How to Use a VPN

When you use a VPN, your internet activity is sent through an encrypted server that protects it from others on the network. This means your ISP, as well as other people using the same Wi-Fi network as you, can’t see what you’re doing online.[1] VPNs are also used to access networks that are normally inaccessible when connected through your regular ISP, such as your work or school network. If you’re not using a VPN for work or school, you can select from a variety of paid and free VPN providers, most of which can be run on your computer, phone, or tablet. This wikiHow teaches you how to get started with a VPN.

[Edit]Steps

[Edit]Getting a VPN

  1. Check with your employer, school, or organization. If you’ve been told you need to use a VPN to connect to your company or organization’s network, you’ll need to gather some information from your organization. The information you’ll need varies by network, but you’ll typically need to install a special app or program, for which you’ll need a unique username and password. Your IT department will determine if your computer is compatible with the VPN software, help you make your computer compatible if it is not, and help you access to the VPN.
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    • Your IT department may give you a default VPN password then allow you to set your own. Use a password that is unique, but easy to remember and do not write it down or stick it anywhere near or on your computer. Avoid using birth dates, the names of close family members or anything that someone else might be able to guess.
    • Contact your IT department immediately if you have to reinstall or upgrade your operating system or restore your computer to an earlier point. You may lose your VPN settings.
  2. Decide whether to use a free or paid VPN solution. If you’re using a VPN for personal reasons, such as for online anonymity or to access sites in other countries, you have many options. There are both paid and free VPN services available, and both have merits:
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    • Free VPNs are usually only free because they tend to limit the amount of data you can use, throttle your network speeds, have ads, and/or can only be used on one device at a time. They can be handy if you only need a VPN once in a while, such as when you’re using public Wi-Fi at a café or library.[2] Most don’t require you to provide much information, and you won’t have to make a payment commitment. Some popular free VPN options you can check out are ProtonVPN, WindScribe, and Speedify.
    • If you are looking for a solution that hides your activity from surveillance, gives you plenty of data without throttling your speeds, and is more reliable, go for a well-reviewed paid service. And just because a service costs money doesn’t mean it will be expensive—some great services have payment levels as low as $2/month. The New York Times’ Wirecutter’s does extensive VPN reviews. Their top VPN suggestions are Mullvad VPN Mullvad and IPVN. Some other highly-reviewed services are TunnelBear, Encrypt.me, ExpressVPN, and NordVPN. [3]
  3. Search for reviews and experiences. If your goal is to protect your data and stay safe online, you’ll need a VPN service you know you can trust. Before signing up with a service, search the internet for its name and “reviews,” and try to find out about peoples’ personal experiences with the product. Reddit is a great place to search for honest reviews.
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    • You may want to check out VPN services that don’t log your activity—the problem is, it’s hard to know which providers are really telling the truth. ExpressVPN is a service that was proven to not log customer data when Turkish authorities raided their data center in search of customer information.[4]
  4. Sign up for an account. Once you choose a service, you’ll generally need to sign up for an account and make your first payment (if using a paid service). Once you’re signed up, you can download the VPN provider’s software onto your computer, phone, and/or tablet.
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  5. Install your VPN software. Go to the website for the VPN service you’re using and follow their instructions for installing their software. If the service you’re using supports smartphones and/or tablets, you can download their app from the Play Store (Android) or App Store (iPhone/iPad).
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    • If you’re using a PC, double-click the file you download from the website (usually ends in .exe), and then follow the on-screen instructions to install the software. Once you have installed your VPN, launch the application from your Start menu.
    • On a Mac, you will typically launch the .dmg file and be asked to drag the application into your Applications folder. If your computer is password-protected, you will be asked to input your password upon first launching.
    • On your smartphone, launch the app from your home screen. You will be asked to log in with your account or create one if you don’t have an account already.

[Edit]Using a VPN

  1. Open your VPN software. Once you have downloaded and installed your VPN, it’s time to start it up. If you’re using a Windows PC, you’ll find the software in your Windows menu. If you’re using a Mac, it’ll be in your Applications folder. Smartphone and tablet users will find the icons for their VPN services in their app lists.
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  2. Sign in with your account. When you sign up for most VPN services, you’ll create a username and password. You’ll often only need to enter this information the first time you log in, although more secure services may prompt you for a new login each time.
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    • If you are using a company’s VPN, or most personal software, this will grant you secure access to your network. You may see a new window that looks like your desktop at work, also known as a virtual desktop, where you can access your company resources. Or, you may need to launch your web browser and enter a secure web address where you can access your company’s resources.
    • If you’re using a VPN service that restricts how much data you can use or how much time you can spend using it, only activate it when you need to secure your IP address.
  3. Read the terms of use. If you’re using a VPN for personal use, make sure you read the terms of use. Some VPNs, especially free ones, might install third-party applications or display ads. Make sure you are educated on what your VPN is providing you, what it is requiring of you, and what kind of information it collects.
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[Edit]Tips

  • Most free VPNs are sufficient for general privacy when not at home on a secure server.
  • VPNs do not make your HTTPS connections any more secure than without a VPN. A good VPN can significantly improve privacy.

[Edit]Warnings

  • Using a VPN service to change your location so you can watch streaming content may violate the service’s terms of use, and sometimes, local laws.[5]
  • If you’re doing anything malicious, it may still be subpoenaed by law enforcement even if you’re using a VPN.

[Edit]References

[Edit]Quick Summary

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