Most people have heard of VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) and know what they are used for, but not many people understand exactly how to set one up on their PC (Personal Computer). With a VPN you can protect all the devices on your network from prying eyes, hackers, and online eavesdroppers; all without having to install anything on any device. In this article we will cover the basics of using a VPN on your PC.
Why Do I Need A VPN On My PC?
If you’re reading this it’s most likely because you want to know how to open up a VPN connection on your PC. It’s quite easy to do and after you try it out once, you’ll wonder why you didn’t do this sooner. Let’s take a look at some of the reasons why you might want to connect to a VPN when using a PC.
- Privacy – Keeping your personal information private and hidden from strangers is of paramount importance these days. If you use social media platforms like Facebook or Twitter you’ll see plenty of evidence of this. There have been numerous cases of high-profile individuals sharing incredibly personal information about themselves online without their knowledge or consent. While this may simply be because they want to promote themselves or their businesses, it’s still somewhat disconcerting to learn that this kind of information is freely available for the world to see. With a VPN you can prevent all this by encrypting your data as it travels to and from your device. No-one can see your data while it’s in transit, which means that even if an app, website, or service is storing your data without your permission, at least you know it’s not being seen by anyone else. VPNs save you from prying eyes, hackers, and online eavesdroppers.
- Security – As the number of people and devices connected to the internet continues to rise, so too does the threat of cyber-criminals and hackers attempting to steal your personal data. Malicious software such as viruses and malware are also a major source of concern for PC users, especially since they often affect multiple machines at once. A VPN can help to protect your PC from these kinds of threats by connecting you to a number of servers located around the world, thus making your IP (Internet Protocol) address untraceable. When a server is able to match your IP address with another customer browsing the internet, it will conceal your identity and location from spying eyes and hackers. In some cases VPNs can even help to anonymize your personal data by re-routing your traffic through different countries or different continents.
- Avoiding Blocked Sites – One of the biggest complaints about using the internet is the amount of sites that are currently blocked by your internet service provider (ISP). If you’re using public Wi-Fi at a coffee shop or airport, you’ll often find that certain websites are blocked, whether by default or intentionally by the owners of those sites. One of the side-effects of using a VPN is that you’re generally opened up to a whole lot more websites than you normally would be. This is because your VPN software is constantly changing your IP address, hiding you from some websites and exposing you to others. Sometimes this can result in you being able to access content that is otherwise blocked. In many cases, this is a good thing as you may be surprised at how many useful and interesting sites there are that you’re not aware of.
- Freedom of Speech – When you use the internet you’re often given the option of whether you want to allow third parties to see your browsing history. There is normally no option to hide your activities when using the internet, which can have a drastic effect on your freedom of speech. While it’s not always the case, you normally have to allow third parties to see your browsing history if you want to use certain websites or services. The better your VPN software is at securing your personal information, the more freedom of speech you’ll have since your browsing history will be protected even when using public Wi-Fi or a service like Cloud Computing.
- Accessing Content – When you’re connected to a VPN you have complete control over what kind of content you want to access – whether that’s websites, games, or whatever. You may also have to alter some system settings to get the content to work, but that’s it. Even when connected to a VPN, you normally still have to navigate through a number of unwanted advertisement before reaching the content that you want. This is normally because ad-blockers are disabled on public Wi-Fi. You can prevent this by using a VPN on your device.
- Protect Your Personal Data When Using Public Wi-Fi – It’s quite common for people to use public Wi-Fi hotspots whenever they’re out and about. This is especially so in countries where wireless internet access is readily available. When using a Wi-Fi hotspot at a coffee shop or airport, you’ll often see that people are logging on to their devices without a VPN, using passwords and public information such as seat numbers to access their accounts. Not many people realize that this kind of information is easily accessible by strangers sitting next to them, which is why you should always use a VPN when using public Wi-Fi. This way you’ll keep your personal information secure and private, even when using public Wi-Fi.
How Do I Connect To A VPN On My PC?
You can connect to a VPN quite easily, however, to do this you’ll need to download and install a VPN app or extension for your browser. The great thing about these days is that there are numerous apps and extensions that you can try out, all of which perform the same basic functions. This means that you don’t necessarily have to run off and buy one of the big-name VPNs to get started. The best part is that most of these apps and extensions are free.
For the purposes of this article, we will be using the OpenVPN app for Windows 10, but any VPN that you choose should function in a similar manner.
Once you’ve downloaded and installed the OpenVPN app, you’ll see a screen similar to the one below.
As you can see, the app has a lot of information regarding various VPNs and services that it supports. For the purposes of this article we’re going to focus on the General settings, as this is where you’ll want to make most of your changes. You can also pull down the Settings menu (top-right) to see all the available options.
On the General tab, you can configure various settings regarding the VPN, such as the name that will appear next to the connection (usually the default is VPN since it’s the closest thing to a standard that exists), the encryption protocol you want to use (PPP, L2TP, OpenVPN, or IKEv2), the login details for the VPN server (e.g. username and password), and whether you want to allow the VPN to disconnect or close the connection when you log off or switch devices (note: this is usually done to prevent people from connecting to your VPN when you’re not using it).
To connect to a VPN, you simply need to click on the downward-pointing triangle next to the OpenVPN protocol and select your preferred VPN from the list. Keep in mind that you may have to exit and re-enter your connection settings when changing VPNs (but this is really easy to do).
After I’ve Connected To A VPN, How Do I Use It?
Once you’ve connected to a VPN you’ll need to confirm that you want to use it by clicking on the Gear icon (bottom-right) and selecting the Open option. This will open up a window with a list of all the available servers, which you can connect to by clicking on the plus sign next to the relevant server. You can change which server you connect to by simply clicking on the server you want to use and then clicking on the Gear icon (bottom-right) to save the settings.
If you’re using a program like Chrome or Safari you’ll need to use the Incognito browsing mode to completely remove all your browsing history and replace it with new data. Doing this will remove all the tracking from your previous visits and any website that you visit using this mode will appear as if you’ve never been there before.
If you’re connecting to a server near you, you’ll see a small icon (top-right) that allows you to adjust your ping time to optimize the performance of your connection. Normally, the ping time is set to Default, which is the best setting for most people. You can also click on the Settings icon (top-right) to adjust the quality of your video calls and turn on or off your microphone so that you can remain private while on video calls.