If you use a personal computer (PC) for both work and play, then it probably already has a VPN client installed on it. If you’re reading this, then you probably use a VPN already—either through a tool like Windows 10’s own VPN client, or through a 3rd party app. But what is a VPN, and how does it work? We will briefly discuss the ins and outs of setting up a VPN using Windows 10.
What is a VPN?
We mentioned earlier that if you use a PC for both work and play, then it probably already has a VPN client installed on it. If you’re not sure what a VPN is, here’s a brief primer.
Virtually everything on the internet—from email to web browsing—is encrypted by default. But this encryption is often not enough if you have someone watching over your shoulder or if you want to keep your personal data secure. A Virtual Private Network (VPN) connects your laptop to a private network via the internet, encrypting all the data that travels between your device and the VPN server. The benefit of this is that all the data is encrypted, so no one can intercept or see your communications without your approval.
This is huge. VPNs are pretty essential if you want to have a private conversation over the internet or use public Wi-Fi without worrying about your security. Plus, they’re pretty easy to set up.
Why should you use a VPN?
There are several great reasons why you should use a VPN, and we’ll discuss a few of them.
- Protect your privacy online
- Access blocked websites
- Unblock YouTube videos
- Change your IP address
- Change your location
- Avoid geoblocking and digital licensing
As we mentioned earlier, nearly everything on the internet is encrypted. And while this might seem like a good thing, it means that your every move is logged and tracked. A huge number of data points can be collected about you, and this can lead to your personal information being sold to advertisers or hackers. If you care about your privacy, then don’t leave home without your VPN (or at least a trustworthy one).
Another great reason to use a VPN is to access websites or services that might otherwise be blocked in your location (and we’ll get to that in a moment). If you live in Indonesia and you try to access a site like YouTube, for example, you’ll see a message stating that the content is restricted or unavailable in your location (understanding that Indonesia has a sizable internet population). But with a VPN, you can access YouTube just as easily as you could in your home country.
Similarly, if you try to access Twitter in Indonesia and you get a message stating that the service is unavailable in your location due to government restrictions, you can be sure that with a VPN you’re going to be able to access it without problems.
Accessing these kinds of sites and services without a VPN is usually only possible when you’re abroad, or when you’ve traveled to a country that doesn’t enforce internet censorship (as is the case in most of Europe). But even then, you might encounter geoblocking—the practice of a site or service limiting your access to certain content based on your country of residence—which is certainly not ideal. Avoiding geoblocking and digital licensing, where applicable, is important if you want to access the entire contents of a site or download software without encountering interruptions or restrictions. So it’s not just about security as much as it is privacy and freedom of choice online. When you have a VPN, you own your data and can share it with whatever you please. You can’t do that without one.
When you use a VPN to change your IP address, you’re actually changing the address that all your devices use when they connect to the internet. Think of it like this: when you use a VPN, all your devices will have a different IP address (specifically, one that’s allocated to you by the VPN provider), which will make you untraceable while online. This is why we mentioned earlier that VPNs are essential if you want to use public Wi-Fi without worrying about your security. Using a VPN on your laptop gives you a temporary sense of anonymity while you’re out and about, especially if you use a tool like Hotspot Shield, which can be configured to hide your actual IP address. If someone is tracking your online activity and follows you from website to website, their software might see the occasional change in your IP address as you navigate from one site to another, prompting them to follow your every move online. Using a VPN means that your privacy is not violated, and you simply prevent others from violating it by identifying and censoring what you’re doing online. VPNs help keep your security while giving you the freedom to explore the internet as you please—especially if you live in an area where privacy is concerned.
Setting Up the VPN
The first step in setting up a VPN is to determine whether you want to set it up manually or use a tool to do it for you.
If you have access to a command line, then you can set up the VPN manually. But if you don’t, then you’ll need to use one of the tools that comes built in to Windows 10. Let’s take a look at each option, and we’ll discuss what they have to offer.
If you have access to a command line on your local device, then you can set up the VPN manually. But if you don’t, then you can ask someone who does to help you out. You’ll need to begin by unlocking the virtual machine (VM) named “Terminal” located in the “Start” menu. Once you’ve unlocked the terminal, you can type in “cmd” and press enter to launch the command prompt. From there, you can type in “devmgmt.msc” (without the quotes) and press enter to open the Device Manager. Next, you’ll need to find the network adapters (NICs) used by your system and delete them. This is so that Windows cannot automatically reconnect to a network when you reboot your device. After you’ve deleted the network adapters, you can use Windows Device Manager to add a new network adapter and connect to the VPN. Finally, you can close the Device Manager and save the file you’ve created.
This process is very simple but requires access to a command line. Plus, you have to do it on your own. If you’re looking for a way to quickly and easily set up a VPN on multiple computers, then this is the option for you. Just make sure that you back up the configuration file before continuing.
Using a Tool
If you don’t have access to a command line on your local device, then you can use a tool to set up the VPN for you. There are several great tools (mostly free) that can be found online. Here are a few of them:
- Hotspot Shield VPN
- Perfect Privacy VPN
These are just a few examples of tools that can be used to set up a VPN. You’ll need to do some research into which one works best for your needs, or if you’re interested in using a tool at all, then consult with someone who has experience in this area.
It’s important to understand that while most tools are quite easy to use, some require a bit of tech savvy. If you’re looking to have a simple and smooth experience, then the simplest and most popular tool might be the one that you choose. But if you want a tool that will allow you to customize your settings or have additional features, then you might need to explore alternatives.
What is an IP address?
An IP address, or “Internet protocol address,” is a numerical address that allows computers to communicate with one another over the internet. Think of it like a street address or a phone number, but instead of directing communication to a physical location, it directs it to another IP address. Your IP address is actually a 32-bit number that is split into four groups of eight bits, or four numbers. So, it is often represented in the form of a four-digit number (e.g., 123.456.789.101) consisting of groups of two numbers (e.g., 123 and 456).
IP addresses can be quite complicated to understand, so here’s a quick primer: