Virtual private networks (VPNs) give computer users a wide range of capabilities and benefits. For starters, VPNs allow you to securely connect to remote networks through the internet, grant secure connections to multiple networks, and help boost your online security and privacy.
To accomplish this, a VPN creates a virtual network to mask your IP address, and encrypts your data before sending it through the internet in a private tunnel. This tunnel allows employees working from home to have remote access to private data on their employer’s intranet. The biggest benefit for consumers using a VPN is added privacy, as it will prevent others on the network — such as users of a public hot spot — to access your credit card information, passwords, and other personal data. And because your IP address is masked, VPNs can make your traffic appear like it is coming from another location, making it helpful in accessing geo-restricted content.
Here’s everything you need to get started in the world of VPNs.
Choosing a VPN service
Finding the right VPN provider will largely depend on your needs. If you’re simply trying to boost your online privacy, most services will work fine. But if you’re trying to stream videos, you’ll want to find a service that offers faster connection speeds. In general, you’ll want to find a provider that offers many server locations throughout the world as well as fast and reliable connection speeds.
Some services limit the number of simultaneous connections, so you’ll need to factor in how many devices you’ll want to use. And advanced users should also keep in mind how they want to connect to a VPN service and the level of security a particular connection protocol provides. While some VPN services come with an attractive free price, the downside of free is that many of these providers leak your data or keep logs on your activities, negating the privacy benefits of using a VPN in the first place. If you’re paying for a VPN subscription, you’ll want to read the fine print to understand what your provider offers.
As a VPN creates a private tunnel to the internet, you’ll want to choose a VPN service that supports the latest connection protocolsin order to enjoy the most secure experience. Older protocols, like Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol (PPTP) may be easier to configure, but they come with vulnerabilities that make them more susceptible to attacks. If at all possible, you should avoid using PPTP.
Newer protocols, like Layer Two Tunneling Protocol (or L2TP), come with a 256-bit encryption key which is deemed safe for top-secret communications for Windows and MacOS users. However, L2TP may be vulnerable to attacks if configured with shared keys, so you’ll also want to be aware of how you authenticate with the VPN service.
Another popular standard is the OpenVPN protocol, which is highly configurable and secure. It can run on any port and supports both UDP and TCP protocols, making it difficult to block. The downside is that because it is so highly configurable, it may be difficult to set up and often requires third-party software.
In our setup, we’re relying on the IKEv2 (Internet Key Exchange Version 2). The benefit of this standard is that it comes with stronger security than older protocols, supports a fast connection, and is also supported by mobile operating systems in addition to Windows and Mac. Setup is relatively easy, and IKEv2 can reconnect quickly if your VPN connection gets dropped. This last feature is important, as the ease of switching and reconnecting to different networks may become a big selling point with the new crop of LTE-enabled Always Connected PCs. Because IKEv2 is based on the Mobility and Multihoming standard, it allows users to switch between Wi-Fi and LTE networks without dropping the VPN connection. However, since IKEv2 is a newer standard, it may not be supported by all VPN providers right now.
With all that all the way, we’ll be leading you through the instructions to configure a VPN on Windows 10, MacOS, and older versions of Windows, step by step.
There are multiple methods for setting up a VPN, but the simplest is to use the tools provided by your operating system of choice. But take note: You may need to consult your VPN provider for specific settings, and you’ll need to know your username and password to authenticate. In addition, you’ll have to repeat these instructions for each new server you connect to, while your third-party client offered as a free download by many VPN providers will make this easier.
Most people will just have one or two servers, but businesses could potentially spend quite a bit of time building out a robust list of servers. Using the built-in client from your operating system will give you more control on how you connect and which server to use.