Home VPNs What is a VPN? | A Simple Guide to VPNs in 2023
Ilija M Tech Writer Author expertise
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A VPN (Virtual Private Network) is essentially a piece of software aimed at protecting your privacy, security, and personal information when you’re browsing online. It does this by sending your data through a secure tunnel before it reaches the server.

When it does eventually reach the server, your data will be encrypted before it is sent over to its final destination. Sounds simple, right?

There are several key factors a VPN user can benefit from, including online anonymity, so there’s no fear that your ISP (Internet Service Provider) is throttling your bandwidth or monitoring your online activities. You can also safely access public Wi-Fi without potential hackers or snoopers looking to steal your personal data.

That being said, many of us are still a little confused about why we should be using VPNs, despite the fact that they are now commonly used in businesses around the world, as well as by individuals.

Any questions you might have will be answered in this post, and we’ll even explore the best overall VPNs and how you go about using them. If you’re in a rush, our top pick is ExpressVPN – it combines lightning-fast server speeds with military-grade encryption, and it’s got a simple, user-friendly interface.

What is a VPN? | How Does a VPN Work?

You can protect your online security and privacy by using a VPN service, as it encrypts all data received to its server using encryption technologies before forwarding it to the destination.

Best VPN

This is how VPNs conceal your data, including your IP address, and get around geo-locks. Although this may sound specific, there are a number of instances where a VPN is crucial for maintaining the security of your data.

A VPN may even be required in some nations, such as China, in order to access the Western portion of the internet. Let’s now examine one of the most crucial VPN building blocks: encryption protocols.

Encryption Protocols

A VPN’s encryption protocol is the process it uses in order to secure an encrypted path between you and the server. This works by taking the data you send to the VPN and then encrypting it by using a mathematical algorithm.

This, in turn, hides the data you’ve sent from anyone that doesn’t have the encryption key. Although there are many encryption protocols out there, all with their own pros and cons, we’ll mainly be looking at the three most popular ones: OpenVPN, IKEv2, and WireGuard.

OpenVPN | The Most Secure VPN Protocol

OpenVPN is an over 20-year-old VPN encryption protocol and is available in most commercially available VPNs today. It owes its success to its incredible security and long history of success in keeping security purists happy.

It’s one of the easiest protocols to configure manually, being that OpenVPN is completely open-source. This protocol supports 5 different kinds of encryption algorithms- AES-128, AES-256, Blowfish, ChaCha20, and Camellia. The two most secure ones for general-purpose use are AES-128 and AES-256.

Tried and tested for the last two decades

The AES, or Advanced Encryption Standard algorithm, lies at the core of both AES-128 and AES-256 encryption. The AES algorithm is incredibly secure, as well as reasonably fast, making it a perfect fit for VPNs.

Looking at both of these variations, we can see the biggest between AES-256 and AES-128 is that AES-256 has a longer, 256-bit key. This makes it better against brute force attacks, which is part of what gives AES-256 the trust of multiple militaries. AES-128 is still quite secure and provides quicker performance.

OpenVPN’s rock-solid security does come at a price, however. The protocol, together with OpenSSL, stacks up to be a massive 600,000 lines of code. The time it takes for this code to run can pose a problem when trying to maximize speed and performance.

IKEv2

The tech giants Microsoft and Cisco created IKEv2, or Internet Key Exchange version 2, as a joint project in 2005. This is the default encryption protocol found in most iOS and macOS VPNs, and it’s quite comparable to OpenVPN on most fronts.

Notably, it uses less CPU power in most scenarios and is better at reconnecting to a device when the connection is interrupted abruptly. It uses similar encryption algorithms to OpenVPN, with AES, Blowfish, Camellia, and 3DES being supported.

All in all, IKEv2 is a proven, solid encryption protocol optimized for mobile devices that usually slightly outperforms OpenVPN in terms of speed.

WireGuard

WireGuard, released in 2016, was designed to be a kernel visual interface for Linux devices rather than a VPN encryption protocol. However, it has since mostly morphed to its modern use- being one of the fastest, leanest encryption protocols out there.

Sitting at a measly 4,000 lines of code, WireGuard is incredibly quick. The only issue with WireGuard is that it doesn’t log IP addresses properly for VPN use.

The latest and greatest in VPN encryption

The way WireGuard logs user IP addresses is by storing them all on the same server without dynamically assigning IPs. Although an issue like this is massive if left unchecked, many VPN companies saw the potential in WireGuard and took to finding a fix.

ExpressVPN, our number 1 VPN choice, used WireGuard as inspiration for its Lightway protocol to provide its users with next-level performance and security. NordVPN — another top VPN, has NordLynx, a similar protocol that revolves around WireGuard.

Although it’ll take some time for WireGuard and its offshoots to prove themselves as secure encryption protocols, there’s no doubt that they’ve got a bright future.

What Are the Best VPNs?

Here at The Tech Report, we’ve tested dozens of VPNs, each with its own perks and flaws. Today, we’ve rounded them all up, looking at a detailed breakdown of their speed, user-friendliness, security, value for money, and more. In our testing, the best VPNs are as follows:

  1. ExpressVPN — Best VPN on the Market | Take Advantage of the 30-Day Guarantee Now
  2. NordVPN — Popular VPN with Advanced Security Features | Has a 30-Day Money-Back Guarantee
  3. IvacyVPN — Cheap And Reliable | Takes Crypto Payments | 30-Day Money-Back Guarantee!
  4. PureVPN — Free Password Manager | Supports Most OSs | 31-Day Money-Back Guarantee.
  5. Surfshark/SSOne — Massive Array of Peripherals | Unlimited Devices | 30-Day Money-Back Guarantee Available!
  6. CyberGhost — Quick VPN With Great Anti-Malware | Great Unblocking | Longest Money-Back Guarantee at 45 Days!
  7. PrivadoVPN — Best Free VPN | No Data Restrictions | Try Pro Version With 30-Day Money-Back Guarantee!
  8. StrongVPN — Many Encryption Options | Great Leak Protection | 30-Day Money-Back Guarantee!
  9. AtlasVPN — Cheap, Quick VPN | Great Potential | 30-Day Money-Back Guarantee!
  10. Private Internet Access — Huge Server Network | Experienced VPN | Risk-Free 30-Day Money-Back Guarantee!
  11. PrivateVPN — Fast VPN For Just $2.00/Month | Rock-Solid Security | Try For Free With 30-Day Money-Back Guarantee
  12. IPVanish — Easy To Use | Boundless Customization | Try For Free With 30-Day Money-Back Guarantee
  13. VyprVPN — Great In UAE or China | Top-Security | Free to Try Using Its 30-Day Money-Back Guarantee
  14. ProtonVPN — Popular Free VPN for Surfing | Unlimited Bandwidth | Great Premium Version
  15. UltraVPN — Great Netflix VPN | Works Worldwide | 30-Day Money-Back Guarantee!

What to Look for When Choosing a VPN

There are a lot of factors that go into picking the perfect VPN for you. You’ll want to take a good look at how you use the internet and what activities you’ll need a VPN for before you decide. However, there are some universal factors it’s worth paying attention to:

  • Logging Policy — Look for VPNs with a zero-log policy. They won’t retain your data.
  • Server Locations — This is especially important for watching Netflix and gaming- always check out where the VPN’s servers are.
  • Home Country — Ideally, look for a VPN housed in a country that isn’t part of any surveillance alliances
  • Speed — Naturally, you should look for a VPN with top speeds in your area
  • Money-Back Guarantee — A money-back guarantee makes it so you can test out all the VPN’s features extensively before committing
  • Features — Most of the best VPNs come with some peripheral software like dark web scanners, safe search browsers, and more
  • Secure Encryption Protocols — Make sure the VPN supports high-security encryption protocols like WireGuard or OpenVPN

Why Do You Need a VPN?

If you’re not a fan of being tracked and having your every click, tap, or key press monitored, then you need a VPN. If you also often connect to public Wi-Fi or use torrents and streaming services, having a VPN is almost a necessity.

You might think that a VPN’s only uses are unlocking region-locked content like Netflix and hiding your data from advertisers like Google. However, that’s only scratching the surface. Let’s see what lies beneath that.

Protect Yourself on Public Wi-Fi | Prevent Snooping on Public Wi-Fi

You’ve probably heard that public Wi-Fi networks are riddled with security pitfalls and can be dangerous to even connect to. This is because they’re largely not secured, which leads to them becoming hacking hotspots.

Cybercriminals use them to steal the private data of anyone who connects to them, then sell it off to the highest bidder. In even more morally dubious cases, they’ll create the network, naming it something like “Free Wi-Fi Station,” and wait for people to connect to it.

A VPN can be a lifesaver in these situations. Since VPNs encrypt your traffic, even if the hacker can get ahold of your data (which is unlikely in and of itself), they won’t be able to decrypt it. This lets you connect to public Wi-Fi networks without a care in the world.

Stay Safe Online | Encrypt Your Internet Usage

There’s no shortage of dangers on the internet. Cybercriminals are constantly stepping up their game, discovering new ways to trick people into giving them their data.

Even your ISP can’t see what you’re doing online

When most people think of data theft, they think of stolen social media accounts or Netflix logins. However, data theft can be much more notorious, with hackers stealing payment account credentials to take people’s money every day.

Now, while this may not have a high chance of happening to you, a VPN completely eliminates that chance and lets you rest easy. Even if you accidentally wander to a malicious site, the best VPNs will immediately stop you from entering it, or even sanitize it so that it can’t harm you.

Game With a VPN | Increase Speeds and Change Regions In-Game

If you’ve played online games for any stretch of time, you’ll know that playing games with the game’s servers far away can be an incredibly frustrating experience.

Alternatively, in more popular games (LoL, Dota2, and the like), players will migrate to a different server to get more of a challenge.

In both of these cases, a VPN can provide a significant bump in speed and lower your ping. If the game region locks servers, you can get around that and create an account for whichever region you’d like!

Paid vs. Free VPNs

Despite all the benefits a VPN provides, it can be tough to pay for a product you didn’t know you needed. After all, there are free VPNs out there, aren’t there?

Free VPNs do exist, and some, such as ProtonVPN and PrivadoVPN, even offer comparable performance to some of the more middling paid VPNs out there. However, with free VPNs, there’s always a catch. Most free VPNs are simply selling your data.

However, even the trustworthy ones have restrictions. For example, PrivadoVPN will restrict you to 10GB/month of fast data, while ProtonVPN won’t let you stream Netflix or torrent files through its free version.

Most free VPNs are scams. Remember: if the product is free, then you’re the product!

Even the best free VPNs are way behind the best premium VPNs because of reasons like this. Even the two mentioned above are cases of a company offering a weaker version of their product for free.

Sure, if you want to browse the internet for a few hours a month and secure your privacy, a free VPN might be good enough. However, for anything past that, you’ll want to get a paid VPN, as even cheap VPNs give you much more features.

However, there’s a way for you to check if a paid VPN would be worth it for you. Take advantage of ExpressVPN’s 30-day money-back guarantee. This lets you use the world’s best VPN for an entire month without risking your cash, getting access to all of its features without any data throttling or restrictions.

How to Install a VPN | Step-by-Step Guide

Installing a VPN can be extremely simple. Let’s look at a few examples using ExpressVPN!

Install a VPN on a PC/Mac

best vpn service

First off, you’ll need to create an ExpressVPN account. You can do this through the button below. Once you’re on the website, press “Sign Up” and provide your desired login details. Next, you’ll want to follow these steps:

  1. Subscribe to ExpressVPN by clicking the link below.
  2. Download and install the VPN software.
  3. Log in with your credentials from before.
  4. Choose a country to connect to (either on the map or on the menu) and press “Connect”.

That’s all you need to do to connect to your server of choice!

Install a VPN on Mobile

Setting up ExpressVPN on a mobile is very similar to doing so on a PC. You’ll once again want to tap the button below and create an ExpressVPN account. Afterward, make sure to pick your ideal subscription level.

best vpn for phones 2023

 

From there, it takes just a couple of steps:

  1. Go to the app store on your phone and type “ExpressVPN” in the search bar.
  2. Tap “Install” and wait for it to finish.
  3. Open ExpressVPN and log in using your credentials.
  4. Choose a server on the map, and then “Quick Connect” to connect to it.

And that’s all it takes!

Install a VPN on a Router

Installing a VPN on a router is not only an interesting idea but also one that can allow you to save money while improving your online security. When you install a VPN on the same router all of your in-house devices connect to, you’ve also protected them from harm without having to pay for a more expensive VPN subscription.

This is also an excellent method to get a VPN to function on gaming consoles. However, before you do this, make sure that your router can process VPN encryption, as most ISP-provided ones can’t.

With that said, if you can get your hands on one that can, following the instructions on ExpressVPN’s router setup guides will have all of your Wi-Fi usage encrypted in no time.

Are VPNs Legal?

As always, this depends on your jurisdiction. Most countries worldwide have no laws outlawing the use of VPNs in order to protect your privacy online.

With that being said, certain countries such as North Korea, China, Iraq, Belarus, Russia, Oman, and the United Arabian Emirates do have regulations pertaining to the use of VPNs.

VPNs are legal in most countries

Some streaming networks, such as Netflix, also prohibit the use of VPNs with their service in their terms of service. This is because these streaming platforms make money by streaming region-locked content, and they don’t want you watching it from anywhere in the world.

This is why many people opt to use a VPN to watch US Netflix- as it’s widely regarded as having the best shows. Even if you do use a VPN for this, the worst a streaming service can do is ban you, and they’re highly unlikely to find out if you’re using a good VPN.

With all of that out of the way, it’s important to remember that simply using a VPN doesn’t allow you to do other illegal activities. Whether this be downloading copyrighted content, hacking, or breaking the law in any other way- it’s still illegal even with a VPN.

VPN FAQs

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How to get a VPN?

Conclusion | Use a VPN to Protect Yourself Online

Having covered all of that, it should be plain to see why using a VPN is not dissimilar to keeping your door locked in a rough neighborhood. A VPN keeps all manner of malicious actors, region locks, and simple inconveniences away from your online experience. Furthermore, it might even increase your gaming performance!

With a first-class VPN, you’ll be able to use the internet untracked and watch US Netflix from abroad, all the while being protected from hackers. You can reap all of these benefits and more with any one of the VPNs we’ve talked about today.

However, ExpressVPN stands out as a cut above the rest. It uses military-grade encryption, like its powerful Lightway protocol, to ensure your utmost security online. But if you’re not sure about investing in a VPN just yet, you can use its 30-day money-back guarantee to try it out risk-free!

Ilija M Tech Writer

Ilija M Tech Writer

With over 15 years of professional writing experience, Ilija is a seasoned content creator whose expertise spans the entire tech spectrum, delving into gaming, software, and cryptocurrency. His content is regularly published across sites such as Business2Community, Crypto News, WebServerTalk, and Techopedia. Before these sites, you could find him featured on MarketACross, CryptoManiaks, UpComer, Comparitech, and plenty more.

Ilija's passion for writing began with his pursuit of a Bachelor's degree in Creative Writing, which provided him with a solid foundation for crafting engaging and compelling content.

You can read his long-form content covering video games, cybersecurity, VPNs, VoIP, spy apps, cryptocurrency, password managers, GameFi and more.

Away from writing, Ilija can be found with his head in a fantasy novel, partaking in a tabletop RPG, or diving into a classic video game.