In our connected world, everything you do online can be traced back to you. Despite the false sense of anonymity that screen names and private browsing sessions offer, your information is still accessible by numerous third parties. Every time you connect to the web, your activity and data can be seen by your Internet Service Provider, the websites you’re visiting, surveillance programs, and even hackers.
VPNs are a great way to restore your privacy and stay safe on the web. Virtual private networks work to encrypt your data, keeping it from prying eyes and providing you with true anonymity. In the past, VPN services was only reserved for tech-savvy users and large corporations. Today, they’re accessible to anyone.
Before you can start browsing with peace of mind, you’ll have to establish your VPN connection. This can be done on many different devices, ensuring that all of your activity is secured wherever you go. Check out our step-by-step guides below to set up a VPN on your computer or mobile device.
What is a VPN? Virtual private networks operate on very simple principles. When you connect to the Internet normally, your device is communicating with another server that’s hosting the website you’re trying to visit. Along the way, your IP address is recorded and your data is vulnerable to attacks.
With a VPN, your connection goes through a secure tunnel to be encrypted. This effectively hides your identity and makes it nearly impossible for hackers to make any sense of your data.
Using a VPN has many perks. The biggest is online safety. If you regularly use public wi-fi networks, you’re at risk for getting your information stolen, falling prey to malware, and more. Public Internet connections are completely open to anyone. As a result, you have to worry about more security threats than if you were logging onto your password-protected network.
Even still, home networks have their vulnerabilities. A VPN service protects you from those issues while also keeping your personal IP address hidden. As your data passes through the VPN, it takes on the address of the provider. Everything that you do after going through that tunnel is a secret, even to your ISP.
This is especially useful if you live in a country with strict censorship laws. You can easily select a different server location than your own country to gain access to content you normally wouldn’t be able to view. This applies to blocked sites and streaming platforms like Netflix. While the extra hurdles your connection goes through often results in connections speeds that aren’t as fast as you’re used to, the peace of mind and protection a VPN offers is well worth the sacrifice.
Related guides: Best VPN for Netflix
VPN Clients vs. Manual Setup
To make their service easy to use for the masses, most of the top VPN providers offer dedicated clients that do all of the hard work for you. Companies like NordVPN and ExpressVPN have downloadable apps for computers and mobile devices. The best VPN protocol, OpenVPN, makes it easy for these clients to access device setting and make changes to establish your connection. To download these VPN apps, simply visit the provider’s website or search your device’s respective digital store.
Setting up your VPN manually is a great alternative to using automatic clients. They let you take more control over the connection and use protocols that aren’t available for the provider’s software, such as IKEv2. Thankfully, it’s a pretty simple process.
VPN Setup for Windows 10
If you’re using a Windows computer, you already have your own VPN client on the system. Microsoft includes a built-in client. It works for many protocols. These include OpenVPN, PPTP, and L2TP. The first step in the process is to create a profile for your VPN. To do this, you’ll need to head to the networking section of the control panel.
- Click the Windows button on the bottom left corner of your desktop. Then, go to Settings > Network & VPN > VPN.
- When the VPN window opens, click on the “Add a VPN Connection” button. You will be brought to a page with multiple data fields that you need to fill out.
- Up top, under “VPN Provider,” select “Windows (built-in). When you select this, the section labeled “VPN Type” should change to “Automatic” on its own.
- In the “Connection Name” field, you can create your own VPN name. Use something that you can remember and easily identify. This will come in handy later.
- Next up is the section named “Server Name or Address.” This is where you will input information that is provided to you by your VPN. In the “Type of sign-in info” box, choose how your VPN checks your credentials. Most utilize a standard username and password system.
- Scroll down the page and you should see boxes to input your VPN username and password. This is the account information you created when you signed up for the VPN service.
- Finally, you can create a specific username or password for the Windows client VPN. You can also check off the box for your computer to remember the sign-in information.
- Once all the information is filled out, press the “Save” button on the bottom of this page.
At this point, you have told your computer how it will connect to the VPN. Essentially, this process creates a new network. To actually start the connection, click the Wi-Fi networks button on the taskbar. It’s the small Wi-Fi icon that shows you all of the available networks that you can connect to. Click on the new VPN connection you just created and you’re good to go.
VPN Setup for MacOS
Connecting to a VPN server on Apple computers is also a relatively simple process. It involves creating a new network and inputting the information from your provider.
- Start by going opening the “System Preferences” app. This can be done by clicking on the gear icon in the dock. Then, click the “Network” icon.
- The left side of this window shows the different types of connections your computer can make. On the bottom, you’ll notice a plus (+) and minus (-) button. Click on the plus (+) button.
- Next to “Interface,” choose “VPN” from the drop-down menu. This causes an additional drop-down menu to appear.
- For “VPN Type” and “Service Name,” use your VPN provider’s information. The “VPN Type” lets you choose the protocol that you want. It includes options like IKEv2 and IPsec. Once you have filled out this information, press the “Create” button.
- This brings you back to the previous network window. Choose the new VPN from the lefthand side to input VPN credentials. A small amber dot will be located next to the VPN name, indicating that you’re not yet connected.
- Type in the provider’s information for the “Server Address,” “Remote ID, ” and “Local ID” fields.
- Click on the button labeled “Authentication Settings…” This is where you’ll provide the account username and password for your VPN.
To finish the setup process, click on the “Apply” and “Connect” buttons.
VPN Setup for ChromeOS
ChromeOS is a relatively new operating system that’s rather limited in terms of what you can do. However, the operating system does let you connect to VPN servers that utilize L2TP/IPsec or OpenVPN protocols.
- Click on the digital clock on the lower right side of the screen. A small menu should pop up. Click on “Settings” to start the setup process.
- Within the “Networks” section of the setting page, select “Add Connection.”
- You should see various options. Look for the one labeled “OpenVPN / L2TP” push the small plus (+) button next to it.
- A window will pop up asking you to provide information about the VPN. For “Server Hostname,” you’ll need to input the IP address for the VPN server. In the “Username & Password” section, type in the account information you established with the VPN provider.
- Once you have filled out the information, hit “Connect.”
Depending on the particular VPN service you’re working with, you may need to have a certificate that authenticates your identity. If you don’t already have the certificate imported, you’ll need to do so before you create the connection.
- In the address bar of the Chrome browser, type in “chrome://settings/certificates”
- This takes you to a window with various tabs. Select the “Authorities” tab and choose the applicable certificate for your VPN. Click “Import” and restart the setup process.
VPN Setup for Android
Whether you’re using a tablet or a smartphone, Google has made it very easy to set up a VPN on the Android operating system. Some device manufacturers use versions of Android that are slightly modified. Keep that in mind as you follow the guide. While some steps may differ slightly, the settings pages should be found in the same place.
- Navigate to the “Settings” menu. It can be found on the home screen or the notifications tab after you swipe down. The menu can be identified with a gear icon.
- In this menu, select “Network & Internet” > “Advanced” > “VPN.”
- This bring you to the VPN screen, which shows any available networks you can connect to. Click on the “Add” button to set up your new connection.
- Doing so prompts the device to ask for your screen lock code or password. In the event that you haven’t set one up yet, you will be asked to create one for security purposes. Once that’s taken care of, you’ll be presented with various fields that you need to fill out.
- Within this window, you can select the type of protocol you want to use with the drop-down menu next under “Type.” You can also create a name and login information for added security. Once you’re done, press “Save.”
- Now, tap on the new VPN you just created and hit “Connect.”
- At this point, you’ll be asked to type in provider information. This includes the VPN server address and your unique login credentials with the VPN company. Press “Save.”
VPN Setup for iOS
You can create a new VPN connection on both iPhones and iPads. The connection process remains the same.
- Visit the “Settings” app by clicking on the gears icon. Then, scroll down and select the “General” submenu.
- Scroll down to find the “VPN” section. It’s near the bottom of the menu. Next to this button, you should be able to tell if you’re connected to a VPN or not.
- Tapping on “VPN” will bring up any VPNs that you have set up. To create a new one, hit “Add VPN Configuration.”
- The next window is where you’ll provide VPN information. For “Type,” you can select between IKEv2, IPsec, and L2TP. Choose the protocol that’s compatible with your provider.
- Fill out all the necessary information. Apple lets you know what information is required and what’s not. All of it can be found on your VPN service provider’s website. When everything is filled out, tap on the “Done” button on the top right of the screen.
- The VPN you just set up will have a small toggle next to its name. Simply press the toggle to turn the connection on or off.
Testing Your VPN Connection
Regardless of what type of device and operating system you’re using, it’s always good to test your connection prior to browsing like normal. There are a few different ways to check if your data is going through the encrypted tunnel. Just visit one of the many available IP leak and DNS leak testing sites. If any of your information gets through, you may have provided some incorrect data during the setup process. Go back and double-check the server address and login credentials to make sure that everything is as it should be.
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