What Can You Do with a VPN

Contents

A serious VPN developer will have years of history behind it. Check the news or review websites like TrustPilot to see what the other users are saying.

How to use a VPN and why you need it in 2023

learn what you need to know about VPN

If using the internet is like crossing a park from one end to the other, then a VPN — Virtual Private Network — is a technology that allows you to cross that park in a private tunnel and away from public notice.

A VPN service creates a special secret communication channel that nobody can snoop on. And with apps like Surfshark, it’s also very easy to do.

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How to use a VPN in 4 quick steps

Step 1: Get a VPN service subscription

Surfshark subscription page with plan choices.

When looking for the right VPN for you, steer clear of free VPNs. Sure, they have an attractive price point of €0 (that’s $0 for American audiences). But a free VPN doesn’t have the funding to maintain the same standard of modern security as a paid VPN. Some have the incentive to trade your information away.

On the other hand, premium VPNs live and die on their reputation and technical sophistication. Plus, one of them pays my wage.

So choose the premium VPN that is right for you — has a good reputation, maintains loads of servers near or in your country, supports your devices, etc. — go to their website and subscribe.

Step 2: Download and install the VPN app

A standard Windows prompt asking whether the user wants to install Surfshark.

Ever downloaded and installed a thing before? That skill is about to come in handy again. Premium VPNs like Surfshark are available on a dizzying array of platforms — you’re likely to be directed to the download page after you sign up for the subscription.

From there on, you’ll find easy-to-install versions of Windows, macOS, iOS, Android, and other apps. So install at least one!

Step 3: Run the VPN app

Surfshark login screen

Once your VPN app is installed, run it like you would any other app. However, you will need to sign into your user account. You should still remember the username and password you chose in Step 1, so enter those and complete the two-factor authentication requirements if there are any.

If you’re successful, you should be able to see the app’s main screen, with an enticing Connect button prominently displayed.

Step 4: Click Connect

Surfshark main screen, not connected to any server.

In most VPNs, clicking Connect will connect you to the closest/fastest server available. As soon as you’re connected, Surfshark starts doing what VPNs do — it encrypts your traffic and changes your IP address to ensure a secure connection to the internet.

However, you can always easily choose another server on the app and connect to it instead. On the Surfshark app, you do that by merely clicking the server of your choice.

How to Choose a VPN

When you’re choosing the right VPN for you, there are several factors to consider:

Free VPNs are in all ways inferior to paid VPNs, but make sure not to overpay.
Reputation

A serious VPN developer will have years of history behind it. Check the news or review websites like TrustPilot to see what the other users are saying.

The more servers in more countries, the better. Servers not only let you replace your IP with that of the VPN server but will also keep as much of your internet speed as possible.

Security technology

How trustworthy your VPN app is depends a lot on the money spent on security research and implementation. A good VPN will use the most current algorithms for encrypting your data.

Platform support

Simply put, it’s about finding out whether your device — smartphone, tablet, PC, etc. — is supported by your VPN of choice.

Money-back guarantee

What if you’re unhappy with the VPN service? Then you’d probably want your money back. That’s why you need to find a VPN provider with something like Surfshark’s 30-day money-back guarantee.

Using a VPN on different devices

Alright, digital cowboy (or girl or other), using a VPN on your device may seem scary at first. But this is the year 2023, and it’s actually very easy to use something like a consumer-grade commercial VPN client.

These guides presuppose that you have already subscribed to Surfshark and thus already have login credentials — the email address and password you entered during the subscription.

Use a VPN on Windows

  1. Open this page and click the Download the Windows app button to download the installation file;
  2. Open the install file and click Yes/Confirm/etc . on any prompts to install the app in the default directory;
  3. After the installation, the app will start automatically. Enter your login credentials — and potentially the 2FA code — and click Connect . The app will automatically connect you to the fastest/nearest server;
  4. If you want to connect to a different server, find it (potentially with the Search bar at the top) in the Locations tab and click on it.

Use a VPN on macOS

  1. To get the Surfshark app, search Surfshark on the App Store — or just click on this link and click Get . This will download and install the VPN app. Click Open
  2. Once the app is open, enter your login credentials and click Log in ;
  3. After logging in, click Connect to connect to the nearest/fastest server. If you want to connect to another server, find one you like in the Locations tab and click on it.

Use a VPN on Android

  1. Open your Play Store app and find Surfshark by entering Surfshark in the search bar; Tap on the Surfshark VPN result, then tap on the install. Agree with any prompts;
  2. Once the app is installed, open it. Log in with your credentials. The main page of the app should open;
  3. On the main page, click Connect — the app will automatically connect to the fastest server;
  4. The smartphone will ask you to approve the connection request — tap OK ;
  5. To connect to another server, tap on the Locations button and then tap on the desired server.

Use a VPN on iOS

  1. Open the App Store on your device and search for Surfshark ;
  2. Tap GET to start downloading and installing the app. You will have to confirm your choice with Face ID or your Apple ID password ;
  3. After the installation, close the App Store and find the new Surfshark VPN icon. Tap it, then agree with the Terms and Conditions;
  4. Log in with the email and password you chose during the registration. Once on the app’s main screen, tap Connect to connect to the fastest server;
  5. To choose a different server, find one you like in the Locations tab and tap it.

Use a VPN for browser extensions

  1. Find Surfshark on your browser’s app store or click the appropriate link: Chrome , Firefox , Edge ;
  2. Click Add, Get , or whatever other appropriate button to install the extension. Agree with any prompts about installing i t;
  3. Once the extension is installed, click on the Surfshark logo in the toolbar — usually on the upper right ;
  4. Enter your login credentials — the email and password you input when signing up for the account ;
  5. Click Connect to connect to the fastest server or find a server in the Locations tab to connect to.

Use a VPN on a smart TV

  1. For a smart TV running Android, find the Surfshark app on the Play Store on the TV. Install it ;
  2. Once the app is installed, launch it and enter your login credentials — email and password — when asked ;
  3. When you log in, you can click Connect to connect to the fastest server. If you want to connect to some other server, choose one in the Location tab and click on it.

How to set up a VPN on my device

Not satisfied with our short guide above? No worries (except for me, the writer) — here are some helpful links. Click them to learn how to set up a VPN on:

How to set up a VPN manually

Sometimes, you need to take a hands-on approach. Maybe your system doesn’t support VPN apps, or you’re on a restrictive network that makes regular VPN connections impossible. Here are our guides for setting up a VPN manually on:

How to use advanced VPN features

Getting a VPN and not using its full features is like buying a car and never using the A/C – you’re missing out! Here are some of the more advanced features with handy links on how to use them:

CleanWeb

Blocks known malicious ads and malware.

You can find it under Settings → VPN settings → CleanWeb .

Surfshark app

Bypasser

Some disable the VPN connection to save bandwidth. The Bypasser can preserve speed without losing security.

This feature allows you to choose apps and websites that the VPN app will ignore.

You can find it under Settings → VPN settings → Bypasser .

Surfshark app

Dynamic MultiHop

Connects to the internet via two VPN servers of your choice for added privacy.

You can find it under the MultiHop tab in the main Surfshark app window.

Surfshark app

Kill Switch

Disconnects you from the internet if the VPN connection drops accidentally.

You can find it under Settings → VPN Settings → Kill Switch .

Surfshark app

Rotating IP

Changes your IP address every once in a while without disconnecting you from the VPN.

You can find it under Settings → VPN Settings → Advanced Settings → Rotating IP.

Surfshark app

NoBorders

Allows VPN use in restrictive regions.

You can find it under Settings → VPN Settings → Advanced Settings → NoBorders .

Surfshark app

How to use a VPN on multiple devices (at the same time)

Some VPNs allow you to run a VPN on multiple devices at the same time. And some VPNs like Surfshark allow you to run VPN apps with a single account on virtually unlimited devices.

Doing it is very easy:

  1. Install the VPN app on a device you want to use it on ;
  2. Log in with your credentials ;
  3. That’s it.

For a more sophisticated approach, you can set up two-factor authentication on multiple devices .

Things to do with a VPN

Protect your identity online

Don’t want to leave digital breadcrumbs that give all your online escapades away? By connecting to a VPN server, you’ll hide your IP address (like your home address, but for the internet), mask your activities from your internet service provider, and more.

Be safe on public Wi-Fi

VPNs use encryption to shield your internet activities from prying eyes. They can be vital in keeping your login data secure from man-in-the-middle attacks on public Wi-Fi. Don’t get hacked when you’re enjoying a bit of traveling! And don’t worry, a VPN doesn’t drain the battery much!

Avoid targeted ads

To serve you annoying targeted ads, the marketers have to first figure out what makes you click. They do this in various ways, like buying your IP address and consumer profile from your ISP (Internet Service Provider). Foil them with a VPN that hides your IP.

Game in safety

SWATing, DDoS attacks, and kids telling you they hired an assassin are all dangers of playing multiplayer games. But with a VPN, you’ll hide your real IP address, making it very hard (if not impossible) to DDoS you or find out where you live for a SWATing. And it prevents bandwidth throttling on your internet connection.

Disclaimer: We prohibit using Surfshark services for any unlawful purposes as it is against our Terms of Service. Please be sure to act in compliance with all applicable laws and regulations of streaming service providers.

Put that new knowledge to good use

You now know not only how to use a VPN but also that using it is the easiest thing in the world. This means that you are but a few steps away from increased privacy and accessibility! So why not act on that knowledge and use a VPN?

Now get yourself some VPN

FAQ

How to use a free VPN?

Firstly, you need to find a free VPN platform that suits you. Using it is more or less the same as using a paid VPN. You subscribe, download and install the VPN client, run the app on your device, and connect.

However, keep in mind that using a free VPN is not recommended since it won’t completely secure your data. Free VPNs lack transparency about the logs policies and don’t provide the right necessities for your digital safety.

Is having a VPN illegal?

It’s not illegal to use a VPN in 99% of countries around the world. We have an article that goes into deeper detail on VPN legality .

What is VPN, and how do you use it?

VPN secures your connection while you’re online. It makes browsing private, masks your IP address and prevents your ISP from tracking you. Using it is as simple as it gets:

  1. Get a VPN service subscription;
  2. Download and install the VPN app;
  3. Run the VPN app;
  4. Connect to the preferred server.

That’s about it! If you follow the steps, you’ll successfully connect to the VPN.

What is needed for a VPN?

VPN doesn’t require a lot. You only need an internet connection and an electronic device (phone, computer, TV) to use it. If you already have these — you’re qualified to use a VPN and secure yourself online.

What Can You Do with a VPN?

Simon Migliano is a recognized world expert in VPNs. He’s tested hundreds of VPN services and his research has featured on the BBC, The New York Times and more.

  1. What Is a VPN?
  2. What Are VPNs Used For?

Virtual private networks (VPNs) hide your IP address and encrypt your web traffic. They are primarily used to protect your online privacy, browse securely on public WiFi networks, and access geo-restricted video content.

what VPNs are used for

People around the world use Virtual private networks (VPNs) for a variety of reasons and purposes.

Almost a third of internet users worldwide use a VPN to secure their internet activity. This includes web browsing, torrenting files, and online shopping.

Based on our VPN usage research, over 50% of all VPN users use a VPN to protect their personal data transfers on public WiFi networks.

Many users also want to browse the web anonymously, and at least a third use a VPN to access video content and websites blocked in their region.

In this guide, we’ll explain exactly what VPNs do and why people use them.

In the chart below, you can see the most common reasons people give for using a VPN:

The reasons people use a VPN

The statistics above relate to the use of personal VPNs. However, keep in mind that there are various types of VPNs available, including remote access and business VPNs.

What’s In This Guide

  • What Can You Do with a VPN?
  • What Does a VPN Not Protect You From?

What’s In This Guide

  • What Can You Do with a VPN?
  • What Does a VPN Not Protect You From?

What Can You Do with a VPN?

A VPN serves two main purposes: hiding your IP address and encrypting your web browsing data.

These two functions can open up a world of possibilities for improving your privacy, security, and freedom on the internet.

If you want to learn about the technical aspects of VPN software, read our explanation of how a VPN works.

Quick Summary: 8 Popular Uses of VPNs

  1. To safeguard your privacy online. A VPN stop ISPs, governments and websites from monitoring you.
  2. Unblock ‘hidden’ streaming content. Use a VPN to spoof your location and access streaming content from other countries.
  3. Stay safe on public WiFi networks. VPN encryption stops criminals hacking you and stealing your personal information on public WiFi networks.
  4. Circumvent government censorship. Use a VPN to unblock websites and access the free internet in highly-censored countries, like China.
  5. Torrent files securely. Protect your activity and hide your identity when downloading and uploading torrent files.
  6. Avoid bandwidth throttling. Use a VPN to stop your ISP from deliberately slowing down your internet connection.
  7. Save money shopping online. You can access cheaper regional prices on e-commerce sites, like travel agencies and airlines.
  8. Safely connect to the Office. Use a business VPN to create a securely, remote connection into your office’s internal network.

Below is a detailed list of all the things you can do with a VPN:

1. Protect Your Online Privacy

Without a VPN, your Internet Service Provider (ISP) can see all of the websites you visit and will almost certainly be recording that information.

In some countries, ISPs are required by law to collect and store your browsing data for long periods of time.

Governments can then access this information whenever they like. This is the case in the US, UK, Australia, and much of Europe.

Often, these countries are also members of international agreements like the Five Eyes Alliance, which are designed to collect mass surveillance data and share it among themselves.

The Five Eyes countries.

A VPN hides your web traffic by encrypting your data from your device to a private server. This makes it much harder for websites, governments, and ISPs to spy on your online activity.

Even if someone does get their hands on your browsing data, the information they collect will be almost impossible to decode.

A VPN also changes your IP address and replaces it with an IP address belonging to the VPN server.

This means the websites you visit will see the VPN server’s IP address and will therefore find it much harder to identify you. It also prevents other potentially dangerous things that people can do with your IP address.

SUMMARY: A good VPN hides your IP address and replaces it with an anonymous one, which makes it much harder for websites to identify you.

A VPN also encrypts your browsing data, meaning your Internet Service Provider (ISP) is unable to see the websites you visit.

2. Stream Content Only Available in Other Countries

Streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video have different content libraries depending on your location.

In other words, the movies and TV shows you’re able to watch will depend on the country you’re connecting from.

That’s where a VPN comes in, allowing you to change your geolocation and unblock geo-restricted videos.

Streaming websites use your IP address to determine your physical location. A VPN masks your personal IP address and replaces it with an IP address in a country of your choice.

Therefore, you can ‘trick’ streaming websites into giving you access to thousands of TV shows that are blocked in your country.

Some VPN services even have dedicated servers for each streaming platform.

If you connect to a VPN server in the US, for example, you’ll be able to access the US Netflix library, which has many more movies and TV shows than any other country.

Using ExpressVPN with Netflix

ExpressVPN worked with US Netflix in all of our tests.

Finding a VPN that unblocks many streaming platforms can be difficult. Luckily, our list of the best streaming VPNs is a great starting point to find VPNs that easily bypass streaming geo-restrictions.

SUMMARY: You can use a VPN to hide your IP address and replace it with one in a country of your choice. You can therefore use a VPN to bypass geographic restrictions and unblock ‘hidden’ streaming content on Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and many other streaming platforms.

3. Stay Safe on Public WiFi Networks

Exploiting public WiFi networks to gather data is simple and incredibly cheap. Criminals can take advantage of open and unencrypted networks to steal important data like your bank details, credit cards, photos, and other personal information.

When you use the public WiFi connection in a café, hotel, or airport you are putting your sensitive personal data at risk.

Hackers are increasingly targeting hotels and shopping malls in pursuit of high-value targets. This is made easier with cheap equipment that gives almost anyone the ability to take advantage of public WiFi networks for under $99.00 .

A VPN can be used to protect yourself from this kind of threat. It will encrypt your internet traffic and make it almost impossible for hackers to understand and exploit your data.

For this reason, a VPN is an invaluable tool if you travel frequently and regularly use open WiFi networks.

Unprotected networks at home are also a risk. As remote work becomes more common, criminals are turning their attention towards vulnerable home networks – a practice known as wardriving.

If you’re concerned about your security on public networks, read our guide to staying safe on public WiFi.

SUMMARY: VPN services encrypt all the traffic leaving your device. This means you can use a VPN to protect your sensitive data on unprotected WiFi networks. If an attacker intercepts your connection, they will only see strings of unintelligible letters and numbers.

4. Unblock Websites and Avoid Government Censorship

Authoritarian governments around the world choose to block certain websites in order to limit their citizens’ access to information.

Our latest research shows that this kind of intentional “internet shutdown” cost the world economy up to $4B in 2020 alone.

China, for example, uses its infamous “Great Firewall” to prevent people from accessing popular websites like Google, Facebook, and YouTube. You can find out exactly which websites are blocked using our China Firewall test.

During times of political turmoil, other countries like Algeria, India, and Chad have also blocked access to social media and messaging apps like WhatsApp and Twitter.

Citizens (and tourists) in countries affected by internet censorship can use a VPN to bypass website blocks and access the global internet.

That’s because a VPN encrypts your traffic and masks your IP address, hiding your identity and activity from internet censors.

Some VPN services also offer obfuscation technology, which helps evade more sophisticated systems of censorship. Obfuscation disguises your VPN traffic, making it appear like normal browsing data.

If you’re interested in VPNs that can effectively bypass censorship, read our list of the best VPNs by category.

For journalists, activists, and whistleblowers, VPNs are a vital resource for safely speaking out against governments that limit freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

For everyday people living under censorship, VPNs can also be an essential way to access information and services that are otherwise blocked.

SUMMARY: Some governments monitor internet use and block access to certain websites. A VPN will encrypt your connection and spoof your IP address, allowing you to unblock websites and access the global internet without being detected by government censors.

5. Torrent Files Securely

Torrenting files with software like uTorrent or BitTorrent can be risky. Your IP address is visible to other peers in the swarm, and your Internet Service Provider can see all of the files you’re seeding and downloading.

Without a VPN, your IP address – and therefore your identity – is visible to other users, content owners, and copyright trolls. Your ISP can also identify your activity and work with authorities to issue legal notices for copyright infringement.

In most countries, users found downloading copyrighted material can face fines or even imprisonment.

Powerful media companies also monitor P2P traffic to collect the IP addresses of torrenters. They then pay law companies called ‘copyright trolls’ to find and prosecute any users they can find.

We don’t condone downloading copyrighted material, but if you’re torrenting legal files then a VPN is vital to encrypt your P2P activity and keep it safe from prying eyes.

Some VPN services are tailored to torrenting more than others, though – you can find an updated list of VPNs for torrenting here.

SUMMARY: VPNs protect your identity and activity while torrenting by encrypting your P2P traffic and masking your public IP address. This prevents your internet service provider (ISP), copyright holders, and other peers in the swarm from spying on your activity.

6. Avoid Bandwidth Throttling

We’ve explained that your ISP almost certainly monitors your online activity.

If you live in a country without strong net neutrality laws, your ISP can also deliberately slow down your internet connection. This is called bandwidth throttling.

ISPs usually choose to throttle your internet connection when you perform bandwidth-heavy activities like downloading large files, streaming, or torrenting.

Bandwidth throttling is typically used to minimize network congestion and help regulate traffic at busy times. However, some ISPs have also been accused of throttling connection speeds purely for their own business interests.

VPN encryption can stop ISPs from throttling your connection because it prevents them from seeing what you’re doing.

In fact, installing a VPN is the best way to stop internet throttling by your ISP.

Without access to your internet activity, it’s much harder for your ISP to know when to slow down your connection. This means you can enjoy faster and more reliable speeds for downloading files, gaming, and streaming.

SUMMARY: Some Internet Service Providers (ISPs) deliberately slow down your internet connection to avoid network congestion. You can use a VPN to encrypt your browsing activity, which prevents your ISP from throttling your internet speeds based on the websites you visit.

7. Save Money Shopping Online

E-Commerce websites like travel agencies, car rental companies, and airlines often use your IP address to determine your location. Once they know where you are, they can change their fares accordingly.

For example, the booking cost of a flight for a customer in the US may be higher than the price of the same flight when booking in India.

It’s also common for this type of website to use cookies and tracking scripts to target you with specific advertisements.

Companies then use this type of tracking information to manipulate the price of the products they advertise. The more interested a potential customer seems in a product, the higher they hike the price.

You can use a VPN to avoid this kind of targeting advertising and price manipulation.

By hiding your IP address and spoofing your location, you can ‘trick’ a website into offering you lower prices based on the country you’re buying from.

Aside from getting better prices, it’s also a good idea to use a VPN for safe online shopping.

Shopping transactions typically involve sensitive information like your name, address, and banking details, which VPN encryption can help protect.

SUMMARY: Online retailers can use your IP address and targeted advertising to change the price of their products based on your location. As well as protecting your payment information, you can use a VPN to spoof your location and find the cheapest prices available.

8. Connect to An Office Network

VPN software comes in many forms. The first VPN protocol was called Point-to-Point Tunneling (PPTP), and it was designed to help people work effectively and securely from home.

VPNs are now used for much more than just remote working. However, some VPN services are still specifically designed to help you safely connect to a company’s internal network.

The type of VPN we refer to in this guide and our VPN reviews is called a ‘consumer VPN’. These services connect your device to a server that is owned by the VPN company, allowing you to browse the public internet with all of the benefits that we’ve mentioned above.

The type of VPN that your company might use for remote work is called a ‘business VPN’. These services connect authorized users to a shared server in a certain location, usually an office or headquarters.

Business VPNs give employees secure access to applications and files that are only available on the office’s internal network.

The purpose of the VPN is to prevent sensitive business data from being sent unprotected over the ‘open’ web.

SUMMARY: There are many different types of VPNs available. You can use a ‘business VPN’ to connect your device directly to your company’s internal network, giving you secure access to files and applications that are only available to authorized users.

What Does a VPN Not Protect You From?

Using a VPN makes your online activity much more private than using the internet without one. However, a VPN doesn’t make you completely anonymous.

Encrypting your data and hiding your IP address is a great start, but your IP address is just one way you can be identified online.

A VPN doesn’t protect you from:

  • Cookies and Trackers. Cookies and web trackers are tiny files used by websites and advertisers to customize their services to specific users. They store information — such as your name, gender, location, and sometimes browsing habits — that can be used to identify you even when you use a VPN.
  • Browser Fingerprinting. Your device provides the websites you visit with detailed information about your operating system, browser, and hardware. The sum of this information forms a unique ‘fingerprint’ that can be used to track and identify you.
  • IP, DNS and WebRTC Leaks. A poor-quality VPN can expose your identity by leaking information like your true IP address or DNS requests. You can test for this type of vulnerability using our VPN leak test.
  • Traffic Fingerprinting. When you use a VPN, your ISP can still see that data is being passed between your device and a VPN server — it just can’t see the content or destination of that data. It’s sometimes possible to identify the type of data being transmitted (e.g. web browsing, streaming, P2P) through the analysis of timing and density. This is known as “traffic fingerprinting.”
  • Social Media Accounts. If you’re signed into personal accounts such as Facebook and Google while browsing the internet, it doesn’t matter if you’re using a VPN. These companies will be able to monitor your activity and link it to the IP address of your VPN server.

Our guide to the best private browsers explores a number of ways you can keep your activity private and free from tracking, which extend beyond using a VPN.

If you’re looking for complete anonymity, you might consider using the Tor Browser.

The Tor Network differs from a VPN service in a number of important ways, and not all of them are positive. You can learn about these differences in our comparison of Tor vs VPN.