version, however, is to use OpenVPN (or maybe IKEv2) wherever possible. L2TP/IPsec is fine, but PPTP should be avoided at all costs (in my view it is irresponsible for a provider to even offer customers PPTP as an option!).

As a point of reference, the minimum default settings for the OpenVPN protocol are:

Handshake: RSA-2048
Hash authentication: SHA-1
Cipher: Blowfish-128

This is more than sufficient for most users, but if you are the sort of person who worries about the NSA, then my minimum recommendation for a “secure” VPN connection that should be resistant against any known form of attack for the foreseeable future is:

VPN Protocol: OpenVPN with Perfect Forward Secrecy enabled
Handshake: RSA-2048
Hash authentication: SHA256
Cipher: AES-256

IP leaks & kill switches

If your VPN is working properly then it should completely hide your IP address from any website you visit. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, this is not always the case. If a website can somehow detect your true IP address even when using VPN, you have what is known as an IP leak.

To determine if you are suffering an IP leak, visit ipleak.net. If you are connected to a VPN and you can see your true IP address (or even just your ISP’s name) anywhere on this page then you have an IP leak. Note that ipleak.net does not detect IPv6 leaks, so to test for these you should visit test-ipv6.com.

If you detect a leak please consult A Complete Guide to IP Leaks in order to find out why its happening, and how to fix it.

A related issue is VPN dropouts, as every VPN connection will occasionally fail. With a good VPN provider this should not happen very often, but it occasionally happens even to the best. If your computer continues to remain connected to the internet after a dropout,, then your real IP will be exposed.

The solution is a “VPN kill switch” which either monitors your internet connection and shuts it down when it detects a VPN dropout, or uses firewall rules to prevent any internet traffic leaving your computer outside of your VPN connection.

Many VPN providers include a kill switch as part of their VPN software, but third party options are available. Alternatively, if feeling brave you can configure your own using firewall rules. Please see here for more discussion on kill switches, including how to configure OpenVPN for Android as a kill switch.

Can I torrent safely using VPN?

vpns_for_beginnersYes, as long as you use a provider that permits it (not all do, so check!) With VPN your data is encrypted so that your ISP cannot see what you are doing online, and your IP is shielded by your VPN provider.

When P2P downloading via BitTorrent (or streaming using Popcorn Time) everyone else downloading the same file can easily see the IP address of everyone else who is downloading that file (hence the names P2P and filesharing!) When using a VPN, someone tracking that file will only see the IP of your VPN server, not your real IP address.

VPN companies get bombarded with DMCA-style copyright infringement notices due to users’ activities all the time. Some prefer to cooperate with copyright holders, to the point of handing over the names of infringing customers for further legal action, while others simply try to keep copyright holders happy by issuing warnings, and ultimately disconnecting repeat offenders.

Some providers, however, are happy to let customers P2P download, and make a good business out of protecting their identities (keeping no logs is always a good start here!) If your VPN provider allows P2P then you can download in safely.

Perhaps more than anyone, however, downloaders should be careful to use a VPN kill switch as they often leave torrents to download unattended for hours at time…

See our top 5 fast and reliable VPNs now >

When SmartDNS is better

vpns_for_beginnersMany people use VPN primarily to evade geo-restrictions in order to watch TV streaming services that are blocked to international users (or which offer better catalogs to users in certain countries).

If this is the only reason you want VPN for, and you are not interested in the privacy and security advantages that VPN brings, then you may be better off using a SmartDNS service instead.

SmartDNS uses much simpler technology and does not encrypt your connection, which makes it faster than VPN (so fewer buffering issues, but distance remains an issue). It can also be configured on many internet devices that cannot run a VPN client, such as Smart TV’s, media streaming devices, and games consoles (as every internet capable device has DNS settings that can be changed).

SmartDNS services are also usually cheaper than VPN ones. For more information please visit our sister-site SmartDNS.com.

Does VPN work on mobile devices?

vpns_for_beginnersYes, but…

VPN is well-supported on the iOS and Android platforms, and as with desktop computers will encrypt you data and hide your IP address for all internet connections. When accessing websites through your website’s browser for P2P downloading, therefore, you are fully protected when using a VPN.

However… mobile apps have many ways other than your IP address to determine your identity, and know what you are doing online. Apps often have access to GPS data, contact lists, Google Play/Apple Store ID, and more. Many apps send this and all sorts of other personal data directly to their parent companies (thereby bypassing your VPN).

As if this wasn’t bad enough, the ads used in many apps as a way for developers to monetize their product are whole privacy nightmare just by themselves!

To gain the full benefits of VPN on a mobile device you should therefore access websites and services via their web page or web interface using your browser (preferably the open source and privacy-friendly Firefox), rather than through dedicated apps.

Please always be aware, however, that smartphones (even more than WiFi-only tablets) are inherently insecure, and there is very little you can really do to make them secure.

What VPN does not do

Using VPN does meaningfully improve your privacy and security, but it is important to understand what it will not help with:

  • vpns_for_beginnersVPN does not provide anonymity – as already discussed. If the NSA is after you, VPN will not help, and we consider any VPN provider that says VPN will make you “anonymous” (as many do) to be highly irresponsible.
  • VPN does not prevent tracking by websites – hiding your IP address with VPN helps a bit, but most tracking performed by websites and by marketing & analytics companies is performed using tracking technologies such as cookies and worse (including browser fingerprinting), which VPN will not help with. The best defense against this form of tracking is to use various browser add-ons and tweaks.

Beginners VPN Guide Conclusion

VPN is a very versatile tool, and one that for a few bucks a month will greatly enhance your internet experience, decrease your chances of being hacked, and prevent your government from watching everything you do online (this last point is why I personally use VPN religiously).

My hope with this guide is that you will now be able to make informed choices about which VPN service is right for you. For more reading, take a look at the 5 Best VPN Services page. If any terms here still confuse you, we have a Glossary designed to help.

Douglas Crawford

I am a freelance writer, technology enthusiast, and lover of life who enjoys spinning words and sharing knowledge for a living. You can now follow me on Twitter - @douglasjcrawf.

333 responses to “VPNs for Beginners – What You Need to Know

  1. I laptop so I could watch matches whilst on holdayam a UK 84 year old male who has supported Manchester City since I was 10 years of age, as I lived in Manchester, close enough to walk to Maine Road, I now live in Southport.
    I recently signed up with TalkTalk Sky Sports deal and pay £8.50 per month, but am seeing very few matches.Can you please explain to me if a VPN service would be of any use to me.Medical heart and hip problems stop me from attending matches. I bought an 18″ TV Please reply as watching them is a highlight of the week Stan Ayres

    1. Hi Tom,

      The most common way to run a VPN is via a software program/app on your device. Most VPN services allow you to run a their apps on a number of devices (3 being the average). It is also possible to run a VPN on routers that support the feature. You can connect an unlimited number of devices to the router and they will all benefit from the VPN. Unless your router sports powerful hardware, however, it may struggle to handle the processing required for VPNs, which will negatively affect your internet speed performance.

  2. Wow this is astonishing. I’d heard of TOR and only looked VPN up to find out what it is, because of the Russian legislation effectively stopping the ordinary Russian citizen from engaging in ICO’s. Much the same as China and Venezuela. I was curious in finding out what options are for these people and VPN along with TOR may provide some help. I have joined the cryptocurrency, blockchain technology and smart contract protocols road, to disrupt the many corrupt Western Governments, corporations and banks. Very much in the ‘learning’ stage. So thanks for your well written piece. Very objective, very informative and very interesting. I need to re-read again to absorb more. You need to put this on the steemit site. You may even get paid for this contribution Douglas Crawford.

  3. I am not a techie, which is part of the problem with me understanding what I need to do to solve my problem.

    I use a VPN service, and go thru Tor. But I am routinely blocked by sites that automatically block Tor exit nodes. For that reason, and just more privacy in general, I’d like to be able to go to/thru another VPN (or proxy service?), when I leave the exit node.

    For that second VPN connection, I think I would need a VPN service where I could log into their website and initiate that 2nd VPN connection, but I can’t seem to find that option on any service.

    Any detailed description of how I can do this, would be greatly appreciated!

  4. Hi,
    Good information. I am just considering a VPN, mostly to get around Geo Blocking. But I have several concerns.

    I have a router/modem combo from my internet service provider. I am not the only one who uses the wifi from this source. If I am able to install VPN on my apple TV will this affect the other users of this wifi.

    Getting a separate router and plugging it into the existing router/modem and putting the VPN on the separate router, would this solve the issue.

    Also for the APPs such as HBO GO and Starz when you sign up for them on the Apple TV they require a cable or satellite provider. How do I do this if I am not in that country.

    Sorry for such a long comment.

    1. Hi Glenda,

      Ha ha. That’s what I’m here for! It is not possible to use a VPN client directly on an AppleTV. If all you want to do is bypass geoblocks then a Smart DNS service may be a better choice as it works on AppleTV. Alternatively you could install a VPN on your router.

      More generally, if you install a VPN on a device connected to a VPN, it will not have any noticeable effect at all on other users of the WiFi. If you install a VPN on your router, then everyone using that router’s WiFi will also use the VPN. And yes – plugging a separate VPN-capable router into your existing modem/router is usual way to do this. You can then either disable the WiFi on your modem/router to reduce interference, or keep it running so people can choose whether to connect the WiFi-connected network or the non-WiFi connected network.

      I’m not sure about AppleTV, but HBO GO and Starz are available using a VPN via their websites. You will, however, need a subscription, which requires a US bank card and postal address. You can purchase prepaid US credit cards (complete with US shipping addresses) online.

  5. Hi Brian,

    Thanks a lot for all this info – after reading I’ve taken the plunge and am now using a VPN.

    I was wondering however when is best to use it: 24/7, only for certain tasks, etc?

    And additionally, if it is best to just leave it on all the time on my laptop, should I try to change which server I am connected to in the VPN client every now and again, or just stay on the initial server I connected to indefinitely?

    Thanks!

    1. Hi OI,

      How you use a VPN very much depends on your threat model. Personally, I am not doing anything that particularly needs hiding, but believe in privacy as a principle. I therefore run a VPN all the time on all my devices (including my phone). Because I am only really concerned about low-level blanket surveillance (not targeted surveillance) and hiding my real IP address from websites I visit (again as a matter of principle), I am happy to auto-connect to a limited number of servers (I let my VPN service auto-choose servers located in either the Netherlands and Switzerland).

  6. That’s great thanks, I’ve got a reasonable idea of what’s going on. I’ve got an Amazon Fire TV stick which I use to stream live sports in the UK. The sports providers have got the government to pass a law to prevent people from streaming live games and will be prosecuting if we do. Will this allow me to continue to watch live games if I subscribe to a VPN provider, although I may loose download speed?
    Many thanks,

    Brian

    1. Hi Brian,

      The short answer is yes. A VPN will hide the fact that you are streaming illegal content. The only problem is that installing a VPN on an Amazon Stick can be a litle tricky. Although this tutorial references IPVanish in particular (a US-based provider), it should work for any VPN provider that offers an Android app. You do need to manually download the app’s .apk file, but most providers will happily send you link for this is you ask them.

      Alternatively, OpenVPN for Kodi should let you use any OpenVPN service on any Kodi device.

  7. This is a great article, thank you for all of the great info that was easily understood by some one with very little computer/tech knowledge!

    I do have one question, but it might be silly; If I were using a limited data plan (like 25 GB per month) does using a VPN increase the amount of data used with each ‘transaction’ (download, upload, etc) because the data then has to be moved through multiple portals?

    1. Hi Ryan,

      Thanks Technically speaking the extra encryption (not the number of jumps your data goes through) does slightly increase your bandwidth usage, but this is so negligible that I do not consider it worth worrying about.

  8. Hi and thanks for the article, as informative as it is i still have some reservations about trusting VPN companies despite their claims. Maybe I’m being paranoid but it’s better to be cautious than sorry ha ha! I understand that smartphone apps are designed to communicate directly with their mother company/developer, hence rendering VPN services kinda ineffective but my question now is, will the VPN service know my credentials if i log in inside the app? For example if I’m logging my google or facebook account in my smartphone, will the VPN service know the username, password, etc I entered? Thank you.

    1. Hi Zhi Pei,

      Its all about assessing your threat model. It you really don’t want to trust anyone, then consider using Tor instead.

      Re. logging into accounts – no, because even if the VPN app was malicious, your connection to the service (whether via website or app) will be protected by HTTPS.

  9. Wow, thank you so much for sharing this. I appreciate the hours and effort you did while typing. Though am not used to its technical words and others maybe confusing to me but still I’ve learned a lot. I realized I should know more about it or IT stuffs. Got to save this so I can reread and understand again. Thank you again! God bless.

  10. Great article Douglas!. Easy to understand and chocked full of information. With what I have read, I have to ask, if you use a Visa gift card you pay cash for, but you give the VPN provider your email and home address, you might as well have given them your personal credit card number and not have to go through the trouble of buying a gift card. I was trying to keep myself completely anonymous but it seems a waste of time.
    Thank you again for your wonderful article.
    Royce

    1. Hi Royce,

      Thanks! If you pay using a Visa gift card, there is nothing to stop you using a disposable email address to sign-up with. Most good VPN providers do not ask for your home address (they may obtain this as is a matter of course from the payment processor, but this does not apply if paying with a Visa gift card). Even if a provider does ask for a home address, there is no need to supply your real one if it is not connected too your payment method.

  11. If i downlaoded a vpn service on my computer, thru my hard wired modem and (i have a wifi box attached) are all of my devices automatically protected? or do i have to do more to my tv and sucj?

    1. Hi virginia,

      – If you install a VPN service on your computer, only your computer will be protected.

      – Most VPN services allow a certain number of simultaneous connections (3 is average), so you can also install the service other VPN-capable devices you own.

      – This will not include your TV or games console (etc.). For these to benefit from the VPN, the easiest thing is to configure the VPN on the router itslef. Please see my article on 5 Best VPN Routers for further discussion on this.

      – Another option is to share your PC’s VPN connection with your other devices, which will connect to the internet through the PC. See Option#2 in this article for instructions on how to do this (the same technique will work for any device with an Ethernet cable connection).

  12. Great article — thanks! This will show up my remaining lack of grip on the basics. If I subscribe to a VPN, will I have the choice whether or not to connect via the VPN or directly? I will only want to use it for some activities. For general stuff, I might want to prioritise speed. Thanks.

    1. Hi Jinny,

      Yes – you can connect and disconnect from the VPN at any time – it just takes a couple of mouse clicks.

  13. What a really good explanation on VPNs. I can truly say being a novice that this article is easy to read and understand. It also explores the pros and cons with great detail. Well done Doug and thanks

  14. Hey thanks for the info! If I set up a VPN on my router/modem does it then cover all devised that connect to it?

    1. Hi colin,

      Yes, although make sure you choose a router that is powerful enough. Low-end routers struggle with processing VPN data, which can result in very slow internet connections.

  15. Hi Doug,

    Thanks for this great article. It was very helpful. Question: If I run a private VPN on my router at home, then from my work laptop I launch my employer’s VPN client to connect to our company’s VPN, will this “inner tunnel” request from my work laptop adopt the IP address of the private VPN server I choose (let’s say, in L.A.) on its way to reaching the company VPN server? In other words, will the company VPN server see me where I really am, or will it see me in L.A.? If it’s not this simple, I’m still guessing there has to be a configuration that can make this work. No?

    Thanks!

    1. Hi Marc,

      Hmm. In theory, your laptop’s connection to your employer’s VPN server will be routed via your private VPN server. So in your example, you will appear to be in LA, rather than where you really are. If your job is at stake, however, you might to figure out some way of verifying this first…

    2. Sounds good, Doug. Any ideas on how to test that? Once the private VPN is running on the router, I know I can check my public IP address to verify it’s displaying the server location (in L.A.), but does that confirmation guarantee it’s also the only IP address associated with my request to the company VPN server? I’m just wondering if the VPN request is treated differently from other web traffic, since it seems to constitute its own tunnel. Thanks again.

      1. Hi Marc,

        As I say, in theory, the company’s “inner” tunnel will be routed through your private “outer” tunnel. But yes, I am slightly concerned that there might be unexpected consequences. You won’t be able to test this setup directly on your company’s VPN without the risk of betraying yourself, but what you can do is recreate a similar setup. You could setup a your own VPN on a VPS, then connect to it in software on your PC routed via your router to your private VPN server (in L.A).

        If this configuration works as it should do, you will see the IP of your private VPN server (L.A) when looking at your VPN server logs on the VPS, not your real IP address. I have a guide on how roll your own OpenVPN server on a VPS using CentOS, or you can let PrivatePackets.io do the heavy lifting for you.

  16. Hi everyone I have what is probably a stupid question but here goes, I have installed IPVanish VPN and I want to know do I have to ensure every device on my network has it enabled or is it ok to only have it enabled on the two Computers that would be used for torrents etc ?

    1. Hi Micheal,

      That all depends on what you want a VPN for (i.e. on what your threat model is). If all you are concerned about is being caught torrenting, then simply installing on the PCs you torrent on is fine. FWIW, IPVanish allows 5 simultaneous connections, so if you can protect a further 3 devices if you wish.

    2. Thanks for getting back to me, that is exactly what I use it for so you have put my mind at ease.

  17. Hey everyone, Not sure if you guys have tried Astrill out? It was recommended by a friend. It’s amazing how easy it was to instal and use. Hassle free all the way.

  18. While I think you have said one cannot be hacked using a VPN can you confirm that means one is immune to attacks from hackers who can take control of your computer, fulfill their promise to destroy all your data it if they are not paid?

    1. Hi carlos,

      Um.. no, I have said said no such thing. A VPN will protect you from hackers accessing your data when using a public WiFi hotpot, but will not protect you from malware attacks (including ransomware and malicious software that allows a hacker to take over your computer). Your best defense against such attacks is to keep your OS and anti-virus software up-to-date, backup your data regularly, and be careful about opening files you are not sure about.

    1. Hi Denis,

      I’m guessing you mean that you have a VPN running on your iPad?

      – If this is because a VPN app has been installed, then simply uninstall/delete the app as you would any other.
      – If this is because the built-in VPN cleint has been configured to run a VPN, go to Settings Menu > General > VPN and toggle status switch to “Off”.

  19. If is use a VPN is my IP address hidden when I access the internet using a program I have written rather than a browser?

    1. Hi JJ,

      Yes – a VPN sends all your computer’s data through an encrypted VPN tunnel to a VPN server (at least in theory -it is always worth checking to make sure there are no IP leaks).

  20. If VPN allows sharing of IP addresses if criminal uses same ID and IP winds up on spamhsus, won’t you wind up with delivery of emails blocked+bounced? I have situation now.

    1. Hi Max,

      After years of using a VPN religiously at all times, I have never encountered this issue.

    1. Hi David,

      That is indeed a good solution, although it does limit you to just using that router (so no protection for your phone when out and about). Using a router counts as only one simultaneous connection, however, so if your provider offers more then one, you can also install it on your phone, etc.

  21. Hi Douglas:

    Thanks for your many helpful articles!

    I am a MAC user and frequently use public wi-fi so my main concerns are keeping my data and computer safe from malware / hackers.

    Two questions:

    1) If using a VPN encrypts all my data sent through the VPN, then how is it that ‘Tor through VPN’ is at risk when passing through the Tor exit node?

    2) If I send email via ‘Tor through VPN’ is that encrypted to the recipient? (I’m using PostBox client via Gmail so that would be PB -> VPN -> TOR -> Gmail, right?)

    Thanks!

    1. Hi Micheal,

      I’m glad you like them!

      1) Because Tor through VPN routes in the following way: Your computer -> VPN -> Tor -> internet (as you rightly say later). Data is only protected by the VPN between your computer and the VPN server. This means that data passing through the Tor network (including the Tor exit node) is not encrypted by the VPN (but is encrypted by Tor until it reaches the exit node). Please see 5 Best VPNs when using Tor for a lengthy discussion on this.

      2) For a start, any connection to Gmail will be encrypted the whole way with HTTPS. It will also be encrypted by the VPN until it reaches the VPN server, and will then be encrypted by Tor until it reaches the Tor exit node. Because you are connecting to a website using HTTPS encryption (Gmail), the Tor exit node will not be able to see your data.

    2. Thanks Douglas.

      It is that very article (5 best VPNs when using Tor) that has me a bit confused. If I understand correctly then:

      Tor through VPN
      * can be done via most VPNs and is faster than VPN through Tor
      * any traffic not sent via HTTPS could be seen / corrupted at Tor exit node

      VPN through Tor
      * is slower but really secure (including at the Tor exit node)
      * may be a challenge for non techies like me as we need to use AirVPN or BolehVPN

      VPN on it’s own (not using Tor)
      * is faster than either of above options
      * probably fine for the non Snowden’s of the world who just need protection when using public wifi and / or geospoofing
      * can be enhanced by also using a good firewall (Little Snitch for us Mac users)

      If I am correct with above statements, and if AirVPN proves to be too techie for me to use, what would be the next best VPN provider (not based in US / UK)?

      Lastly, if using a good VPN provider and Little Snitch, would there ever be a need to also run a DNS server (such as OpenNIC) to protect against IP leaks?

      Thank you for your guidance!!!

      1. Hi Micheal,

        All statements are correct except:

        – VPN + Tor is slow whichever way round you do it – you get the combined speed hit of Tor (which is slow to start with), plus that of using a VPN.
        – Using a good in/out Firewall will improve your internet security in general. Please see here for why. A firewall can be used with a VPN to provide a kill switch and DNS leak protection, but much VPN software already has such a firewall built-in.
        ExpessVPN is based in the BVI. It is very good, and is consumer-friendly. NordVPN is also quite good, and is based in Panama.
        – No – if VPN software features “DNS leak protection” then all DNS requests will handled by your VPN provider. As already noted, such software already includes a built-in firewall, so you will not also need to run Little Snitch.

        You are welcome!

    3. Thanks for the lightening fast reply Douglas!

      I will read the further links you sent.

      From all the articles I’ve read re IPv6, I thought added protection via Little Snitch , etc. was needed.

      Is there any harm in running a good VPN and Little Snitch? (from my layman’s understanding, the latter is largely to watch for malware and block unauthorized programs from sending my details out).

      Thanks again!!

      1. Hi Micheal,

        Nope. As I say, you do need a firewall to prevent DNS leaks, but many custom VPN clients and OpenVPN 2.4.2 have this built-in. Most clients will simply disable IPv6 )which is fine, for the time being) , but Mullvad’s and the official OpenVPN 2.4.2 also properly route IPv6.

        No harm at all in using both, and a good 2-way firewall like Little Snitch is recommended.

    1. Hi Paula,

      – If you setup a VPN app on your iPhone, it is just your iPhone that will be protected.
      – Most commercial VPN services, however, permit more than one simultaneous connection (with three being the average). This means that with just one subscription you can download a VPN service’s software/apps onto your iPhone, your iPad, and your partner’s laptop, and use them with the VPN at the same time.
      – Some VPN services can installed on certain routers. In this case, every device that connects to the internet via that router will also use the VPN.

  22. two questions
    1. can i use kodi with a vpn.
    and 2. how soon after quitting kodi, is it safe to turn off vpn. Because when streaming something in kodi it doesn’t store files permanently. so I’m worried that if i turn vpn off to soon, my isp can see that I’ve been using kodi.

    Hope this makes sense.

    1. Hi Daniel,

      1. Yes. – OpenVPN for Kodi should let you use any OpenVPN service on any Kodi device. Alternatively, if your Kodi device runs Android, then any Android VPN app can also be used (and is probably more fully-featured).

      2. You can turn off the VPN as soon as you stop streaming. Steaming occurs in realtime (or if buffering is needed, a little in advance of you seeing the video). That said, there is no harm in leaving the VPN running. That way you won’t forget to turn it on when you need to!

  23. You said “This means that many users are assigned the same IP address, so matching identified internet behavior with a specific individual is very difficult to do, even if a provider should wish”.

    I was always confused at this point in the VPN process. Once the encrypted tunnel reaches the VPN server, is it decrypted and your IP revealed or is the VPN IP still displayed?

    If still encrypted then I could see difficulty, if not then it could be easy to put two and two together.

    1. Hi A,

      Once the VPN tunnel reaches the VPN server your outgoing data is decrypted (so your VPN provider can see it) and ingoing data is encrypted. The VPN provider will also know your IP address. But… with shared IP’s your VPN provider cannot easily determine which of its customers sharing the same IP address visits which websites. It could use a timing correlation attack to match a user’s VPN activity with times when a website is visited, which is the main reason why keeping connection logs is considered a liability.

  24. i work in Iraq and they block a lot of websites there… i have a personal desk top there. i’m in the U.S. for a month and wanted to know if i can purchase a VPN for my desk top thats in Iraq from here or would i have to purchase it from the computer itself when i get back? my concern was that if i tried to buy one while in Iraq they may block me from purchasing it

    1. Hi damon,

      It is definitely a good idea to purchase a VPN before returning to Iraq. Be sure to also download the client software from the provider and take it with you (e.g. on a USB stick). If you encounter problems once there, you may be interested in guide on How to Bypass VPN Blocks.

  25. hi i want to access US SURVEY SITES from outside US people said it is not possible with vpns as they use powerful tracking technologies,can you pls give me the best options no matter what combination it may be ,DNS, proxies, vpns, or combination of some sort with best example thanks

    1. Hi jum lu,

      As far as I know, a VPN should work fine. As long as you ensure there are no IP leaks, the only way a VPN is likely to be detected is if you use a service whose IP addresses are known and are blocked. It is therefore worth taking advantage of free trials and/or money back guarantees to see if a service works for the sites you wish to access.

  26. Can I maintain anonymity and privacy on twitter if I log into twitter from my phone? Should I use the twitter app or log on from a browser?

    Which is safer for vpn, iPhone or Droid?

    1. Hi Anomymous,

      It all depends on who you want to remain private with. When you log into Twitter, Twitter will know exactly who you are, but whichever way you do it, your connection should otherwise be safe. What using a VPN will do is hide the fact that you are using Twitter from your ISP. Using the Twitter app will tell Twitter far about you than using the web interface. The app permissions by default include access to your GPS data, contacts, photos, and more.

      Again, what “safer” means depends on your threat model. For most purposes there is little functional difference between using a VPN in iOS or Android. The main thing to watch out for is apps, which tell-tale all sorts of things about you to their publishers. And there is nothing a VPN can do about this. For maximum privacy you should therefore access services in your browser with a VPN running using their web portals. I also wouldn’t trust either Safari or Chrome when it comes to privacy, so I suggest you use the open source Firefox browser.

      1. So even if I create an account on Twitter or facebook while on a VPN, they will still know who I am? If I don’t allow my phone’s apps access such as fandango or ESPN to my contacts and photos and turn off locations services, do you still think it’s pointless to use apps with a VPN?

        By safer, I meant which is better for privacy and anonymity, droid or iPhone. Is there any point in downloading podcasts from a phone while on VPN? Is there a difference in privacy and anonymity from using a browser from a phone than on a computer?

        Thanks

        1. Hi Anonymous,

          – If you create your Twitter or Facebook accounts over a VPN, and only every log into those accounts using a VPN, then no, they will not know your real IP address. But they will know all your contacts, and any personal information you share via your profile or posts. You could, of course, be careful not to share any such personal information, but that somewhat defeats the whole point of social media in the first place…

          – The more permissions you deny apps the more private you will be, but if your even still works even with all permissions denied, it can still send send back a great deal of personal information (e.g. device and app store ID). Individual apps may not, but using your web browser is “safer”.

          – No. Using a VPN on a mobile device via a web browser brings all the benefits of using a VPN on a desktop computer.

          – Downloading a podcast on your phone with a VPN will hide the fact that you are downloading a podcast from your ISP. If you downloaded the podcast via RSS in your browser it would also hide your identity from the podcast producer/distributor. If you download the podcast via a podcast app, the podcast app’s publisher will likely know who you are and could (at least in theory) share this information with the podcast producer/distributor.

  27. Hi Douglas,

    I’m currently trying out PureVPN and I find that it consistently disconnects it on my IPhone if I haven’t used my phone in a bit and I have to keep connecting every time I use my phone. Is that normal with VPNs? Is it because the phone is not in constant use? Or is it specific to PureVPN? Thanks in advance!

    1. Hi Dan,

      The problem is that I am not an iOS user, so I’m not 100% sure. This is the second comment to these pages that I have answered today about iPhones disconnecting from the VPN when they enter standby mode. But I have never heard of it before. It is certainly not an issue on my Android devices. Maybe you can take advantage of the free trial offered by many VPNs (and which is a standard part of the App Store’s ToC) to test whether the issue affects over providers’ apps?

  28. Hi is it safe to use a credit card for Vpn service as a lot of these vpn sites seem a little unknown ie as they only give a location in the world and not much else no phone number or address of company only email or chat This makes it hard for me to join any vpn service..

    1. Hi Chris,

      It is certainly safer to use larger well-established VPN companies that have a good reputation. There are, unfortunately, many fly-by-night cowboys out there. That said, most credit card companies will insure you against loss on purchases made using their cards. So it is worth checking your card’s refund policy. It is also worth noting that after some 4 years of reviewing VPN services, the worse thing that ever happened to me is a (single) refusal to honor a money back guarantee (quoting a technicality).

      If you really don’t want to hand over your credit card (or PayPal) details, then many VPN providers accept payment using Bitcoins.

  29. Hi Doug–
    Is it possible to configure your router to send all connections through the VPN? I’m curious if this could be a way to get around the number-of-devices limit.

    Thanks.

    1. Hi Harry,

      Yes indeed to both questions. From my I don’t-know-know-its-still-not-been-published-yet article on 5 Best VPN Routers:

      VPN routers are routers that have been configured to connect to a VPN service. Many modern routers have a VPN client built in, which can usually be configured via the router’s admin page.

      It is also possible to flash routers with third party firmware such as DD-WRT and Tomato, which include a VPN client. Indeed, some providers offer pre-flashed routers that have been pre-configured for their service.

      The main advantages of using VPN routers are:

      – Every device that connects to the router is protected by the VPN.
      – This includes devices that cannot run VPN software themselves, such as smart TVs, games consoles, and Roku boxes. This is very useful for geo-spoofing.
      – The router counts as just one VPN connection, as far as your provider is concerned. This means you can connect an unlimited number of devices to the VPN at once via the router.!

      Watch out for the full article, due out very soon. Edit: 5 Best VPN Routers 2017 is now published.

  30. Hello Douglas.
    Much enjoyed reading your various articles and sub-sections and found them most helpful, or at least up to the point at which my technical understanding falters and disappears – fairly quick, I’m afraid.
    I use the web for writing research, as an actor, e-bay, emails, minor internet shopping, holiday stuff (tickets, sites, information, gmaps, etc., etc.) and we do a bit of internet banking, i.e. the normal internet usage.
    What we do want, in light of the rapid increase in cyber crime and data collection, of all sorts, is strong security, as well as appropriate privacy and protection from those wishing to gather data (fingerprinting, metadata, etc.) who either shouldn’t have it or don’t deserve/need it for anything other than criminal, sinister or nefarious reasons. I’m a great fan of the tracking down of criminals, sickos, terrorists, etc., but for us normal, innocent folk we simply want to have our privacy respected and not abused.
    We have two PCs (Windows 10 and 7), a Win. 10 laptop, an iPad and a smart phone that we’d like to cover: we use Google Chrome, CCleaner and AVG Free.
    Bearing this in mind, I would be most grateful for you advice on which VPN (plus such as Badger) you would advise please? [Nord VPN has come up a few times on internet searches, as has PIA(?), Express – any of these on your list of choice/s?]
    Regards,
    Simon

    1. Hi Simin,

      Thanks! Personally, I use AirVPN. But for all-round ease-of-use, great performance, and professionalism, you can’t go wrong with ExpressVPN. NordVPN and PIA are also good services, and you are unlikely to be disappointing with them (although NordVPN can be rather slow). For a more general look at internet security and privacy, have you seen my Beginner’s Guide to Online Security? It’s designed to be approachable by those with less technological knowledge, so you may find it useful!

  31. Hi Douglas:

    Great article. Very much appreciate your taking the time to put it together. With the US Congress opening up ISP monitoring, those of us who do not want to be inundated with ads based on browsing habits should all sign up for VPN’s.

    Regards,

    Dan Clements

  32. Does using a VPN give you any protection from Google? Will they still have all of their tracking in action even if you are using a VPN?

    1. Hi Wayne,

      Uidng a VPN provides some protection from Google tracking because it hides you real IP address. Browser add-ons such as Privacy Badger and uBlock Origin (or just uMatrix) provide beter protection, however. Please see here for more details (you may need to scroll up the page a little).

  33. Hi Doug – Great article! I am interested in a VPN primarily to remove myself as a commodity from my ISP (ATT) especially given pending legislation in the U.S.

    My question regards the “5 simultaneous connections” allowed by VPN companies like IPVanish. What exactly does that mean? For example, my household has 9 electronic devices that can potentially access the Internet, but only 3 household members: daughter on mobile, watching TV on iPad…me doing work at a laptop…wife replying to texts on phone, etc. How does the VPN handle this?

    Thanks!

    1. Hi Chris,

      Thanks! “5 simultaneous connections” means that 5 devices can use the VPN service on a single account at any one time. You can configure all your household devices for the VPN, but only 5 of them can connect at once. If 5 devices are connected and you wish to connect with a sixth device, then you must disconnect one of your other devices first. Of course, if you want all 9 devices to be permanently connected to the VPN, then you always signup for a second account. I hope that’s clear!

        1. Hi Chris,

          The 6th device will fail to connect to the VPN until you disconnect another device. Most VPN apps and clients allow you to choose between connection type “auto-retry” and try just once. If yours is setup to try just once, then the device will default to your ISP IP address when it fails to connect to the VPN. If setup for “auto-retry” then it may get stuck in a loop trying to connect until you either “Cancel” or disconnect another device.

      1. When I sign up for VPN Service for 5 devices do I log onto a website with user and password for the device or does the VPN work automatically upon logging into computer or other device? I am brand new to VPN … sorry for the basic question.

        1. Hi Gerry,

          It depends a bit on the software offered that VPN service, but there is usually (almost always!) an option to auto-login and auto-start bat startup. And no need to be sorry – its what I’m here for!

  34. Hi Douglas. It says to find u on Google+, but u haven’t been active there for over 3 years. Where is the best place to ask u questions? My phone takes forever to type in the comment box here! Idk why.
    Thx

    1. Hi Bryan,

      Yeah, I’m a bit rubbish when it comes to maintaining my social media pages! I’m sorry that you find it a pain, but since I answer these comments on BestVPN.com’s time (it pays my wages!), I would prefer that you ask questions using the comments box here. If this really is too much of a pain, please email me on douglacr@wford.co.uk and I will post the questions and answers instead (please also include the name of the article you wish the question posted to).

  35. Is it necessary that a VPN client must connect to that specific VPN server provided by a specific company? Or a VPN server can be accessed by any VPN client?

    1. Hi Sharath,

      – Custom VPN clients supplied by VPN providers will only connect to servers run by that VPN provider. They will usually happily connect to any server run by that provider.
      – Third party VPN clients (such as the open source OpenVPN client) can connect to any VPN server. This can be your own server, or a server run by a VPN provider (in which case you will need to sigh-up for the service and get the settings/config files required to configure the third party software).

  36. Hi Douglas, thanks for the informative article and the manner in which you reply to questions asked. Learnt a lot from reading your reply comments.

    My question: I have bought an Apple TV(4). How do you connect to a VPN via an Apple TV ? I currently connect via WiFi with a fiber optic line.

    1. Hi Andre,

      Thanks! In order to use an Apple TV with a VPN you need to either use a VPN router or share your internet connection with your desktop/laptop computer. Please 5 Best VPNs for Apple TV for a rundown on how to do this.

  37. Hi
    i have one question, why the vpn servers didn’t work on the same way on ios and android ? i was using Iphone 6 and it was pretty good now with my LG G5 i can’t change my location on apps like before with my Iphone. it always says it works but actually my country still the same after the activation on android
    Thanks:)

    1. Hi Joseph,

      Hmm. Very strange. Is this with just one VPN app, or with different VPN apps? I can assure you that VPN apps usually work just fine on Android.

      1. Hi Douglas,
        i have tried this with all the vpn apps many times actually it works on browsing but not in any online app. so is there any reason or anyway i can solve the problem with?

        1. Hi joseph,

          Please see the section of this guide titled Does VPN work on mobile devices? Mobile apps have many ways other than your IP address to determine your identity and know what you are doing online. Apps often have access to GPS data, contact lists, Google Play/Apple Store ID, and more. Many apps send this and all sorts of other personal data directly to their parent companies (thereby bypassing your VPN).

          This is a problem that affects both iOS and Android devices, so I don’t know why you are finding it more of an issue on Android. As I note in the article, to gain the full benefits of a VPN on a mobile device you should access websites and services via their web page or web interface using your browser (preferably the open source and privacy-friendly Firefox), rather than through dedicated apps.

  38. Hi Doug I have just started looking into purchasing a vpn and I am liking what Nord says. I am really just looking for a vpn to help disguise me during downloads. I dislike streaming and prefer having a “physical” copy of either the show or movie. I am with bell as my isp and have received 4 letters due to copyright. Do I need to buy a new moden as my current one is a bell modem sent by the isp or will a vpn cover what I’m looking for.

    1. Hi Travis,

      There is no need to buy a new modem. You can run the VPN using software one your desktop/laptop and/or mobile devices.

  39. Hello Douglas,
    I am wondering if there are any good VPN services in the USA. I prefer no logs but fast connects so the encryptions don’t have to be very good.

  40. Since installing a new router and signing with a vpn service, we have been unable to print wirelessly. It says printer is offline. I am unable to figure out how to print. Any ideas?

    1. Hi Becky,

      Most VPN software keeps local ports open so as not to block access to local network resources (such as printers). It may well be, however that the software used by your VPN service has blocked these ports. You should contact you provider and ask how to open the ports necessary for your printer to work.

  41. I have an amazon streaming tablet and just want stream without any problems like rist slapping letters lol….will a vpn help with this.

  42. hi looked at the posts but didnt see anything about mlb…so if i use a vpn…and the mlb apps blacks out users from there home teams…will a vpn work for me if i use it to say….i am in los angles lets say….but i am really in new yorka nd want to watch the yankees on their app…so they think i am in la…block la local teams but i can now access new york teams???? is that something a vpn would be a good use for???? ty jim

    1. Hi jim,

      We have an article on just this subject here. TL:DR version – yes, this is something a VPN should be good for.

  43. I live in the USA and will be traveling in China for three weeks. I just want to access facebook really. What is the best VPN to buy? I have heard Express VPN is good for China? I know very little about IT stuff – the trip leader suggested it.

  44. Hi. Thanks for the article. It was fairly easy to understand and very informative. I should point out that I had never even heard of a VPN prior to reading your article. Having said that, I hope you’ll understand why I’m about to ask you what will probably be the dumbest question you’ll have to answer. So, here goes…how will using a VPN effect my cellular data use and cost with AT&T?

    1. Hi Allison,

      That is certainly not a dumb question! Using a VPN will add a very small data overhead thanks to the added layer of encryption used. The effect of this on your cellular data allowance, however, will be negligible.

  45. I’d like to suggest that no VPN service I’ve come across is user friendly. More precisely, every single one of them speaks the language of a very techy crowd. This is a language of endless acronyms and concepts which mean nothing to your average person. The discussions on help forums suggest that everybody who uses it already works in an IT department somewhere. I suspect that most people (like me) have no interest at all in fiddling around with obscure settings. As an everyday internet user, I find the whole thing rather macho and alienating. I’m sure that any VPN provider that can come up with a service which doesn’t require its users to have advanced level IT skills would make a lot of money.

    1. Hi Robert,

      The problem is that we live in a complex world that requires complex solutions. Sure, a VPN company could just say, “Install our software, press the big green button, and you will be safe,” (and indeed some less scrupulous ones do just that), but to you dumb things down too much is to be dangerously irresponsible. This Guide is designed to help o lay persons such as yourself understand VPNs and what they do. I have other guides (linked to in this article) that aim to explain some of the more complex terminology you may come across when looking at VPN websites and when comparing VPN services.

    1. Hi Rahul,

      This is probably because your VPN app includes a firewall which blocks WhatsApp. FWIW, WhatsApp works just fine on my phone with a VPN running, so it is probably best to contact your VPN provider about the issue.

    2. I am using & Amazon streaming devices. Comcast is my ISP I am concerned they will put a block on these streaming devices. A VPN will take care of my concerns?

      1. Hi larry,

        So you are worried that Comcast will block your streaming devices because they stream Amazon services? If so, that is disgusting behavior on Comcast’s behalf (although Comcast is a hardly new to treating it customers in disgusting ways!). Yes, using a VPN should overcome any such block. The only snag is that installing a VPN on Amazon devices can be tricky, so a good solution might be to use a VPN router.

        1. Hello Douglas, I have the same concern with my Amazon streaming devices I just purchased. I am cutting the cord with my cable company but still need the internet service. I purchased ExpressVPN for my devices for extra security using the web for banking, paying bills etc…. I am trying to understand what is the difference with a Wireless Modem/Router that I have hooked up to my cable service internet box. Do I have to purchase a VPN Router or is that the same as my Wireless Router/Modem ?

          1. Hi Dena,

            From my about-to-be-published 5 Best VPN Routes article…

            VPN routers are routers that have been configured to connect to a VPN service. Many modern routers have a VPN client built in, which can usually be configured via the router’s admin page.

            It is also possible to flash routers with third party firmware such as DD-WRT and Tomato, which include a VPN client. Indeed, some providers offer pre-flashed routers that have been pre-configured for their service.

            The main advantages of using VPN routers are:

            Every device that connects to the router is protected by the VPN.
            This includes devices that cannot run VPN software themselves, such as smart TVs, games consoles, and Roku boxes. This is very useful for geo-spoofing.
            The router counts as just one VPN connection, as far as your provider is concerned. This means you can connect an unlimited number of devices to the VPN at once via the router.

            All of which is great! The main downside, however, is that encrypting and decrypting VPN data is very processor-intensive (especially when using OpenVPN). Most routers struggle with the job, resulting in poor internet connection speeds.

  46. Hi Douglas, thank you for your detailed guide.

    I have just 1 concern about using VPN: will it affect my google / facebook account? If I use VPN with server from other country (or other city), then google & facebook will detect that I have moved to a new location which will raise their security alert. If I do this a lot, will my account be in “danger”?

    Thanks

    1. Hi Jimmy,

      I have my VPN turned on the time, including when I access Google (legacy account) and Facebook. I also change not only servers, but providers quite regularly in the course of doing reviews. I occasionally get an emial from Google alerting me to a sign-in from an unusual new location. But that is all.

  47. Hi there

    I’m very untechy and my IT go-to-guy (my son is away on holiday) but I want a VPN to hide my activity and location mainly.

    Please forgive the dumb question:
    Once I have one, does it work automatically in the background and I just continue using my laptop as usual, logging into Chrome and Outlook or do I have to log-in each time I want to use Outlook (email) or Chrome to access the web?

    I know you have a lot of options above (by use, by country etc. etc) but I wouldn’t know where to begin. Can you suggest a few good but inexpensive ones to choose from. I’m no Snowden, I just want a user friendly, uncomplicated, safe, good VPN that won’t break the bank and that I won’t even notice is doing it’s job.

    Thanks

    1. Hi Tracy,

      Most VPN clients have an auto-logon at Startup option. After that they will just work in the background. Do note, though, that VPN connections do occasionally fail, in which case you will need to reconnect.

  48. Hi there,
    Great article with lots of information. I am travelling a lot and I had a lot of issues connecting to the internet everytime I am in a new country. One of the issues I have is the ability to watch US content programs. When I was using purevpn, there were times when I cannot stream my favorite shows however when I switched to astrill, this was no longer an issue. For travellers planning to start on vpn subs, try astrill as well.

    1. We had almost the same experience. I used to have purevpn as well and never worked well. Just glaD I found Astrill too.

  49. Hello,

    I wanted to set my computer’s location to a specific country, namely South Korea. And I was using different VPNs to do this, but I noticed whenever I sent an email, using the VPN set to South Korea(I’ve tried over 5), my location on the email said it was sent from Netherlands or Australia or any other country, but has yet to specifically say South Korea as it’s location. Is this typical? Or is it that the VPN provider not allowed to give a specific country. If so, is there any way I can set the location to ONLY South Korea and not any other country.

    1. Hi Catherine,

      That certainly doesn’t sound right to me, although I’m not quite clear about the email part of things? Where on your email does it show where you’re sending from?

      Express VPN definitely has a South Korea server. /expressvpn-review/

      Best wishes,

      Ben

      1. Thank you Ben!

        Usually emails list the IP Addresses of the person who sent the email, which is in the header (in gmail you can see it by clicking Original Message and then scrolling to receive from: which list the email and IP Address). When I check them though the IP Addresses tend to say other countries, rather than the one I use. However when I use my original IP Address in my laptop to send the email, it does state my real IP Address.

        1. Hi Catherine,

          Email headers do indeed (usually) include the IP address the email was sent from. If using a VPN they should show the IP address of the VPN server you are connected to. It is therefore curious that all 5 services you have tried have the same problem. Have you contacted any of them about it?

  50. Hi again,

    I hope you don’t mind a follow-up question to my last comment:

    Seeing as I am most interested in streaming video from US websites that are blocked in my country (Germany) would a DNS make more sense than VPN?

    Thanks and best,

    Erik

    1. Hi Erik,

      It’s an interesting question. Some streaming services play “cat and mouse” with both VPN and SmartDNS providers to block access whilst using them, but we’ve found that the good VPN providers are more proactive in keeping one step ahead. Some providers offer both as one package giving you the best of both worlds!

      Best wishes,

      Ben

  51. Hi,

    Thanks for the great article. I apologize if this question has already been asked, but the article is already quite long and I don’t have time to read all 190+ comments as well:

    I am an American living in Germany and am clearly in the “Or just to access geo-blocked TV streaming services from abroad?” camp. I’d like to be able to acess amazon prime or netflix (US versions) or network websites that only broadcast sports in the US from here – the privacy and other concerns are not really issues for me.

    That being the case, is/are there a certain thing or things I should be evaluating when I look at different options for VPN providers?

    Thanks

    1. Hi Erik,

      In that case I’d concentrate on speed / performance, ease of use and for a provider good at proactively making sure Netflix unblocking keeps working – I’d start here: /netflix-vpn/

      Best wishes,

      Ben

  52. This really helped but I still have a couple of questions. For context, I am not going to do anything illegal and yet it could attract the interest of government officials. I think VPN is sufficient but is there any way I could accidently out my IP address. Also, I really only want to use this on one computer, not my household router. Can that be done without compromising my privacy?

    1. Hi Teresa,

      It’s fine to use a VPN on just one computer – I’d say this is more common that people configuring a router. Regarding leaking your IP, I’d suggest you read this article: /blog/31750/a-complete-guide-to-ip-leaks/ – also, you’ll find our individual detailed reviews looks at whether there are any IP leaks.

      Best wishes,

      Ben

  53. I am completely adrift when it comes to this. I have a very basic question. If i have a VPN number can i access my desktop at home with my laptop?

  54. Hi,

    just came across this otherwise excellent article and was wondering why no mention was made of using the home router as a VPN client to protect the entire home network. At lease Asus routers can do that off the shelf while most others can do replace the stock firmware with tomato or dd wrt. Plus some VPN providers sell ready-to-connect routers.

    I realize that this the the beginner’s guide, but at least it should have been mentioned.

    Thanks!

    1. Hi there,

      Doug who wrote this guide is on holiday at the moment. We’re certainly aware of this and have both guides on how to do this and reviews of relevant routers on the site. I will discuss adding a small section about this on Doug’s return.

      Best wishes,

      Ben

    2. Hi Somebody,

      Yeah, I decided to leave routers out of a guide for… well… beginners. But thinking about it, at least a small section on them and outlining thier pros and cons can’t hurt. Look out for an update when I have a minute.

    1. Hi Muravia,

      As noted at the beginning of this article, VPN technology was originally developed to allow remote workers to securely connect to corporate networks in order to access corporate resources when away from the office. Although VPN is still used in this way, the term now usually refers to commercial VPN services that allow customers to access the internet privately through their servers.

      This article (and the BestVPN website) deals exclusively with these commercial VPN services. Use of the term VPN here should not be confused with private corporate networks. Those are an entirely different kettle of fish (despite similarities and crossovers in the underlying technology.)

      I’m afraid that what you are describing is a corporate VPN, which is not area with which I am familiar.

  55. Currently IP addresses in the USA are geo fenced by cbc.ca and cannot receive their streaming video of live hockey games but can receive their other videos. I’m told it’s because of some type of agreement with the NHL. Would a VPN get around this problem?

    1. Hi Albert,

      Assuming that all Canadian users can access the NHL games, then yes. Using a VPN provider with a server located in Canada should work. I suggest trying a provider with a generous free trial or money back guarantee policy (such as ExpressVPN), just to be sure.

  56. Hi Douglas
    I would like to ask about DNS adress when using VPN :

    -It give me IP adress from countary ( i choose ) and DNS adress for other countries ( somtimes mor than 3 different countaries but not my countary ) . This is in most VPNs that i tried it except express VPN on my ios ( trial ) where it gives me IP & DNS adresses for the same countary which i choose . I hope you understood what i mean .

    Thank you

    1. Hi Omar,

      When using a VPN, your IP address and your DNS address should show the same country. I am slightly surprised to hear that is not the case with most VPNs you have tried. Note that here in the UK, VPN services that proxy Google DNS rather than performing their own DNS translation (not a major problem as the requests are proxied to hide their origin) show servers based in the Netherlands and Germany. This is because Google locates it DNS servers for the UK in those countries.

  57. I am a graphic designer currently in negotiations with a corporation where I will need access to their website CMS. Their IT people state I will need to set up a VPN on my end. Assuming I purchase VPN service for my MAC, what will the corporation subsequently need from me?

    1. Hi Nora,

      I think what the corporation IT people are talking about is using a private corporate VPN to access their corporate network resources. This is different to using the kind of commercial VPN services discussed in this article, and with which BestVPN.com is primary concerned. You will need the corporation to tell you what you need to do at your end in order to connect to its VPN.

  58. Thanks for the VPN information. It is the clearest I have seen. My need is to occasionally use a public hot spot to access sensitive information. I think that I have heard of at least two risks. One risk that another one on the same hot spot may intercept my internet communication to learn user name, password, account information, etc. But also that since I and the other one are connected to the same network the other has access to my computer and if clever enough, may extract information or leave unwelcome applications. Do I understand this correctly and if so do all connections to the hot spot network pass through the VPN or only connections to the internet?

    1. Hi Erv,

      1. The main threats when using a public WiFi hotspot are a) that you connect to an “evil twin hotspot” i.e. that the handy “Free Airport WiFi” network is in reality a personal hotpot run by a criminal hacker. Or b) that a hacker can intercept your encrypted WiFi data in transit using packet sniffer software. In both cases, the main danger is that the hacker can see your data as you connect to the internet. Assuming that you use a good password for your computer, is very unlikely that they will be able to hack into your computer just because they are on the same WiFi network as you.

      2. Local connections are usually exempted from the VPN (so only internet connections pass through the VPN). This is to allow problem-free access to local resources such as network printers and NAS drives.

  59. Hi – excellent article and in particular I find your answers to readers questions extremely helpful. Am I correct in thinking that by using an app like ‘https everywhere’ my web browsing activities are already encrypted and therefore secure (my main concern is data security rather than any level of anonymity)? A VPN service would add that same level of encryption if/when I wished to access my home network from an external address (like a coffee shop). If that’s the case I am wondering if I can elect to use/not use my VPN connection thereby avoiding any negative impact on my network performance by not using VPN when I am simply browsing from within my home network over https? I hope that this makes sense?

    1. Hi Dylan,

      Thanks!

      1. If you are connecting to an HTTPS website then your connection is secure (please see HTTPS Explained for more details). The HTTPS Everywhere browser extension forces a website to use HTTPS, but only if this option is available. If no HTTPS option is available at all, then your browser will still connect to the website, but using regular (insecure) HTTP.

      2. A VPN will provide at least that level of protection when connecting to any website or internet resource when using a public WiFi hotspot if you run the VPN software on your portable device. Commercial VPN services of the kind discussed here are not really for dialing into your home computer from a remote location (which is a completely different use of VPN technology).

      3. Yes – you can turn a VPN connection on and off as much as you like. You can even exempt specified websites from the VPN, even when it is turned on.

  60. Hi,

    Ultimately, what’s the difference in terms of downloading films on Kodi and such like, between a paid for VPN or a router with VPN software built in. Will they both do the same job?

    Thanks.

    1. Hi Jon,

      They will both do the same job. Using a router will allow you to connect an unlimited number of devices to the VPN, including devices that cannot normally be configured to use a VPN (such as games consoles and smart TVs). Using VPN software usually gives you a faster connection, however, as the processors in all but most high-end routers struggle with the demands of processing VPN encryption. Note that OpenVPN software clients do exist for Kodi, but using a router will almost certainly be easier.

  61. If my iPhone has a vpn connection and I use it as a hot spot for my laptop does my laptop also need vpn? The iPhone has a limited range so I think that would provide the required security but I am not sure.

    1. Hi Robert,

      Assuming that an iPhone works like an an Android phone in this regard, then running a VPN on our phone will not also protect your laptop. For your laptop to benefit from the advantages of a VPN, you will need to run VPN software on your laptop (in addition to on your iPhone, if you want them both protected).

  62. Hi Douglas
    I am in the UK and mainly want to use VPN for updating my website and am worried now about the government snooper’s charter. It seems a lot of rigmarole to just do it for my website but it is important to me to have privacy from certain government departments. What would be the easiest VPN to use and one that won’t compromise too much speed? Would private browsing in my browser offer any protection?
    Many thanks

    1. Hi Jaki,

      For ease of use and speed, it is hard to go wrong with ExpressVPN. The only potential snag here is that ExpressVPN is based in the British Virgin Islands. If you want a company based somewhere with nothing to do with the UK, Italian provider AirVPN is very privacy-friendly, although not as easy to use.

  63. Hi Douglas,

    A friend and I are moving to student accommodation, and one of the rules is that we can’t download or upload on the shared Internet, or our access will be banned. We will also be in the Netherlands but would want to access UK TV. My question is, would using a vpn stop the housing company from knowing that we are downloading and uploading in large amounts (watching tv), and would it also mean that they couldn’t block us from using the Internet due to not knowing the devices? If we use a vpn, would they even be able to see the amount we are using?

    Many thanks, -B

    1. Hi B,

      Using a VPN will hide what you get up to on the internet from your housing company, but it may still be able to monitor how much bandwidth you use. When it says that downloading and uploading are banned, however, I am almost certain it is referring to torrenting copyrighted material, not streaming perfectly legal TV shows from their legit websites. It might well be worth clarifying this with your housing companyu if you are still unsure.

      1. Thanks Doug, they actually state that the Internet cannot be used to download/upload movies or to play video games online, and that if you are found to be downloading or uploading on the WiFi network they provide, they will block students. If we use a vpn, will they be able to see and block our devices if we are using large amounts?

        1. Hi B,

          Ok. Fair enough. Using a VPN will prevent them seeing what you are doing, but they may be able to see that your bandwidth usage is high.

    1. Hi Jimmy?

      If using a desktop/laptop computer or accessing those services through their mobile websites, then yes. If using their apps, then probably not, as those apps can access your GPS and mobile carrier data directly.

  64. Hi Doug,

    Very informative guide. Would you be able to comment on supposedly secure search engines such as startpage.nl and level of privacy they provide compared to that offered by a VPN?

    thanks
    Mark

    1. Hi mark,

      Funny you should mention this! I am currently working on a Privacy Search Engine Comparison article. Watch out for it soon!

  65. Douglas,
    For basic privacy, a little torrenting and Kodi streaming, are there any special options/encryptions settings that should be turned on? For instance, using AirVPN with “Eddie” there are a bunch of different protocols that can be selected. What would you suggest using?

  66. Great guide. I’m still confused about VPN sign up though. Do I need to have an anonymous/disposable email address before signing up for a VPN service? Will using my pre-existing gmail address render the process useless?

    If so, do you have some advice on anonymous email addresses?

    Thanks.

    1. Hi Jim,

      This always depends on your threat model and reason for using a VPN. Using an anonymous email service such as 10 Minute Mail reduces your connection to an VPN account, but is only really useful if you also pay anonymously (usually via store cards or Bitcoins, although Mullvad accepts cash sent by post). Remember that unless using VPN through Tor, your VPN provider will always know your true IP address anyway.

      Personally, I am comfortable paying using PayPal and my real email address. As I say, its down to your threat model. If you require real anonymity, then Tor is a better option than VPN.

  67. Hi, I currently live in a hotel who has strict rules about downloading torrents and file sharing. I usually go to Pirate bay and download a lot, can I use a VPN when downloading to prevent them from seeing me

  68. Hi Douglas, I live in Australia so which country/city is best for me FOR VPN location? Plus, should I change the location regularly and if so why?

    1. Hi Suez,

      – I always recommend Hong Kong. It is a fair distance from Australia, but what isn’t? On the plus side, HK has great internet infrastructure, and despite its recent political turmoils, has the most surveillance-free and uncensored internet in the SE Asia region (at least as long as you stay away from politically sensitive Mandarin/Cantonese language forums and social media sites). It is also completely outside the direct influence of ASIO and the NSA, etc.

      – I would say that choosing a server in a good location (such as Hong Kong) run by a trustworthy no-logs provider is more important than changing VPN server location regularly. If a VPN company is compromised in some way, then it probably doesn’t really matter which server you use, as whoever has compromised it will likely be able to access (or start to keep) logs from all servers belonging to that company.

  69. Excellent article, (as all of yours are), but what I never see in any article relating to VPN’s… ‘What NOT to do while using a VPN’. (disregarding criminal activity)
    I’m unclear as to what I can or shouldn’t do.
    I’m assuming accessing my personal email accounts, TB, GMX, Hotmail, etc… is a taboo.
    Accessing any retail site where I have an account. eBay, Amazon, etc….
    Social media sites that I have a personal account.
    It would seem pointless to use a vpn in these instances? Any others?

    On a somewhat related point: No vpn in the world will go to jail for you! I think this needs to be reiterated constantly.

    1. Hi bford,

      Thanks! The problem with “What NOT to do while using a VPN” is that the answer all depends on your threat model. Personally, I use a VPN at all times, including when I connect to my Facebook and Amazon accounts etc. Why? Because I don’t care that Facebook and Amazon know I use a VPN service. Using a VPN to visit these websites is indeed pointless as regards those websites knowing who I am (since I login using my real identity), but I don’t see how them seeing me login via my VPN provider’s IP address is a threat to me.

      This not the first time I have encountered comments such as yours, however, and I would be very interested in understanding why you think connecting to such services should be avoided when using a VPN…

      1. I’m not sure I can properly articulate my thoughts on this but I’ll try.
        My primary concern/paranoia is with law enforcement.

        In general, I agree that using a vpn to access services containing my personal data is no big deal. It’s when you combine this with activities such as torrenting or Usenet that I become more concerned.

        My current procedures are to never access anything that contains my personal data if I’m downloading torrents or accessing the DW. Conversely, If I’m accessing sites that do contain my personal data, I never access torrent sites etc… at the same time.

        This is somewhat of a hassle as it limits what I can do at any given time.
        Maybe this concern/paranoia is unfounded, thus the initial question, ‘What can I do and what not to do’.

        Maybe a simpler question would be:
        Is it safe, (relatively speaking), when connected to a vpn, to do whatever, whenever?

        1. Hi bford,

          Thanks for that considered answer. And yes, I find your reframing of the questions somewhat easier to tackle.

          Let’s say that I stay connected to my VPN at all times, including when I torrent and when I login to my Facebook account.

          – Facebook knows my true identity and that I regularly login from an IP belonging to myvpn.net. Facebook doesn’t care about this.

          – A copyright holder who wanted to catch me for pirating their movie can also easily determine that I use myvpn.net.

          Now, the only way that the copyright holder could find out my real identity would be if myvpn.net told him it. Good VPN providers use shared IPs and keep no logs, which would make this very difficult. And anyway, their business model relies on shielding customers from such demands.

          Of course, if I were doing something much more criminal than just copyright piracy, then the VPN provider might be compelled to start keeping logs, and I could get caught in that way. As you say, no VPN is the world will go to jail for you.

          I cannot see how Facebook, however, comes into the equation here. All it knows is that I, along with thousands of others, use myvpn.com.

          If the police already know my identity via some other means, and suspect me of crimes committed while hiding my real IP using myvpn.net, Facebook could confirm that I use myvpn.net. Given that thousands of other people also use myvpn.net, this is hardly proof of anything, but it could be used as corroborating circumstantial evidence when building a case. This is the only real potential danger that I can see.

          Again, it comes back to threat models. But for the vast majority of VPN users who use a VPN for privacy and to hide a bit of torrenting (etc.), I personally do not consider visiting social media websites while connected to VPN to be much of a risk.

          1. Thanks for the reply.
            Basically what you’re saying, It’s relatively safe, when using a vpn, to do whatever whenever? ie. torrenting at the same time you are accessing email accounts and or social media sites etc…

  70. Hi,am from kenya and interested in binary trading but unfortunately any time i try to sign up am told my region is not supported by this.Could VPN be a solution. Thanks

    1. Hi JULIUS,

      As I aid to Victor elsewhere on this comments section, in theory, using a VPN should work as far as signing up is concerned. A bigger problem, however, is that you will probably need a foreign bank account. You should also be aware that breaking the binary trading service’s Terms of Service may give the company the legal right to deny you service and to keep hold of any any money you have given it…

  71. Hi,
    I have an account with Schwab banking. I will be traveling abroad in a couple of months, and want to deposit a check from abroad from my parent’s bank account to my Shwab account in the US. I can do this using a money order but its expensive. Luckily, Schwab has a mobile app that lets me take a picture of the check to deposit it into my account. The problem is this only works in the US and not from abroad. I was wondering if I were to use a VPN, if this would somehow trick the app to thinking I’m doing this from the US. I hope this question makes sense, any help would be really appreciated.

    1. Hi Smith,

      That depends, I’m afraid. Using a VPN on your mobile phone will hide your real IP address and make it look as if you are accessing the service from inside the US (assuming you connect to a US VPN server). The problem with mobile apps, however, is that apps can access all sorts of other data on your phone that will give away your location. They can then pass this information directly onto the app’s publishers. So whether a VPN will work for you depends on what data the app sends back to Schwab. Some apps can be fooled using a VPN (because they don’t check), but others can’t. If you can send the picture of the check via Shcwab’s regular website portal (rather than via its app) instead, that would probably work.

  72. If I’m tethering via wifi hotspot will my ISP still be able to track browsing history (on laptop), or can they only track data done on phone? I’m just not sure whether the hotspot itself breaks the link or if I need VPN for the laptop, which only accesses the internet through my phone’s wifi.

    Tethering is within my data usage, so I’m not looking for something that hides tethering.

    1. Hi Jason,

      You will need to run a VPN on your laptop in order to protect your laptop browsing history from being exposed to your ISP (which will be your mobile phone provider) when tethering. If you also want to protect your phone’s browsing history, you will also need to run a VPN on your phone.

      1. Thanks for the reply, Douglas.
        So an active VPN on the phone will effectively kill two birds with one stone and protect both phone and laptop? Or perhaps it’s not quite as simple as that.

        1. Hi Jason,

          I’m afraid not (and I apologize if I was unclear on this). You need to run a VPN on each device that you want to protect (so a VPN client on your laptop and a VPN app on your phone). You can always test this for yourself by visiting ipleak.net while tethered – just running a VPN app on your tethered phone will not hide your laptop’s real IP address.

          1. Brilliant, Thank you. We do tend to get rather paranoid about these things. But we like our privacy, especially when a Network is alerted to ‘unusual data usage patterns’ on a so-called unlimited plan – sirens sound and red lights flash, and an employee looks through a customer’s history. “I see you’ve been using BitTorrent a lot recently,” said the employee after I’d queried the finding. That startled me, I must say.

  73. Hi Sir,

    I’m using my smartphone and my data plan, my question is, If I do online banking and connected to https, are all my data is encrypted during transit? Someone told me that during transit, the data is not encrypted. If it is true, is it possible that a hacker can intercept my information though I am using my data plan to connect to the bank.

    Thank and more power!

  74. After the DYN hack I have been considering ways to get around DNS altogether so that if/when this is repeated, I can keep communications up with the few sites and family I stay in contact with. Does a VPN provide that solution?

    1. Hi Charlie,

      Yes and no. Please see my How to Change your DNS Settings – A Complete Guide for an explanation of what DNS is and how it works (its basically just a database that matches URLs to IP addresses). Many ISPs and the like outsource this process to companies such as Dyn. Any good VPN provider, however, should resolve the DNS requests of its users using its own privately-run servers. So while you can’t really “get around DNS altogether,”* you _can_ use a DNS server run privately by a VPN provider that is unlikely to come under attack.

      *Well, you can “get around DNS altogether,” in theory, by accessing websites using their IP addresses rather than their URLS. But many websites prohibit this.

  75. i want to work online on a site but its not available in my country. can i get access of all feature of that website using vpn by changing my location to a country where it works?

    1. Hi hussy,

      Yes :). A problem you may have if you are working online via this website, however, is payment. If the service is not available in your country, then it may refuse to pay into bank accounts etc. based in your country. So do make sure that a payment method is is available that you can access.

  76. SUBTITLES NEEDED FOR UK TV.
    We live in London and on a 4 week holiday in Benidorm Spain. UK TV is available in Spain but as my wife is a bit deaf she needs subtitles ( or CC ) for the UK soaps Eastenders, Correy, Doc Martin etc. Our holiday apartment did not have subtitles on the UK TV so she used her IPad and signed up on ExpressVPN for a month for 12 Dollars ( paid by PayPal ).
    At first we had trouble getting BBC Player and ITV HUB to work because ExpressVPN has a SMART select for location of servers so Switzerland was preferred server ( players not working ) we then manually selected France server ( still players not working ).
    Then had LIVE CHAT with ExpressVPN rep and he told us to select the UK server. Did that and now both players work perfectly including SUBTITLES. So our first choice ExpressVPN is excellent but we will cancel after a month but will sign up again for our next holiday in USA but will not forget to select the UK server to get the players to work. Dave & Brenda.

    1. Hi Dave,

      I’m glad you got it all sorted out. Yup, in order to access BBC iPlayer you need to fool the iPlayer website into thinking that your are actually connecting from a UK location. This known as geospoofing. This usually requires that you connect to a VPN server located in the UK.

    1. Hi CJ,

      Using a VPN will hide what you get up to on the internet while using your school WiFi. Note that schools often try to block VPNs for just reason. If this is the case at your school, you may want to check out my How to Bypass VPN Blocks guide. Please be aware, however, that getting caught could land you in trouble with the school authorities.

  77. Hi

    I would like to know if the vpn provider can read my emails. I use Gmail and outlook.
    Also, if I use a vpn, do I need to pay for antivirus or is the vpn enough. Thank You 🙂

    1. Hi Britt,

      – If you connect to an HTTPS website then a VPN provider cannot see what you get up to on that website. This means that VPN providers cannot read your Gmail or Outlook emails.
      – Google and Microsoft, on the other hand, can and do read your Gmail and Outlook emails.
      – Using a VPN is not a substitute for good anti-virus software.

  78. Hi, Doug. Im trying to sign up for Neo2 Binary options trading software but my country Nigeria is restricted, please can you recomend the best VPN provider for me thanks. The sotware provider i think is based in USA.

    1. Hi Victor,

      In theory, any VPN with servers in the US should work as far as signig up is concerned. A bigger problem, however, is that you will probably need a US bank account. You should also be aware that breaking its Terms of Service may give give the company the legal right to deny you service while keeping hold of any any money you have given it…

  79. Hi, i have bought an android box for streaming and it seems ok but still a lot to learn about it. I also have two laptops inuse both using linux (mint). Q1 what VPN would be best for everything. Q2 should I pick a VPN that is located out of the 14 eyes or by picking a location such as the Netherlands.

    1. Hi Geoff,

      1. If the Android box is running a fairly normal version Android, then any VPN service that supports both Android (almost all of them) and Linux will do. If it runs Kodi then OpenVPN for Kodi should let you use any VPN service that supports OpenVPN.
      2. That depends entirely on your threat model. The Netherlands is fine if you are just worried about about copyright issues, while outside the Fourteen Eyes is best if government surveillance worries you. That said, other matters are at play. I care about government surveillance but use AirVPN, which is based in Italy (a 14EY, but not FVEY country). For me, AirVPNs dedication to privacy and top-notch technological security outweigh any 14EY concerns. YMMV.

    1. Hi Chris,

      No.If you are using a VPN over a Wifi network then you not not get charged for mobile data use.

  80. Hi Douglas,

    Great piece, very informative.
    Can you tell me, how does a VPN or Tor work when hot spotting your phone to either your laptop or iPad?

    1. Hi Clark,

      Running a VPN or Tor on your phone does not affect your the connections of any devices tethered to it (via USB, Bluetooth or hotspot). So you will not gain the benefit of using the VPN or Tor. To use a VPN or Tor you should run the software on the actual devices, not on your phone (which works just fine).

  81. Hello. Would a VPN be beneficial with my Amazon Firestick that contains Kodi and add on apps that allow me to view movies and tv shows, sporting events, etc…through streaming methods.

    1. Hi Steve
      You can’t run a VPN on a FireStick (as far as I’m aware) but you can run the VPN on your router and use it that way. Hope that helps.
      Peter

      1. Is the AirVPN good for using kodi. If I sign up for a VPN on my amazon fire tablet is it just on my tablet or does it go to the router that Im using each time? Sorry I am not very computer savy. Can VPNs get your lets say banking passwords and account info from the common router being used even if I don’t use the tablet for my banking? What about the private internet access VPN…is it very good and does it truly not keep logs as it advertises.

        1. Hi scott,

          OpenVPN for Kodi should let you use any VPN service that supports OpenVPN, including AirVPN.

          – You usually download the VPN software onto each device that you want to use the VPN on. It will only work with those devices. This is why the number of simultaneous connections a provider allows is important (we include this information in our reviews and 5 Best summaries).

          Or you can use a VPN router. VPN routers are routers that have been configured to connect to a VPN service. Many modern routers have a VPN client built in, which can usually be configured via the router’s admin page. It is also possible to flash routers with third party firmware such as DD-WRT and Tomato, which include a VPN client. Indeed, some providers offer pre-flashed routers that have been pre-configured for their service.

          The main advantages of using VPN routers are:

          – Every device that connects to the router is protected by the VPN.
          – This includes devices that cannot run VPN software themselves, such as smart TVs, games consoles, and Roku boxes. This is very useful for geo-spoofing.
          – The router counts as just one VPN connection, as far as your provider is concerned. This means you can connect an unlimited number of devices to the VPN at once via the router.

          Please keep an eye out for 5 Best VPN Routers 2017, which discusses this subject in some detail, and is due to be published in the next couple of days or so.

          – A VPN provider can see what a user get up to on the internet, in the same way that your ISP can. All banking and other secure transactions, however, are protected using HTTPS. So no, a VPN provider cannot get your banking details (for example). (And certainly can’t get them “from the common router”!)

          – Private Internet Access is good, and I am happy to recommend the service. It certainly claims to keep no logs, and given that its business model relies on customer trust, I have no major reason to doubt it. Being based in the USA, however, does mean that NSA-style interference is a real possibility…

  82. Hi Doug. Thank you for your article. I recently took a “security test” on the Webroot website and came up with 3 wrong, one being that I don’t use a VPN. I didn’t even know what that was, which led me to your well written explanation. I’ve only really become concerned about security since the Yahoo password etc hack broke in the news. I’ve been letting Google save my passwords because it made things so much easier. Going to change all that today. What I use is a desktop pc, a desktop Mac, a laptop pc for work, an android tablet and an iPhone for me, an android phone for my husband. We also have a roku for our TV. I thought I was safe if I just stuck with https websites for any sensitive information and used security Webroot on the devices. Obviously I’m not tech savvy. Do I really need a VPN? And is there one you’d recommend for all these devices? Thank you for your time. I can’t imagine why you do this, but I’m quite grateful to have someone to ask.
    .

    1. Hi Leigh,

      – Most VPN services support all the devices you mention, except for the Roku (which does not include a VPN client). It is possible to share a VPN connection with your Roku, but if security and/or privacy is your only concern (rather than geo-spoofing) I probably wouldn’t bother. This is because your TV viewing habits are unlikely to present a major security or privacy threat.
      – Sticking to HTTPS websites does provide a fair degree of protection, although your ISP will be able to see that you have visited those websites (but not what you look at or get up to once there).
      – Check out our list 5 Best VPN Services. FWIW, I use AirVPN.

  83. Hi
    this is badal from united arab emirates here all sites are blocked even now a days it”s very tough because we can not use social apps calling feature like( messenger, imo, viber ) etc without vpn connection so I am using some free vpn from play store in my tablet, so it is safe to use does vpn connection really hides ip address in android tablet, it is safe to use some block sites?? if they caught here its illegal offence and huge amount fine please let me know before I start on it thank you.

    1. Hi badel,

      Using a VPN will hide your IP address as long as there are no IP leaks. Your ISP however, can see the IP of the VPN server you connect to. If it knows that server belongs to a VPN provider, it will know that you are connecting to a VPN. You should therefore uses a provider that obfuscates VPN use, such as the ones discussed in 5 Best VPNs for China. D please be aware, however, that there will always be some risk.

  84. Just want to add to the conversation about HOXX. Sounds like Alan wasn’t ready to hear the truth. He said he called them and they said no they didn’t share information – of course they did! They are a bit trickier, actually. THEY don’t share the information but let their advertisers have access to your information whether or not you click on their links. Though they do say that you can opt out… good luck on that one. They exist only because they allow third party advertisers access to your browsing info. Here is their statement on this, found way on down the privacy policy:

    Advertisers and advertising networks place ads (including sponsored links in search results) on our website. These companies, as well as data analytics companies who service them, may use cookies, pixel tags, mobile device IDs and other similar technologies to collect data about you when you visit our website. They use the data to enable them to track your activity across various sites where they display ads and record your activities, so they can show ads that they consider relevant to you. You may opt-out of receiving targeted online advertising from advertising networks that is delivered on our website.

  85. Hi Doug,

    And tankyou for a great read.
    I’m just wondering what your thoughts are on nordvpn?
    I’ve been reserching for a while after a good vpn service. And I’ve come to the conclusion that nordvpn seems like a excellent candidate.

    1. Hi Lenny,

      NordVPN is good in many ways, but it can be very slow. With some trial and error, however, you should be able to find a fast server.

  86. Hi, we are from the uk, my daughter is working in a school in spain, she wants to just watch itv hub but it is only allowed in the uk. She has been looking and thinks she needs a ghost ip address. I am not not tech savvy at all and wandered if she does need a ghost ip address and secondly if she will able to as I know schools are very good with privacy. Has anyone got any ideas or help. Thank you

    1. Hi uk,

      – Your daughter will be able to access ITV Hub with using any VPN service that offers UK servers almost all of them) or, alternatively, using a Smart DNS service.
      – Different schools have different policies regarding the use of VPNs. If they are prohibited or even blocked then there are ways around this, but it is up to your daughter to decide if she wants to pursue them.

  87. Hi Doug, this is a great read. Which VPN servicer would you suggest for streaming kodion a firestick and also protecting privacy working from home?

  88. Great article! Thanks for making this topic understandable. One question, I read your comments about mobile devices but I’m s little confused. Are you saying that it’s practically pointless to utilize s VPN on a mobile device? i.e. Smartphones, iPads, tablets

    1. Hi Sharon,

      Thanks!

      No. What I am saying is that using a VPN on a smartphone (and to a lesser extent on Wifi-only tablets) is useless if you access services via their apps (as these byapss the VPN and talk directly to their developers and third party advertisers). Using a VPN provides all the usual benefits when surfing the internet and accessing services via their web portals using your mobile browser.

  89. Hi Douglas , great read for a newbie such as myself about to try the VPN network from Australia,
    Can you tell me if you already have a Netflix account or any other subscription that is based in the US/UK or anywhere really while based in Australia prior to obtaining a vpn ,what happens when you log into your account using the vpn ?.Does it give you the full US programmes or as you have used your login – still restrict you to the Aus limited programmes?.
    Do you have to acquire a new Netflix account etc and cancel the current account to get full access please ?.

    1. Hi Robert,

      If you have a Netflix account and login to netflix.com while connected to a US VPN server then you will usually have access to the full US Netflix catalog. Your existing Netflix account is fine. Netflix is trying to block VPN users at the moment, however, so not all VPN services work. A little trial an error is therefore needed, and I strongly suggest that you take advantage of any free trials and money back guarantees in order to find a service that does work for you.

  90. Hi, great article. I use kodi via a fire stick and am looking into getting a vpn. The problem I’ve run into is that I have a gateway that isn’t compatible (according to ISP) with a VPN. If using one for business, I would need separate software. I obviously don’t want it for business. In order to have all of my devices protected, I would need to have my computer connected via Ethernet to my gateway OR connect another router. These are important issues you may want to mention before someone goes out and purchases a router. Only certain models are supported depending on the company.
    I could put a vpn on my computer but that doesn’t help my kodi issue since my device is connected to my tv. I’m stumped and am not sure what my options are besides buying another router and putting my gateway in bridge mode.

    1. Hi Teags.

      Thanks! It is true that not all routers include a VPN client. Thanks to the shear number of router models out there (many tied to a particular ISP), when we talk about routers we concentrate on ones flashed with DD-WRT (or to lesser extent with Tomato). This is also common practice among VPN providers, and means that a much wider range of routers can support OpenVPN configurations. In this Beginners Guide to VPN I decided not to include any mention of VPN on routers for the sake of keeping things simple, but this may have been an oversight. When I have a little spare time I will add a short section on using routers with a VPN.

      As for using a VPN with Kodi, I use Kodi on a Raspberry Pi 2, and use open source OpenVPN for Kodi Add-on. It works a treat! It uses standard OpenVPN configuration files, so should work with almost any VPN provider.

  91. I travel quite a bit and am curious about using a VPN in other countries. If I sign up for a VPN in the US will it not protect me in Europe or Asia?

    1. Hi Maryjo,

      Yup – VPN services generally work fine anywhere in the world (unless they are actively blocked, as is the case in places such as China). If you travel a lot then choose a provider with servers all over the world (such as ExpessVPN or IPVanish), and connect to a server nearest to your location for the best connection speeds.

  92. I enjoyed your article-it included info that I could understand and could use. I’m considering a VPN service but wondering if doing a overkill with VPN.

    Recently retired, I’m spending a lot of time online; shopping and researching anything that comes to mind. Noticed a couple of “weird” emails talking about sending 600 or 900 checks but nothing on the amount desired. Then on my Iphone favorites, there was a new entry with just a phone number, looks like an OR area code.

    I’m now concerned. Do I get a VPN for my apple laptop, iPad and phone? Saw that VPN wouldn’t protect iPhone and iPad as they are mobile devices? What do you advise? I’m not a techie…

    1. Hi Trudie,

      – I must admit that I am not 100% sure I understand your problems, but I don’t think the weird emails are an issue (they are probably just spam and should be ignored). The other problem sounds more serious, but I am unclear about wehat is going on. By “iPhone favorites” do you mean Address book favorites, Safari favorites, or something else?

      – VPNs work just fine on iPads and iPhones, but they are not the solution to the problems you seem to be having. If you can provide more details, I will try to help determine what the solution is.

  93. Thank you for a very educational article!

    I’m on Linux Mint 17.3 KDE and am using BolehVPN.

    When switching from my regular ISP account to my VPN connection one of the desired effects is the change of my IP Address.

    When accessing the Thunderbird e-mail client this message will pop up:

    [quote]
    Microsoft account
    Verify your account
    We detected something unusual about a recent sign-in for the Microsoft account ka*****@outlook.com. For example, you might be signing in from a new location, device, or app.
    To help keep you safe, we’ve blocked access to your inbox, contacts list, and calendar for that sign-in. Please review your recent activity and we’ll help you take corrective action. To regain access, you’ll need to confirm that the recent activity was yours.
    Review recent activity
    Thanks,
    The Microsoft account team”
    [unquote]

    Only after accessing each of my accounts on web-mail and completing all security steps can I access my mail accounts again in Thunderbird.

    This happens each time I change vpn server location. Even when reverting back to my ISP account I am denied accessing my e-mail access through my e-mail client until completing the security steps.

    This is a royal pain as I have several e-mail accounts.

    I brought this issue to the attention of Mozilla, Microsoft and BolehVPN but have not received any positive responses; My technical knowledge is too limited as to who might be responsible for this occurrence and I am not discounting the fact that all this is of my own making…

    Any suggestions for a fix or workaround avoiding this inconvenience?

    1. Hi Kay,

      Unfortunately some companies are rather too proactive in their efforts to protect your accounts. If you normaly access your email from one place, and then suddenly access it from another country, this automatically triggers a security response. The best thing you can do is to stick with using a favorite server location when accessing your email accounts.

    1. Hi Salty,

      BestVPN has not yet reviewed Unseen.is, and I am not personally familiar with the “anonymous” audio and video conferencing software. Given that it is proprietary, that very little actual detail is provided on its own website, and that Unseen.is is not a product talked about by the security community, however, it is unlikely that I would be too excited about the service.

  94. Hi Douglas Crawford,

    Thanks for the wonderful article. What is your view about using a vpn in India for downloading movies where internet speed is pathetic and netflix is absent? Ninety percent of people use pirated windows. Do you think it is absolutely necessary while the vpn companies are not giving any payment option in INR? What is the chance of getting caught in India and be punished? If possible suggest a true no log VPN service.

    1. Hi AM,

      To be honest, you probably have a better idea about what the situation “on the ground” is like in India than I do. Slow connection speeds make streaming via Netflix etc. wildly impracticable, but torrenting will work just fine as long as you are patient a d you are not charged per GB. I suspect the chance of getting caught and punished while downloading is very low, but Indian ISPs are becoming increasingly aggressive over this issue (including threats of up to 3 years in jail for offenders!). I would therefore advise using a VPN to protect yourself when downloading, and just accept the speed hit. For a list of truly no-logs providers, please see 5 Best Logless VPNs.

  95. This is really a good read. Thanks for sharing this wonderful knowledge about VPN. It is truly a great help for me.

  96. Hi… Thanks for the information. However, I have one query. I use my android cell phone internet on laptop through Hot-Spot. So what should I buy? VPN for phone ot laptop ?

    1. Hi Ricky,

      Running a VPN on your Android phone will not protected your PC tethered to it, so to protect your laptop use a desktop VPN client. Note that most VPN service allow more than 1 simultaneous connection, so you can happily run a VPN on both devices anyway.

  97. Hi Douglas,
    Great article. I’m in the USA & want to use a VPN for streaming in Europe. Hoxx VPN gets excellent reviews as an Add-on for Firefox & Chrome. Are you familiar w/ it?
    Thanks,
    Alan

    1. Hi Alan,

      I’m afraid not, but as Hoxx is a free browser add-on, there is no harm giving it a try. I would disable the add-on (or use another browser) when not streaming, however, as it is not entirely clear how Hoxx monetizes its free service.

      1. Hi Doug,
        I’ve been using Hoxx free for a few days & have been very satisfied. I get virtually no decrease in speed & it works great. No problem streaming. They also have great support.
        Pretty amazing for a free VPN.
        Alan

        1. Hi Alan,

          “Pretty amazing for a free VPN.” Indeed. This is why I have some concerns over how Hoxx makes money.

          1. Hi Doug,
            Well, if you look on their website they do say that they have the free version in the hope that you’ll get the paid version. I’m sure they will be trying to get me to sign up for the paid version. Whether you get a paid or free VPN you only have their word that they don’t use your info. To some extent it seems like a crap shoot. So far, so good. Maybe you could contact them & see what they have to say about your misgivings.

            Alan

          2. Hi Alan,

            – I’m sure they are, but Hoxx’s focus appears firmly on its free product. I know that I am very possibly being over-cautious, and will email Hoxx to see what they say.
            – It is true that you only have a provider’s word for what it does with your info, but paid-for service’s model relies on them honoring their word, and it is clear how they make their money.

          3. Hi Doug,
            That would be great if you make contact w/ Hoxx. I’d be very interested in what you find out. Hopefully they’re on the up & up.
            Thanks

          4. Hi Alan,

            Looking through the website pretty much answers my questions – in its FAQ Hoxx says “How do you make money? We try to convert our free clients to premium ones.” In its privacy policy, however, its is clear that Hoxx collects a great deal of information about its users, and shares this with its advertising partners. You doubtless agree to this in the small print before using the service.

          5. Hi Doug,
            Per your last reply I contacted Hoxx & asked them about the concerns you mentioned. Here is their reply:

            “we do not share user data with any advertisement provider or any other source. We only use them internally to improve our overall system, this is done automated by our servers. So we do not share your private information.”

            Alan

  98. Hi. I’ve been poring over lots of reviews for vpns. It seems like Express VPN gets consistently good reviews. I am pretty good with computers and protection but want to take that next step. Not knowing enough about them tech wise, it seems like this would be an excellent choice for someone who doesn’t want to tinker too much. I really want it for that extra layer of protection. I do all of my financial transactions online and even though I use Norton Security and Malware Bytes, this is something I am interested in. What do you think and recommend? Thank you.

    1. Hi Gary,

      As a general purpose customer-focused VPN, ExpressVPN is very hard to beat. There are more secure and privacy-focused VPNs out there, but ExpressVPN should than meet you needs in these regards.

  99. Great post Douglas, Yes VPN is an awesome technology. I am using Business VPN for secure remote access and VPN make us anonymous.
    I am using PureVPN business solution one of the best thing of PureVPN is that they give 500+ servers in 144+ countries.
    here you can check other feathers of it.
    http://www.purevpn.com/business-vpn.php

    1. Hi John,

      Unfortunately, PureVPN is responsible to more complaints we receive that just about all other VPNs put together! This fact is bourne out in our new PureVPN Review.

  100. Hi nice article was just wandering a few things:
    in all surcumstances dealing with a tech savvy person and a free but good vpn service
    -can they decrypt what websites you are visiting and your activity on the web?
    -know you are using a vpn?
    – block the vpn?
    -find out somehow what you are doing on the web?

    If any of these are possible would like to know if there are fixes for these problems or not thx.

    1. Hi Charlie,

      – Basically, no – using a VPN hides what you do on the internet, but it depends somewhat on who “they” are. The VPN provider itself can see what you get up to (although good ones keep no logs of this and use shared IPs to confuse the issue). The NSA might be able to spy on you if it has deliberated targeted you as being of special interest.
      – Your ISP can see the IP of the VPN server you connect to. If actively looking, then it could quite easily find out that the IP belongs to a VPN company. It is also not too difficult to use deep packet inspection (DPI) to determine that internet traffic is encrypted using a VPN protocol. Check out 5 Best VPNs for China for a discussion on how to hide the fact that you are using a VPN. Websites can also determine that you are using a VPN simply by knowing that the IP address you connect tpo the website from belongs to a VPN provider.
      – Places such as China try to block VPN use, but are only partially successful (at best).
      – Using a VPN will hide what you get up to on the web against most adversaries. Your VPN provider, however, can always know what you get up to, and can be forced (e.g. by a court order or subpoena) to start logging or monitoring communication in reatime (even if it normally keeps no logs).
      – VPNs provide a high level of privacy when using the internet, but if you require true anonymity then use Tor instead.

  101. I’m going to a repressive country to teach for a few months. I was told it to bring a bible. Should I use a vpn so I can read my bible app? Should I use one of those apps that hides apps or photos and decoys itself as a calculator? Thanks.

    1. Hi June,

      My first instinct is to suggest that exercising a little cultural sensitivity might be the best course of action. You will be a guest in a foreign culture, so perhaps you should consider respecting the mores and wishes of that culture? After all, it is only for a few months, and I would guess that you are quite familiar with the Bible’s contents anyway. If you do feel a need to read the Bible during your stay, then yes, using an app that hides your Bible app may be the best course of action. If you use an offline Bible app, a VPN connection (or even an internet connection)is not necessary. Alternatively, you can use a VPN to access the Bible via online websites. The advantage of this approach is that you will at no point be carrying an actual copy of the bible with you.

    1. Hi Tommy,

      ExpressVPN is a very professionally run operation that is aimed squarely at mainstream users. It is particularly great at customer service, and its 30-day money no-quibble back guarantee is 100% genuine (unlike some others on the market). It does, however, keep connection logs and is nowhere near as secure technically as AirVPN (for example). ExpressVPN is therefore a great choice for the vast majority of VPN users, but real privacy-heads should look elsewhere.

      1. Hi Douglas,

        I noticed in the reply you made to Tommy you mentioned that ExpressVPN keeps log, however in your review article for them on a Mac OS you say that ExpressVPN do NOT keep logs. Can you clear up this confusion?

        I am also curious to know if you accept any finance from any VPN companies?

        Many thanks
        Alex

        1. Hi Alex,

          I did not write the 5 Best VPNs for Mac article, but it is in error (now corrected). ExpressVPN keeps no usage logs (details of what you get up to on the internet), but it does keep quite extensive connection (metadata) logs. You might be interested in checking out my article on What does ‘no logs’ mean?

  102. What’s the best vpn in your opinion for Saudi Arabia? I’m going to be working there for a year and my agency suggested I get one so I can watch Netflix, hulu, hbo now etc. I have no idea how to set it up, should I arrange it before I leave in 2 weeks? I’m not very tech savvy – I don’t even know what to do about my phone situation lol! I have to bring along an unlocked phone so I can’t use my current iPhone 6 while I’m there. I also have a kindle fire hd so how does that work between my laptop and kindle and setting up a vpn? Any help you could give me would be greatly appreciated! Thanks 🙂

    1. Hi Yolanda,

      It’s a little old, but much of the information in 5 Best VPNs for Saudi Arabia should still be relevant. To setup, simply signup for a service, download, install and run its software (most VPN services have detailed guides for this). Yes, it is a good idea to signup and install the software before arrival in Saudi. And taking an unlocked phone and then buying a local sim card is a very good plan. Most VPN providers have either an Android app or good setup instructions for configuring either OpenVPN for Android or OpenVPN Connect manually, but the Kindle Fire is somewhat awkward because it does not (by default) allow access to the Google Play Store. See here for more details and solutions. Some VPN services (such as ExpressVPN) explicitly support the Kindle Fire (no root). Please be aware that a VPN will geospoof your location when using your mobile browser, but may not work in apps as these can use a variety of other methods to determine your true location.

    1. Hi Joseph,

      BestVPN (bestvpn.com) is blocked in China. We get around this by this by running another domain name (bestvpn-china.com) that is not blocked there (so far). In theory China could block this special URL at any time, but so far it has not (and we have used this domain for the last 2 years). If it did, we could always purchase a new domain and use that instead.

      Another option is to publish your website on the Tor Hidden Services darkweb – much as Facebook has done. A .onion web address is impossible to block, and can be accessed by anyone using the Tor Browser.

  103. Hi Douglas,
    My question is the reverse of most here, we have a very tech savvy child.
    If he’s using a VPN is there any way to block that being used from our IP to safeguard him online.

    Thanks

    1. Hi Paul,

      That depends on how tech savvy your child is, and whether you have direct access to his or her computer. Depending on your router, it may be possible to implement firewall rules to block ports routinely used by VPN connections. But there are ways around this. On a broader note, however (and without knowing how old your child is), I think you should consider internet blocks very carefully. Censorship is a very blunt tool, and one that can backfire badly. You cannot protect your child from the world forever, and if he/she is old enough to understand how a VPN works, then it may be time to take a step back.

      A far better approach, IMO, is to maintain a dialogue with your child, so that he/she has the moral framework and social/political understanding necessary to contextualize material he/she encounters on the internet. At some point he/she will become exposed to this content anyway, and it far better IMO that children feel able to approach their parents and talk honestly and frankly about material that disturbs or challenges them in some way. This is far better than feeling a need to hide what they get up to on the internet, and which will deny you the opportunity to provide the support that your child needs.

      It is a big bad world out there, and I believe it is better to prepare children for its challenges, than to censor it from them (which won’t work in the long run anyway).

  104. Very interesting stuff, cheers. Quick Q, from your Ultimate guide it mentions “It is obvious to observers that you are using VPN” – any way round that? Thx

    1. Hi Dan,

      Yup. Check out 5 Best VPNs for China. Simply running an OpenVPN (or SSTP) connection over TCP port 443 can make OpenVPN traffic look just like regular HTTPS traffic. This enough to defeat more casual checks. Some VPN providers also offer “stealth” servers or “Chameleon” encryption to defeat more thorough Deep Packet Inspection (DPI). These typically employ obfuscation technologies such as obfsproxy bridges, or hide OpenVPN connections inside SSL or SSH tunnels.

  105. Hi,
    I am wondering if using a VPN would make my on-line financial dealings more secure esp while traveling. I don’t understand how, if my data is encrypted when it leaves my computer, is it decrypted when it gets to the bank (for example) and does it work in reverse from the bank?

    1. Hi Ian,

      VPNs are useful for many things (as discussed in this guide), but are not very useful for what you want. As you say, your internet connection with the bank website is protected using HTTPS encryption (both ways). VPN will provide an extra layer of security (encryption) when using public WiFi hotspots, but this should really be necessary as long as you connect to HTTPS secured websites (which all banks are).

  106. Im Looking for advice richard.i download some films, books, and music. Not a lot say 5gb a month. While im away working i watch the films,read,listen to new music.when i am in the uk on leave,should i now get a vpn subscription,or can i buy/use a vpn router. I dont profit or copy but want to keep myself legal in what i do. Any advice would b a great help.
    Des

    1. Hi Les,

      Downloading copyrighted content in the UK is illegal. The chances of getting caught are low, but using a VPN will protect you (as long as you choose a VPN provider that permits P2P and offers a kill switch – please see see 5 Best VPNs for Torrent Downloads. I can’t really see the advantage of you buying a VPN router (which still requires a subscription) – and software VPN clients are any almost always much faster because the processor in your PC or even mobile device will be much faster than the processor in a router.

  107. Any comments about VPN in Cuba?
    Or using a corporate VPN based in Usa
    May work if I visit Cuba, no for privacy
    Sake,but to be able to comunicate with
    Usa via wi fi ?

    1. Hola Juan,

      Please see 5 Best VPNs for Cuba. The reason that I put a question mark after the title is that internet access remains very basic and limited in Cuba (so discussing VPNs may be a little premature), although no doubt this is changing fast. I am not clear why using a VPN will help you to communicate with the USA via WiFi. Perhaps you could explain more?

  108. Hi Douglas
    I’m struggling with Surfeasy and VyprVPN – both are being detected – I live in the Middle East and want to get access to at least some decent television. I use a Macbook. Do you recommend AirVPN for Mac also?

    Many thanks in advance

    1. Hi Kativa,

      Are you trying to access US Netflix? If so, I can confirm that AirVPN works, and that it works well on a Mac.

  109. I don’t agree with this, if the VPN is in a country where there laws does not ALLOW them to give out information, the NSA can’t do shit. They can’;t force or make a VPN provider from an entirely different country who’s laws may be more strict on protecting privacy, I mean what are they going to do. Prosecute a foreign VPN service Provider service for not complying?

    1. Hi Xavier,

      I’m not quite sure exactly what you are not agreeing with, but the NSA’s reach is considerable . All members of the Fourteen Eyes spying alliance regularly exchange information with it, and mutual law enforcement treaties mean that most governments will cooperate with legal requests made by police etc. from other countries (think Interpol).

      1. (think interpol) : their task is to collect information about wanted person at the opposite of a private company. I guess you think about special force from abroad that you name interpol (umbrella).
        what about vpn in ireland ? are they considered ‘unsafe’ , And with the victory of the brexit , do the rules about vpn/privacy are the same ?

        1. Hi rexvia,

          The point I was making is that police forces and security organizations routinely cooperate with those of other nations, giving them a reach that goes well beyond their direct jurisdictions.
          Regarding Ireland, you might find this article interesting…

          1. Hello,
            It is embarrassing : regarding Ireland, the article does not learn me a lot.
            Like your last answer, it is general concept, opinion, idea …

            The question was : “They can’;t force or make a VPN provider from an entirely different country who’s laws may be more strict on protecting privacy, I mean what are they going to do. Prosecute a foreign VPN service Provider service for not complying?”
            Someone decided with the help of machines to decrease the errors made by the humans being , all the data are transmitted for a better decision. In the real life, cooperate means strictly doing his job (e.g mannings/non-compliance) and not , following the laws, because data have none frontier and are collected from the world to one place – the place where lives this ‘someone’. So, saying that police forces and security organizations routinely cooperate with those of other nations, giving them a reach that goes well beyond their direct jurisdictions is a tale for a young blind child … The machines do not need authorization.

            A vpn provider is not protected by the laws (stronger or not than the power of the 12:nsa) ; but by the chain of trust. The real danger is not in this clear plan of ‘someone’ ; but like it is yet written on this blog (news), in the misuse and abuse of personal data for a personal usage.

            The nations are not organized or structured for a state surveillance ; they rent a service for money , the service is manipulated for their own interest more often than serving the ‘international cooperation’. It is often false information and fake identification, a machine do not make the difference. It sold as true.

            So, i agree with Xavier ; if the privacy laws are stronger than 12:nsa ; ‘someone’ will fail to collect data because the chain of trust do not allow it (e.g startmail , proton e-mail) but if your live is in danger, which vpn will you choose , which vpn take your privacy seriously, is a vpn able to be ‘resistant’ against nsa ?
            In turkey (news), a courageous will is spreading the world : us go home.

          2. Hi rexvia,

            How resistant a VPN service is to foreign pressure depends a lot on your threat model. If you are using a VPN to evade censorship in Turkey, then pretty much any EU-based VPN provider will provide a high level of protection. If, on the other hand, your are a US citizen who is running a child porn website, simply using an EU-based VPN service is unlikely to protect you from the FBI. In countries where VPN providers can operate a “no-logs” service, they cannot be compelled to hand over logs that they do not have, but they can still be issued with court orders to start logging or to allow monitoring of communications in realtime. Such court orders are usually accompanied with a “gag order” to prevent companies alerting customers about this, which is why warrant canaries were invented. For reasons discussed here, however, I am dubious about the value of warrant canaries. Governments will often issue court orders at the request of other (friendly) governments.

    2. you are right but you forgot a detail : communication/complacency ; every body can ask who, when, where to his provider and that without none authority.

  110. Hi there.
    Great reviews.
    I am using pia.
    There are some technical problems with win client.
    Is there another service offering good speeds,security and ability to activate internet kill switch without buggering up os network settings or being unable to connect after hibernating?
    Being able to stream bbc would be great but this may reduce security obtained by using shared ip addresses which are being blocked

  111. Many thanks for a clear and simple explanation. Most descriptions of vpns are apparently written in Martian.

  112. Doug,

    Found your article extremely helpful.

    Does a VPN also make a personal hot spot using my I phone safer?

    1. Hi John,

      So:

      – If your PC (or whatever) is running a VPN when connected you phone’s personal WiFi hotspot, then your PC gains all the normal benefits of using a VPN (as discussed in this article).
      – If you connect your PC to your phone and your phone is running a VPN, this will not hide your PC’s true IP address.

  113. Great article Douglas. My all questions about VPN has been answered. Thank you very much. Keep up the good work. ?

  114. Aloha and mahalo Douglas for your extensive and informative article. It really helped me understand VPN much more. Keep up the good work.

  115. Douglas:
    I am such a 77 yr, old newbie, totally not a techie. You will see that quickly enough! I live in Ecuador, a wonderful little country, which has no English (or French) bookstores. I love to read! A niece’s 18 yr old showed me how to download books via Kickass torrents. I am in heaven. The downloader, for lack of a better name, has been warning me that I should be using a VPN. I tried one, then another; was horrified at what they did to my marvellous fiber optic ISP’s speed. Now, the reason for this long intro : is it or not a good thing for someone like me to go to the trouble of getting and setting up an VPN?

    1. Hi Richard,

      I visited Peru last year, which is not so far from Ecuador! I am no expert when it comes to South American (let alone Ecuadorian) copyright enforcement, but I strongly suspect that it is pretty much non-existent. If your only concern is “getting caught” while downloading ebooks (or other torrented content), then you probably have very little to worry about. Personally, I wouldn’t bother in your situation. If are still worried, then try to connect to a VPN server as close to your physical location as possible in order to minimize slowdown (for example, many VPN providers operate servers out of Panama, and ExpressVPN even runs one from Ecuador itslef).

      1. Douglas:
        I can’t thank you enough! I thought it was perhaps overkill to bother with a VPN, in my quite limited amount of web traffic and you corroborate that for me. I may give Express VPN a look, but you have made me feel much better. Muchas gratias!

    1. Hi Runyourownserver,

      Because I do not feel that running your own VPN server is a suitable topic for a beginners guide to VPN, especially as reviewing commercial VPN services is the purpose of this website (which this guide is primary designed to help explain). I do, however, have a guide to setting up your own server, and which also goes into the pros and cons of doing so – How to roll your own OpenVPN server on a VPS using CentOS 6.

  116. Hi Douglas
    Having just read your comments on VPN I have decided that I wouldlike to add it to my TV streaming system. MY system consists of a MX111-G Box running Android 5.1 but after emailing several companies supplying VPN none have suggested that it could be installed onto a MX111-g Android box. Could you comment as to if such software can be made to work on my equipment and if so who could I contact to help Sorry if this is not in your remit.

    1. Hi Bryan,

      Adding a VPN to your streaming system is a very good idea! Since your MX111-G TV Box runs regular Android, you should be able to use pretty much any VPN service – just follow a provider’s regular Android setup instructions. If your TV box does not have the Google Play Store installed you can always download OpenVPN for Android using F-Droid, and use regular OpenVPN config files with it. Most providers offer a free trial or money back guarantee, so why not just download their Android app (or follow their Android setup instructions) and take advantage of this to ensure the service works with your MX111-G before coughing up real money?

  117. Hi Douglas, as always a very informative write-up. I found your comment; “This is, however, a specifically targeted demand or request (most providers will happily cooperate when it comes to catching pedophiles, for example), so only specific individuals already identified by the authorities need be too concerned.”, interesting for a number of reasons. That is because corrupt ‘governments and police departments’ will use the ‘pedophile’ claim to demonize political dissidents or people who they have a personal vendetta against. VPN providers are in an unfortunate position if they forward a complete log of the ‘suspects’ surfing habits, they may very well be helping corrupt governments, police departments screw a completely innocent person.

    1. Hi Rick,

      The thing is that a good “no logs” company should have no logs to forward. Any government, however, can legally demand that a provider start keeping logs on a named individual (hence the “specifically targeted” comments). Unfortunately, there is nothing a VPN provider can do if served with a such a legally valid demand, except a) shut down (and even this may be seen as contempt of court) or comply.

  118. Perhaps you could do a website on secure email handlers. No one I know will agree to use encrypted emails, however there must be an in between. Much of my email is from someone who wants to sell me something, or someone who I have done business with, so I can not expect privacy from them. Sometimes it would be nice to have an email, where I could disguise who I am, where I am, from being open on the internet. There are a bunch of services, some of which are really poor in terms of security. Some cost money, which makes it hard to disguise who I am, Than again no free service is for long going to stay both free, and secure.

    Using a VPN where the emails make it easy to identify me, diminishes why one might use VPN. Also using one of those services with, say a family member defeats the how private the service is. One could see how a VPN could index an email name scrambler, wherein I have different email names for different send to addresses. (also supposing I do not allow this thing to be used as a spam email address for all those who send me, “Buy this from us.”

    I suspect you have a better concept of what might be useful than I do.

  119. Hi,

    as a noobie from the block. You are saying that some VPN-servers, depending in the country they are working, have to keep logs. Do you then mean the location of the compagny, or the location of the VPN-server?
    For example; MULLVAD operates in Sweden (I think so..), but have servers in The Netherlands, Germany etc. In your blog you say to avoid countries as Germany for the required logging due to law regulations.

    The bottom line: can I can connect to countries as Germany, The Netherlands and using PopcornTime (or XBMC :))?

    Thnx!

    1. Hi Roelant,

      This is something of a grey area. When I asked AirVPN about its UK server, they told me that AirVPN keeps no logs, and if the UK government demanded that they do, it would go to the European Court of Justice, which has ruled mandatory data retention illegal. I recommend using a server in country that does not require compulsory data retention to be on the safe side. The Netherlands is a good location for a VPN server, as VPN providers are not required to keep logs there.

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