Setting up a Virtual Private Network is a straightforward process. It's often as simple as entering a username and sever address. The dominant smartphones can configure Virtual Private Networks using PPTP and L2TP/IPsec protocols. All major operating systems can configure PPTP VPN connections. OpenVPN and L2TP/IPsec protocols require a small open source application (OpenVPN) and certificate download respectively.
If you’re going to use torrents, however, life is easier if you use a VPN—especially if the network you’re on blocks torrenting. There are many VPNs among our top picks that could be used for downloading torrents, but our preferred choice is Private Internet Access. This no-frills VPN has an absolute ton of servers, good speeds, and a nice amount of country locations to remain relatively anonymous. (Read our full review.) The price is right at less than $40 a year, and its privacy policies have been tested in court. Plus, advanced users can adjust their level of encryption for data encryption, data authentication, and handshake.
With hundreds of VPN services and clients available, it can be difficult to decide which one to use. We've extensively tested several popular VPN services that met three requirements: They had both desktop and mobile client software (with one exception), they had VPN servers in many countries, and they offered unlimited data use, at least in their paid versions.
NordVPN also nudged out ExpressVPN in terms of speed, with a few caveats. Most VPN apps select a location, and then the app automatically selects the best server in that location. NordVPN is not so good at this. The auto-select on a couple occasions put us on servers that were complete duds, which resulted in a test result so bad it qualified as a statistical outlier and had to be thrown out. Thankfully, the app allows you to manually select a specific server and view the load capacity on all servers, where we had much better luck. Servers are optimized for specific streaming channels, torrenting, or security measures.
If you’re going to bother with a VPN, you should spend money on a good one—don’t trust a free VPN. Security and privacy cost money, and if you aren’t paying for them, the provider has an incentive to make money from marketers at your privacy’s expense. Though price doesn’t always equal quality, a few dollars a month more for a better experience is worth it for something you’ll use on a regular basis.
One of the most common types of VPNs used by businesses is called a virtual private dial-up network (VPDN). A VPDN is a user-to-LAN connection, where remote users need to connect to the company LAN. Another type of VPN is commonly called a site-to-site VPN. Here the company would invest in dedicated hardware to connect multiple sites to their LAN though a public network, usually the Internet.
VPNs also cloak your computer's actual IP address, hiding it behind the IP address of the VPN server you're connected to. IP addresses are distributed based on location, so you can estimate someone's location simply by looking at their IP address. And while IP addresses may change, it's possible to track someone across the internet by watching where the same IP address appears. Using a VPN makes it harder for advertisers (or spies, or hackers) to track you online.