VPN for dummies. The most comprehensive article explaining VPN

VPN for dummies. The most comprehensive article explaining VPN

Online privacy, security, and anonymity are three principles on the verge of becoming legends. Yes, just like the legends you might have read about in storybooks. VPN technology comes like a knight in shiny armor to save your online activities from becoming a target for hackers and marketers and to ensure you with the much-deserved online anonymity

Even in 2021, many internet users associate VPN with a solution mainly used by tech gurus when, in reality, a VPN is so easy to use that even dummies can deal with it. And, don’t get me wrong, when I say dummy, I don’t mean to offend anyone but let’s be honest, everyone has that friend who is completely left-handed and artless when it comes to technology. 

This article is supposed to enlighten all the internet users who are a novice in online privacy solutions and make-justice to the VPN, that is literally the easiest to use tool EVER.

So, let’s roll up our sleeves and and check this beginner’s guide! 

The Transylvanian explanation of VPN for dummies

Since TomBat was a little BATby, GrandMaBat used to spoil him in all of the ways possible. His favorite grandpa-nephew moment was when GrandMaBat laid in the bed next to him, reading him adventure bedtime stories. By far, his bedtime story of choice was “A bat’s day out”, a tale presenting a young bat’s adventures in an enchanted forest. 

ObeBAT was the name of the little bat who decided to enter a mystic forest in search of adventure, dragons, dwarfs, elves, fairies, and other creatures.

From the outside, the forest looked normal, but the magic happened as soon as the visitor stepped in. To enter it, there was a special opening inviting you inside. After you set your foot in, you could see the whole ground covered with the greener grass, the rocks shining underneath the fuzzy, soft, green moss, and the sound made by the trees was the most beautiful song you have ever heard. The flowers are as big as a car wheel, and the giant bees are flying around, creating an exciting bustle.

As beautiful as it was, the enchanted forest was a “hotspot” for unpredictable things and dangerous creatures.

ObeBAT started wandering around the trees, flying around the colorful flowers and huge mushrooms, quenching his thirst with the clearest dew, without realizing that he is adventuring in the heart of the forest where the day is filled with terrors. 

Here, the winds were cold, the flowers were wilted, and the sound made by the trees was frightening. While looking for a way to return, he started to feel like prying eyes were spying on him, watching his every move. He desperately started to bat around the threes looking for an escape, but it felt like there was no hope left for him. When, in the distance, he could finally see a way out. It was more like a shining tunnel he could enter, but what was at the end of it, it was a total mystery. 

ObeBat decided to fly to the tunnel and enter it, in search of his way home.

Said and done! When he entered the tunnel, a powerful light spoiled his face, and a group of fairies guided him through this trackless tunnel so no dangerous creature could follow him back home. 

This magical tunnel acts exactly like the one created by a VPN for your data to safely and tracklessly travel between your device and the internet without the prying eyes of your ISP and hackers spying on it.

What is the definition of a VPN, and what is it all about with this technology?

Virtual Private Network or, in short terms, VPN is a security technology meant for protecting and encrypting one’s connection. A VPN creates a secured and private VPN tunnel between two devices, allowing users to securely and privately surf the web, granting private internet access anywhere, anytime. 

A VPN for dummies definition would sound as follows – A VPN is like a train tunnel. Why? Because when the train is in the tunnel, no one can see it. And this is what happens to your data. When the VPN is enabled on your device, your data gets encrypted, and the prying eyes of hackers or your ISP can’t spy on your activities.

VPN for dummies - how does a VPN tunnel look

So, we can easily say that the VPN is a:

Virtual technology – as you enable a virtual encrypted tunnel for your data to be securely transferred over the web.

Private technology – as it uses encryption, so all your activities are kept private and hidden from curious eyes.

Network – using a VPN might sound like it is not a big deal when, in fact, every time you connect to a VPN server, you get access to an entire servers network covering the whole world.

Why do I need a VPN, and what does a VPN do?

It is kind of dumb to ask why you need a VPN, especially if you know what a VPN does and what its perks are. 

Yet, if you’re a beginner, these two questions are 100% legit, and providing you with a proper answer may take longer than you expect. However, I will do my best to keep it short while presenting you all the important aspects you must know about this technology.

Why should I consider using a VPN?

The main reason why you would want to use a VPN is to prevent your ISP from tracking your online activity. It is no news that your ISP (and even hackers) can see in plain text what websites you visit whenever you visit them. Browsing incognito doesn’t mean you browse privately. Incognito browsing will help you surf privately with your family members, as your activity is not saved in your web browser’s history. Incognito does not offer you any privacy or security in relation to your ISP or other online prying eyes. 

On the other hand, cybercrime should be another serious reason why you should consider using a VPN. Along with the Internet’s expansion and more people having internet access, the number of online-related dangers is increasing rapidly therefore, adopting a responsible attitude towards your online identity and activities should be mandatory.

Besides the VPN users who are deeply preoccupied with their online security and privacy, we have internet users who seek online freedom. In the era of technology, for some people, the Internet is not the information superhighway, but more like a pothole country road due to online censorship. For this user category, the VPN is the key that opens the door to online freedom, information, social media, or streaming websites.

Just like VPNs, remote working is gaining more and more popularity. For both employees and companies, VPNs are important tools to ensure work productivity and secure access to a company’s network and resources, with just a click, from the comfort of a sofa, a coffee shop, or from a sunny beach in Tulum. 

What does a VPN do?

Besides the pinch of magic it adds to your connection, the VPN is also capable of accomplishing the following tasks:

  • It hides your online activities and IP address. As already mentioned, the VPN uses encryption to disguise your online activities and is also capable of hiding your IP, allowing you to browse securely, freely, and anonymously.
  • A VPN changes your IP address. Remember that when you enable the VPN, you are connected to a VPN server? The VPN server has an IP address you are assigned with, as soon as you are successfully connected to the server. 
  • Performant VPNs help you unblock websites. Based on its capability of changing your IP address, a VPN can help you forget about bandwidth throttling and unblock geo-restricted websites like BBC iPlayer, Netflix, or, from countries like China or Egypt, websites like Facebook or VoIP services like Skype. An important thing to mention is that not all VPNs are capable of bypassing DPI and firewalls, as only providers with a performant server network can help you surf freely.
  • It helps you secure your activities. The Internet brings efficiency to your fingertips. We work online, we chat online, and we shop online. All these important activities imply using sensitive data like credit card details and private conversations that a VPN can secure.
  • A VPN is capable of enhancing your online experience. A gaming VPN may be the perfect tool to troubleshoot unreliable connections and protect the users against attacks. Besides gamers, torrenters also use a VPN to maximize their security while performing P2P file sharing. And if you think I’m crazy because I am promoting torrenting, you must know that, just like the VPN, torrenting is perfectly legal, as long as you do not share or download copyrighted content.
  • It provides security for all your devices. In every household, there is at least one smart TV, a laptop, a PC, maybe a gaming console, and other devices permanently connected to the internet. All these require a secure and encrypted connection (and your phone/laptop needs it the most, especially when you use a public Wi-Fi network). VPN software is compatible with the most popular operating systems, so with one single subscription, you may secure all your devices. And where the VPN software won’t work, VPN hardware comes in handy to solve the issue with the devices that natively do not support a VPN connection or app.
  • It helps you save money. Who doesn’t love a discount? Since international eCommerce platforms and even travel agencies apply preferential prices for certain counties, with a VPN, you can save money while shopping for your favorite items or booking a flight for your next vacation. 

Keep in mind that a VPN has its limitations too!

If you’re not an experienced technician or if you’re using a VPN for the very first time, make sure you won’t dig that deep into the VPN’s settings. Before checking advanced settings into your app, please make sure you know what you’re doing, otherwise, you might risk having leaks or your activity exposed.

Another thing that you should know is that, from time to time, a secure VPN can have connection drops or it can slow down your connection. These drops are perfectly normal, this is why you should make sure you’re connecting to a VPN server that’s not overloaded.

What types of VPN exist, and what are your options?

Based on users’ particular needs, there are personal VPNs, business VPNs, and self-made VPNs. If you’re asking me, there are also free VPNs which you should totally avoid.

Personal VPN

The personal VPN is also known as a commercial VPN. This type of VPN service is the most popular, as it is specially designed and shaped for personal use. 

Personal VPNs are filled with out-of-the-box features and are usually transformed into Swiss army knives ready to achieve the most stringent criteria in terms of fast, secure, private, and anonymous connections. 

Business VPN

The business VPN or corporate VPN are developed to help companies secure their connection, work resources and improve work productivity. Business VPNs hand in hand with advanced VPN routers or even VPN concentrators can transform a company’s connection into a temple of security. 

Self-made VPN

A self-made VPN or a hand-made VPN is a VPN connection enabled directly by its user. Compared to a personal VPN, a self-made VPN brings the same level of security but it lacks the advanced features that normally boost a VPN user’s experience.

Free VPN

The world-wide-web is filled with free VPN services. Among the endless number of options, VPN Gate, for example, is a free VPN solution with millions of users, developed as an academic project. Yet, the level of protection provided by such a service is not always the expected one. Therefore, my advice would be to avoid falling into the trap of thinking that you don’t have something to hide and start using free services when, in reality, your online privacy and security are as important as your real-life ones.

How does a VPN work?

Since we started this article with a bedtime story, I think we should keep it on the same register. In most bedtime stories, there’s a witch who stirs in her magic potion, adding all sorts of ingredients. Considering the benefits a VPN brings, some of us might think it is witchcraft. But what are the special ingredients added to the magic potion?

A VPN consists of a combination of three main ingredients – a VPN server, a VPN protocol, and VPN encryption.

So, what do we do with all these goodies? We take a huge pot, also known as the VPN app. To obtain a magic potion at the end, we should start with the VPN server, which would be the first ingredient. Right after adding the server and stirring a little bit, we must add the VPN protocol and the VPN encryption. When the three ingredients start to mix, they will automatically encrypt your data and transport it to its destination on the web. The whole procedure is reversible, so your internet connection is secured from an end to another, back and forth. 

How to use a VPN for dummies?

Using a VPN is as easy as breathing. Let’s face it! You don’t have to be a tech guru to know how to install an app on your device and click or tap on a button. When it comes to using a VPN, things as no different than that. Of course, there are advanced methods, like buying your server and manually setting up your connection to create your self-made VPN but, who has time for that in the digital transformation era? 

VPN software is taking users’ online experience to the next level due to ease of use, speed, performance, and features. VPN software is none other than the popular apps, once installed on a device, help you connect to a VPN server and enable a VPN connection within seconds.

A VPN client or app is a controlled and automatic method that integrates all the VPN components. Moreover, it comes with advanced security features that add up to the whole process. Such features are obfuscated VPN servers, VPN split tunneling, VPN KillSwitch, leak protection, and even top-notch protocols like WireGuard, Stealth VPN, SoftEther, or Shadowsocks

Getting your hands on a performant VPN is not a hard task, as plenty of great options are literally at a click away. Providers like NordVPN, ExpressVPN, CyberGhost or StrongVPN go the extra mile for their customers in order to provide highly performant apps compatible with the most popular operating systems like Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, and even Linux. 

Steps for enabling a VPN connection.

Now that we know how easy it is to surf the web securely and anonymously, let’s recap what we need to do and learn tips and tricks for improved privacy.

  1. Find the best VPN provider that meets your needs. Before starting your research, keep in mind to never opt for a free VPN and that there are VPNs that do NOT protect your privacy. Choose wisely, and don’t be stingy. Your online privacy is more valuable than you might think.
  2. Now that you found your provider, proceed with creating your account and download their app.
  3. Log in, open the app and start exploring it. Check the list of features and the selection of the protocol. Tip: for both enhanced security and ultra-fast connections, go for protocols like OpenVPN or Wireguard.
  4. Connect to the server. Tip: if you’re not interested in unblocking a website available only in certain countries, make sure to pick a server close to your location. The speed of your connection is influenced by many factors, including the physical distance between your real location and your server’s.
  5. Test your VPN by checking your IP address via existing online tools. Keep in mind that testing your VPN connection is mandatory every time you switch the server.
  6. Surf the web in complete privacy, security, and anonymity. But, before that, check the images below and see how easy is to get and use a VPN app for Apple’s iPhone.
VPN for dummies - how easy is to install NordVPN

We are almost there…

VPN for dummies - how is to connect to a VPN server via NordVPN's app

Is double VPN a type of VPN?

The double VPN solution is not a type of VPN. Double VPN is a type of VPN server that some services provide that allows you to browse anonymously and securely by connecting to a chain of VPN servers. In simple words: VPN on top of VPN (or VPN tunnel inside another VPN tunnel/VPN chains).

While browsing the internet without a VPN, your connection to any remote server is like this: you -> destination server.

When you are using a regular VPN, the connection is like this: you -> encrypted connection to VPN server -> destination server.

With Double VPN: you -> encrypted connection to VPN server #1 -> encrypted connection to VPN server #2 -> destination server.

Besides the military-grade encryption that a regular VPN server provides, a Double VPN server will enhance your internet anonymity and security by adding an extra layer of encryption to your connection. 

The result is a double encrypted, 100% secure internet connection. Cracking this type of military-grade encryption is impossible, even if a hacker would have the skill or the patience to do it.

Is the VPN related to proxy or SmartDNS?

While looking for the best tool to avoid censorship, you might find these three main solutions. Novice users can fall into the trap of thinking that these solutions are the same, especially since top VPN services are providing them all. In reality, the only resemblance between them is that all are fit for bypassing internet restrictions.

The VPN definition is already clear. What we should keep in mind while comparing these three technologies is that the VPN provides encryption. 

Compared to the VPN, proxy, on the other hand, uses a proxy server to help you change your IP address and to access blocked websites. In most cases, this proxy server is just another computer acting as a middleman, changing your IP address, and helping you surf freely. A proxy is incapable of encrypting your personal data and, obviously, providing a secure connection. The most popular tool that enables you to connect to a proxy server is a proxy extension for your browser. Additionally, you can, of course, set up a proxy connection for your device manually.

When it comes to SmartDNS technology, this solution won’t hide your IP, nor encrypt your traffic. Instead, it will trick websites into seeing your location as an eligible one and, of course, granting you access to the website you wish to unblock. As it does not use encryption, SmartDNS is considered the fastest and easiest way to unblock websites.

What VPN alternatives do users have?

First of all, I am not sure why someone would want to use a VPN alternative when nothing is beating a VPN. 

When it comes to online privacy and security less is not more. Yet, for users who settle for less, they can opt for proxy or SmartDNS. On the other hand, we have Tor. Tor is a bold choice, as is not safe and private. 

Tor is an open-source software developed as a solution to help people in the NRL enable a secure and encrypted means of communication. Nowadays, Tor is used to access onion websites. Even if it is legal to use Tor, the constant use of this browser can mark you for surveillance by your ISP. Plus, let’s not forget what content is shared on the dark web. So, always think twice before deciding to swing between Tor nodes!

What to look after when choosing a VPN?

When you decide to upgrade your online experience by using a VPN, it is important to do a bit of research before picking the best VPN for you. 

A trustworthy VPN provider brings plus-value to the market via the security features or other benefits it provides to its customers.

Here are a few things you should look after:

  1. Zero logging – the first thing to keep in mind is that you should choose VPN providers with a clear NO Logs policy. Also, your future VPN should respect the data retention law and should be GDPR compliant.
  2. VPN servers – the VPN servers have an important role in your VPN connection, and so do the number of VPN server locations. That’s why it is mandatory to pick a VPN that provides servers located all around the world. 
  3. Customer support – because you’re about to start your VPN journey, it is not enough to find a VPN that just works. You need to make sure you will receive all the support you need. Choose a service that allows you to ask for support via multiple channels like live chat support, social media, or support ticket systems. Prompt customer support is gold in hard times.
  4. VPN apps – a VPN service should also provide a generous list of VPN apps, for the most popular operating systems. 
  5. VPN protocols – less is not more when it comes to VPN protocols either. The longer the list of protocols provided, the better. 
  6. Advanced VPN features – if you think that you’re a novice and you don’t need advanced features, you’re wrong. VPNs are not rocket science, and you will get used to the VPN software really fast, as it doesn’t imply any manual settings or advanced technical knowledge. Advanced VPN features will be, in short time, the cherry on top of a yummy VPN pie.
  7. The most-wanted free VPN trial (and even the money-back guarantee policy) – reading about certain VPNs on the specialized reviews websites is helpful, but testing its performance on your own is even better.

VPN for dummies FAQ.

Here is a list of short answers to the most popular FAQ on VPNs

Is VPN a good idea?

Just like chocolate or wine, VPN is always a good idea. Enabling a VPN connection before surfing the web is mandatory, especially now when cybercrime is skyrocketing.

Is VPN a scam?

VPN is not a scam, but free VPNs can be. Scammy VPNs are usually free or presented as lifetime subscriptions that do not provide a no-log policy, reliable service, or any kind of special servers and features. 

Is VPN legal?

Yes, VPNs are legal to use in most countries around the world. There are a few countries that regulate VPN usage or fully ban it.

Is VPN safe?

Performant VPN services are 100% safe to use. Such a service changes your IP, encrypts your traffic, and helps you surf privately and anonymously. 

Are VPN and proxy the same?

VPN and proxy technologies are very much alike when it comes to rerouting data, as they both use a similar working principle but at a completely different level. Both services change your IP address, yet only the VPN encrypts your traffic, grating you complete anonymity and privacy. 

Can I unblock Netflix or BBC iPlayer with a VPN?

Yes, good VPN services do a great job at helping internet users overcome restrictions and access blocked websites from (almost) every country around the world.

Should I use a VPN app or a VPN extension?

A desktop VPN is not the same as a browser VPN. VPN extensions are actually proxy solutions that do not encrypt your traffic. Therefore, for comprehensive security, you should use a VPN app, while for fast browsing and unblocking websites, you could go for a VPN extension. 

If I use incognito browsing, should I also use a VPN?

The Incognito word itself means to hide a person’s true identity. So, the Incognito mode is a way to hide your browser’s history. While you’re in an active session, all data is available to your network administrator, ISP, search engine, and anyone else who’s trying to spy on what you’re doing. Therefore, compared to the VPN, with incognito, your browsing data remains private only in relation to other people in your house or office using the same device and browser as you do.

Are you still here?

As you can see, we could talk about VPNs for days.

What you should keep in mind after reading this article is that no matter if you’re looking for the best option to browse anonymously, unblock your favorite online content, download torrents, or search for the cheapest plane tickets, a VPN can always help you.

There are lots of goldfishes in the sea, so make sure you choose the one that is capable of making your online-security related wishes come true.

Always browse safely!

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