How to Set up a VPN
A VPN, or a virtual private network, provides you with a secure, private channel to access the internet. To put it in the most basic terms, your VPN keeps your internet session private by rerouting your traffic to an anonymous server that encrypts your communications before sending it to its original destination.
But in order for your VPN to do its job, it needs to be set up properly. That’s why it’s important for you to understand the different components of a VPN and follow the proper setup instructions to ensure that all of those variables are working together as intended. Let’s discuss how to set up a VPN and go through each step in the setup process.
VPN Routers vs. VPN Apps
The first question you’ll have to ask is, “Which is better for me? A VPN installed at the router level or a VPN application I download to my computer and phone?” There are pros and cons for both.
VPN routers are explicitly built with the capability to utilize VPN software and reroute traffic. It is very important that you do a bit of research to determine if the router you have or are planning to buy has VPN capabilities. For example, if you’re looking for a gaming router that provides fast throughput, it most likely won’t support a VPN due to the challenges around maintaining high speeds.
The main benefit of having a VPN capable router is its ability to quickly privatize your entire home network traffic at the source of where data is coming in and going out.
The biggest con is the cost associated with purchasing a VPN router and some of the maintenance/tuning required to keep it operating as expected.
VPN applications, on the other hand, are what you’ll find in your mobile app store or from online retailers. These apps will only privatize traffic on the individual devices where they’re installed.
The biggest benefits of VPN apps are their ease of use and lower cost when compared to VPN routers. Their biggest drawback is the need to install and manage the app on all of your devices where you intend to use a VPN.
VPN Setup Guide
This guide primarily focuses on the steps required for setting up a VPN application. You’ll learn everything from how to choose a VPN solution down to selecting the specific features you should enable. By the time you’re done reading, you’ll have a complete understanding of the VPN installation process, so that you know what to expect when you go to set up your VPN.
Step 1: Choose Your VPN
Choosing the best VPN service may be your most challenging step. You should begin by considering the following factors:
Purpose. It is imperative to understand why you want a VPN and what you’ll be using it for. Some VPN applications are better for streaming, while others may be geared toward online gaming. By knowing your wants and needs, you’ll have an easier time conducting your research and making a purchasing decision.
Price. If money is no object, then you can skip this section, but if you’re on a limited budget, excluding some of the pricier VPNs might save you some time researching. When considering price, it’s recommended that you also pay attention to whether or not the VPN service offers a free trial. Afterall, you won’t know until you take a VPN application for a spin if it will work for your desired uses and location.
Overall infrastructure. The power a VPN has is its ability to route your traffic to different locations worldwide. Whether you require the ability to obfuscate your traffic or simply want to watch Netflix movies that are only available in certain countries, it’s essential to understand how many servers your prospective VPN provider has and where those servers are located.
For example, if one VPN service only has three routable servers worldwide and they are all based in the United States, it doesn’t provide you the privacy and content-related benefits of a VPN service that has 100 different routable servers across 12 different countries.
Server coverage can turn into a bit of a balancing act because a VPN service with a more robust infrastructure will likely charge more in order to maintain it, while other VPN applications with fewer servers at their disposal are often cheaper.
Privacy concerns. One of the most popular reasons people use VPNs is to hide their internet activity from large advertisers and ISPs (internet service providers).
Just because a VPN says it can hide your traffic from your ISP, doesn’t mean that the VPN provider is not turning around and selling your data to other third parties.
Step 2: Download Your VPN & Log In
Once you’ve chosen your VPN application, you’ll need to download it and create your account. One important thing to note is that reputable VPN solutions will make their application downloadable from a public app store, such as Google Play, the App Store, or the Microsoft Store. Downloading your VPN from a trusted app store helps solidify that the app you’ve selected is legitimate and secure.
Almost all VPN apps give you a generic account that you’ll use to log in to the application and manage payments.
Side note: If you are concerned about your privacy, you can always create a dummy email account for your VPN that’s not tied to your name as well as a generic payment method (like a loadable VISA debit card) to protect your identity even further.
Once you’re logged in, you should spend some time navigating the entire platform to familiarize yourself with the layout.
Step 3: Pick Your VPN Protocol
A VPN protocol is essentially a method in which the VPN will interrupt and communicate your traffic between its servers and your intended destination. For example, VPN protocols like L2TP/ IPSEC have powerful security encryption, but tend to have slower transmission speeds.
Not every VPN app will prompt you to pick your VPN protocol. But if they do, two of the most significant contributing factors for selecting a protocol are the security and your device’s operating system (OS).
Ideally, your VPN application will assist you with this process by tailoring its protocol options to your OS. If not, a few overall top-notch protocols to consider include OpenVPN and IKEv2/IPsec. These two VPN protocols offer the best comprehensive security breakdown and speeds across a majority of OS platforms.
Step 4: Choose a Server
Most Apps will have an auto-select feature that chooses the routable server closest to your location for optimal speed. If your VPN service allows you to select a server, it does so to help you fulfill a particular use case. Reasons you might want to choose a particular server are as follows:
- Server location. Routing your connection through a different region or country may provide you with additional security from monitoring authorities or even unlock other content on streaming services, like Netflix or Hulu. This is because some online platforms will not even let you access their website unless your IP address is located in their state or country.
- Testing. If you are building a website and want to test specific features of your site in different areas of the world, selecting a server in a different country is a great way to do so.
- Privacy. Changing your server’s routing location may help if you would like to ensure optimal privacy. Just know that switching to some servers in different countries may impact your VPN’s speed and overall performance.
Step 5: Decide If You Want to Use Auto-Start
Many VPN solutions come with a feature called auto-start enabled. This means that when you start your computer or device, your VPN application will automatically start a connection without you having to do a thing. There are some pros and cons to using auto-start.
Pro: You’ll never have to worry about your online privacy if you’re always logged into your VPN.
Con: Auto-starting your VPN is just another process that’s always running in the background of your device, potentially causing a slowdown. Plus, some of your other apps may have trouble updating if you’re constantly routing from a location outside of your country.
Most VPNs give you the option to toggle auto-start on and off. If you decide to disable auto-start, you will have to manually start and log into your VPN.
Step 6: Understand All of Your VPN’s Features
At the end of the day, all VPN solutions have detailed documentation that lays out all their features. On top of doing your research, some VPN providers may even provide customer support to help with things like installation or troubleshooting specific issues.
More advanced options like implementing a killswitch or even split tunneling may apply to your situation depending on what you are trying to accomplish from your home network. A VPN killswitch is an advanced feature that will automatically detect and disconnect your device from the internet until the VPN session can be restored.
On the flip side, split tunneling allows users to capitalize on the benefits of using a VPN, as well as continue to access public internet resources. Without split tunneling in place, a VPN will only allow you to access the specific resources that are defined by the VPN connections. Split tunneling is best used within a professional work environment but can also be applied to personal use when you need to restrict internet access to only specific, trusted sites.
Lastly, there are always online community forums where you can quickly try searching your particular request to see if anyone else has experienced the same issue and found a solution.