What is a VPN? A Guide To Virtual Private Networks

Post Updated - February 25th, 2016


Part 1: What is a VPN?
Part 2: Uses For VPNs
Part 3: VPN Protocols
Part 4: Setting up a VPN
Part 5: Recommended VPN Service

What is a VPN?

A VPN, or Virtual Private Network, is simply an extension of a private network across a public network, like the Internet. It enables your laptop, home pc, or other internet device to establish a connection to a private network, while benefitting from functionality, security, and management policies of the private network.

Example: Your computer is located in Manhattan, New York but you'd like to establish VPN connection to a network in the London, UK. Your computer will then attempt to establish a connection with the network in the UK. Once the network is established and you've been granted access, you will be able to surf the world wide web and the corresponding network as if you were in the same location as the VPN server (London, UK).

Uses for VPNs

Here are a few reasons why you might want or need to use a VPN:

Access a Business Network While Travelling: If you travel a lot or need to access your business network while you're out of the office, you'll probably use a VPN connection. You'll most likely use your laptop to access the business intranet, where you'll be able to log into your work network from anywhere in the world. What's more is you'll be doing so over a secure connection so the company will have piece of mind knowing their data is secured.

Access Your Home Network While Travelling: If you travel a lot and have a need to access your home network, you'll be able to use a VPN connection to access your home computer. By establishing a VPN connection to your home network, you'll be able to use your home computer as if you were actually in your house. Pretty cool, right?!

Hide Your Browsing Activity From Your Local Network and ISP: Let's assume you're in a public place using the WiFi connection. What you need to know is that all of your browsing activity that happens on non-HTTPS websites will be viewable to whoever knows how to find it. Not exactly secure! But, if you use a VPN connection, all of your browsing will happen through the private network, protecting you from those trying to access your browsing data over the public network!

Access Geo-Blocked Websites: If you're an American trying to access your Netflix in Europe or while traveling abroad or if you are living outside the US and wish to gain access to services like Netflix, Pandora, Hulu, HBO GO, and other media sites, you'll be able to do so using a VPN connection.

Bypass Internet Censorship: If you live in a country that restricts access to certain websites, you may be able to use a VPN connection to gain access to these sites and regain your internet freedom!

Downloading Files: Downloading illegal files is a big no-no and I do not recommend it. Many ISPs are starting to crack-down on this behavior in partnership with the Motion Picture Associate of America. Downloading files over a VPN connection will however give you the extra protection you may desire.

VPN Protocols

The number of VPN protocols and VPN security features continue to grow with time, especially as technology progresses. Here are the most common protocols you should know about:

PPTP – PPTP has been around since the days of Windows 95. The main selling point of PPTP is that it can be simply setup on every major OS. In short, PPTP tunnels a point-to-point connection over the GRE protocol. Unfortunately, the security of the PPTP protocol has been called into question in recent years. It is still strong, but not the most secure.

L2TP/IPsec – L2TP over IPsec is more secure than PPTP and offers more features. L2TP/IPsec is a way of implementing two protocols together in order to gain the best features of each. In this case, the L2TP protocol is used to create a tunnel and IPsec provides a secure channel. This makes for an impressively secure package.

Open VPN – OpenVPN is an SSL-based VPN that continues to gain popularity. The software used is open source and freely available. SSL is a mature encryption protocol, and OpenVPN can run on a single UDP or TCP port, making it extremely flexible.

Setting up a VPN

Setting up a VPN connection is not particularly difficult. Often times, all you need is a username and password to establish a connection. Many smartphone operating systems will even allow you to setup a VPN connection by access the phones settings.

Recommended Personal VPN Service

There are many VPN services online, so many that you may have trouble telling them apart. If you're looking for a secure VPN connection with access to fast download speeds, I highly recommend ExpressVPN.

You can read more about ExpressVPN here.

Personally, I'm an American living abroad in Budapest, Hungary. When I first moved to Budapest I realized how much I missed my American IP address. I quickly discovered the power of VPN technology and it wasn't long before I discovered ExpressVPN.I would never recommend something I don't personally use myself so ExpressVPN is 100% my VPN of choice. I've been using ExpressVPN for almost two years.

Here's a glimpse of what ExpressVPN looks like on my Windows computer when connected:

what is a vpn

This is what ExpressVPN looks like on a windows operating system.

ExpressVPN is also super easy to connect to. Once the software is installed (it's like a 2 minute installation and it works on linux, windows, and mac - There's also support for android and ios devices) all you have to do is select your desired new ip address from the drop down menu and every application accessing the internet on your computer will immediately start connect to the internet through your new ip address.


VPN technology is here to stay and its becoming more widely used each and every year. Don't be intimidated by the three letter acronym. Virtual Private Networks have a lot of useful applications and you should consider using one if you do not use one already. I'll be happy to answer any questions you may have in the comment section below.

My Recommended VPN Services











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