Over the past few years, VPNs have drastically increased in popularity. Due to millions of people working from home, increased online censorship across countries, and advanced cyber threats, remaining anonymous and secure online is more important than ever. Alongside added security and privacy, VPNs come with many advantages. This cost-effective technology can help you access restricted content, prevent ISP bandwidth throttling, and even speed up your internet connection.
Although they may seem complicated, VPNs are relatively easy to understand and straightforward to use. Arguably, the hardest thing about using a VPN is first deciding on a provider. Many VPNs advertise various features such as a kill switch, split tunnelling support, and obfuscated servers, but what do these features actually do and why do we need them? To answer these questions and more, we put together a list of 10 common VPN questions along with clear, concise, and jargon-free answers!
10 answers to common VPN questions
Not sure where to start when it comes to this technology? We’ve answered 10 common questions about VPNs to help inform beginners as well as debunk some general misconceptions. You can also check out our in-depth guide of VPN features here!
- How do VPNs work?
A virtual private network (VPN) is a tool that establishes a private network from a public internet connection. Still not sure what this means? Let’s make an analogy –
Imagine the internet as a delivery service. Whenever you connect to a website, a parcel filled with your information is sent by the internet to your destination. Parcels packed with user data are constantly sent between devices all across the world. These parcels aren’t very secure as anyone could come in and intercept them, open them up, and steal all this data. They can also see exactly where each parcel came from and where it’s headed. This is a pretty serious privacy issue, right?
Now, imagine a VPN as an indestructible box that protects all your parcels and stops anyone from snatching information from inside. Not only this, but the VPN will also reroute your parcels through one of its servers. So, instead of your parcels going directly to your chosen destination, it first travels to the VPN server. You also stop receiving parcels directly, as they too travel to the server before reaching you. Anyone who tries to steal information from your parcels cannot see where you are, and mistake your location for the server’s.
We’re sure you can agree that this is a much safer way to send your parcels. A VPN protects your information from landing in the wrong hands, so you can use the internet safely, anonymously, and stress-free!
- What other ways can I benefit from a VPN?
Besides the added security, VPNs can also benefit you in a variety of ways. To begin with, VPNs can allow you to bypass geo-restrictions and watch online from around the world. Geo-restrictions refer to any content that’s restricted from users based on their geo-graphical location.
To adhere to copyright laws and licensing agreements, many streaming services make certain content only available in specific countries. This is why services such as Netflix have libraries that differ between countries and why you’ll sometimes see the message, “This video is unavailable in your country” on YouTube. Websites and apps are able to enforce these restrictions by using users’ IP addresses.
Since your IP address determines your location, these services can see which country you’re accessing their content from and either present you with a country-specific library or block your access completely. VPNs can help you circumvent their restrictions and access any geo-blocked content by masking your IP address and replacing it with the IP of one of their servers’.
Basically, when you connect to a VPN server and then access a website or app, then the service will think you’re based wherever the server is since it can no longer see your real IP. By spoofing your location with a VPN, you can access endless content that would otherwise be inaccessible from services such as Netflix, Peacock, and Fox Sports.
You can also use this trick to change your region when online gaming, save money when travelling, and gain additional online anonymity by hiding your real location.
- Are VPNs legal?
VPNs, although sometimes frowned upon, are completely legal in the majority of countries. Governments of some countries, such as Oman, Russia, Belarus, China, and Iraq have imposed regulations and bans on VPNs.
In Turkey, Uganda, and the U.A.E governments have attempted to discourage VPN use by placing technological restrictions such as VPN-blocking firewalls. However, by using a reputable VPN, you can usually bypass any government restrictions to maintain your online privacy and enjoy a free internet experience.
In other countries, including North Korea, Egypt, Cuba, and Vietnam, there are strict internet censorship laws, meaning that although there’s not an official ban, using a VPN can be risky.
Outside of these areas, VPN usage is generally permitted as long as users are not engaging in any illegal activities such as pirating copyrighted content. Countries with absolutely no regulations or laws regarding VPNs include Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Mexico, Norway, Poland, Romania, Spain, the UK, and the USA.
- Do VPNS affect internet connection speeds?
Many assume that VPNs drastically slow down connection and page loading speeds, but this is not entirely accurate. Yes, VPNs do slow down connection speeds slightly. This is because when you’re using a VPN, your internet traffic has to travel further to reach the VPN’s server before landing at its final destination.
However, with most premium VPNs, this speed drop is so insignificant that it’s barely noticeable. Even so, we believe that the benefits VPN provides outweigh the cost of a slight speed reduction. Using a VPN, you can still watch content in high quality, play online games without lag, and go about your usual internet routine.
VPNs can also sometimes make your connection speeds even faster! ISPs (internet service providers) often throttle the connection of users who are participating in high bandwidth activities such as streaming, torrenting, and gaming. Bandwidth throttling is when your internet connection is deliberately slowed down so your ISP can regulate traffic and reduce network congestion.
When using a VPN, since all your online activity is hidden, your ISP cannot discriminate against you by identifying how much bandwidth you’re consuming. Simply put, a VPN will protect you from being targeted and having your connection speeds slowed down by your ISP.
If you’re worried about a VPN slowing down your browsing experience, then you should try out a reputable provider to see for yourself. Thankfully, many VPNs offer free trials or money-back guarantees, so you don’t have to commit any money when checking connection speeds when using a VPN . You can test out any VPN for free and see if you notice a difference
- What are VPN protocols?
VPN protocols are sets of processes that determine how data is routed through a connection between a device and a VPN server. VPN providers rely on VPN protocols to ensure secure, private, and reliable internet communication.
There is a wide range of available protocols, each with their own advantages and drawbacks. Some have been designed for optimised speed, whilst others focus on privacy. The optimal VPN protocol for you entirely depends on your own requirements, so it’s wise to do a little research and see which suits you best.
Otherwise, if you notice that your connection is regularly dropping, or your speeds are much slower than expected, then consider switching to a different protocol within your VPN’s app or client. Common VPN protocols include OpenVPN, IPSec/IKEv2, Wireguard, SoftEther, SSTP, L2TP/IPSec, and PPTP.
- What does a no-logs policy mean?
A no-logs policy is a feature that’s often advertised by VPNs to improve the privacy and anonymity of users, but what does this really mean? Firstly, ‘logs’ are bits of data about users that can be collected by VPN providers. Logs can be separated into three main categories, user info, connection logs, and usage logs.
User info generally consists of information you input when signing up to a VPN provider and can include your name, email address, payment details, purchase history, and country of residence. Connection logs are usually used for troubleshooting and to help providers improve their service. These refer to incoming and outgoing IP addresses, timestamps, and data transfer. Usage logs consist of sensitive user data such as browsing history, session information, software usage, and downloads.
These logs, when collected by a VPN provider, can be incredibly harmful to users. When using a VPN, your online activity and sensitive information should remain private, and if your provider monitors and stores logs, then this privacy is ruined. There have been situations where providers have been ordered by police or government agencies to disclose user logs. Additionally, some VPNs have been exposed for selling user data to third parties for marketing purposes. This is why a no-logs policy is so important.
When a VPN claims to have a no-logs policy, it means that they promise to never monitor, collect, share or sell user data. This means that the provider wouldn’t need to hand over any logs to police, for instance, since they won’t have any stored in the first place. Using a VPN with a no-logs policy also means that your privacy wouldn’t be compromised if the provider experiences a security breach within their servers.
Watch out, though! Just because almost all premium VPNs claim to have a no-logs policy, doesn’t mean each of them lives up to this promise. There have been a few occurrences where VPNS with ‘no-logs’ policies were revealed as actually logging user data after millions of users had their sensitive information exposed.
Some VPNs have decided to have their no-logs policy claim verified by an independent auditing firm. This firm will complete an unbiased in-depth analysis of the VPN to confirm that their claims of not logging user data are true. VPN providers that are open to being independently audited show that they are confident in their privacy claims and are probably not secretly collecting user data despite advertising a no-logs policy.
- What is a kill switch?
A kill switch is a security feature that’s usually offered by VPN providers. When enabled, kill switches act as a failsafe that prevents users’ devices from accidental exposure. Sometimes your VPN connection may unexpectedly drop, which leads to sensitive information such as your IP address and online actively becoming visible.
The kill switch feature prevents this by severing your internet connection completely if it detects an interruption or sudden VPN connection drop. The connection will then be unblocked once the VPN’s encrypted tunnel is restored. VPN connection drops can happen for several reasons, including server issues, network congestion, or weak WiFi signals.
A kill switch is an incredibly important security feature to have as it ensures that your data and online identity aren’t exposed even for a second. It essentially acts as the last line of defence, protecting users from data leaks and compromised privacy. Without a kill switch, when your VPN connection drops, your device will default back to your ISP’s IP address, exposing your full identity and online activity.
Usually kill switches are integrated within a VPNs app or client and are enabled by default. You can disable this feature at any time (although this is not recommended) by heading to the ‘settings’ menu in your VPN’s app/client.
- What are obfuscated servers?
Obfuscated servers are specialised servers that disguise your VPN usage. More specifically, these servers make your VPN traffic appear as regular internet traffic. Usually, VPN servers, despite concealing your identity, still reveal to your ISP that you’re using a VPN. By using obfuscated servers, your VPN traffic is concealed so you can avoid government censorship by bypassing restrictions such as VPN blockades and firewalls.
Data packets, which travel along networks, contain raw information and metadata. When inspected, these packages can reveal a VPN connection. ISPs, as well as governments, can use Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) to identify VPN usage and employ technologies to block users from accessing websites and services.
With obfuscated servers, the data packets can be hidden using encryption to mask the metadata, making any VPN traffic look like standard HTTPS traffic. This allows users to protect themselves and use a VPN even in heavily restricted countries where the technology is banned. Firewalls and other blockades cannot identify that user traffic is coming from a VPN server and therefore let it pass.
- What is split tunnelling?
Split tunnelling is when only specific user traffic is routed through a VPN server whilst the remaining traffic accesses the internet directly. There are two main types of split tunnelling. App-based is when certain apps can be chosen to not be routed through the VPN while the rest are routed by default. Similarly, URL-based is usually included with browser extensions and allows users to specify which URLs they want to access with their own IP address.
By default, when using a VPN, all user traffic is encrypted and travelling through the VPN tunnel. Although this is the most secure option, it’s not always optimal. For example, if you want to stream geo-restricted content but also want to access local internet services at the same time, then you can use split tunnelling to divide your traffic.
Additionally, some websites and apps, such as online banks, can deny your access or work incorrectly if you’re using them through a VPN. A VPN encryption can also interrupt connections with wireless LAN devices such as printers. Split tunnelling can solve these issues by letting you decide which websites, apps, or devices to exclude from the VPN tunnel.
- How do I choose the best VPN?
Choosing the right VPN can seem like a daunting task. There are tons of providers out there, each claiming to offer the best service. When it comes down to it, though, you need a VPN that’s reliable, trustworthy, and secure. From here, the best provider for you can depend on your specific needs.
For instance, if you want to unblock and stream geo-restricted content from services such as Netflix, Peacock, and Amazon Prime Video, then you need a provider with plenty of worldwide servers to choose from. On the other hand, if you want to avoid DDoS attacks while playing online games, then you need a VPN with fast connection speeds, so you can avoid lag and high latency.
If you’re purely interested in staying protected against cyber threats such as hackers and malware, then your chosen VPN should have military-grade encryption along with various security protocols such as a kill switch and obfuscated servers.
Generally, the best VPN will be well-rounded and offer a selection of these features. We recommend that you only consider premium VPNs, as these can guarantee you ultimate privacy and safety. Free VPNs often make a profit through selling user data, so it’s best to avoid them altogether. We also suggest that your chosen VPN must have a strict no-logs policy. As we’ve already mentioned, this policy ensures that your online activity and other sensitive information remain completely private.
Still not sure which VPN to choose? Check out some of our other articles –