How to use a VPN like a Transylvanian guru

How to use a VPN like a Transylvanian guru

You have probably heard about the VPN technology, and you asked yourself how to use a VPN. After digging into the subject more, and more you might feel overwhelmed by all the new/technical information.

Have no fear, Vlad is here to help you rest assured that even if the VPN is a complex technology, is not rocket science to use it, as there are plenty of ways, suitable even for newbies.

We have prepared a (long) article that presents most of the things you should be aware of related to VPN usage. Start reading the short bat-related explanation and continue with our in-depth presentation of the available options.

How to use a VPN – The Transylvanian explanation

Romance is possible even in the World of vampire bats. At least, this is what we would like to believe.

Long story short: our TomBat has a crush on a she-bat who recently joined the colony. PonyBat, that is her name, is … well … bloody beautiful. Of course, she has a lot of pretenders. To make things worse: TomBat is a little bit shy.

TomBat’s strategy is to get to PonyBat’s heart by sending her some impressive love letters. But, TomBat does not want to disclose his identity before he is 100% sure of his success. And here it is what he did.

The AnonymousBat (aka VPN Server)

TomBat (the VPN client) established a coding convention (VPN protocol) with the AnonymousBat (the VPN server). TomBat sent encrypted messages to AnonymousBat that decoded them and passed them forward to PonyBat (the destination). Thus, PonyBat did not know the (real) sender of the message. Additionally, as the communication between TomBat and AnonymousBat was coded (encrypted), the messages remained a secret for all the other bats in the colony.

As PonyBat was truly impressed, she formulated an answer (or more, who knows?) and asked AnonymousBat to intermediate the communication again. Thus, AnonymousBat (the VPN server) encrypted the PonyBat’s message and sent it back to TomBat (the VPN client). As TomBat was aware of the encryption type (the VPN protocol), he was able to decipher the message and enjoy it. 🙂

The communication within a virtual private network works in a similar manner. The data from the sender (the VPN client) is encrypted and passed to the middle man (the VPN server). Next, the data is forwarded decrypted and sent to the destination. Backward, the destination sends data to the VPN server where data is encrypted and sent to the VPN client.

To use a VPN you need access to the necessary components (client, server) and to set up the communication channel (using an encryption protocol).

What you need to get a VPN working – VPN components

As “bat-ifully” explained here, VPN technology relies on several components that work together to achieve secure communication and online anonymity. The usage of VPN involves access to VPN client applications and VPN servers, that utilize VPN protocols to exchange data.

As all operating systems (Windows, Mac OS, Linux, iOS, Android) have built-in components that can act as VPN clients, the key component of accessing a VPN (Virtual Private Network) is the VPN server.

Diagram showing VPN components and how to use a VPN

How to get a VPN

The first step in using a VPN is getting access to a Virtual Private Network. And, here are the available options.

Connect to a private VPN

The VPN is a legal technology and many companies use it to restrict access to private resources (documents, intranet) and to secure communication between remote team members. Similarly, schools and universities use VPN to implement content access policies.

Connecting to such private VPN networks requires permissions granted by the network administrators. You need to receive login credentials (server address, username, password) or certificate profiles. Additionally, VPN setup instructions are mandatory, and they should also specify the VPN protocol to be configured.

Subscribe to a VPN service (free or paid)

VPN services are very popular nowadays as they provide easy access to already configured VPN servers, available on hundreds of locations, 24 hours a day.

VPN providers enable smooth access to secure servers through easy to use VPN client apps (one-click connect) compatible with the most popular OSes like Windows, Android, Mac, and iOS.

All you need to do is to install a VPN application and connect to a desired server or location. Some times, you may choose the level of encryption, the VPN protocol, the communication port.

Totally free VPN services exist, but we do not recommend them. They may be either selling your private data or be adware applications.

Freemium or premium services are the way to go when it comes to online privacy or security. Freemium VPN services are built to promote their paid versions, and they come with certain limitations. However, most of them can be trusted.

If you take your online privacy seriously, premium or paid VPN services are a must.

By subscribing to a VPN service, you receive all the information necessary to start using the VPN (login credentials, setup instructions, download links).

Set up your own VPN server (Advanced)

Setting up your own dedicated VPN server is not as difficult as it may sound. However, it requires some basic tech knowledge.

It is beyond the scope of this article to explain how to set up a VPN server manually. But we recommend the following tutorials:

How to set up a VPN connection

After you get access to a VPN, setting up the VPN connection is pretty straight forward.

Option 1 – Manually set up a VPN connection.

Major operating systems (Windows, Mac OS, iOS, Android) are able to act as VPN clients and establish VPN connections to VPN servers using various types of VPN protocols.

The manual setup involves several basic steps that can be performed even by users that are not tech gurus.

For example, to set up an L2TP VPN connection on a Mac (learn more on how to use a VPN on Mac here) you need to:

  1. Choose Apple menu  > System Preferences, then click Network.
  2. Click on the “+” sign to add a new connection.
  3. Select VPN as an interface type and L2TP over IPSec as VPN type.
  4. Click Create.
  5. Fill in the Server Address and the Account Name (username).
  6. Complete the Authentication Settings.
  7. The VPN connection is set up. Next, click Connect.
Image showing how to use a VPN on Mac (L2TP manual setup)

Option 2 – Install and run a VPN client application

Many VPN providers offer access to custom VPN clients that can be used to choose a VPN server or location, select a VPN protocol, and connect with one click.

Here are the steps to be performed when using a VPN client application:

  1. Download and install the VPN software. 
  2. Run the client (on desktop computers) or the app (mobile devices). Note that a client and an app is actually the same thing.
  3. Sign in to the app or client with the login details provided when you subscribed to the VPN service. 
  4. On most VPN application, there is a big Connect button. Clicking on or tapping this button will connect your device to a VPN server nearby that has been selected by the VPN provider. This will likely give you the fastest VPN connection that is available.
    To use a server located in a different region or country, some VPNs provide a map you can use to select the region you want to connect to by clicking on that region or country on the map. If the VPN does not have this functionality, clicking on the menu button will probably allow you to select from a list of VPN servers available. 

Generally, VPN software is designed to be user-friendly, and you should be able to use it without having to do any configuration.

Major open-source VPN projects, like OpenVPN and Softether, also expose VPN clients on various devices and operating systems. They are less user-friendly than commercial ones, but they do their job well.

How to use VPN on mobile devices

The options presented above are available for mobile devices as well.

There are normally two ways to configure VPN on mobile devices. The first is to manually configure VPN, and the second is to install a VPN app. Before you start, you should select the VPN service you would like to use on your mobile devices.

Configuring the mobile device VPN manually

For Android devices, go to Settings > More > VPN > +. Enter the required info, and you’ll be connected.

For iOS devices, go to Settings > General > VPN > Add VPN configuration. Enter the required info like VPN connection name and VPN server address, and you’ll be connected.

Image showing how to set up a manual VPN connection on iOS devices (iPhone, iPad).

Installing a VPN app

You may start with a search in the Apple App Store or Google Play. Try “vpn”, “unlimited vpn”, or the name of the VPN service you subscribed to.

Image showing VPN search on Google Play

Install VPN app, then run it and log in your account. Simply select the preferred server you want to use, and you’ll be connected. It’s that easy to use VPN app.

How to install a VPN on a router

By installing a VPN on a router, you can make sure that everything that is connected to the router communicates safely through a VPN connection. By doing this, you will no longer have to install an individual app on anything that has web access, including your smart TVs, laptops and mobile devices.

Before installing a VPN on a router, make sure that the router is, in fact, compatible with VPNs. This can be done by checking the website of the router’s manufacturer. Most Tomato-boosted and DD-WRT routers are VPN compatible.

Installation is easy and is done by logging into the router and then entering data in a few standard forms – you should be able to handle this quite easily.

Here are several tutorials you can follow:

How to use VPN on a Smart TV or game consoles

Apple TVs, Smart TVs, Roku, and devices like Chromecast, as well as several video gaming consoles (such as Xbox and PlayStation) often don’t have the option to be configured for VPNs.

There is however a number of different ways you can use to benefit from the advantages offered by a VPN connection.

Diagram showing how to use a VPN with a Smart TV or game console

Router configuration

Configuring a router it a bit more complicated and not all routers can be configured to use VPN. It is, however, a very effective way of securing the whole household or business. Once this has been done, each device that uses the router will be secured, including TVs, game controllers, and other devices that don’t support VPN.

VPN Sharing from a Windows device

The alternative is to configure VPN sharing from a Windows device. After the connection to a VPN has been achieved on Windows, share the Internet from it. This will enable connections from other devices like you would connect to a router.  

VPN apps on Smart TVs

Some Smart TVs are able to run VPN applications directly. For example, those using Android TVs may install VPN apps from Google Play and run them in the same manner as on an Android phone or tablet.

How to use a VPN on a daily basis [Useful tips]

VPN is the kind of technology that you should use regularly for your own online security and privacy.

Using VPN on a daily basis involves less effort than checking your email. Here are a few tips you can apply right away:

  • Subscribe to the VPN service for a longer period. Make sure your access to VPN servers is not cut off when you need it the most due to the expired subscription. By subscribing to annual or biannual plans, you reduce this risk to a minimum.
  • Alternatively, install a free VPN app that you can use in case you get out of money, and you don’t want to continue with your subscription.
  • Install the VPN or VPN apps on all your devices. Even if you don’t need VPN on all devices at a specific time, it is useful to set them all (or almost) once you subscribed to the service. You save yourself time.
  • Choose the VPN protocol based on the online activity you’re performing. For example, if you need high-speed connections for your daily VPN routine, use PPTP. If you need to bypass specific filtering systems, use robust protocols like SSTP or Stealth VPN.
  • If you’re deeply preoccupied about your online security, make sure to make the most of what your VPN provider has to offer. Look for advanced VPN features and make sure to use them. Such features might be the Kill Switch (Internet Kill Switch or Application KillSwitch), of different options that keep you away from IP leaking or DNS leaks.
  • Turn on the “run at startup” and “VPN on demand” options (if available). Again, you save time by not searching for the app. Click and connect should be your goal.
  • Set the VPN apps on your mobile devices to automatically connect to the VPN when switching to unsecured Wi-Fi networks. Don’t need to check whether the public WiFi hotspot you are are trying to connect is secured or not. The VPN app will check it for you and turn the VPN protection on if necessary.
  • If you’re into free VPNs, you probably are into Tor too. Yes, Tor is like a free VPN, but we need to be honest, and we have to admit that it’s known as “the dark web” for a few good reasons. Since you are/will be the proud owner of a VPN subscription, make sure to combine Tor with your VPN, to be sure that you’re enjoying a 100% secured internet connection. Additionally, I highly recommend testing your free VPN connection every time you use it.
  • Use browser extensions. If you’ve opted for a VPN provider that puts a lot on the table, check if you’re allowed to use VPN browser add-ons. Even if these tools are not encrypting your traffic, are great at bypassing geo-restrictions and changing your IP address, plus are perfect for streaming activities.

Thus, every time you need to use a VPN, you are able to use it with one or two (ok, maybe three) clicks or taps.

Summary

There are plenty of options when it comes to VPN usage. You may set a VPN on various devices including mobile phones, tablets, routers, or game consoles. You may even install your private VPN server.

Using a VPN will keep internet traffic secure and enable access to restricted content. As many different devices and not only computers are used to access the internet nowadays, it makes sense to secure all connection to the internet via a VPN.

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Illustration showing the VPN protocols contest
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