What is a VPN?

What is a VPN?
A VPN, or virtual private network, is a secure tunnel between your device and the internet. VPNs protect you from online snooping, interference, and censorship.
VPN explained in seconds

A VPN (a virtual private network) is the easiest and most effective way for people to protect their internet traffic and keep their identities private online. As you connect to a secure VPN server, your internet traffic goes through an encrypted tunnel that nobody can see into, including hackers, governments, and your internet service provider.

ExpressVPN encrypts your entire internet connection. Laptop with a secure connection to the internet with arrows pointing to government, hackers, and internet service providers.
Consumers use VPNs to keep their online activity private and ensure access to sites and services that might otherwise be restricted.

Companies use VPNs to connect far-flung employees as if they were all using the same local network at a central office, but with fewer benefits for individuals than a personal VPN.

Benefits and advantages of VPN
Laptop screens demonstrating the before and after the process of changing a user’s IP address.
Change your location
Using a VPN changes your IP address, the unique number that identifies you and your location in the world. With a new IP address, you can browse the internet as if you were in the UK, Germany, Canada, Japan, or virtually any country, if the VPN service has servers there.

A lamp showing encrypted data on a browser window.
Protect your privacy
Changing your IP address with a VPN helps shield your identity from websites, apps, and services that want to track you. Good VPNs also prevent your internet provider, mobile carrier, and anyone else who may be listening from seeing your activity, thanks to a layer of strong encryption.

Set up a VPN router to protect all your devices.
Increase your security
Using a VPN protects you from security breaches in many forms, including packet sniffing, rogue Wi-Fi networks, and man-in-the-middle attacks. Travellers, remote workers, and all kinds of on-the-go individuals use a VPN whenever they’re on an untrusted network like free public Wi-Fi.

Logos for online services, like YouTube, Google, Skype, Facebook, Snapchat, and more.
Unblock websites
If you’re in a part of the world that restricts access to Google, Wikipedia, YouTube, or other sites and services, using a VPN will let you regain access to the free internet. You can also use a VPN to break through firewalls on school or office networks.

When should I use a VPN?
If privacy is important to you, you should use a VPN every time you connect to the internet. A VPN app runs in the background of your device so it won’t get in the way while you use other apps, stream content, and browse the internet. And you’ll have peace of mind knowing your privacy is always protected.

But here are some situations in which a VPN is especially useful:

Aeroplane flying over the world.
While travelling
Exploring the world doesn’t mean you have to change the way you use the internet. A VPN lets you use the internet as if you were still in your home country, no matter how far you travel.

Enjoy the content you want: Man streaming TV and music.
While streaming
Using a VPN lets you watch movies and TV on streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, and HBO with freedom from ISP throttling or blocking by your ISP or local Wi-Fi network.

Stay safe on public Wi-Fi: Man using a tablet in a coffee shop.
While on public Wi-Fi
Connecting to public Wi-Fi hotspots like those in cafes, airports, and parks could leave your private information vulnerable. Using a VPN on your devices keeps you safe with strong encryption.

Gaming devices.
While gaming
Using a VPN unlocks games, maps, skins, and other add-ons that might be restricted on your network. It also shields you from DDoS attacks and reduces ping and overall lag.

Download anonymously. Laptop with a download icon.
While torrenting
P2P file sharing usually means that strangers can see your IP address and possibly track your downloads. A VPN keeps your IP address private, letting you torrent with increased anonymity.

Shopping browser window.
While shopping
Some online stores show different prices to people in different countries. With a VPN, you can find the best deals in the world no matter where you’re shopping from.

How does a VPN work?
To understand how a VPN works, it helps to first understand how your internet connection works without one.

Without a VPN
When you access a website without a VPN, you are being connected to that site through your internet service provider, or ISP. The ISP assigns you a unique IP address that can be used to identify you to the website. Because your ISP is handling and directing all your traffic, it can see which websites you visit. And your activity can be linked to you by that unique IP address.

With a VPN
When you connect to the internet with a VPN, the VPN app on your device (also called a VPN client) establishes a secure connection with a VPN server. Your traffic still passes through your ISP, but your ISP can no longer read it or see its final destination. The websites you visit can no longer see your original IP address, only the IP address of the VPN server, which is shared by many other users and changes regularly.

A laptop’s secure connection to the internet.
Here are several key concepts related to VPN that will help you understand how a VPN works and the benefits it provides:

Proxying
The VPN server acts like a proxy, or stand-in, for your web activity: Instead of your real IP address and location, websites you visit will only see the IP address and location of the VPN server.

This makes you more anonymous on the internet.

Authentication
Establishing a secure connection is a tricky problem solved by clever mathematics in a process called authentication.

Once authenticated, the VPN client and the VPN server can be sure they are talking to each other and no one else.

Tunnelling
VPNs also protect the connection between client and server with tunnelling and encryption.

Tunnelling is a process by which each data packet is encapsulated inside another data packet. This makes it harder for third parties to read in transit.

Encryption
Data inside the tunnel is also encrypted in such a way that only the intended recipient can decrypt it. This keeps the contents of your internet traffic completely private. Even your internet service provider won’t see it.

Learn more about VPN encryption.

VPN protocols
VPN protocols are the methods by which your device connects to the VPN server. Some protocols are better for speed, some are better for security, and some simply work better under certain network conditions.

Speech bubbles with different VPN protocols.
Most VPNs use a standard set of protocols, but ExpressVPN built Lightway to outdo them all in speed, reliability, and security. Give it a try to see for yourself. Learn more about Lightway.

ExpressVPN automatically chooses the best protocol for your network, but you can also choose one manually.

Popular VPN protocols in use today include:

OpenVPN

IKEv2

L2TP / IPsec

PPTP

WireGuard*

SSTP**

See all VPN protocols

*ExpressVPN does not support WireGuard.

**SSTP has been obsolesced by other protocols and is no longer supported.

Types of VPN
Laptop with a plant and drink.
Commercial VPN
A commercial VPNalso called a personal VPN or a consumer VPN is a private service offered directly to individuals, usually for a fee.

ExpressVPN is such a VPN service because it directly caters to the privacy needs of its customers.

Pie chart.
Corporate VPN
A corporate VPNalso called a business VPN, allows an organization’s remote employees to connect securely to the internet as if they were physically present in the office.

Unlike commercial VPNs, however, corporate VPNs are meant to protect the privacy of the company and not necessarily the individual.

Spanner and wrench.
Self-setup VPN
Some tech experts and DIY hobbyists choose to set up their VPN using their equipment.

Self-setup VPNs, however, do not protect shared IP addresses, server locations in multiple countries, or many other features enjoyed by commercial VPN users.

Alternatives to VPN
A VPN isn’t the only tool that can increase your privacy, security, and/or freedom online.

Tor onion symbol on a laptop.
Tor
Tor (short for The Onion Router) is a free network of servers, or “nodes,” that randomly route internet traffic between each other to obfuscate the origin of the data.

Using Tor can significantly increase your anonymity, and using Tor in conjunction with a VPN creates the best possible privacy protection.

The biggest drawback of Tor, however, is speed. Because your traffic is relayed through several hops, you will probably find it inconvenient to stream, download, or torrent with Tor.

Laptop connected to the internet via proxy server.
Proxy services
A proxy server is an intermediary between your device and the internet. Unlike a VPN, however, most “proxy services” you’ll find are quite slow and don’t offer any privacy or security benefits.

So-called “free proxy services” are especially dangerous, as many will find other ways to monetize your data, like selling it to third parties.

Neither Tor nor a proxy service can replace the benefits of a VPN. A trustworthy VPN is still the best privacy solution for most people.

Get ExpressVPN
FAQ
How do I choose a VPN?

Why should I pay for a VPN?

Are VPNs legal?

Can I use a VPN on mobile? Why would I want to?

Will a VPN slow down my internet?

Do VPNs drain the battery?

Can you be tracked if you use a VPN?

Is using a VPN safe for online banking?

Should I leave my VPN on all the time?

How do I get and use a VPN?
Step 1
Laptop with the Get ExpressVPN button.
Sign up for ExpressVPN
Visit the order page and select the option that’s right for you. All of our plans are fully covered by our 30-day money-back guarantee.

Step 2
ExpressVPN has an easy setup on every device, including phones and computers.
Download a VPN app
You’ll immediately be invited to download the app for the device you’re using. Getting apps for all your other devices is just as easy.

Step 3
North America and South America VPN locations.
Connect to a VPN server location
Simply hit the On button, and you’ll be instantly connected to the best location for your connection. Or pick one from our global network.

Get ExpressVPN
Why ExpressVPN?
160 server locations
Choose from 160 VPN server locations in 94 countries all over the world.

Best-in-class encryption
Your data is protected by AES-256, the standard trusted by security experts.

24-hour live chat support
Real humans are available 24/7 to help you with setup and troubleshooting.

trusted server technology
With our innovative server technology, no data is ever written to a hard drive.

Lightning-fast speeds
Get ultra-fast speeds for better video quality. Run the VPN Speed Test and see for yourself.
In the wake of assessing more than 300 VPNs and investigating all that they have to bring to the table, I can sincerely say that VPNs are too simple to utilize and everybody can do it. My straightforward, straightforward guide will encourage you all you require to know to begin.

How Can a VPN Help You?

A VPN can assist with ensuring you in a couple of key ways:

VPNs scramble all the information you send over the web.

At the point when you’re associated with a VPN worker, all your web traffic is encoded. This implies that no one can perceive what you’re doing on the web, not even your network access supplier (ISP). Furthermore, that implies your ISP can’t choke your velocities either, which it regularly does in case you’re accomplishing something speed-concentrated like streaming or gaming.

Encryption prevents programmers from seeing touchy data that you go into sites, similar to your passwords. This is particularly significant in case you’re utilizing public WiFi since it’s simple for cybercriminals to screen your association on open organizations. In any case, a VPN ensures that regardless of whether somebody took your information, they wouldn’t have the option to unscramble it or even get it.

Your VPN likewise covers your IP address.

Sites and administrations, as Netflix, utilize your IP to decide your area. At the point when you associate with a VPN worker, the sites you access just see the VPN’s IP address.

Since they can presently don’t see your genuine IP, they can’t see where you’re found. This is fundamental if you need to downpour or sidestep geoblocks and oversight. It implies you can get to any show, film, or game on the planet, and peruse with complete opportunity in each country you visit.

Some VPNs block malevolent sites, advertisements, and trackers.

Malevolent sites can download malware and trackers onto your gadget without you knowing. VPNs with worked in insurance help to forestall contaminations by impeding these destinations before they can harm.

Some likewise block advertisements and pop-ups. This prevents malevolent advertisements from tainting your gadget with malware, and it implies you can appreciate real-time stages, like YouTube, promotion free.

How Do VPNs Work?

Your VPN coordinates the entirety of your web traffic through to one of its workers, where it’s encoded. For instance, you may be in the UK and interface with a US worker. The VPN sends your traffic from the UK to the US, totally scrambled. Since it’s scrambled, your ISP can presently don’t see the sites you access, where you’ve come from, or track you.

From that point, your VPN worker advances your traffic to the site you’re visiting, for instance, a site, application, or real-time feature like Netflix. The site considers the To be a worker as the source of your traffic, rather than your gadget. This implies that it additionally sees your VPN worker’s IP address rather than yours. The best VPNs use a huge number of workers and update their IP addresses routinely, so destinations need more of an ideal opportunity to boycott and obstruct them. Furthermore, that implies, you stay private and imperceptible.

How Do VPNs Help Me Stream?

Web-based features, as Netflix and Hulu, utilize your IP address to discover where you’re gushing from. When they know where you reside, they control the substance you can stream dependent on the appropriation arrangements they have in your district.

You can utilize your VPN to fool real-time features into believing you’re situated in another country. Along these lines, you approach additional substance that isn’t accessible in your country.

For instance, on the off chance that you associate with a US-based VPN worker, you can unblock Netflix US.

Is VPNs Legal?

The short answer is, yes! You can unreservedly utilize a VPN in many nations, however, there are a few special cases.

Nations like China and Iraq restrict the utilization of non-government VPNs. This implies that affirmed suppliers have in all likelihood followed against security and control necessities, making their VPN administrations conniving. Resistant VPN organizations are normally impeded so you can’t get to their sites to download their applications once you’re in the country.

How Does a VPN Guarantee My Privacy?

VPNs handle a great deal of touchy data, so they need to have strong protection approaches and solid safety efforts. Some security highlights seem indistinguishable yet do altogether different things.

For instance, regardless of prevalent thinking DNS and IP spills are not things. Advising yourself is essential. Besides, some VPNs be trued, so it’s si, significantly,y,k one that is solid and safe.

Dependable VPNs offer an assortment of security ensuring highlights, as:

No-logs Policies

Extreme enemy logging strategies keepskeepkeepiers from recording your perusing movement. If they don’t log your data, they can’t uncover it to government observation organizations, regardless of whether they’re asked to. It additionally implies that if the VPN gets bargained, programmers can’t gather any of your data from the VPN workers.

DNS Leak Protection

Each time you access a site, your PC sends a solicitation to a DNS worker to become familiar with the site’s IP address. Ordinarily, this solicitation would go to your ISP’s DNS workers, which uncovers your perusing action to your ISP.

At the point when you’re associated with a VPN, your DNS demands are steered to your VPN’s DNS workers. Now and again, however, your gadget can reroute your solicitations back to your ISP without you knowing. Essentially, DNS spill insurance keeps this from occurring.

IPv6 Leak Protection

Even though IPv6 is currently accessible, practically all VPNs use IPv4 addresses. This makes the potential for a genuine security break.

On the off chance that your ISP upholds IPv6, and you access a site that likewise upholds it, your traffic to that site will be directed through your ISP, and not your VPN. This would uncover your action to your ISP and your actual area to the site.

Dependable VPNs handicap IPv6 traffic to shield you from these holes. You can in any case get to IPv6-empowered sites, however, you’ll do so utilizing our IPv4 address.

WebRTC Leak Protection

Driving programs like Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Internet Explorer and Opera, use WebRTC innovation to speak with one another. To do this, they need to realize each other’s genuine IP address.

The procedures they use to get this data are further developed than those that sites like Netflix use, so it’s harder to conceal your IP from them. Outsiders can abuse WebRTC to discover your genuine IP address and area.

A dependable VPN will incapacitate WebRTC and safeguard your IP address to keep this from happening to you.

Are There Any Negatives to Using a VPN?

The advantages of utilizing a VPN intensely exceed the negatives, however, there are a few downsides to know about.

Your association speed will endure a little shot.

It requires some investment for your information to travel, and when you’re associated with a VPN, it needs to venture out somewhat further to arrive at the VPN workers. It likewise requires a couple of moments to encode and unscrambled your traffic. In this way, it’s typical for your association speed to diminish a tad.

Conniving VPNs could approach your perusing action.

On the off chance that you utilize a less legitimate supplier, it’s impossible to be certain that they will not investigate your perusing action or offer it to outsiders. On the off chance that your supplier is based inside the 5/9/14-Eyes Alliance, it could even be compelled to impart this data to the public authority.

You can insure yourself against this by utilizing a notable, respectable VPN with an exacting no-logs strategy and RAM-based workers. Slam based workers forever erase your records each time they’re rebooted, so your VPN will not have any data to share about you regardless of whether it’s lawfully needed to.

A few sites block VPN clients.

A few sites, like Netflix, check your IP address against a rundown of known VPN worker IPs when you sign in. If there’s a match, they will impede your association. You can defeat this by associating with an alternate worker in a similar locale.

PayPal and some online banks may signal a security break for you on the off chance that you sign in from an unfamiliar IP.

As a component of their online security cycle, PayPal and web-based financial establishments may incidentally close down admittance to your record on the off chance that they see that you’re signing in from an unfamiliar IP. This safety effort is set up to keep global fraudsters from signing into your records.

Try not to stress – your record will not be bolted until the end of time. In any case, you may have to contact your bank to clear up the mistake. You can forestall this by getting to your monetary records while associated with a worker in your own country.

Professional tip: If you simply need to ensure yourself on the web, pick a worker near your actual area. If you need to unblock content from another nation, similar to an unfamiliar Netflix library, go with a worker that is situated in a country where that substance is as of now accessible.

Introducing a VPN on Different Devices

Some VPNs are superior to others for various sorts of gadgets. Utilize our speedy connections underneath to track down our top proposals for different gadgets.

What Do I Look for in a VPN?

It’s critical to pick a VPN that addresses your issues and gives the best security and execution. At the point when you’re VPN shopping, I suggest focusing on administrations that offer:

256-bit encryption: This is the most elevated level encryption accessible, and will shield your data and perusing movement.

A programmed off button: Kill switches kick in when your VPN association gets temperamental. They separate you from the web briefly to forestall information spills.

An exacting no-logs strategy

DNS and IPv6 spill assurance

Client care: Most premium VPNs offer all day, everyday support through a live visit to their destinations. Not many administrations offer telephone support, even though it is accessible with some more modest VPNs.

Easy to understand applications for your gadgets: investigate the supplier’s site. Most element screen captures their applications so you can figure out the program before you introduce it.

Huge worker inclusion: You need a VPN with workers across the globe. This guarantees that you can get to geo-blocked content.

  • List item

A VPN (virtual private network) is the easiest and most effective way for people to protect their internet traffic and keep their identities private online. As you connect to a secure VPN server, your internet traffic goes through an encrypted tunnel that nobody can see into, including hackers, governments, and your internet service provider.


Consumers use VPNs to keep their online activity private and ensure access to sites and services that might otherwise be restricted. Companies use VPNs to connect far-flung employees as if they were all using the same local network at a central office, but with fewer benefits for individuals than a personal VPN.

Benefits and advantages of VPN

Laptop screens demonstrating the before and after process of changing a user's IP address.

Change your location

Using a VPN changes your IP address, the unique number that identifies you and your location in the world. With a new IP address, you can browse the internet as if you were in the UK, Germany, Canada, Japan, or virtually any country, if the VPN service has servers there.

Protect your privacy

Changing your IP address with a VPN helps shield your identity from websites, apps, and services that want to track you. Good VPNs also prevent your internet provider, mobile carrier, and anyone else who may be listening from seeing your activity, thanks to a layer of strong encryption.
Set up a VPN router to protect all your devices.

Increase your security

Using a VPN protects you from security breaches in many forms, including packet sniffing, rogue Wi-Fi networks, and man-in-the-middle attacks. Travelers, remote workers, and all kinds of on-the-go individuals use a VPN whenever they’re on an untrusted network like free public Wi-Fi.
Logos for online services, like YouTube, Google, Skype, Facebook, Snapchat, and more.

Unblock websites

If you’re in a part of the world that restricts access to Google, Wikipedia, YouTube, or other sites and services, using a VPN will let you regain access to the free internet. You can also use a VPN to break through firewalls on school or office networks.

When should I use a VPN?

If privacy is important to you, you should use a VPN every time you connect to the internet. A VPN app runs in the background of your device so it won’t get in the way while you use other apps, stream content, and browse the internet. And you’ll have peace of mind knowing your privacy is always protected.
But here are some situations in which a VPN is especially useful:
Airplane flying over the world.

While traveling

Exploring the world doesn’t mean you have to change the way you use the internet. A VPN lets you use the internet as if you were still in your home country, no matter how far you travel.
Enjoy the content you want: Man streaming TV and music.

While streaming

Using a VPN lets you watch movies and TV on streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, and HBO with freedom from ISP throttling or blocking by your ISP or local Wi-Fi network.
Stay safe on public Wi-Fi: Man using a tablet in a coffee shop.

While on public Wi-Fi

Connecting to public Wi-Fi hotspots like those in cafes, airports, and parks could leave your private information vulnerable. Using a VPN on your devices keeps you safe with strong encryption.
Devices for gaming.

While gaming

Using a VPN unlocks games, maps, skins, and other add-ons that might be restricted on your network. It also shields you from DDoS attacks and reduces ping and overall lag.
Download anonymously. Laptop with download icon.

While torrenting

P2P file sharing usually means that strangers can see your IP address and possibly track your downloads. A VPN keeps your IP address private, letting you torrent with increased anonymity.
Shopping browser window.

While shopping

Some online stores show different prices to people in different countries. With a VPN, you can find the best deals in the world no matter where you’re shopping from.

How does a VPN work?

Without a VPN

When you access a website without a VPN, you are being connected to that site through your internet service provider, or ISP. The ISP assigns you a unique IP address that can be used to identify you to the website. Because your ISP is handling and directing all your traffic, it can see which websites you visit. And your activity can be linked to you by that unique IP address.

With a VPN

When you connect to the internet with a VPN, the VPN app on your device (also called a VPN client) establishes a secure connection with a VPN server. Your traffic still passes through your ISP, but your ISP can no longer read it or see its final destination. The websites you visit can no longer see your original IP address, only the IP address of the VPN server, which is shared by many other users and changes regularly.
A laptop's secure connection to the internet.
Here are several key concepts related to VPN that will help you understand how a VPN works and the benefits it provides:

Proxying

The VPN server acts like a proxy, or stand-in, for your web activity: Instead of your real IP address and location, websites you visit will only see the IP address and location of the VPN server. This makes you more anonymous on the internet.

Authentication

Establishing a secure connection is a tricky problem solved by clever mathematics in a process called authentication. Once authenticated, the VPN client and VPN server can be sure they are talking to each other and no one else.

Tunneling

VPNs also protect the connection between client and server with tunneling and encryption.
Tunneling is a process by which each data packet is encapsulated inside another data packet. This makes it harder for third parties to read in transit.

Encryption

Data inside the tunnel is also encrypted in such a way that only the intended recipient can decrypt it. This keeps the contents of your internet traffic completely private. Even your internet service provider won’t see it.

VPN protocols

VPN protocols are the methods by which your device connects to the VPN server. Some protocols are better for speed, some are better for security, and some simply work better under certain network conditions.


Most VPNs use a standard set of protocols, but Express VPN built Light way to outdo them all in speed, reliability, and security. Give it a try to see for yourself. Express VPN automatically chooses the best protocol for your network, but you can also choose one manually.
Popular VPN protocols in use today include:

  • OpenVPN
  • IKEv2
  • L2TP / IPsec
  • PPTP
  • Wire Guard*
  • SSTP**
    **SSTP has been obsolesced by other protocols and is no longer supported.