How to Get Started with VPN Services

A virtual private network (VPN) allows for secure, private connections between individuals and businesses over untrusted public networks. VPNs were originally designed to allow employees to securely access business critical information while traveling, however, the technology has evolved to encompass a wide array of features that can be highly beneficial in a variety of situations.

Whether you’re a business owner, security enthusiast, or just need a secure place to connect to the internet, VPNs can provide the solution you’re looking for. In this article, we’ll discuss various ways you can get started with VPN services, including the various types of VPNs, how to choose the right solution for you, and of course, how to configure and manage your VPN once you have it set up.

Types Of VPNs

VPNs are typically offered in a subscription model, where you pay a monthly fee in exchange for the service, so you don’t have to worry about whether or not you’ll continue to use the service after your trial period is over. There are four primary types of VPNs, which we’ll discuss in detail below.

VPNs for Online Gaming

One of the first applications for VPNs was online gaming, as you might imagine. Due to the nature of the internet and how public it is by default, ensuring that all communications between users are secure is of paramount importance. This is especially true when playing online games that require frequent, or in-depth, communications with other players, as the chances of your communications being intercepted and read by an ill-willed party is fairly high. Although there are no exact figures available, web traffic analysis company Alexa estimates that around 16.4 million people in the US use VPNs to protect their privacy while online gaming, with the most common service being NordVPN.

Cloud VPN

If you’ve ever used a virtual private server (VPS), you’ll be familiar with the basics of a cloud VPN. A cloud VPN allows you to securely connect to a remote server owned and maintained by a third party, often times in a data center that’s located somewhere far away from you. The benefit of a cloud VPN is that you don’t need to install any clients or software on your device, as the service effectively functions as a universal VPN client that can be accessed from anywhere. The most popular cloud VPN service at the time of writing is NordVPN’s Cloud Server, but the list of supported cloud platforms is growing, so make sure you check before you use a particular service. Some of the more popular cloud platforms on which you can find a VPN are AWS, Google Cloud, and one of our personal favorites, Microsoft Azure.

SMB VPN

A small business VPN (SMB VPN) provides businesses with an easy way to offer their employees secure connections to confidential business information, while allowing them to work remotely via a mobile device. The main advantage of an SMB VPN over the previously mentioned services is that you don’t need to set everything up yourself; you can simply purchase an already configured VPN, then install it on your employees’ mobile devices and connect to it. The most popular brand of SMB VPNs at the time of writing are Foundry Networks’ Private VPN and Secure Core Networks’ VPN for Small Businesses, with the service costing $2.95/mo for the first year and $5.45/mo afterward. If you’re looking to get started with an SMB VPN, you can sign up for a free trial or check out the service’s official website to learn more about what it has to offer.

PPTP VPN

Protecting your privacy when using public Wi-Fi is more difficult than it seems. Even when you’re using a secure, encrypted connection like HTTPS, there are security risks associated with public Wi-Fi. One of the best ways of reducing these risks is through the use of a VPN. One of the older and more established VPN protocols is Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol (PPTP). Similar to most other VPNs, PPTP VPNs are mostly used for online gaming and remote access, but the protocol has been around since 1994 and is still supported by popular VPN services — like NordVPN and ExpressVPN — that continue to offer this specific service. Many VPNs offer a free trial, so you can get started with this type of service without risking any unnecessary risk.

L2TP/IPSec VPN

Layer Two Tunneling Protocol (L2TP) and IP Security (IPSec) are the technological underpinnings of several VPN services. The most popular VPN software suite that utilizes L2TP and IPSec is the open source OpenVPN, which has been used by over 2.5 million users worldwide as of October 2019. Like PPTP and the previously mentioned services, OpenVPN is mainly used for online gaming and remote access. It is also one of the more popular solutions for mobile device users who want to securely connect to public Wi-Fi while traveling, as the software is entirely mobile friendly. One of the notable differences between OpenVPN and the other two protocols above it is that L2TP and IPSec are far more secure and private protocols; they were specifically designed for this purpose. The downside is that they are considered somewhat more complex than the other two protocols mentioned above — with OpenVPN being the most complex.

Choosing The Right Solution For You

Your main consideration when choosing a VPN service should be determining what you need from the service. The most common requirements are a reliable and secure connection that is easy to use, as well as the option to create tunnels for various devices and platforms. If cost is a concern, look for a VPN service that offers a free trial or a money back guarantee, then you can make an informed decision about whether or not this is the right solution for you.

Configuring And Managing Your VPN

Once you’ve picked out a VPN service that you believe will be beneficial to your needs, the next step is to configure it. The process will differ depending on the type of VPN you’ve chosen, but in all cases, you’ll need to input your information (e.g., username, email address, etc.) and select a password. Your VPN provider will also need to know your IP address and the country you’re connecting from, as this information is used to determine the location of the server you’ll connect to and whether or not you’re allowed to access certain content (e.g., Netflix in Germany is blocked, but available in the US). Typically, VPN providers will also request that you opt-in to their newsletter or email list to stay informed of any updates or news regarding your service. Once you’ve set everything up, you can test that your VPN is functioning properly by connecting to a web resource that is known to be accessible only from within your local network (e.g., your WiFi). If everything is set up correctly, you’ll notice that the address bar of your browser will change from displaying the website’s domain name to the numerical address of your VPN (e.g., 1.2.3.4 instead of www.example.com). Navigating to a different site within your local network will still show the domain name of the site you visited prior to connecting to the VPN, because the domain name and the IP address are associated with each other (think of them like a telephone number and the area code — it’s always the same, regardless of where you call from).

Mobile And Cloud-Based VPNs

The last few years have seen the rise of mobile and cloud-based VPNs, as users increasingly want to access secure data and content while on the move. Whether you’re traveling for business or pleasure, a mobile or cloud-based VPN makes it easy to access your essential files, while also ensuring that your personal data is kept secure. The best VPN providers for mobile and cloud use offer a wide range of features, including the ability to connect from your phone or tablet to a remote server, through available public or private Wi-Fi connections. This makes it possible to access your VPN from anywhere — even if you don’t have a steady internet connection or if your device is temporarily offline. When traveling, a mobile or cloud-based VPN can be a godsend, as you can bring your devices online anywhere — even if there is no Wi-Fi available. This is because your device will automatically connect to the nearest available network, so you don’t have to worry about whether or not you’ll be able to access the service while traveling (or, for that matter, at all — in the event that your device is offline when you need to use the VPN). The convenience of being able to use a VPN from anywhere is generally enough reason to try out a mobile or cloud-based service, as opposed to setting up a traditional, desktop-based VPN in advance — assuming, of course, that you need one (and you do, since, as we’ve already discussed, using a VPN is usually a good idea).

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