What is a VPN?

VPN in the acronym for a Virtual Private Network. With the use of a VPN, you can ensure privacy of your internet communications when connecting physically to the global network. Thanks to encryption tools, virtual private networks make it possible to obtain security and a scope of functions which are conventional for private networks at a moderate price.


What is the essence of VPN services?

Conventionally, virtual private networks are utilized by the staff of different companies who need a secure connection to corporate intranet networks from various locations outside the offices. It is also possible to use VPNs to establish connections between numerous sites or offices of a company. This can be a retail chain or remote facilities. VPNs are becoming increasingly popular for private use as well, to protect home networks, establish secure Wi-Fi connections or ensure privacy of Internet activities so that nobody could track visited sites or the history of enquiries. Also, VPNs can help to avoid region-specific censorship practices, bans or restrictions (so-called geo-blocking).


How to sign up for a VPN?

VPNs are utilized as a protection tool by many companies, and can be employed just as well by private users. As a first step, it is worthwhile to consider different VPN providers and read customer feedback and/or expert comments. There can be different positive, negative or neutral opinions published in consumer reviews or by the audience of online forums. Surely, no provider can cater for the needs of everybody, but careful consideration shall demonstrate the level of confidence and reliability.


Are VPN services Mac-compatible?

Yes, they are fully compatible, and the new-generation Macs offer built-in support for the administration of VPN functionality. If you use X operating system, it is possible to maintain several VPN accounts on a single computer. Open System Preferences -> Network to set up your account.


Is the Free VPN Service safe for use?

Naturally, any paid service is better than any free service. This goes without saying, because any provider or SW developer needs money to maintain and expand its activities. The same holds true for any VPN provider: if it does not get money from the users, there shall be another funding source. What are the possible options here? Who is ready to come down with the money? Most likely, there shall be someone who wants to know about your internet activities or, even worse, learn your personal details. Surely, this does not mean that any provider offering free VPN services is not reliable or trustworthy. Anyway, it is worthwhile to learn who pays for the supposedly free services and whether the sponsors contribute to your privacy rather than try to circumvent the protection you want to obtain. Consider any free VPN providers based on the common principles, read customer feedback and expert comments.


If I use a VPN, shall this affect speed performance?

This question cannot be answered straightforwardly. Yes, the internet connection shall become slower if you use a VPN. This is the reason why most users only utilize it for data privacy purposes. VPN can be extended to all internet activities, but this would considerably reduce your speed. This is the matter of optimized balance between performance and security. And there are some other factors influencing connection speeds: the number of simultaneous VPN users and the location where VPN services are utilized.


What are the key features of VPNs?

VPNs are primarily intended for private data transmission via public networks. By way of example, corporate VPNs can be utilized while you are outside your office to access office computers, or to ensure security of any personal information if you ever have to use an open Wi-Fi internet connection. VPNs help to maintain privacy of internet activities so that no authorities or agencies can track the history of enquiries or web-site visits. Another convenient feature of a VPN is that you can disguise your location. VPNs make it look like the user and the VPN server are in the same place. If you go abroad, to a region with geo-blocking, you can use VPNs to circumvent local restrictions, for instance, to use Hulu services.


How to pay for VPN services?

Conventionally, the providers render services on the basis of subscription fees paid monthly, quarterly or annually, but the choice between the available payment options is not quite straightforward, and there many other factors. Here are some important questions: Whether the services are rendered on a contract basis, and personal details must be disclosed to execute such a contract? Are there any hidden fees (for instance, for set up or cancellation)? What are the bandwidth limits? What happens if the applicable limit (if any) is exceeded? What is the level of data security? Whether the provider manages to offer low fees by selling user details? Naturally, it is required to make choice basing on your best judgment and common cense, using such tools as comparative analysis.


Are the subscriptions mandatory?

Monthly fees are practiced by almost all VPN providers, and lower rates can be applied (and, thus, some money can be saved) if the user makes a one-off annual payment. Some providers require service contracts, but this is not a general practice. Again, common cense and best judgment shall be used to make the right choice.


What is the actual difference between VPN offerings?

The best answer to this question can be found in consumer reviews which are based on in-depth analysis. You can study expert opinions and draw your own conclusions. Make a short list of decent options and then look somewhat deeper. It is also worthwhile to read customer feedback.


Can the VPNs ensure true anonymity?

This question cannot be answered with supreme confidence. On the contrary, it can be safely asserted that absolute anonymity of internet activities is a non-existing thing. VPNs provide an effective tool to disguise online activities of the users, including their locations. The user can be in one country and appear to be in another country or even continent. To a large extent the anonymity of users depends on the performance of security protocol operated by the VPN provider. Also, the providers follow different monitoring and data recording policies. As it was mentioned above, the best way to learn and compare is to study the viewpoints of experts and consumers.


Is it necessary to use a VPN to secure any online connection?

Most likely, it is a must and a mandatory practice required by your employer to utilize VPN-protected connections whenever you use remote access to the corporate network. If a VPN is only utilized for the privacy of personal internet activities, the use can be limited to sensitive details, and all other traffic can be routed through regular browsers.


What VPN protocols are used?

VPN protocols define how the providers handle the internet access of their users. Each of the VPN protocols utilized for this purpose has advantages and disadvantages, and the security levels they are able to maintain are different too. Please use the conventional information resources to select the most suitable option.


Is it possible to use VPN services on mobile devices?

Yes, both standard and mobile versions of VPNs exist. The basic difference between the two is that a standard version offers remote network access while the physical location of the user remains unchanged. Mobile VPN versions are intended for those who keep moving but require uninterrupted access. If a mobile VPN connection is used, there is no need to close any applications in any location.


Are there any limits with regard to speed or storage capacity?

This depends on a specific VPN provider. Some providers offer differentiated services: the higher is the level of services (this usually means a higher fee too), the lower are the limits. This shall be considered as well to select a suitable provider.


There are static and a dynamic IP-addresses. What is the difference between the two?

If a static IP-address is assigned to a device, this address remains unchanged. Dynamic IP-addresses are used in most cases. They are changed on a regular basis. Dynamic IP-addresses are primarily utilized to ensure privacy and security: different addresses are specified for any logon. Thus, it becomes much harder for any investigators to track a specific device or user.


Can I use a VPN in line with dynamic IP-addressing?

Static IP-addressing is much more reliable in any combination with VRN-protected access. Relying on constant data, the provider remembers IP-addresses of the users and, thus, can optimize its services. However, VPNs can be used with dynamic IP-addressing as well. In order to use this option, it is required to subscribe for a free DNS service and enter updated hostname and account details for the router. The hostname can be used for communication with remote clients. It shall be permanently linked with your computer’s current IP-address.


Is it possible to use a VPN for specific web-sites only?

By default the inbuilt VPN client routes all web traffic through a single network, without any splitting. The users can set up a VPN with split tunneling (see below). However, not many VPN providers offer this option because of possible exposure to security risks.


What is meant by split tunneling?

As a general rule, a VPN utilizes a single secure and encrypted tunnel to route all network traffic of a user. For a specific “VPN+user” pair it is possible to configure split tunneling and divide internet traffic. A part of it will go through a VPN server, the remaining part will reach internet via a gateway selected by default.


How can split tunneling optimize the use of VPNs?

Basic advantage achieved with the use of split tunneling is simple and obvious: with a narrower bandwidth the user can access the network at a higher speed. Usually, active operation of a VPN results in reduced speed performance. This is the reason why in many cases the use of VPNs is limited to handling sensitive private information. Also, it is rather boring to keep connecting and disconnecting to/from a VPN trying to improve performance, and here split tunneling comes to help. On the other hand, it shall be remembered that split tunneling is accompanied by considerable security risks. When there is no split, all inbound and outbound traffic in the network goes via a tunnel protected by encryption tools. In the case of split traffic the user is exposed to unfiltered and potentially malicious content.


Is it required to use a VPN in combination with a firewall?

In the case of internet connection without a VPN there is a kind of hardware firewall. This is your router. As long as a VPN is used, any traffic goes through a tunnel protected by encryption tools which, in its turn, is routed via a firewall, and at this point the protection is lost. In order to offset this, a great number of VPN providers promote NAT firewall services for ongoing filtering of all traffic passing between the internet and the VPN server. Protection tools offered by the provider shall be one of the important selection criteria.


What are the specific features of a clientless VPN?

A VPN is clientless if it has no specific host connection. Some VPNs can be designed specifically for operation on the basis of a web-browser. In other words, all that is required from the user is to launch the browser and access the VPN connection from any location where internet access is available.


How to ensure that a VPN can be used with confidence?

In any case it is useful to read the provisions of privacy policy and terms of service offered by the VPN provider. You can believe that the provider is trustworthy if it follows zero (or close to zero) logging policy, in other words, keeps no records of internet activities of its users. Any interest in the user data shall raise suspicions, and any activity logs shall be deleted with regular intervals to avoid security threats. Again, it is worthwhile to learn feedback from other customers and read expert reviews.


What is the role of a VPN in improving online security?

The basic advantage achieved with the use of a VPN is that the IP-address is kept secret and cannot be obtained for any malicious purposes or identified by any web-sites you visit. A VPN maintains encryption of all inbound and outbound traffic, even if you use a network with no inbuilt encryption tools. Thus, even shared or open networks become secure, and enciphered information cannot be read by anybody. High-profile VPN services come with SW tools to combat spyware, spoofing, unsolicited ads and malicious software.


Is it useful to set up a dedicated private VPN server?

It can be really difficult to select the best VPN provider with well-balanced price and value offering, and do-it-yourself job might become the best option. In this case there are no pitfalls like data or activity logs kept by the VPN providers and, naturally, no fees. As soon as a dedicated VPN server is set up, secure connections to your home network are available from whatever location.


Is it a difficult task to set up a private VPN server?

It is a rather simple process, provided that you have Windows. In order to establish connection with your home network from any external device, it is required to locate Windows-based VPN Wizard, indicate IP-address and enter login and password. All remaining operations shall be carried out by the Wizard. Inbound VPN connection can be set up to make it accessible for external devices. There is a guided online procedure for the network router configuration. Provided that proper settings are defined, all VPN traffic shall arrive to the host computer.


What are the distinguishing features of Tor vs. VPN?

Tor is not the same kind of product as VPNs. They have different features and base on different systems. A VPN is about internet connection handling, data encryption and forwarding through a server to circumvent a direct internet connection. The workflow of Tor is as follows: connection is encrypted and passed around a number of servers. After that the information is decrypted and delivered to destination. Tor can achieve a greater level of anonymity compared to VPNs, though the cost of this shall be much slower speed performance. VPNs shall be used whenever the information is not too sensitive and there are any bandwidth limits.


What is meant by DNS leaks?

With the use of Domain Name System, or DNS, alpha-numeric (descriptive) website names are turned into numerical IP-addresses. Whenever the devices establish a contact with a web-server, they get in touch with a DNS server and request the IP-address. Usually the ISPs assign for the customers a DNS server which is controlled by the ISP and utilized, among others, to track the users’ web activity. DNS leaks originate if a OS fails to utilize the assigned anonymous DNS server and selects the default DNS server. DNS leak results in dangerous exposure of personal information and possible private data leaks.


What can be done to avoid DNS leaks if a VPN is used?

First of all, it is desirable to opt for the VPN services with inbuilt anti-DNS leak protection. However, these tools are only offered by few VPN providers. The most efficient anti-leak tool is to have a good DNS service (for instance, OpenDNS), or use paid utilities (for instance, VPNCheck) for DNS leak monitoring and elimination.


Are there any other security tools to increase VPN safety?

There are no absolute guarantees that any VPN services are ultimately confident. That’s why it is just as important to install and regularly update software to combat spyware and malware. It might be desirable to supplement a VPN with an anonymous web-browser for the encryption of browser data. In this case the web activities cannot be tracked by anyone, including the VPN provider. Alternatively, the browser can be supplemented by a free extension called HTTPS Everywhere to make the browser establish encrypted HTTPS connections whenever possible.


What does VPDN stand for?

VPDN is a Virtual Private Dial-Up Network, a type of VPN which can be utilized by private networks to operate remote access dial-in service. For remote users this means better and simpler connectivity with private networks.


What is meant by “site-to-site” VPN?

VPNs operating on the “site-to-site” basis are especially useful for corporate networks connecting a number of geographically distributed offices. Thanks to a “site-to-site” VPN it is possible to establish secure connections between offices or other locations over public networks for effective data sharing between employees.


Is it essential to have a provider with a distributed network of servers?

The most significant location criteria for the VPN provider selection is physical closeness of the user to the network server. This greatly affects speed performance of the service. To ensure a decent speed of connection, the server shall be as close as possible. The basic competitive advantage for any VPN provider with a geographically distributed network of servers is that users can access web services with region-specific access restrictions. For non-active travelers the wide geographic coverage of the server network is not so important.


How to confirm router compatibility for a VPN service?

In order to be absolutely sure that your router is compatible, all you need to do is to buy a pre-configured VPN router with pre-installed VPN firmware. Taking in account that a router is not enough and a VPN service shall be purchased anyway, the router is pre-configured for the operation with different protocols and VPN providers. If it is unpractical to purchase a new router, you can try to find suitable firmware for your current router. Reference materials and guidelines can be found online.


Can the use of a VPN result in any prosecution?

Web-browsing with the use of whatever IP-address is legal. The users can only be in conflict with the law if they utilize VPN services for some sort of illegal activities like distributing viruses, spreading or viewing child pornography, hacking or scamming. A much more common issue can arise if the VPN users obtain content from foreign web-sites without proprietor’s permission. This can be a matter of copyright infringement. Anyway, VPN services are both legal and advantageous, provided that they are used for valid and lawful tasks.


It is possible that VPN services can be blocked by the internet service providers?

This possibility depends on the VPN protocol utilized by the user. PPTP can be blocked by the internet service provider because it operates via one port and handles packets in a specific manner, while OpenVPN cannot be blocked because it uses many different ports and protocols, and the internet service provider cannot make a distinction between a VPN and any regular HTTPS web-sites.


Do the VPN providers practice any tracking of users’ activities?

In fact, the VPN providers can monitor online activities of the users. In this context it is worthwhile to study the privacy policy followed by the specific provider. This way you can learn how the information is handled. No provider acting in good faith shall be interested in any data of the users, and any activity logs kept by the providers for whatever reasons shall be regularly deleted. Otherwise, security threats can originate. Any recorded or retained details can be disclosed to third parties on paid or free basis, stolen or used for illegal purposes. Thus, it is better to select a provider which follows zero-logging policy or at least deletes any user activity logs within 1 month.


Can a VPN additionally serve as the anti-virus protection?

As long as a VPN connection is maintained, the user stays protected, and a wide scope of additional security tools unavailable in a regular network are applied, including anti-infection measures to combat worms, Trojans, viruses and bots. Automatic downloads and unsolicited ad displays are conveniently disabled. Even if the user downloads infected content by accident, and the viruses try to steal any data, the VPN shall disable any downloads and prevent transferring of infected files.


What are the possible disadvantages of a VPN?

There are no really significant disadvantages related with the use of VPNs. Any possible issues depend exclusively on the reliability of service. That’s why it is worthwhile to carry out an in-depth investigation of the providers and do not try to save on prices. This way you’d avoid any lengthy downtimes or instable performance.


How to set up a VPN service?

For Windows users this procedure is quite easy. Windows has a ready-to-use VPN client with the support of several common VPN protocols. Alternatively, the users can purchase dedicated routers with inbuilt VPN servers. The settings can be defined by the users on their own, with the aid of online guidelines.


Can the users be sure that VPN connections are available in specific locations?

Generally speaking, VPN connections are globally available. That’s why they are popular in the world of business, because the businessmen constantly need secure access to shared files and documents, and they often travel both within the country and abroad. For frequent abroad travelers it is worthwhile to consider a VPN provider with a geographically distributed network of servers. This is a guarantee that speed performance shall be reliable without regard to region or location.


Is it possible to run several VPNs concurrently?

Yes. 2 VPNs can be used, and it is possible as well to establish two-layer encrypted tunnels for data transmission. These options are only available, provided that there is no overlapping of the IP-addresses used in the two networks. Intrinsically, the VPN software controls all inbound and outbound system-wide traffic. In the case of any overlap one of the addresses is retained, and the other is regarded redundant. The best and most successful way to use 2 VPNs is to run them on separate virtual machines and define an in-between route on the host server.


What are the possible benefits of running 2 concurrent VPNs?

2 concurrent VPNs can be run for extra security, in order to ensure comprehensive privacy for sensitive personal data. The sequence of VPN connections shall always remain unchanged. Thus, the 1st provider shall see the data but cannot see the destination (because routing is handled by the 2nd VPN). The 2nd provider shall see the history of visited sites but cannot disclose your identity or realize the source of your data. This means a much higher anonymity level.


What is the essential difference of a proxy server vs. a VPN?

Indeed, proxy servers and VPNs serve to perform similar functions. However, they utilize quite different processes. Proxy servers are a kind of intermediaries which are downstream of your computer and upstream of the Internet. Any outbound traffic is disguised to look like sourced from different IP-addresses. Even if the data is de-personalized this way, no encryption is applied, and the data remains exposed to web threats. Anonymity ensured by a proxy server can hide the IP-address to a certain limit, but it is still possible for the internet service provider to trace the web activity of the users. In the case of a VPN there is an encrypted tunnel linking the computer and the host server. This means that even the internet service provider is not in a position to track web activities beyond the borders of a VPN connection.


Is it possible to improve speed performance of a VPN connection?

If the VPN connection fails to meet your performance expectations, try a different protocol. The scope of supported protocols can depend on a specific internet service provider. These can be L2TP, PPTP, SSSTP and OpenVPN. Trying different protocols in turn, the users shall be able to resolve connection issues. In the case of PPTP a higher speed is obtained at the cost of a lower level of encryption. With L2TP the situation is opposite: a higher level of encryption and a slower speed. It is also worthwhile to confirm that the connected VPN server is close to your location. As it was discussed above, the smaller is the distance, the better is the speed performance of your connection.


Is it possible to access VPNs from several devices?

The majority of high-profile VPN providers maintain 2 concurrent connections by default. Some providers, including LiquidVPN, can offer even more concurrent connections (up to 8!). If it is proposed to establish simultaneous VPN connections for desktop, tablet and smartphone, it is worthwhile to investigate the providers thoroughly.


Is it possible to use a VPN service on a public computer?

Whenever you have to use a public computer, the most optimal course of action is to postpone any transmission of sensitive or private data. There are no guarantees that the connection is secure or the environment is spyware-free. VPNs are effective to secure web connections, but it might be impossible on a public computer to install a VPN client.


Is it possible to select another server location for a VPN?

The switchover to a server at a different location can help to increase speed performance. The specific procedure to be followed to change VPN server location depends on the specific provider. In any case, this is a rather simple task, with no need to re-configure user account each time. If the user moves to another physical location, VPN server location shall be changed as well.


Are there any regions or countries where VPN connections are disabled?

VPN blocking is practiced by some governments for censorship or security proposes. For instance, VPN access is blocked in the PRC. Some VPN services are operable in this country, but cannot be called stable or reliable. In Iran any VPNs are banned unless they satisfy strict requirements, and even the users of such “approved” VPNs remain under government surveillance.


Are there any essential distinctions between dedicated and shared IP-addresses?

Shared IP-addresses are available for use at multiple sites, while any dedicated IP-address is assigned and linked to a single site. With the use of a shared IP-address one can obtain higher anonymity of web activities, while a dedicated IP-address forms a personalized security layer which is extremely useful to log into private servers.


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