VPN FAQ

Determining your VPN needs for the first time can be a daunting task, especially with all of the VPN providers offering a smattering of different pricing packages, protocols and device compatibility options. Whether you're considering a VPN for your company or for your own personal use, making a good decision requires a thorough understanding of the technology and capabilities of using VPN. Before jumping for the best price you see, we encourage you to read through this list of frequently asked questions, answered by our team of VPN industry experts.

What exactly is a VPN?

Why would I use a VPN Service?

How do I get a VPN account?

Can I use a VPN if I have a Mac?

Is it safe to use a Free VPN Service?

Will a VPN slow down my internet?

What does a VPN let me do?

What is the payment structure for VPN services?

Do I need to have a subscription?

How can I tell the difference between VPNs?

Will I really remain anonymous?

Do I have to use the VPN every time I go online?

What is a VPN protocol?

How can I use VPN on my mobile device?

What are the speed and storage limitations of VPN?

What’s the difference between a static and a dynamic IP address?

Is it possible to use VPN with a dynamic IP address?

Can I use my VPN only for specific websites?

What is split tunnelling?

Will split tunnelling improve my VPN experience?

Do I need to use a firewall with my VPN?

What is a clientless VPN?

How can I check that my VPN is trustworthy?

How does using a VPN improve my security online?

What are the advantages to building your own private VPN server?

How easy is it to build a private VPN server?

What’s the difference between Tor and VPN?

What is a DNS leak?

How can I prevent a DNS leak when using a VPN?

What extra security measures can I take to make my VPN safer?

What is a VPDN?

What is site-to-site VPN?

Is it important to choose a provider with servers in many locations?

Is my router compatible with using a VPN?

Is it completely legal to use a VPN?

Can my ISP block my VPN?

Can my VPN provider track my online activity?

Will a VPN protect my computer from viruses?

Are there any disadvantages to using a VPN?

Is a VPN difficult to set up?

Will my VPN connection work from any location?

Can I use more than one VPN at the same time?

What are the advantages of using two simultaneous VPNs?

What’s the difference between a proxy server and a VPN?

How can I improve the speed of my VPN connection?

Can I access my VPN from more than one device?

Can I use VPN on a public computer?

How do I change my VPN server location?

Which countries block VPN connections?

What’s the difference between shared and dedicated IP addresses?

What exactly is a VPN?

VPN stands for "Virtual Private Network". VPNs make it possible to use the internet for private communication, much as you would with computers physically connected via a network. Through encryption, a VPN provides companies with the functionality and security of a private network at a much lower cost.

Why would I use a VPN Service?

Perhaps the most common use of a VPN is for employees to connect with the office intranet while they’re traveling. A VPN can also connect multiple sites across an organization, like retail stores or remote offices. But more and more often, individuals use VPNs to connect to their home networks while they're on the road or to maintain privacy (so their web browsing can't be tracked). Another reason individuals may want a VPN is to circumvent regional censorship and restrictions called geoblocking.

How do I get a VPN account?

Many companies offer VPN access to their employees, and individuals have an increasing number of options. A good way to start is to identify several VPN providers and then research what their customers are saying about them. Whether through consumer-written reviews or online forums, a VPN provider's customers will fill you in on the good, the bad, and the ugly. No company, of course, can satisfy every single customer, but your research will give you a good feel for who's reliable and who's not.

Can I use a VPN if I have a Mac?

Absolutely. Newer Macs come with built-in support for managing VPNs. With OS X, you can even have multiple VPN accounts for the same computer. You can set it up through the "Network" option in "System Preferences."

Is it safe to use a Free VPN Service?

The old adage "you get what you pay for" generally holds true. Think of it this way: every company has to make money to stay in business. If you're not paying your VPN provider, someone else is. Ask yourself who that "someone" might be. It's very likely someone who is paying for your browsing data. That's not to say every free VPN provider is untrustworthy; just try to find out where they're making their money and make sure it doesn't undermine the reasons you want a VPN to start with. Aside from that, research a free VPN provider just as you would a subscription service: find out what their customers have to say.

Will a VPN slow down my internet?

It depends. Using a VPN can certainly slow down your internet, which is why most people only use them for information they want to keep private. You can route all of your internet activity through a VPN, but it will probably slow you down. Only you can decide the right balance of security and speed to meet your needs. Other factors that influence speed are the number of people connecting through the VPN and the VPN's geographical location.

What does a VPN let me do?

Put most simply, a VPN lets you use the public internet to transmit private information. For instance, you could be relaxing in your recliner and use your company-provided VPN to access your work computer. You can also use a VPN to keep your personal information secure while you're using an open wi-fi connection. You can use it to ward off data tracking, thereby keeping your browsing history private. The most interesting thing about a VPN is that the internet will think you're wherever the VPN server is. For instance, say you're traveling abroad and want to watch something on Hulu. You can't do it…unless you connect through a VPN that's located in the U.S.

What is the payment structure for VPN services?

Most providers charge a monthly subscription fee. Unfortunately, it's not quite that simple. There are other important things to consider. Do you have to sign a contract? Is there a limit on how much bandwidth you can use? If so, what happens if you exceed the limit? How secure is your information? Does the provider keep monthly fees low by selling your data? When choosing the best plan for you, just use consumer common sense – compare apples to apples, and make sure there are no surprises (like set-up fees or cancellation fees).

Do I need to have a subscription?

Most VPN providers do charge a monthly fee, although you may save some money if you pay for a whole year at once. However, some require contracts, and some don't. Do your due diligence to figure out what plan is right for you.

How can I tell the difference between VPNs?

The easiest way to tell the difference between VPNs is to rely on someone else to do it for you. There are countless reviews on the internet comparing and contrasting different providers. Once you find a few providers that look like a good fit, dig a little deeper to find out what their customers are saying about them.

Will I really remain anonymous?

That depends. It's good practice to assume that nothing on the internet is completely anonymous. VPNs do an excellent job of camouflaging your online activity; you can be at your computer in Florida while appearing to be in France. Beyond that, it depends on the quality of the provider's security protocol and how much or how little of your activity they monitor and store. And, again, the best way to learn about that is to research what their customers are saying about them.

Do I have to use the VPN every time I go online?

If you want to access your office network remotely, they'll likely require you to use their VPN connection every time. But if you're only using a VPN to protect your personal browsing activity, you can reserve it for sensitive information and route everything else through your regular browser.

What is a VPN protocol?

A VPN protocol is the manner in which a particular provider handles your access to the internet. There are several VPN protocols, each with its pluses and minuses and with varying levels of security. There are any number of resources to help you choose the protocol that best fits your needs.

How can I use VPN on my mobile device?

The main difference between a standard VPN and a VPN on a mobile device is that, while a standard VPN allows remote access to a network, the physical location of the user typically remains stationary. Mobile VPNs are useful for people who are constantly on the move but need uninterrupted access. With a mobile VPN connection, you can keep all of your apps open and connected as you move in and out of service areas.

What are the speed and storage limitations of VPN?

Limitations vary by provider. Some VPN providers offer tiers of service, where higher prices bring fewer limitations. This is another factor to consider when you're choosing a provider.

What’s the difference between a static and a dynamic IP address?

If a device is given a static IP address, this means that the address does not change. Most devices, however, are assigned dynamic IP addresses which vary from time to time. The greatest advantage of a dynamic IP address is security: since the device is given a different address each time the user logs on, it is much more difficult for data mining companies to track the device.

Is it possible to use VPN with a dynamic IP address?

Static IP addresses are far more reliable for use with a VPN because they are constant, allowing the provider to remember your IP address. Nevertheless, it is still possible to use a VPN with a dynamic IP address. You will need to sign up for a free DNS service, and then update your router with your account details and hostname. This hostname can then be put into remote clients and will always point to the current IP address of your computer.

Can I use my VPN only for specific websites?

The default behavior of a built-in VPN client is to channel all internet usage through the same network, and not to run split options. It is possible to configure a split tunnel VPN (see following question), but this tends not to be an option offered by the majority of VPN providers as it can prove to be a security risk.

What is split tunnelling?

Normally, a VPN will send out all of your network’s internet traffic through a secure, encrypted tunnel. In a VPN-user context, a split tunnel configuration means that internet traffic is split. Some traffic will pass through the VPN server and some will access the internet through the default gateway.

Will split tunnelling improve my VPN experience?

The main benefit to split tunnelling is simple: faster internet access that saves on bandwidth. Using a VPN generally slows down your internet, which is why many people only use VPNs when dealing with private information. However, constantly connecting to and disconnecting from your VPN can get frustrating – and split tunnelling is a potential solution to this problem. Before making a decision, however, it is worth bearing in mind that split tunnelling opens up a number of security risks to your device. Without split tunnelling, all traffic entering and leaving your network passes through an encrypted tunnel; once traffic is split, however, your computer is exposed to potentially harmful content that cannot be filtered.

Do I need to use a firewall with my VPN?

When you connect to the internet without a VPN, your router provides you with a hardware firewall. However, once you are using a VPN, all your traffic runs through an encrypted tunnel which goes through the firewall, thereby losing its protection. To make up for this, many VPN providers offer a NAT firewall service that filters all traffic between the VPN server and the internet. Before signing up with a provider, check what kind of protection they offer as part of the service.

What is a clientless VPN?

If your VPN is not connected to any specific host, then it is considered a clientless VPN. There are some VPNs that are specifically designed to run from a web browser. This means that users can just launch their browser and access their VPN connection from any internet-enabled location.

How can I check that my VPN is trustworthy?

You should be able to check the privacy policy of any VPN provider, and read their terms of service. The most reliable providers are those that keep as few logs as possible of your internet activity. They should not be interested in your data, and anything they log should be wiped clean on a regular basis so it doesn’t pose a security threat. It’s also a good idea to check the reputation of your chosen provider by reading up on reviews.

How does using a VPN improve my security online?

The main benefit of a VPN is that it hides your computer’s IP address from potential hackers and websites that store your information. When you use a VPN, all the traffic entering and leaving your device is encrypted, even if the network itself is not. This makes it secure to use even on an open or shared network, as anybody trying to access your data won’t be able to read the coded information. In addition, reputable VPN services include software that protects users from phishing, spyware, adware and malicious software.

What are the advantages to building your own private VPN server?

It can be a headache to try and work out which VPN provider is the most trustworthy and least expensive, and you might find that the simplest option is to do it yourself. You won’t have to worry about VPN providers logging your information, and it won’t cost you any extra money. Once you have set up your own dedicated VPN server you will be able to connect to your secure home network from any location.

How easy is it to build a private VPN server?

If you have Windows, then setting up a private VPN server is a simple process. If you want to connect to your home network from an external device, then you will need to search for your VPN Wizard on Windows, enter your IP address, and create your username and password – and then the Wizard will do the rest. If you want to create an incoming VPN connection so that other devices can connect to you, follow instructions online that will show you how to configure your network router. This will ensure that all VPN traffic is forwarded to the host computer.

What’s the difference between Tor and VPN?

Tor and VPN are different products that offer different systems. A VPN will take your internet connection, encrypt it, and pass it through a server so that you are not directly connecting to the internet. Tor takes your connection, encrypts it, then relays it around a few other servers before decrypting it and sending it to its destination. Tor can provide greater anonymity than a VPN, but at a much slower internet speed. If you’re not handling particularly sensitive data and are browsing sites that require a lot of bandwidth, a VPN is preferable.

What is a DNS leak?

The Domain Name System (DNS) is used to turn regular website names into numerical IP addresses. Every time your device contacts an internet server, your device will in turn contact a DNS server and request the IP address. Internet service providers normally assign their customers a DNS server which is controlled by the ISP and used for logging your internet activity. A DNS leak occurs when an operating system doesn’t use the anonymous DNS server that was assigned to your computer, and instead uses its default DNS server. This means that your private data can be leaked.

How can I prevent a DNS leak when using a VPN?

The easiest way to prevent a leak is to use a VPN provider that offers built-in DNS leak protection. However, not very many providers provide this option. The best way to protect against leaks is to put a good DNS service in place, such as OpenDNS. There are also utilities that are available for purchase, such as VPNCheck, that can check for and fix DNS leaks.

What extra security measures can I take to make my VPN safer?

Since it is impossible to guarantee that a VPN provider is absolutely trustworthy, it is important to make sure that your own device’s anti-malware and anti-spyware is up to date and running. You might want to consider using an anonymous web browser in addition to your VPN, which will encrypt your browser data and ensure that even your own VPN provider cannot track your online activity. Another option is to install HTTPS Everywhere onto your browser. This is a free extension that will force your browser to use encrypted HTTPS connections wherever they are available.

What is a VPDN?

A Virtual Private Dial-Up Network is a type of VPN that provides private networks with a remote access dial-in service. This means that long-distance users can connect with private networks more easily and efficiently.

What is site-to-site VPN?

Site-to-site VPNs are particularly useful in the context of company networks, which may have several branch offices in locations around the world. A site-to-site VPN will enable these offices to set up a secure connection with each other over a public network, enabling resources to be shared easily between employees in different locations.

Is it important to choose a provider with servers in many locations?

When deciding which VPN provider to use, the most important location factor is how close you are to the network server. This will have a significant impact on the speed of your service. If you live in the US, for example, you’ll want to make sure that you can connect to a server that is as close as possible to you, so that you have a good connection speed. The main advantage of a VPN provider having servers in lots of locations is that you can access internet services that are restricted to a specific region – but if you do not travel a great deal, it is not necessarily important to choose a provider with servers in many dozens of countries.

Is my router compatible with using a VPN?

The easiest and most convenient way to ensure your router is compatible is to buy a pre-configured VPN router that already has VPN firmware installed on it. Although you will still need to purchase the VPN service alongside the router, the router is pre-configured to run with a number of VPN providers and protocols. If you’d rather not buy a new router, it may well be possible to flash your current router with the appropriate firmware. Look for guidelines online to see which routers this will best work with.

Is it completely legal to use a VPN?

It is perfectly legal to browse the internet through another IP address. Problems only arise when people abuse the service provided by a VPN to carry out illegal activity, such as scamming, hacking, spreading viruses, or viewing child pornography. Another, more widespread problem is when VPN users stream material from overseas websites without having permission from the copyright owner – which could count as infringement. Nevertheless, using a VPN is not just legal but recommended and beneficial when used for the correct reasons.

Can my ISP block my VPN?

Whether or not your ISP can block your VPN will depend on the VPN protocol that you are using. PPTP, for example, can be blocked by your ISP because it works on a single port and uses a specific kind of packet. OpenVPN, on the other hand, cannot be blocked as it runs on a variety of ports and protocols, and your ISP will be unable to differentiate your VPN from a regular HTTPS website.

Can my VPN provider track my online activity?

Your VPN provider will be able to see what you are doing online, but it is important to check up on your provider’s privacy policy which will tell you how they use this information. VPN providers should not be interested in your data, and anything they log should be wiped clean on a regular basis so it doesn’t pose a security threat. Data that is recorded and kept can be sold, stolen or used for illegal purposes by cyber criminals. Choose a provider that offers a zero logs policy, or at the very least one which removes your logs within 30 days.

Will a VPN protect my computer from viruses?

While you are connected to a VPN, you are protected by a wide range of extra security measures that a regular network cannot provide. This includes protection against infections from viruses, worms, Trojans and bots, and the removal of automatic downloads or displays of advertisements to your computer. This means that if you accidentally download a virus onto your computer that tries to steal your information, the VPN will cancel the download before the infected file can be transferred.

Are there any disadvantages to using a VPN?

While there are no major disadvantages with the actual use of a VPN, problems can arise with the reliability of the service. It is worth doing research and even paying a little more in order to avoid downtime and frustration if the service is erratic.

Is a VPN difficult to set up?

If you have Windows, then setting up a VPN is a very straightforward process. Windows comes ready with a VPN client that already supports some of the most common VPN protocols, and it is also possible to buy specially designed routers that have a built-in VPN server. Those who are not confident setting up their VPN can find plenty of support online.

Will my VPN connection work from any location?

You should be able to connect to your VPN from anywhere in the world. This is why VPNs are such an attractive option for businesspeople who regularly travel to different areas, and need access to shared documents or files. If you are often abroad, it might be worth choosing a VPN provider with servers in many different countries so that your connection speed remains reliable even when you travel.

Can I use more than one VPN at the same time?

It is possible to use two VPNs, and create a double layer of encrypted tunnels through which your data can travel. However, this will only work if the IP addresses used in the two networks do not overlap. By nature, VPN software exists to take over all ingoing and outgoing traffic for the whole system, and if there is a “collision” then one will end up taking over from the other and making it redundant. The best way to use two VPNs successfully is to run each one on a separate virtual machine, and then set up a route between them on the host server.

What are the advantages of using two simultaneous VPNs?

Security-conscious people may choose to use two simultaneous VPNs as a way of ensuring complete privacy when handling sensitive data. As long as you always connect to the VPNs in the same order, the first provider will be able to see your data but won't be able to see where it is going (as it will then be routed to the second VPN); the second VPN will be able to see which sites you are visiting but not who you are or where your data has come from. This provides a much greater level of anonymity.

What’s the difference between a proxy server and a VPN?

While proxy servers and VPNs perform similar functions, the processes they use are quite different. A proxy server acts as an intermediary between your computer and the internet, so that all traffic leaving your computer appears to be coming from a different IP address. However, while your information may be anonymous, it is not encrypted and can still be exposed to hacking threats. The anonymity provided by a proxy will hide your IP up to a point, but your ISP will still be able to follow your internet activity. A VPN, on the other hand, creates an encrypted tunnel between your computer and the host server, so that even your ISP cannot trace your movements beyond your connection to the VPN.

How can I improve the speed of my VPN connection?

If you think your VPN connection speed is unduly slow, you can experiment with changing your protocol. Different ISPs support different protocols (for example, PPTP, SSSTP, L2TP and OpenVPN). Switching between protocols may help resolve your connection issues. PPTP tends to be less encrypted and therefore runs at a higher speed, whereas L2TP offers a higher level of encryption but a slower service. You can also check that you are connected to the VPN server that is nearest your location, as the closer the server the better your connection speed will be.

Can I access my VPN from more than one device?

Most top-end VPN providers will automatically provide two simultaneous connections. Some providers, such as LiquidVPN, offer as many as eight simultaneous connections! If you want to be able to connect to your VPN on your computer, phone and tablet at the same time, it’s worth doing some research into which providers are best able to meet your needs.

Can I use VPN on a public computer?

When using a public computer, the best option is to avoid all private and sensitive communication. The connection may not be completely secure, and there is a risk that the computer you are using is threatened by spyware. Using a VPN would be a good way to secure your internet connection – but it is unlikely that you will be able to install a VPN client on a public computer.

How do I change my VPN server location?

Sometimes switching to a different server location can improve the speed of your connection. Exactly how you change the location of your VPN server will depend on your provider, but it should be a fairly simple process and you should not have to reconfigure your account with each switch. If you change your geographical location, you will also need to change your VPN server location.

Which countries block VPN connections?

The governments of some countries practice VPN blocking for reasons of either security or censorship. China has been blocking access to VPNs for a number of years, and while some VPN services can still function, their services are rather disrupted. The government of Iran has also forbidden access to all VPNs that haven’t passed government sanctions – though there have been reports of government surveillance on those using these approved VPNs.

What’s the difference between shared and dedicated IP addresses?

A shared IP address can be used for multiple sites, whereas a dedicated IP is assigned to just one site. Although a shared IP address can give you a better degree of anonymity when you’re browsing, a dedicated IP address provides a personalized layer of security which is ideal for logging into private servers.