What Is A VPN Connection?

A VPN connection, is a connection that is made with a technology that creates a secure connection over the Internet when using public networks called a Virtual Private Network. VPNs encrypt your internet traffic and disguise your online presence, making it more difficult for third parties to monitor your activities online. Want to know more about this? Then read our in-depth guide explaining everything about this topic.

Ben Grindlow

Ben Grindlow is the founder of ProXPN, a company that provides reviews about VPN products and services. Ben's interest in cybersecurity and privacy led him to start ProXPN, which has become one of the most well-respected VPN providers in the world. Ben is passionate about his work, and he is constantly exploring new ways to improve ProXPN's in-depth guides.

Last updated: 10:10AM 7/5/2022

ProXPN Expert Picks


Table of Contents

You can use a VPN connection for additional your privacy, security and freedom while using the internet. In this guide, you will find out exactly how to accomplish this.

Among other things, this article covers:

  • What a VPN is and how it works
  • The advantages and disadvantages of a VPN connection
  • How to set up a secure VPN connection
  • How much a VPN connection is likely to cost you

Your VPN connection: what is a Virtual Private Network?

A virtual private network or VPN connection creates a secure, encrypted tunnel between the device you are using (perhaps your laptop or smartphone) and the internet. This gives you much more privacy. In order to use a VPN, you will need a VPN server.

VPN services

To find the best VPN for your needs, look at the handy decision aid here for your new virtual private network.

When you have a VPN connection, everything you do on the internet is routed through this server. The VPN server uses encryption so that you remain anonymous when you use websites and services online.

That makes everything you do online a lot safer.

What can happen without VPN protection

Every time you use the internet, information is constantly being exchanged between your device and websites or online services. If you are not using a VPN, this information is not encrypted.

That means that websites or government agencies peeking at internet traffic can see information about you, such as:

  • Your IP address and your physical location (roughly)
  • Your operating system: Chrome, Safari, Internet Explorer, etc.
  • Your device: iPhone, Android smartphone, tablet or Windows PC

How does a VPN connection work?

The operation of a VPN connection can be simply explained in five steps:

  1. Use your PC, tablet or smartphone to log in to the VPN provider's account and connect to a VPN service.
  2. The VPN client creates a secure ‘tunnel' between your device, your internet service provider (ISP) and the VPN server you choose.
  3. Any information you request is first sent through this virtual tunnel to an external VPN network on the internet, and only then does it go to its intended destination.
  4. If you do something on a website, for example, the information you request is then sent back to the VPN server, then your ISP and in turn to the VPN client.
  5. The VPN service makes sure that the information you wanted is returned to your device.

Websites and other online services cannot see your real IP address when you use a VPN server. Only the IP address of the VPN server is visible to them. With VPN protection, you do not make an internet connection directly from the IP address of your own device, but from the VPN server's IP address. This keeps your own IP address hidden from sight.

VPN varies by device

Setting up a VPN connection is not difficult, but the technical operation may differ depending on the devices you are using. You may want to use, for example:

  • Window: laptops and PCs
  • MacOS: MacBooks and iMacs
  • iOS -: iPhone and iPad
  • Android: smartphones and tablets

How to establish a VPN connection

The four steps below will allow you to make a VPN connection.

1. Choose a VPN provider

The first thing you need is a good VPN provider in order to have a VPN connection. There are dozens you can choose from to buy a subscription. Some VPN providers are free. For the best and most secure connection, however, we recommend that you use a paid VPN connection. You already have a good VPN service that costs you something like 2 euros per month. Just select a provider that suits your wishes and requirements and pay for an account.

2. Install the VPN software

Most VPN providers have a software program or app for you to download and install on your computer or other device. Once you open the application, you can then use your account's credentials to log in. Now you have access to your VPN provider's VPN servers.

Some VPN providers offer the software as an extension in your browser, such as Chrome or Edge, instead of a separate program. The way it will work will be similar except that the encrypted connection is only applied within your browser and not outside it.

3. Connect to a server of your choice

After you have logged in, you can choose a VPN server from the list of servers your VPN provider has. With most paid VPNs, there is a choice of different VPN servers in different countries.

After choosing the desired server, you can usually enable the VPN connection by pushing a button. Then you will see that your VPN is active and that your connection is encrypted and secured. VPN providers usually employ different protocols to establish the connection (some examples are OpenVPN, IKEv2, and L2TP). Elsewhere on our website you can find more information about all the VPN protocols and which one will be best for you.

4. Connect to the internet

You should now have an encrypted connection to the VPN server. Now you can use the internet, for example by launching your browser or another online application, such as Outlook, Netflix, Amazon Prime, or even an online game.

Now your connection is encrypted and nobody out on the internet can see your IP address. With a VPN, you can remain completely anonymous online.

What if the VPN connection doesn't work?

On occasion, you might have trouble establishing a VPN connection.

For example:

  • The VPN connection may fail, or may not work as it should.
  • You find yourself having a slow VPN connection.

What good is a VPN connection?

You can use a VPN for multiple purposes:

Hide your IP address and location

When you set up a VPN connection, your real IP address is invisible to others on the internet. This means that companies, governments or snoopers cannot see who you are or where you come from. You use the generic IP address of the VPN server you are connected to. Nobody can tell from that VPN server's information where you actually are.

Good to know

As a VPN user, you are not normally are of a VPN being used. All websites, videos or chat messages should look exactly the same. For that reason, using a VPN is safer and much more private.

Securely use public Wi-Fi networks

Using a public Wi-Fi network can be fairly risky, as there may also be malicious hackers connected to that network. Without a VPN, those criminals can fairly easily fish out any information you send over a public, wireless Wi-Fi network. Emails, login credentials, or credit card details — all are vulnerable. Hackers can also spread malicious software (malware) on a public network.

A VPN will make sure that any data you transfer is sent and received in an encrypted form. If even a hacker did intercept your data, they would have a hard time using it for anything, because all the data is securely encrypted.

Get around censorship or national blockades

A VPN network offers you free access to the internet in countries where internet connections may be censored or even blocked. You can connect to a server in another country using a VPN, for example, allowing you to skip past censorship or blockades.

  • In China, for example, Google, WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube cannot be reached without a VPN. Porn sites are also blocked. Vietnam, Myanmar, Iran and Saudi Arabia have blockades and have even decreed that using a VPN is against the law.
  • Russia has blocked several popular websites such as the Dailymotion video site and gambling sites like Ladbrokes. Most other websites are accessible in Russia, but some parts of those websites get censored and cannot be viewed. Some content on YouTube or TikTok is not accessible in Russia.
  • Finally, Turkey also applies censorship and blocks many websites and online services. These blockades may not be permanent, fortunately, but tend to take place when there is political unrest in Turkey.

Use streaming services in different locations

Using a VPN lets you make an encrypted connection with a VPN server in another country of your choice. Then you have access to the streaming services that are available exclusively to peole in that country, such as (in the United Kingdom) HBO Go, SkyTV and BBC iPlayer. If you are out of your home country, you can connect to a VPN server that is located where you live, which allows you access to the exclusive content in your home country while you are abroad. For example, while on holiday, using a local VPN server lets you watch Netflix series or programs that you normally view at home.

Make anonymous downloads

You can also use a VPN for anonymous file downloading. This makes VPN connections a popular tool for BitTorrent users. Tread carefully, however: while using torrents is not illegal in itself, torrents are often used to download copyrighted material, as happens on the notorious site ThePirateBay. Most VPN providers do not want you to use their service to make downloads from BitTorrent, although it is unusual for BitTorrent to be blocked outright from their servers. Remember that the law applies to you even when you use a VPN!

Some disadvantages of a VPN connection

There are many benefits, as you have seen, but on occasion using a VPN has some drawbacks, like the following:

VPN providers are there to make money

You will not be surprised to find out that VPN providers are not philanthropic organizations in the business of providing internet connections for the benefit of the public. VPN providers are for-profit companies first and foremost. All VPN providers also have their own overhead costs to cover, often employees' salaries or office leasing fees to be paid each month. If the VPN provider is a public company, its shareholders will also have their funds at play. Always keep in mind who stands to gain or lose money in every situation.

VPN providers must comply with local and national laws

An important caveat to be aware of with VPN providers is that all VPN providers must follow the laws of the country where they are located. Consequently, they must also comply with subpoenas or follow orders from law enforcement and the local judiciary.

It is therefore wise to look into the country where the headquarters of your VPN provider is located. Laws in some countries are more focused on privacy protection, while other countries have strict laws that require that usage data be stored and made available.

Using a VPN still has some risks

While setting up a VPN will protect you from being a tempting target for cyber-attacks, it doesn't mean you're completely safe in all respects. If a technologically skilled person intends to attack your specific device for some reason, they can often succeed. A VPN connection also does not protect your computer against targeted attacks that might come from malware like trojans or viruses.

Some websites or services may not function perfectly

You should be aware that some sites or online services consider a VPN server suspicious and force you to prove that you are not a robot, including the time-wasting CAPTCHAs and pop-ups that the service's suspicion makes them put in your way. Some websites do not operate ideally for users visiting through a VPN connection, in which case you should disable your VPN before visiting.

Restrictions on local networks

You may encounter problems when using a VPN if you want to use your local network, perhaps Chromecast or another streaming service. Those networks perceive that your device is not connected to the local network, but instead appears to be coming from a distant VPN server. VPN providers like ExpressVPN may offer options to allow local network traffic. Another way around this hurdle is to connect your computer through a wired (not wireless) connection.

Mind the speed limit

Your data traffic is redirected when you use a VPN connection, resulting in a bit of a decline in upload and download speeds. Ping or latency may often be more of a problem, causing a small delay that you wouldn't have when using your normal internet connection. Even a slight delay can be a major drawback for gamers, who always want the smallest possible latency so as to stay competitive. This effect may vary from one provider to the next, so do your homework.

The bottom line: the cost of a VPN connection

Getting yourself a VPN connection will not necessarily break the bank. In Europe, you can get a reliable VPN connection with reasonable speed for about 2 euros per month. Comparing the different providers of VPN connections could be helpful to you, so check out our VPN comparator and get all the facts.

Free VPN is not always the best choice

If spending money on a VPN isn't for you, or if you just want to find out what using a VPN is like, you could try a free VPN. Be aware, though, that free VPNs will have limitations and disadvantages you would not have on a paid VPN:

Frequently asked questions

VPN Connection Issues When you connect to a server that isn't running the program, your VPN connection may be interrupted. Your VPN server is not responding. You are unable to access the internet due to restrictions imposed by your ISP. Newer VPN software conflicts with older versions. Your connection is being blocked by over-zealous firewalls.

The more distance there is between your data and the VPN server (or from the VPN server to your intended website/service), the slower your connection will be. Longer distances caused a slew of problems: Longer distance = more lost data packets = lower speeds.

VPNs are used for a variety of purposes these days, including business needs, security concerns, and unblocking restricted content. If you lose Internet connection after connecting to a VPN, verify your DNS settings, change servers, or try another provider.

Is it possible for a Virtual Private Network to improve my internet connection? In certain situations, VPNs may boost the speed of certain services. ISPs have been criticized in the past for artificially slowing down specific types of traffic, such as streaming video providers like Netflix.

In most cases, VPN connection problems are due to software or browser mistakes. Solving the problem of an unruly VPN is generally a process of elimination, as it's usually a hardware or software issue. Your VPN may be acting up for one of these reasons: An overloaded VPN server. Running outdated VPN software.

Protect your digital privacy and stay safe on the internet

Curious about our privacy experts' picks?