Frequently Asked Questions
General VPN Questions:
What is a VPN?
A VPN (short for “Virtual Private Network”) is an encrypted data connection between your computer and a 3rd part VPN server.
It allows you to encrypt your data transfer across public networks (greater security) and allows your internet activity to appear to come from another computer other than your own (anonymity).
When connected to a VPN, all your internet traffic will be routed through the VPN server, so any websites you visit will only be able to see the location and identity of your VPN server, keeping your true identity anonymous.
Why would I need a VPN?
There are literally dozens of reasons a person might want to purchase VPN service. Here are a few of them:
- To protect your data when connected to public wifi networks
- To protect your identity and data while using the internet
- To access geo-restricted services or websites like Hulu, Netflix, or Twitter.
- To keep your location or IP address a secret from the rest of the internet.
- To avoid censorship by a business or government.
- To unblock websites at work.
- To post comments anonymously online (otherwise the webmaster can see your ip address)
- To Download or share files anonymously
- Use BitTorrent Anonymously (without a VPN the swarm can see your true IP address)
- To avoid being throttled by your ISP (speed up Netflix, Youtube, and Torrents instantly)
How much does a VPN cost?
Now VPN services are so popular that prices have come way down and functionality is at an all-time high. Most VPN services are priced between $3 and $12 dollars per month depending on the subscription length and the amount of features they offer.
If price is your determining factor, check out our list of the best budget VPN services.
Is setting up a VPN connection complicated?
Nowadays, it’s very easy to connect to a VPN. All of the top VPN services have their own easy-to-use desktop applications that make connecting to a VPN server as easy as clicking your mouse twice.
Many VPN’s now even have mobile VPN apps for Android and iOS so you can easily stay protected when you’re on the move.
Where are the VPN servers located?
What are VPN Logs?
VPN logs are internal records that VPN providers may keep regarding their customers. They are usually only for troubleshoot or tech support purposes, but some VPN’s keep logs for legal reasons as well. Many countries require VPN’s to keep logs, though the U.S. does not (contrary to popular belief)
There are two primary types of VPN logs:
These are the most common type of VPN logs and usually just consist of the following information: Timestamp of connection start/end, duration of connection, incoming/outgoing ip address, and bytes of data transfered.
Connection logs are generally kept for troubleshooting purposes and are not enough to identify individual users if the VPN also utilizes shared IP addresses (multiple users sharing one IP. This is quite common).
These are less common, though some VPN’s do keep them. Usage logs are more detailed records of things like the websites you visit and files you download. The VPN’s we recommend on this site do not keep usage logs. Many internet service providers in the USA and Europe do keep these kinds of records however (another reason to get a VPN!)
How fast is a VPN? Will it slow down my connection?
The VPN providers that we recommend on this site are the best and most popular in the world, so they gave Gigabits upon Gigabits of available bandwidth. (1 gigabit of bandwidth would allow 100 usrs to download at 10 Megabits/second simultaneously) so the capacity is available to you. The speed you experience while connected to a VPN will be affected by several factors:
1 – Your maximum speed without the VPN
Unless your internet provider is currently throttling your connection, you speeds while connected to the VPN cannot really exceed your maximum connection speed given to you by your internet provider. If your internet plan gives you 10mpbs speeds, you will not get 20mbps with a vpn. You can only get 10.
Occasionally we have actually experienced an increase in bandwidth over our limit when connected to a VPN. This is because the bandwidth limit is usually controlled by a throttling protocol used by your internet provider. The encryption of the VPN tunnel can sometimes interfere with that and you actually may experience slightly higher speeds then normal.
If your internet provider throttles certain ports like Netflix, Youtube, Torrents, or Gaming your speeds will definitely go up with a VPN because your ISP can no longer read your traffic and throttle specific parts of it.
2 – Server Location and Distance
If you’re in the United States and you connect to a VPN server in Russia, your connection will probably slower than if the same server were located 20 miles from your house. When data travels long distances, packets of data can get lost. The longer the distance, the more packets are lost, resulting in overall slower speeds (don’t worry, all the data makes it there in the end).
You biggest thing you’ll notice with far away servers is a slight drop in response time rather than overall speed. This is because it actually takes a fraction of a second longer for the data to travel halfway around the world and back. The overall speeds for international servers are still plenty fast for things like streaming netflix and hulu.
3 – Server Load
Some VPN servers are more crowded than others (more users connected at the same time). On some servers, the average users are taking up way more bandwidth (this happens alot on dedicated p2p torrent servers) so 100 users on a server will take up more bandwidth on the p2p server instead of a regular server because they are downloading constantly at 10mpbs instead of the users downloading at less than 1mbps browsing the web on another vpn server.
This does not mean that all p2p servers are slow, it just means that your speeds will be affected by the activity of the VPN’s other subscribers. Some VPN’s have more bandwidth available per user than others. In our testing, these vpn providers had the fastest speeds.
4 – Encryption Strength
Creating and maintaining the VPN encryption uses bits of data and therefor takes up bandwidth. Over long distances, it requires even more data and bandwidth to maintain the encryption. As a result, the stronger the encryption strength your connection uses, the slower your speeds (but only slightly. It won’t be a huge drop-off). As a result, less intense encryption methods like PPTP will be slightly faster than OpenVPN which is 128-bit +
The tradeoff is Faster Speeds vs. Greater Encryption
So how fast will my speeds be?
The good news is we include speed tests with all of our VPN reviews so you can get a good idea of the speeds you’ll experience. Don’t look at the speedtest results as the absolute maximum speed because our test connection is capped at 15mpbs. Instead, you can think of the speeds in terms of percentages. If we get 7.5 mbps on a 15 mbps connection, you may get 15mbps on a 30mbps connection given the same server conditons.
We have had reports from subscribers of even the most affordable vpn’s getting over 50mbps if they have a high bandwidth data connection.
More VPN Questions and Uses:
What is Throttling? Can I VPN help?
Throttling is a common practice by internet providers worldwide, but especially in the USA. Throttling is a technique of limiting the speeds and bandwidth users experience when using certain websites, ports, or protocols online. ISP’s do this to limit the bandwidth used by high-bandwidth activities. Examples of things that are commonly throttled are:
- HD video streaming from Netflix, YouTube and Skype
- Online gaming
- File downloads
- BitTorrent and peer-to-peer file sharing
How a VPN can prevent throttling:
Your ISP is legally obligated to provide you with the amount of bandwidth you pay for, but they can still throttle specific protocols and ports while keeping your overall speeds the same. In order to throttle your connection, however, they have to be able to identify and sort your internet traffic. They need to be able to separate your torrent data from your web browsing data so that they only limit the torrents without slowing your entire connection down.
A VPN wraps all your data in an encrypted tunnel, so even your ISP can’t read it or decipher it. If they can’t see what you’re downloading or what sites you’re visiting, they can’t throttle specific protocols. In our testing, we’ve actually seen our overall speeds go up sometimes when using a VPN, even higher than the allotted bandwidth cap because the ISP is no longer throttling the connection.
How does a VPN unblock websites?
There are two main ways that websites are blocked: A firewall, and Geo-Restriction. A VPN can get around both types of censorship easily. Let’s take a closer look:
It doesn’t matter if it’s just your the office firewall at your work or the ‘Great Firewall of China,” the principle is the same. A firewall filters internet traffic by and blocks requests/websites that are deemed undesirable. If your office firewall blocks Facebook access (as it should, Facebook is a drug) the firewall works like this:
- You type “www.facebook.com” into your browser
- Your computer asks a DNS server to lookup the location of facebook.com
- The DNS server your network uses is controlled by the office firewall
- The firewall matches the website you requested against the ‘blocked list’
- The firewall finds that ‘facebook.com’ is blocked, and denies you access.
The firewall really only has one way to block your access to facebook: by controlling your DNS lookups. A VPN, however, uses its own DNS servers which are safely out of the control of the office firewall, and accessible only from inside the safety of your secure VPN tunnel.
If you connect to a VPN from your office computer, all your internet traffic, including your DNS lookups, will be routed through the VPN tunnel and unblockable. The office firewall will have no idea what websites you’re visiting.
Some websites, like Hulu and Netflix, are accessible only from within certain Geographic regions. Netflix, for example is unavailable in France. If you try to access the Netflix website from France, it will identify your location based on your IP address and block you from signing in.
A VPN can easily circumvent geo-restriction by allowing you to connect to a VPN server in a country other than the one you are currently in. If you’re a U.S. citizen and Netflix subscriber vacationing in France and you’re in the mood to watch a little Breaking Bad, all you have to do is open a VPN connection on a USA based server, and Voila! Netflix enabled!
How can a VPN help protect my identity online?
Without a VPN, most of your internet traffic is sent and received completely unencrypted. This is especially true if you’re using public wifi hotspots. Hackers (even total newbies) can easily monitor and intercept data on wireless networks, including passwords, addresses, and social security numbers.
If you use a VPN, all data transferred, even on public wifi, will be wrapped in an encoded/encrypted data tunnel so nobody can read or intercept your personal information. Learn more about identity theft and how a VPN can help.
Does my VPN service come with a Firewall?
Some do some don’t, and some have it available as an addon for additional cost.
What is a VPN firewall?
A VPN firewall is a security measure that the VPN provider would install on each VPN server that checks each incoming connection (from the internet end, not your end) to see if the piece of data was requested by you or not. This blocks unauthorized connections do your computer by people that may have malicious intentions. This is an extremely useful security feature.
Which VPN Providers have a firewall available?
This list is a work in progress and likely incomplete:
Do I Need a Firewall for my VPN service?
It’s definitely a security upgrade and a really nice feature to have (especially if there’s no additional cost) but most users won’t notice the difference. If you frequently use peer-to-peer filesharing protocols like BitTorrent, however, we would definitely recommend it. Our favorite VPN provider with a free NAT firewall included is IPVANISH.
BitTorrent and p2p FAQ
Do all VPN’s allow torents?
No. Not all VPN’s allow torrents on their network, thought the actions VPN’s will take if users break their rules vary widely.
VPN’s that allow torrents:
See our guide on how to torrent anonymously or checkout the list below for more options.
How do I know if a VPN allows torrents?
A good idea is always to check the FAQ of a VPN provider before you make a purchase. You can also email or livechat with tech support to clarify any questions you have.
Another good tip is to pick a non-logging VPN provider. So far every non-logging VPN we’ve heard of DOES allow torrents.
Should I use a non-logging VPN if I download torrents?
It’s definitely a good idea but it’s not a requirement. Many of the popular torrent VPN services have located themselves in countries that don’t have data retention laws for VPN servers. As a result, they can choose to keep no logs or user usage records in order to protect both themselves and their users.
It’s an effective social compromise and an elegant solution. If a VPN provider can’t positively identify it’s own subscribers to a 3rd party just based on an IP address, they can never have a conflict of interest, ensuring that your privacy is always the priority.