What is a VPN?

VPN stands for “virtual private network” — a service that protects your internet connection and privacy online. It creates an encrypted tunnel for your data, protects your online identity by hiding your IP address, and allows you to use public Wi-Fi hotspots safely.

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Why do you need a VPN?

No one likes to be watched or tracked — even if they have nothing to hide. That’s why it’s important you step up your privacy game. When you’re browsing through a VPN, your traffic is encrypted so no one can see what you do online. Here are a few more reasons why you need a VPN:

  • You use public Wi-Fi regularly

    VPN is used to secure your connection on public Wi-Fi, so you can browse in full privacy. Hackers have many methods to steal your data on public hotspots, but with a VPN your online traffic is invisible to them.

  • You want to access your content

    If you want to access your home content while travelling around the world, a VPN can help. Install NordVPN on your device and never miss a friend’s post on social media.

  • You want to stay safe onlineervers

    Government agencies, marketers, internet service providers would all love to track and collect your browsing history, messages, and other private data. Best way to hide it? Using a VPN to encrypt your traffic, hide your IP, and cover your tracks online. Use it at home, at work, and on the go to enjoy non-stop protection.

  • You’re an avid gamer

    People who like gaming online unfortunately have to deal with DDoS attacks and bandwidth throttling as well. Luckily, you can forget about all of these problems with NordVPN. And with our Meshnet feature, you’ll be able to set up secure virtual LAN parties for your friends.

What does a VPN do?

Typically, when you try to access a website, your ISP (Internet Service Provider) receives the request and redirects you to your destination. But when you connect to a VPN, it redirects your internet traffic through a VPN server first, before sending it over to your destination. Here’s what happens when you connect to a VPN:

  • VPN changes your IP and masks your virtual location

    People working in countries with limited freedom of speech rely on private internet connection for their work. Sometimes, their lives might depend on it. Someone who lives under an authoritarian regime should use a VPN to hide their IP address and ensure extra security for their sensitive messages.

  • VPN encrypts your data

    Using a VPN is a good idea even when browsing from your home. VPN encryption is important when you want to protect your internet traffic and minimize your online footprint. This way, your internet service provider won’t be able to sell your entire browsing history to the highest bidder.

  • Protects your devices

    NordVPN’s special Threat Protection feature will keep your device safe from common internet hazards — malware in downloaded files, web trackers, flashy ads, and malicious links You don’t need to be connected to a VPN server to use it — just turn it on, and it will guard your device 24/7.

How does a VPN work?

There are many different VPN types, but we’ll focus on consumer VPN here — that’s the one NordVPN offers. When you download client-based VPN software to your device, it does most of the work for you — you only need to log in and connect.

However, it’s helpful to know how a VPN works to understand the service better. Here’s what’s going on behind the scenes:

  1. When you connect to a virtual private network service, it authenticates your client with a VPN server.
  2. The server then applies an encryption protocol to all the data you send and receive.
  3. The VPN service creates an encrypted “tunnel” over the internet. This secures the data traveling between you and your destination.
  4. To ensure each data packet stays secure, a VPN wraps it in an outer packet, which is then encrypted through encapsulation. This is the core element of the VPN tunnel, keeping the data safe during transfer.
  5. When the data arrives at the server, the outer packet is removed through a decryption process.

How does VPN tunneling work?

The VPN tunnel is created by first authenticating your client — a computer, smartphone, or tablet — with a VPN server. The server then uses one of several encryption protocols to make sure that no one can monitor the information traveling between you and your online destination.

Here you should remember that before being sent and received over the internet, any data needs to first be split into packets. To ensure each data packet stays secure, a VPN service wraps it in an outer packet, which is then encrypted through a process called encapsulation.

This exterior packet keeps the data secure during the transfer, and it is the core element of the VPN tunnel. When the data arrives at the VPN server, the outer packet is removed to access the data within, which requires a decryption process.

How do VPN servers operate?

After the VPN tunnel is established, your device sends out encrypted information (like the website you want to visit) to the VPN server. It decrypts it and forwards the information to the designated web server. It also hides your real IP address before sending the data out. Instead, you will appear to have the IP address of the VPN server you’re connected to.

When the web server responds, the VPN server encrypts the data and sends it to you through your ISP. Your VPN client will decrypt the data once it reaches your device.

Types of VPN

The vast majority of VPNs fall into three main categories.

Remote access VPN

A remote-access VPN allows users to connect to a remote network, usually by using special software. If you ever needed to log on to your office network, you most likely used a remote access VPN as well. It makes working away from the office safer and easier, as employees can access data and resources from anywhere.

What should I look for when choosing a VPN?

  • Speed, security, and privacy

    People turn to VPNs for different reasons, and whatever yours is, you need to ask three questions before choosing a provider. How fast is it? Will it keep my data safe? And will it respect my privacy? Of course, you want your connections to be safe and your data to stay private. But to have all that without losing any speed? That’s the trick. So when you choose a VPN service, make sure they don’t make any compromises – there’s no point in having unbreakable encryption if every website takes ages to load.

  • Paid vs. free

    Price is always one of the most important factors, no matter the product. And if a free option comes up, people are interested. But when it comes to free VPNs, it’s better to stay away. You’re looking for speed, security, and privacy, and with free VPNs, you’re unlikely to get any of it. These providers usually don’t invest in their server network, so their VPN connections might be unstable and leaking users’ IP addresses. They also must make money somehow – in some cases, they may resort to selling their users’ data. So instead of looking for the cheapest option, try to find a VPN provider you can trust.

Setting up a VPN connection

Join the VPN protection trend, set up your NordVPN account, and have an encrypted VPN connection wherever you go. There are a few different ways you can do it:

  • Use VPN apps

    NordVPN offers apps for all major platforms. It doesn’t matter if you use a Mac, an Android tablet, or a Windows laptop. We strongly believe that people shouldn’t struggle to protect their home network and mobile devices, so our apps are extremely user-friendly.

  • Configure it yourself

    If you know what you’re doing, setting up your VPN just the way you want it is also an option. Bear in mind — manual setup will take more time, and mistakes are more likely to happen. Don’t worry — if you need some help, you’ll find detailed tutorials in our Help Center.

  • Install it on your router

    Install NordVPN on your Wi-Fi router, and every device connected to it will be protected by bulletproof encryption. The process might seem a bit too complicated for novice users, but once you’re done, you can enjoy a safe internet connection without interruptions.

VPN encryption protocols

What is VPN without encryption? Just a surefire way to slow your connection down. When people use a VPN, privacy and speed are their main concerns. That’s why we offer several different VPN protocols — you can choose one that’s best for your particular needs.

OpenVPN is the most popular encryption protocol, currently used by the majority of VPN providers in the world.

One of OpenVPN’s biggest strengths is that it is highly configurable. It also offers a nice balance between speed and security, as you can use it on both TCP and UDP ports. While the TCP port is a more secure option, UDP is faster, and many users prefer it for a seamless experience with online gaming or video watching.

Frequently asked questions

VPN gives you a new IP address and encrypts the connection between your device and the internet, so no one can see what data you send and receive. But it won’t make you anonymous — there are other ways someone could track your actions online. Hackers could install malware (keyloggers, spyware, etc.) on your device. Or if you overshare online and use the same username everywhere, anyone with decent googling skills can gather a wealth of information about you.

A VPN is not an all-in-one solution, but rather an extra layer of security that protects your internet traffic.

VPNs are legal in many countries, but some have banned VPNs altogether or heavily regulate their usage. It’s possible to use a VPN connection to bypass government censorship and gain internet access in countries like these. If you decide to do it, make sure to download the app and get your subscription before traveling there.

ou can use other software that offers similar features to a VPN, but nothing can replace the all-round security and privacy a VPN offers. A Smart DNS will not encrypt your traffic. If you use Tor, it will protect your privacy, but many websites will block your access.

So if you want a service that protects your privacy, gives you new IP addresses, and encrypts your data at the same time, opt for a reliable VPN provider.

If you choose a trustworthy VPN service provider, using it is absolutely safe.

What is a VPN provider you can’t trust? The one that says it’s free. It will track your online activity, what websites you visit, the content you interact with, and sell it to the highest bidder. Why? Because they must maintain hundreds of servers in different countries and hire people to take care of the infrastructure. A service that big has to make money somehow, so you end up paying for it in some way. Besides, a free VPN won’t encrypt your connection properly; they are also prone to IP and DNS leaks and might even contain malware or spy on your entire local network.

All of this means that if you do your research and choose the best VPN provider out there, using a VPN isn’t dangerous.

Yes, you should keep your virtual private network on all the time — with a few exceptions. It’s the only way to be sure that your real location and IP address are hidden, online data encrypted, and browsing history invisible to your internet service provider and other third parties.

Most VPNs cost as little as a few dollars a month. You might think that since there are many free VPNs available, there’s no reason for you to buy a subscription. However, you get what you pay for. And in the case of free VPNs, it’s not much. They are often very slow, unstable, the servers are overloaded and can crash at the worst moments. Furthermore, free VPNs usually have no respect for your data and will sell it to make money off of you.

So why risk it? Get a reliable paid VPN service that will work when you need it to, and only for a few bucks per month. The longer the commitment – the better the price. Find how much NordVPN costs on our pricing page.

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