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What is a VPN?

A VPN, or virtual private network, is a secure and private network connection through the public internet. VPN services protect your personal data, hide your IP address when you use the internet, and let you bypass censorship, content blocks, and website restrictions.

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    VPNs hide your IP address and physical location while encrypting your internet traffic so that no one can tell who you are, where you are, or what you’re doing online. That’s why VPN means virtual private network — it’s an on-demand private tunnel through the internet.

    This comprehensive beginner's guide to VPNs will explain exactly how a virtual private network works and why you should use one. You’ll also learn how to choose a VPN service depending on your needs. VPNs aren't just for desktops or laptops — you can set up a VPN on your iPhone, iPad, or Android phone, too.

    How does a VPN work?

    A VPN works by using encryption protocols to funnel all your internet traffic through an encrypted tunnel — a virtual private network — between your computer and a remote VPN server. This hides your IP address and secures your data, preventing others from intercepting it.

    Without a VPN, all your internet traffic is potentially exposed to your internet service provider (ISP), the government, advertisers, or other people on your network. That’s why VPN connections boost your privacy and security online.

    A diagram showing how a VPN works to protect all internet traffic to and from your computer.A VPN funnels your internet traffic through an encrypted tunnel between your computer and a VPN server.

    What does VPN stand for?

    VPN means virtual private network.

    • A VPN is virtual because it’s created digitally — there isn’t a physical cable that reaches from your device directly to the VPN server.

    • A VPN is private because it encrypts your data and hides your IP address.

    • A VPN is a network because it creates a connection between multiple computers — your device and the VPN server.

    How to use a VPN

    Here’s how to use a VPN app to instantly encrypt your data and hide your IP address:

    1. Download and install AVG Secure VPN.

    2. Open the VPN app on your computer or mobile device.

    3. Choose a VPN server and connect.

    What is VPN encryption?

    VPN encryption is the process of using data encryption (encryption protocols) to create a secure tunnel for your data to travel through. If anyone examines your VPN connection, they’ll see scrambled data. Only your device and the VPN server you’re using can encrypt and decrypt, or unscramble, your data.

    While many encryption methods, or algorithms, exist, most VPNs use the 256-bit AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) algorithm. This level of encryption is so secure that it’s used by banks and governments worldwide — as well as by AVG Secure VPN.

    What are VPN protocols?

    A VPN protocol is the set of rules or instructions that create the connection between your device and the VPN’s proxy servers. Each VPN protocol is a combination of encryption methods and transmission protocols. You can change your VPN protocol in the settings of your VPN app.

    OpenVPN

    Popular for its security and speed, OpenVPN is one of the leading VPN protocols. As an open-source protocol, its source code is available for anyone to verify.

    If exploitable vulnerabilities are found, they’re addressed quickly by the community of developers that support it. VPN connections that use open-source code also allow anyone to verify that the developers aren’t doing anything suspicious themselves.

    IKEv2

    IKEv2 (Internet Key Exchange version 2) is an efficient protocol usually combined with the IPsec protocol for security. Like OpenVPN, IKEv2 uses 256-bit encryption, and both can provide fast connections. IKEv2 is especially popular with mobile devices because it can easily switch between mobile data and Wi-Fi networks. But unlike OpenVPN, it isn’t open-source.

    L2TP

    L2TP (Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol) was developed by Microsoft and Cisco as the successor to PPTP (discussed below). Responsible for creating the VPN connection, L2TP is often combined with IPsec for security.

    PPTP

    PPTP (Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol) is an obsolete and far less secure protocol still popular with free VPN services. While it's easier to set up than more advanced options, PPTP is full of known security flaws and should be avoided if you’re looking for a secure connection.

    Why is it important to hide your IP address?

    Your IP address is a unique set of numbers that identifies your device when you connect to the internet. Just as the postal service uses street addresses to deliver mail to the right people, IP addresses ensure that internet traffic gets sent to the right computers. 

    Your IP address links your device to your ISP as well as to your general geographical location. This is how content streaming platforms do geoblocking — restricting content by region. Based on your IP address, you can see only the content that’s available to viewers in your part of the world.

    A VPN masks your actual IP address by showing the public internet the IP address of the VPN server you’re using instead of your own. This prevents anyone from finding your IP address. Some VPNs cluster multiple users under one shared IP address, which further anonymizes your internet activity.

    Pair that IP masking with encryption, and your online activities are kept fully private from ISPs, hackers, and government surveillance. A VPN protects you in many ways.

    AVG Secure VPN enhances your privacy by masking you and other VPN users behind a single shared IP address. This makes it extremely difficult for anyone to link your web activity back to you, since multiple users are sharing a single IP address at any given time. It’s just one of the many ways AVG Secure VPN keeps you safe online.

    What does a VPN do?

    There are many benefits of using a VPN. By encrypting your internet connection and hiding your IP address behind a new one (often in another part of the world), a VPN lets you:

    1. Secure your data over public Wi-Fi networks.

    2. Overcome regional content blocks.

    3. Access blocked websites.

    4. Bypass internet censorship.

    5. Prevent ISP tracking.

    6. Prevent price discrimination.

    Not only does a VPN connection encrypt your browsing and other web traffic, it can give you access to a freer internet by letting you choose where you’re located globally. This combination of security and flexibility makes VPNs extremely versatile. Some people even use a VPN for gaming.

    Signal-VPN-Guide-1

    The original purpose of VPN technology was to connect remote workers with corporate networks. Many companies still use VPNs for this purpose, but in this article, we’re referring to consumer VPNs used to enhance your personal security and privacy online.

    So what’s a VPN used for? Let’s find out.

    Secure your data over public Wi-Fi networks

    The convenience of free public Wi-Fi often comes with a loss of security. Since anyone can hop onto an unsecured Wi-Fi network, there’s no way to know exactly who’s connected at any given time, or what they’re doing. It’s easy for a hacker to sit on a public Wi-Fi network and intercept all the traffic flowing across it.

    If you log into your bank account, check your email, or hang out on social media, a hacker can snap up your login credentials. Any messages you send or personal data you transmit can be intercepted and used for blackmail or identity theft. The risks of public Wi-Fi are almost endless.

    Because a VPN connection encrypts your communication with its server, anyone trying to eavesdrop on the public network will see only gibberish. That’s a big part of what VPN protection is: ensuring that no one can access your data.

    Stream from anywhere

    Due to licensing restrictions, streaming platforms feature different content libraries in various countries around the world — this is known as geoblocking. If you’re traveling abroad and want to keep up with your favorite shows from home, you may find that they’re unavailable in your current location.

    A VPN lets you bypass location-based content blocks by giving you an IP address in any country where your VPN provider has a server. If you pick your home country from the server list, it will be like you never left home. And when you install a VPN on your phone or mobile device, you can truly stream from anywhere.

    Access blocked websites

    You may find that certain websites are blocked in particular scenarios or locations — such as while you’re at school or at work. VPNs get you around content blocks so you can access blocked websites, even if you’re somewhere that restricts access to certain sites.

    Your encrypted VPN connection tunnels right through any restrictions to bring you the websites and services you want, regardless of the content blocks on your network.

    Avoid censorship

    Many countries limit internet access. China blocks Google and Facebook and all their associated services, such as Gmail, Google Maps, WhatsApp, and Instagram. A VPN connection can get you around censorship blocks in the same way it can circumvent content geoblocking and website restrictions.

    Evade ISP tracking

    Without a VPN, your ISP (internet service provider) can track all your online activity: the websites and services you use, when you use them, and for how long. 

    Many people don’t understand how much leverage your ISP has over your data. In the UK, your ISP will store your online history for a year — that’s everything you read, watch, view, and click. And in the US, your ISP can store and sell your browsing history to the highest bidder — such as an advertising network, data broker, or subscription service — without your consent.

    Because of how a VPN works, it protects you from this kind of invasion of privacy. Since your device’s internet connection is encrypted, your ISP can’t monitor exactly what you’re doing online, and they can’t see your browsing history.

    Prevent price discrimination

    Price discrimination happens when ecommerce sites offer different prices to different people based on their perceived ability to pay. Online retailers use a variety of criteria to calculate the price of an item for any given viewer — device type along with demographic information such as your real-world location.

    Airlines are frequently accused of price discrimination, with flight prices changing depending on when you buy, where you are, and other factors. You can counteract location-based price discrimination by using a virtual private network to give yourself an IP address in another part of the world.

    Why is online privacy so important?

    The internet is expanding exponentially. As more people start using smart devices, they risk exposing intimate personal data online. And with ISPs tracking, storing, and selling the browsing history, habits, and behavior of their customers, it’s essential to lock down your private data.

    Your personal information should be just that — personal. Without privacy protections, you may be exposing yourself to identity theft and other cybercrimes, as well as tracking by advertisers, your ISP, and your government.

    Can I still be tracked online when using a VPN?

    If you pay for your VPN with a credit card, your VPN provider will likely know who you are. Since you’re connecting to your VPN from your device, they’ll also have your IP address. But that’s it — most VPNs don’t monitor your online activity, and many include explicit no-logging policies that prevent them from collecting any information about what you do while using their services.

    A VPN protects your data along its trip between your device and the VPN server. If you’re connecting to websites that use HTTPS encryption, your data will be safe along its entire journey. But if you’re connecting to unsecured websites, your data will be exposed after it leaves the VPN server.

    While VPNs can prevent people from tracking you based on your IP address, they can’t block other web tracking methods such as cookies and browser fingerprinting. And once you log in to a site, such as a social network, that site can still track what you click on, share, and “like” even if you’re using a VPN — because you’re logged in.

    Security and privacy extensions for Chrome and, especially, truly secure and private browsers can block cookies and protect you against browser-based web and ad tracking, while a VPN insulates your data and hides your IP address.

    VPNs that offer shared IP addresses give you another layer of protection. By grouping multiple users under a single IP address, these VPNs make it very difficult for anyone to pinpoint the actions of any specific user.

    What does "no logging" mean?

    No logging means that your VPN provider doesn’t keep any records of what you do while using the VPN. A no-log VPN provider won’t track or store any information sent over the VPN connection — they know only your IP address, payment information, and the VPN server you use while connected.

    Whenever an activity happens on a computer, that event is logged. Since servers are computers, they collect information by default whenever they’re accessed by a device — such as yours.

    Before choosing a VPN, read the provider’s privacy policy closely to see exactly what type of information they collect and keep. If your VPN is storing your browsing history, then it defeats the purpose of using a VPN service for internet privacy and security.

    Are VPNs free? And are free VPNs safe?

    Free VPNs exist, but they’re usually far less secure than leading premium VPN services. A free VPN service may replace subscription fees by showing you ads or by collecting and selling your personal data. Other problems with free VPNs include:

    • Weak protocols: Most free services provide only PPTP (Point-to-Point Tunnelling Protocol), an obsolete method built in the 1990s. Several PPTP vulnerabilities have been discovered over the years, and the encryption can be broken easily using tools that are widely available online.

    • Slow speeds: When everyone crowds onto a free VPN, its servers can quickly become overwhelmed, delaying connections and slowing things down.

    • Bandwidth limits: Free VPN services often have restrictions on the amount of data you can use per day, while most premium VPNs offer unlimited data.

    • Fewer server locations: A free service rarely supports as many locations as a leading premium VPN service.

    • Advertising: Free VPNs may insert ads into websites that might not usually have them, which isn’t just annoying — it can also be a security risk.

    You can experience the benefits of a leading premium VPN service with a 7-day free trial for AVG Secure VPN. Hide your IP address, protect your personal data, access all the content you want, and secure your internet connection.

    Are VPNs secure?

    A VPN service is as secure as its protocol. VPN services using the OpenVPN protocol or the newer WireGuard are highly secure. The 256-bit encryption used by OpenVPN is the same type trusted by banks and governments around the world.

    While you can create your own VPN, it’s usually safer to choose a VPN app, or client, from a third-party provider. They’ll let you swap between protocols and server locations while giving you the peace of mind that all the configurations have been properly set up.

    If you set up your own VPN, you’ll likely be limited to one VPN server, and you’ll need to either set it up yourself or get permission to use it. The same applies if you choose to set up a VPN on your mobile device.

    Remember that a VPN is not the same as an antivirus tool. While VPNs secure your internet connection, they’re not designed to detect, block, or remove malware. You shouldn’t plan on using a VPN to protect against viruses, ransomware, spyware, or phishing attacks.

    For optimal protection against the full range of internet threats, combine your VPN with a free and comprehensive antivirus solution that can detect and block malware, phishing attacks, and other threats in real time.

    How do I choose a VPN?

    The best VPNs secure your internet connection with reliable encryption, connect you to VPN servers with leading protocols, and provide you with stable and speedy service. Here’s everything you need to know when considering how to choose a VPN:

    1. Premium service: A leading premium VPN will offer the security, stability, privacy, and speed you’re looking for. Many free VPN services simply cannot compete — you can expect ads, unreliable connections, or weaker security. Your free VPN provider may also collect and sell your personal data.

    2. Server quantity and locations: The more servers a VPN provider has, the better they can spread their users out, giving everyone a faster experience. Look for a VPN that ensures a stable and fast connection. And if you need an IP address in a specific country, make sure your VPN provider has servers there.

    3. Shared IP addresses: By grouping multiple users under a single shared IP address, it’s more difficult to identify the actions of any individual user. Find a VPN that gives you this additional layer of protection.

    4. No Logs: VPNs with explicit no-logging policies won’t keep any data about you — they won’t record what you do while connected to their VPNs or track when you connect or for how long. The only information they’ll have on you is your IP address and the IP address of the server you connected to.

      Some providers claim to be no-log VPNs while actually tracking your use — read your privacy policy carefully.

    5. Multi-device coverage: Choose a VPN that covers multiple devices under one subscription. AVG Secure VPN protects up to 10 devices at once, allowing you to extend the security and privacy of our VPN to others in your household.

    6. Leading protocols: OpenVPN is the current leading industry standard for VPN protocol security. WireGuard is an emerging top choice, but isn’t yet widely supported, and IKEv2 is ideal for mobile devices and macOS. Older protocols like PPTP can’t protect your data in today’s online world.

    7. Provider reputation: You’re trusting your VPN provider with all your online data. Read both user and professional reviews to learn what to expect from your provider.

    8. Customer support: Because VPNs are essential privacy tools, you don’t want to be left without support if something goes wrong. Choose a VPN provider with a dedicated support team you can contact in an emergency.

    9. Features: Does your VPN feature a “kill switch” that shuts down your internet connection in case your VPN service is interrupted? Can it automatically connect you to the fastest available server? Can you connect more than one device at the same time? Be sure your VPN meets your needs.

    10. Free trial: There’s no need to commit to a new premium VPN right away. Some VPN providers offer free trials so you can see what being a subscriber is like. A free trial is a great way to find out whether or not a given VPN is right for you.

    AVG Secure VPN protects your data with ultra-secure 256-bit AES encryption while connecting you with super-fast servers around the world. Try our fast, lightweight, and secure VPN today with a 7-day free trial.

    VPN comparisons and benchmarks

    To help you decide which VPN provider is the best, we’ve compiled data on several of the most popular VPN providers, listed alphabetically. Consider these VPN benchmarks:

    The inclusion of any VPN provider here does not imply support or endorsement. Prices, features, data, and terms are all subject to change.


    icon_01How much does a VPN cost?

    Compare a VPN provider’s price to the level of service they provide. One VPN might be cheaper than another, but does it let you connect as many devices at the same time? Does it have as many server locations as another VPN? Consider these factors when evaluating VPNs by price.

    Here, we’ve listed the monthly prices for each VPN, though several VPNs (such as AVG Secure VPN) bill annually. Many of these VPN providers offer lower rates with longer subscription commitments or special promotions.

    • Avast SecureLine VPN: $7.50/month

    • AVG Secure VPN: $7.50/month

    • CyberGhost: $12.99/month

    • ExpressVPN: $12.95/month

    • IPVanish: $9.99/month

    • NordVPN: $11.95/month

    • Private Internet Access: $9.95/month

    • ProtonVPN: $4.00/month Basic 1-year plan, $8.00/month Plus 1-year plan

    • StrongVPN: $10.00/month

    • Surfshark: $12.95/month

    • TunnelBear: $9.99/month

    icon_02How many devices can I connect simultaneously?

    You likely have more than one online device — desktop computer, laptop, mobile phone, tablets, maybe even a smart TV. To protect all these devices, you’ll want a VPN that offers multiple simultaneous connections. This means you can connect to your VPN at the same time from more than one device.

    Here’s how many simultaneous connections you can have with the following VPNs:

    • Avast SecureLine VPN: 10 devices

    • AVG Secure VPN: 10 devices

    • CyberGhost: 7 devices

    • ExpressVPN: 5 devices

    • IPVanish: No device limit

    • NordVPN: 6 devices

    • Private Internet Access: 10 devices

    • ProtonVPN: 1, 2, or 10 devices depending on your plan

    • StrongVPN: 12 devices

    • Surfshark: No device limit

    • TunnelBear: 5 devices

    icon_03Is there a free trial?

    A free trial for a premium VPN connection is the best way to test out a VPN service. Free VPNs are notoriously unsecured and may leave your data exposed. See what sort of free trials or money-back guarantees you’ll find with these VPN providers:

    • Avast SecureLine VPN: 7-day free trial; 30-day money-back guarantee

    • AVG Secure VPN: 7-day free trial; 30-day money-back guarantee

    • CyberGhost: 1-day free trial; up to 45-day money-back guarantee

    • ExpressVPN: No free trial; 30-day money-back guarantee

    • IPVanish: No free trial; 30-day money-back guarantee

    • NordVPN: No free trial; 30-day money-back guarantee

    • Private Internet Access: No free trial; 30-day money-back guarantee

    • ProtonVPN: 1-device free plan; 30-day money-back guarantee

    • StrongVPN: No free trial; 30-day money-back guarantee

    • Surfshark: No free trial; 30-day money-back guarantee

    • TunnelBear: 500 MB free plan

    icon_04How many servers are there?

    VPN providers with lots of servers can spread their users out to avoid overloading any one server. This ensures faster and more stable connections for everyone. Wondering how many servers your chosen VPN has? We’ve got the numbers right here:

    • Avast SecureLine VPN: 700+ servers

    • AVG Secure VPN: 700+ servers

    • CyberGhost: 6,900+ servers

    • ExpressVPN: 3,000+ servers

    • IPVanish: 1,600+ servers

    • NordVPN: 5,400+ servers

    • Private Internet Access: 32,700+ VPN and proxy servers

    • ProtonVPN: 1,200+ servers

    • StrongVPN: 950+ servers

    • Surfshark: 3200+ servers

    • TunnelBear: Approximately 3,000 servers

    icon_05How many countries and locations does it cover?

    The more countries a VPN supports, the more options you’ll have for swapping your IP address to new locations, accessing more content, and overcoming other geoblocking restrictions. You can hop around the world in a digital sense to avoid government censorship and view content unavailable in your country.

    Always make sure that what you’re doing over a VPN is legal, and don’t use a VPN if it isn’t legal to do so.

    If there’s a specific country you’d like to have an IP address in, consult each VPN provider’s website to see whether or not they’ll support your needs.

    • Avast SecureLine VPN: 34 countries, 55 locations

    • AVG Secure VPN: 36 countries, 56 locations 

    • CyberGhost: 91 countries, 113 locations

    • ExpressVPN: 94 countries, 160 locations

    • IPVanish: 50 countries, 75+ locations

    • NordVPN: 59 countries

    • Private Internet Access: 78 countries

    • ProtonVPN: 55 countries

    • StrongVPN: 30+ countries

    • Surfshark: 65 countries

    • TunnelBear: 34 countries

    icon_07Which protocols does it offer?

    OpenVPN is the current industry standard for VPN protocols — don’t use a VPN that isn’t providing it. OpenVPN is fast and stable while supporting AES-256 encryption, which is about as uncrackable as it gets.

    Other protocols to look out for are WireGuard, a newer open-source protocol that contains around one-tenth as much code as OpenVPN (which saves processing power), and IKEv2, which is especially good for mobile devices and macOS.

    • Avast SecureLine VPN: OpenVPN (Windows and Android), IKEv2 (macOS and iOS)

    • AVG Secure VPN: OpenVPN (Windows and Android), IKEv2 (macOS and iOS)

    • CyberGhost: OpenVPN, IKEv2, WireGuard, L2TP

    • ExpressVPN: OpenVPN, IKEv2, Lightway, L2TP, 

    • IPVanish: OpenVPN, IKEv2, L2TP, IPSec, PPTP

    • NordVPN: OpenVPN, IKEv2, WireGuard

    • Private Internet Access: OpenVPN, WireGuard, IPSec, SOCKS5

    • ProtonVPN: OpenVPN, IKEv2

    • StrongVPN: OpenVPN, IKEv2, WireGuard, SSTP, IPSec, L2TP

    • Surfshark: OpenVPN, IKEv2, WireGuard, Shadowsocks

    • TunnelBear: OpenVPN, IKEv2

    icon_06Is there a mobile VPN app?

    A VPN that’s usable only on your computer isn’t going to do you much good if, like many people, you spend a lot of time on your phone. According to a study by online marketing agency Semrush, 66% of website traffic in 2020 came from mobile devices. If your browsing habits are similar, you need a VPN with a mobile app.

    All the VPN providers featured here offer Android and iOS mobile apps. Some also support smart devices — AVG Secure VPN can be used on your Android TV. Do the following VPNs offer a mobile app?

    • Avast SecureLine VPN: Yes

    • AVG Secure VPN: Yes

    • CyberGhost: Yes

    • ExpressVPN: Yes 

    • IPVanish: Yes

    • NordVPN: Yes

    • Private Internet Access: Yes

    • ProtonVPN: Yes

    • StrongVPN: Yes

    • Surfshark: Yes

    • TunnelBear: Yes

    AVG Secure VPN is one of the few leading VPNs offering a completely free trial — in addition to a money-back guarantee. Protect your personal data, keep your IP address hidden, and stay safe on any network with a world-class VPN from a provider you can trust.

    VPN definitions

    What does VPN mean? What’s a kill switch? What’s geoblocking? We’ve got explanations for all these VPN terms and more, right here in this collection of handy VPN definitions.

    AES

    The Advanced Encryption Standard, or AES, is one of the leading data encryption algorithms available today. AES-256 is highly secure and used by banks and governments across the world. AVG Secure VPN uses AES-256 encryption to scramble your data on one end of the connection and decode it at the other.

    Encryption

    Data encryption is the act of scrambling or encoding data so it can’t be accessed. Encrypted data can be read only after it’s decrypted, or returned to its normal, uncoded form — known as plaintext.

    Geoblocking

    Geoblocking, geo-restricting, and location-restricting all refer to the practice of limiting internet content based on your physical location. Streaming platforms often practice geoblocking because they don’t have the rights to distribute all their content to customers in all regions of the world.

    Internet service provider (ISP)

    An internet service provider (ISP) is a company that provides internet access in a certain area. ISPs may or may not own the physical internet infrastructure they use to connect their customers to the internet.

    Internet traffic

    Your internet traffic is all the data sent from and received by your device over the internet. This includes any content you stream, websites you view, emails you send, and so on.

    IP address

    An IP address is a series of numbers and/or letters that identifies a device on the internet. The IPv4 system creates IP addresses with numbers and periods, while the IPv6 system uses longer strings of numbers, letters, and colons. That’s the main difference between IPv4 and IPv6.

    IP masking

    IP masking is the practice of concealing your IP address behind another one, so no one else can see your actual IP address. VPNs are a popular tool used by anyone looking to hide their IP address.

    Kill switch

    A kill switch is a VPN feature that cuts off your internet connection if your VPN connection is lost. This protects your IP address and internet data from accidental exposure. Not all VPNs offer kill switches.

    Network

    A network is a group of two or more computers that are connected to each other and able to transmit and receive data.

    Online activity

    Your online activity, or internet activity, is everything you do while connected to the internet. This can include browsing the web, sending and receiving files, playing video games, streaming music and video, and chatting over messaging apps.

    Public Wi-Fi

    A public Wi-Fi network is a wireless internet connection, usually free and without additional security, that anyone can use. You typically find public Wi-Fi networks in cafes, airports, and similar settings.

    Simultaneous connections

    Simultaneous connections with a VPN are the number of devices you can have connected to a VPN at the same time under a single account. Some VPN providers allow for more simultaneous connections than others. For example, with a single AVG Secure VPN account, you can connect up to 10 devices at once.

    Virtual private network

    A virtual private network, or VPN, is a private and secure connection through the internet between your device and a remote server. A VPN encrypts your internet connection, hides your IP address, and keeps you anonymous online.

    VPN client

    A VPN client is a software app that manages your device’s VPN connection. Most operating systems include VPN clients, but many VPN providers create their own clients that make using the VPN much more convenient.

    VPN protocol

    A VPN protocol is the technology used by a VPN client to create a securely encrypted connection between your device and a remote VPN server. OpenVPN is one of the most popular VPN protocols in use today, due to its high degree of security and speed.

    IKEv2

    IKEv2 (Internet Key Exchange version 2) was jointly developed by Microsoft and Cisco and is known for its effectiveness on mobile devices when switching between mobile data and Wi-Fi. It is often combined with IPsec for security to create IKEv2/IPsec.

    IPsec

    IPsec (Internet Protocol Security) is a suite of protocols responsible for securing a connection. IKEv2 and L2TP rely on IPsec to secure the VPN connections they create.

    L2TP

    L2TP (Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol) is a VPN connection protocol often combined with IPsec for security. The resulting protocol is known as L2TP/IPsec, and it’s natively supported by Windows and macOS devices.

    OpenVPN

    Open VPN is an open-source protocol that is the current industry standard due to the high degree of security it provides. Windows and macOS don’t natively support OpenVPN — you’ll need to install a third-party VPN client to use it.

    PPTP

    PPTP (Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol) is a VPN protocol developed by Microsoft in the 1990s, and while it’s still sometimes used today, it’s no longer considered secure.

    WireGuard

    WireGuard is an emerging VPN protocol designed to perform more efficiently than both OpenVPN and IPsec. It’s both free and open-source, but not yet in widespread use.

    VPN provider

    A VPN provider is a company offering VPN services that encrypt your traffic and hide your IP address when you connect.

    VPN server

    A VPN server hides your IP address and forwards internet traffic to and from your device. A server is a computer whose primary job is to receive communications, known as requests, from other devices on the internet, then deliver the requested data.

    VPN service

    A VPN service is the product sold by VPN companies. Typically, VPN services include the VPN itself as well as a VPN app and customer support.

    VPN tunnel

    A VPN tunnel is another name for the encrypted connection provided by a VPN. It’s referred to as a tunnel because of how it conceals your activity and data through the internet.

    Web tracking

    Web tracking is the practice of monitoring your online activity. Many companies use tracking to understand your preferences and behavior, which allows them to advertise to you more effectively. VPNs can prevent companies from tracking you based on your IP address.

    Wi-Fi

    Wi-Fi is a wireless networking technology that uses radio frequency signals to connect devices to the internet without physical cables.

    VPN FAQs

    Still not sure what a VPN does or what a VPN can mean for your online privacy? Here are answers to several of the most common questions about VPNs.

    Are VPNs safe?

    VPNs are one of the safest ways to use the internet. A trustworthy and reliable VPN provider will protect you with highly secure VPN protocols and encryption. And they won’t monitor what you do while connected to their VPN.

    Because of how a VPN encrypts your internet connection and keeps you anonymous online, VPNs provide a high degree of safety against hackers and other cybercriminals.

    Are VPNs legal?

    VPNs are legal in many countries, but not all. Some countries restrict VPN use, while others forbid people from accessing and sharing certain types of content. Using a VPN service to get around these restrictions may put you at risk. No matter where you are, using a VPN for criminal purposes is always illegal.

    Always check the relevant laws before using a VPN in a new place. As laws can change over time, check whether VPNs are legal or not every time you plan a trip.

    Some streaming platforms may ban VPN use, but that’s less of a legal issue and more of a terms and conditions violation. While you’re unlikely to get into legal trouble for streaming through a VPN, your content provider may block your account.

    What about using a Smart DNS or Tor instead of a VPN service?

    A Smart DNS is a simple service for people who want to access geoblocked content. Smart DNS services won’t encrypt your internet connection, which means they won’t keep you safe on public Wi-Fi like a VPN can. This is just one of the many differences between a Smart DNS and a VPN.

    Tor (The Onion Router) is free and open-source software that anonymizes you over the internet by encrypting and bouncing your connection through multiple servers, or nodes. While Tor is powerful, it isn’t airtight.

    Since your traffic is unencrypted when it leaves the Tor network, hackers and governments can monitor these exit nodes and execute man-in-the-middle attacks. Some people choose to connect first to a VPN and then enter the Tor network to hide their home IP address.

    When you compare Tor to a VPN, you’ll notice that Tor is very slow. And since its network is maintained by volunteers, using it to download or share large files is discouraged. A VPN service will give you much faster speeds, without limits on what you can do while connected.

    Are there any downsides to using a VPN?

    The added security and privacy you’ll get with a VPN makes them an essential tool for internet safety. VPN disadvantages are few, but one side effect might be a slight reduction in your internet speed. This is because a VPN encrypts your internet connection and redirects it through a VPN server.

    The VPN marketplace is highly competitive, and many leading VPN providers are committed to keeping their services as fast as possible.

    Should I always use a VPN?

    You can’t lose by keeping your VPN on at all times. The most important time to turn on your VPN is if you’re about to connect to an unsecured public Wi-Fi network. Without a VPN, it’s very easy for someone else on that network to steal your data.

    Will a VPN drain my battery?

    The more apps you have open at any given time, the more battery power they demand, whether you’re on your mobile device or your laptop. While your VPN app shouldn’t use a large amount of power, it will still consume a bit more of your battery life than if you weren’t using it. 

    Some VPNs offer a battery-saver mode in the settings. If not, you can disconnect your VPN when you’re not actively using your device.

    Protect your privacy with a leading VPN you can trust

    AVG Secure VPN keeps your data safe with 256-bit AES encryption — the same military-grade encryption that banks and governments use. Our lightning-fast servers located around the world will get you the content you crave while hiding your identity behind a shared IP address, making it almost impossible for anyone to link your activity back to you.

    Secure any Wi-Fi network, protect up to 10 computers and mobile devices with a single account, and stay anonymous online with AVG Secure VPN — try it today with a 7-day free trial.

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