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Phone with VPN on screen (caption: Guide to VPNs: virtual private networks)A VPN (Virtual Private Network) service secures your WiFi connection and protects your online activity from prying eyes. These are important to use when you are on public WiFi where you are more vulnerable to be hacked.

VPNs: How Can I Protect Myself From Hackers?

How Do VPNs Work?

The internet-enabled device you are using (smartphone, laptop, etc.) must have a VPN app or software loaded onto it. The VPN software connects your device to the VPN server, which encrypts your connection and secures it to help keep you anonymous online.

How VPNs Work graphic
Everything you do online goes to the VPN first — from your online banking to browsing the news. Your data shows up to the internet service provider as coming from the VPN and not from your computer and location. Without a VPN, your data is out in the open, vulnerable to peeking eyes.

Using a VPN makes it so you and your computer cannot be identified easily with what you are doing online. And even if someone does see what you are doing online, your data is encrypted and not direct from you. This means your personal information including address, credit card numbers, banking information, etc. is more safe online than if you didn’t use a VPN.

What’s The Best VPN?

We’ve reviewed the Best VPN Services and ranked our top picks. Our article covers how VPNs work, and we have pros and cons for each service discussed. We also include a table so you can compare providers by price and features.

We’ve also reviewed the top providers more thoroughly and gone in depth with pros, cons, and consumer feedback. Check out our reviews of PureVPN, CyberGhost, IPVanish and Private Internet Access.

How Do I Set Up My VPN?

Once you’ve chosen your VPN and signed up for it, we’ll take you step-by-step through the process of How To Set Up A VPN on your computer (Mac or PC), smartphone (Android or iPhone), iPad or on your home server. (Yes, we recommend you protect yourself on all your devices!)

Do I Need A VPN Router?

To keep all the devices in your home secure, you may want to consider a VPN Router. It’s the device that accepts internet traffic from your ISP (Internet Service Provider) and sends it to the devices in your home.

How VPN Routers work graphic

Routers come with some security features to prevent hackers from gaining access to your data, but a VPN Router is especially configured to work with your VPN for added security. It can help keep criminals out of your “digital” walls and protect your devices from Peeping Toms.

Our VPN Router review includes what features your router should have, and which ones are best for gaming and other categories.

VPN Terminology

Don’t understand some of the high-tech VPN lingo we’ve included in our VPN reviews? No worries! We’ve broken down all the need-to-know techie terms below.

  • NAT firewall — A NAT (Network Address Translation) Firewall adds an extra layer of security by hiding computers, servers and other IT equipment from outside threats. NAT firewalls are better than your standard OS firewalls at filtering out a lot of potential threats before you get that annoying message: Do you want to allow this connection?
  • Kill switch — A VPN kill switch automatically disconnects your internet connection in case the VPN fails, gets interrupted or you forget to enable your VPN. With a kill switch, you’re always ensured a secure VPN connection.
  • DNS leak protection — When you go to a website using your browser, it sends a request to a DNS (domain name server) with the URL that you typed in. The DNS server then points you to the correct IP address. ISPs (Internet Service Providers) assign you certain DNS servers, and they can monitor and record your online activities whenever you send a request to the server. But when you use a VPN, your DNS request should direct to an anonymous server, keeping your ISP from monitoring your connection.  A DNS leak occurs when your browser inadvertently ignores your VPN connection and sends your DNS request straight to your ISP, all without your knowledge. But some VPNs come with DNS leak protection software that alerts you to that threat.
  • Torrent/P2P — Torrenting or peer-to-peer (P2P) involves obtaining files and content using the Bit Torrent protocol. When you download a torrent file, you’re sharing bits of that file with anyone else who’s downloading or sharing that file. And these “peers” can see your IP address. However, if your VPN supports Torrent/P2P, you’re protected.
  • Internet Protocol — Internet Protocal (IP) is the method or type of protocol by which data transfers from one computer to another computer via the Internet.
  • DPI Prevention: Deep packet inspection (DPI) prevention tools allow your VPN use to be hidden and undetected even by deep packet inspection and other firewalls that can block VPN use. DPI prevention unblocks 3rd-party app restrictions so you can gain permanent access no matter your location.

VPN Protocols

There are several VPN protocols that secure your data transport over a public network, and each protocol varies in how it keeps your data secure. Here’s a breakdown of the different protocol types.

  • IP security (IPSec) uses either tunneling or transport mode to encrypt data traffic in a VPN. The transport mode encrypts only the message within the data packet (also referred to as the payload). Tunneling encrypts the entire data packet. People use IPsec, often called a “security overlay,” as a security layer for other protocols.
  • Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) and Transport Layer Security (TLS) use cryptography to secure data transport over the Internet. SSL and TLS authentification require the same network parameters between remote clients and servers. With SSL and TLS you need a certified, crypted key to make a secure connection.
  • Point-To-Point Tunneling Protocol (PPTP) uses tunneling to connect a remote client to a private server. PPTP is one of the most popular VPN protocols because its configuration and maintenance are straightforward and because it’s included with Windows. PPTP doesn’t require a key.
  • Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol (L2TP) is used to tunnel data traffic between two sites. People often use L2TP with IPSec as an added security layer to keep the transfer of L2TP data packets secure. L2TP/IPSec requires a shared key or certificate.
  • Internet Key Exchange version 2 (IKEv2) is a newer tunneling protocol that becomes a VPN protocol when paired with IPSec. It’s natively supported by Windows 7+, Blackberry, and iOS devices. IKEv2 is ideal for mobile devices because it’s very resilient to changing networks (i.e. moving between hotspots or switching between WiFi and mobile connections). IKEv2 is also good at automatically re-connecting VPN service if you temporarily lose your internet connection.

Will A VPN Alone Keep Me Safe?

Signing up for a VPN isn’t the only thing you’ll need to stay safe in the digital landscape we live in. We’ve written an entire article dedicated to Public WiFi Security Tips. You can utilize these tips at the coffee shop, at your hotel when you’re traveling, at the airport and other public places.

Want to hear straight from the horse’s mouth about VPNs? We interview Amit Bareket, CEO and founder of SaferVPN. He tells you how to stay safe online and where he sees the future of VPNs going. You’ll also get an insight look into the company and how things work inside a VPN office.

Have you ever been hacked?

Disclaimer: This website contains reviews, opinions and information regarding products and services manufactured or provided by third parties. We are not responsible in any way for such products and services, and nothing contained here should be construed as a guarantee of the functionality, utility, safety or reliability of any product or services reviewed or discussed. Please follow the directions provided by the manufacturer or service provider when using any product or service reviewed or discussed on this website.

Kimberly researches everything before she buys. She wants to make sure she is getting the best bang for her buck by purchasing the best product/service, which is why she loves her work. She has a degree in Multimedia Journalism and has been researching and writing professionally since 2013 to help consumers make more educated decisions.

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