What is a VPN and Why Do You Need One in 2024?

A VPN is like a private tunnel that safeguards your online activities and keeps your sensitive data secure. Using a VPN encrypts your internet connection and hides your information from others who may try to snoop on you or track your online behavior.

In this article, you’ll learn more about what a VPN is, how to use it to protect your online activities, and how to bypass geo-restrictions enforced by online services when using a virtual private network.

A trusted VPN service like NordVPN has thousands of IP addresses available that let you conceal your real IP. Combined with military-grade 256-bit encryption, NordVPN will keep you anonymous and secure online, plus let you unblock Netflix libraries all over the world.

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What is a VPN?

We’ll now give you a brief VPN explanation. A virtual private network (VPN) is a security tool used for browsing the internet anonymously. It accomplishes this by doing the following:

  • Encrypting your data, which would otherwise be visible to third parties like the websites you visit, your internet service provider, and cybercriminals
  • Hiding your IP address, which is connected to your real-life location and which can be used to identify you or show you targeted ads

A VPN works on most devices, including Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, and iOS. All you need to do is download the app from the VPN’s official website, the Google Play Store, or the Apple App Store.

How a VPN Works

A VPN connection reroutes your traffic through a remote server. This will change your public IP to the remote server’s IP address, thus hiding your real IP address and giving you more anonymity.

Hiding your IP address offers several benefits. Your IP address is linked to your online identity and tells snooping parties where in the world you’re located. Hiding your real IP prevents anyone from finding out your real location.

Moreover, connecting to a server in another country lets you access videos, websites, and streaming libraries from that country. For example, if you connect to a UK server, you’ll be able to watch UK-exclusive Netflix movies.

A VPN uses an encryption protocol to make your data illegible while it’s in transit from your device to the VPN server. This means your data can’t be read by people who intercept it during this part of its journey. This is why a VPN is crucial when using public WiFi, which is normally unsafe.

Do All VPNs Ensure Anonymity Online?

Internet service providers (ISPs), online advertisers, governments, and other entities can collect plenty of data on you. For instance, your ISP can see basically everything you do online, including:

  • The websites you visit
  • The files you download
  • Your IP address
  • How much data you’re using
  • The information you fill out on websites

Unfortunately, like other kinds of software, some VPNs provide a better service than others. Free VPNs and low-tier VPNs usually can’t conceal your data properly or will collect and store your information.

For instance, the low-tier Hola VPN doesn’t actually encrypt your traffic, instead logging tons of user data and even selling user bandwidth. In short, your privacy will be compromised rather than improved with this VPN.

A trusted VPN makes it virtually impossible for ISPs, advertisers, and other third parties to get a hold of your data. We recommend getting our top-rated VPN, NordVPN, because it consistently scores highest on our extensive speed, security, and privacy testing.

Why Use a VPN?

There are major advantages to using a VPN. A good VPN can be used not just for protecting your identity but also for improving your connection speed, overcoming government censorship, and more.


Below, we’ve listed a few of the main benefits of using a VPN.

Have complete anonymity online

When you use a virtual private network, your internet traffic can only be traced back to the IP of the VPN server, not to you and your real IP address. This will greatly improve your privacy, as your real location and online identity will remain hidden.

Reliable VPN providers have strict no-log policies, meaning they don’t keep logs on what you do online, further increasing your privacy. If you’re looking for the best anonymity a VPN can offer, we recommend our number 1 VPN: NordVPN.

Browse securely on public networks

Using a public Wi-Fi network, like at an airport, hotel, or cafe, can be risky. Other users on the same network, such as hackers and other cybercriminals, can easily tap into your data and personal information.

Since you don’t want others to have access to your email login, files, or credit card information, it’s wise to use a VPN connection when on these hotspots.

A virtual private network like NordVPN, our highest-ranked provider, encrypts all of your data while you use a public Wi-Fi network. A hacker won’t be able to see or use your personal information.

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Get secure access to your company’s network

We’ve seen more and more companies accept remote work. In such instances, a remote-access virtual private network can be very beneficial, as it safely and efficiently lets employees connect to a company’s internal network from anywhere.

There are many VPNs for business use. While they might not serve to unblock streaming services abroad, they are certainly useful in protecting private and sensitive company data.

Overcome online censorship

Governments heavily censor the internet in many countries. For example, there is strict online censorship in China and Russia.

Countries that impose heavy censorship block access to certain internet services and websites. Examples of apps and websites that are often banned are WhatsApp, Google, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Skype, Spotify, Facebook, and news websites that the government considers a threat to their regime.

NordVPN, a top VPN provider, can help you bypass censorship and restrictions by allowing you to connect to a server in a different country. This way, you can gain access to websites, services, and apps that are not available in your own country.

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Bypass geographical restrictions

It’s not just countries that impose restrictions on the internet. Some online services also restrict access to their content in certain regions. This happens with streaming services like Netflix or Peacock TV, which have broadcasting or licensing rights in certain countries and not others.

If you are on holiday or have moved to a different country, you might be unable to view your usual streams. A VPN will enable you to connect to the internet via its servers in your home country, so you can watch your favorite show from abroad and access blocked websites like you never left.

It also works the other way around: if you want to gain access to websites or streaming services from a different country (for example, to watch a different version of Netflix), you can do so with a virtual private network.

Download torrents anonymously

You can upload and download files anonymously using a VPN. A VPN encrypts your online traffic. This is useful in cases where your ISP is preventing you from downloading torrents, even when it’s legal in your jurisdiction.

You can use a virtual private network, such as NordVPN, to make sure nobody knows what youre downloading. Because of the encrypted traffic and the rerouted IP address, NordVPN will help you download the files you want to access anonymously.

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Our Best VPN Picks of 2024

We’ve already tested dozens of virtual private networks to find the best VPN providers for you. Below, we’ll give a summary of our top five picks.

1. NordVPN: Best overall VPN


  • Super easy to use
  • 6000+ servers in 61 countries
  • Solid security features
  • Unblocks Netflix, Hulu, HBO Max, and more
  • Compatible with Windows, MacOS, Linux, iPhone, Android, and more

NordVPN is our highest-ranked virtual private network. During our tests, we discovered that it offers great security and privacy without compromising on speed. It allows up to six simultaneous connections on a single subscription. This means you can also share the subscription with family and friends.

Its apps are incredibly user-friendly; it only takes us one click to connect to a server. We were also very pleased to see that NordVPN offers advanced options like dedicated IP addresses that are only used by you, as well as obfuscated servers that hide the fact that you’re using a VPN. These features made it easier for us to circumvent geo-restrictions.

NordVPN is currently offering a 67% discount. If you want to get a VPN that offers outstanding security and internet freedom at a reasonable price, NordVPN is your best bet!

If you’re interested, you can read our full NordVPN review to learn more about its many benefits. NordVPN offers a free trial in the form of a 30-day money-back guarantee, which means you can try out the service and get a refund if you’re not satisfied.

2. Surfshark: An affordable VPN provider for an unlimited number of devices


  • Budget-friendly
  • 3200+ servers in 100 countries
  • Protect unlimited devices with one subscription
  • Browser extension that blocks ads and malware
  • Accommodates Windows, MacOS, Linux, iPhone, Android, and more

Surfshark is the second-best virtual private network we’ve tested. It’s fast, secure, and offers 3200+ servers in 100 countries. This provided us with ample options for bypassing censorship and restrictions on streaming platforms such as Netflix, Hulu, HBO Max, and more.

This VPN provider is available on all major devices and is easy to use. Moreover, Surfshark allows you to connect to unlimited devices under one subscription. We were able to use Surfshark on all our devices and share the subscription with others at no extra cost.

Furthermore, Surfshark has a browser extension that offers plenty of additional features. In our tests, Surfshark enabled us to browse the internet ad-free, and the extension automatically blocked malicious sites. Overall, it’s a great choice for beginners and experienced users alike.

The best part is that it is incredibly affordable. If you want a top-tier VPN at a low price point, Surfshark is the option for you!

3. ExpressVPN: A VPN service with dedicated firmware for routers


  • Thousands of servers in 105 countries
  • Stream on any device with MediaStreamer
  • Easy to install on routers
  • Connect five devices with one subscription
  • Accommodates Windows, MacOS, Linux, iPhone, Android, and more

Although pricier than NordVPN and Surfshark, ExpressVPN is one of the world’s largest and most popular VPN services. It offers almost everything you could want in a VPN provider, such as thousands of stable servers in 105 countries, great speeds, and top-notch security.

You can stream and torrent anonymously with ExpressVPN and use it on various devices and operating systems, including Android, Windows, iPhone, Mac, and Linux. Another major plus is that the app is available in over 10 languages. Moreover, ExpressVPN stood out in our tests for its dedicated firmware for routers. It was easy to install it on our router and protect all our devices at once!

To test ExpressVPN’s speeds, we installed it on a PS5 and played GTA 5 online without lag thanks to its incredible 5 to 11 ms ping. It’s also one of our best VPNs for Minecraft.

To learn more about ExpressVPN, check out our in-depth ExpressVPN review. ExpressVPN offers a 30-day money-back guarantee, so you can test the service before committing to it.

4. CyberGhost: A great unblocking VPN thanks to dedicated streaming servers

  • Optimized streaming servers for specific services
  • 11500+ serves in 100 countries
  • Dedicated IPs to bypass VPN blocks
  • Super generous 45-day money-back guarantee!
  • Supports Windows, MacOS, iOS, Android, Linux, SmartTVs, Xbox, PlayStation, and more

CyberGhost is another outstanding VPN that resides comfortably in our top 5. This VPN is a streamer’s dream, thanks to its great streaming speeds, dedicated IP addresses for bypassing streaming services’ VPN blocks, and special streaming servers.

CyberGhost’s streaming servers are actually optimized for specific streaming pages, such as Netflix US, Netflix UK, BBC iPlayer, Hulu, Crunchyroll, Amazon Prime Video, and many others. Using these servers, you’ll access your favorite streams hassle-free! Overall, CyberGhost offers more than 11500+ servers in 100 countries.

You can use CyberGhost on virtually any device. The VPN is compatible with WindowsMacOSiOSAndroidLinuxSmartTVsXboxPlayStation, and other devices.

On top of all of this, CyberGhost is one of the cheapest VPNs around.

For more information on this great streaming VPN, check out our complete CyberGhost review. The provider also offers the most generous money-back guarantee of all the VPNs we’ve tested: 45 days!

5. PIA: The best VPN for those on a low budget

  • The cheapest top-tier VPN: only $ 2.19 per month
  • thousands of servers in 91 countries
  • Dedicated IPs to get around VPN blocks
  • Supports unlimited devices
  • Compatible with Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Linux, smart TVs, gaming consoles, and more

Don’t let PIA‘s incredibly low price of $ 2.19 per month fool you. This provider is among the very best VPNs right now. We’re talking about a VPN that supports unlimited users on a single subscription, has decent speeds, offers military-grade encryption, and has servers in 91 countries.

PIA is a suitable option for any user, thanks to its user-friendly interface, strong encryption protocols with 256-bit encryption, and the fact that it supports virtually any device. You can use PIA on Windows, Mac, iOSAndroidLinuxsmart TVsgaming consoles, and more.

PIA also offers dedicated IP addresses, which can help you get around VPN blocks by streaming services and other IP-based restrictions. This way, PIA doesn’t just protect your privacy but also your internet freedom!

What We Look for in a Reliable VPN Provider

When trying to find the best VPN for you, there are several factors you must consider like the security features it offers, whether it is fast, and if it keeps any logs. Here is what we pay attention to when considering the quality of a virtual private network:


  • Server network: A global network of servers allows you to browse without restrictions.
  • Privacy and security: VPN security features are important. A VPN should use secure AES 256-bit encryption to protect your data. Moreover, it should include features like a kill switch to prevent you from accessing the internet if the VPN malfunctions.
  • Speeds: A good VPN should offer your top speeds even when you are trying to access distant servers to stream content from another country, for example.
  • No-logs policy: Good virtual private networks are independently verified to ensure they don’t store your data.
  • Jurisdiction: The virtual private network should be based in countries with strong privacy laws and away from the 5/9/14 Eye countries.
A Brief History of VPNs

The VPN was originally born purely as security solution; the idea was that internet users should be able to communicate securely and safely work from home or from anywhere else.

Most consider Microsoft’s Gurdeep Singh-Pall’s development of the PPTP protocol as the birth of VPN technology. However, since PPTP is now considered obsolete as a security solution, many other VPN protocols have been developed over the years.

OpenVPN is perhaps the most notable development. Experts believe the latter offers the best balance between security and performance. This protocol is used by many popular VPNs, including NordVPN and all the other VPNs on our top 5 list.

Companies began offering commercial VPNs in the 2000s. And in doing so, they brought VPN technology to consumers, empowering individuals and their online privacy.

How to Set Up a VPN on Different Devices

Setting up a virtual private network is usually quite straightforward. Below, we discuss how to install a virtual private network on the most common operating systems and devices.

How to use a VPN on Windows

Installing a VPN and privatizing your online activities on Windows is super easy. The majority of VPNs have an app for Windows since it’s the most popular operating system on the planet.

We recommend NordVPN for its ease of use, fast speeds that cater to all Windows users’ needs, and cutting-edge security features.

Here’s how to install NordVPN on Windows:

  1. Navigate to NordVPN’s website and get a subscription.
  2. Download the NordVPN app for Windows PC or laptop.
  3. Click the NordVPN installer for the installation to start.
  4. Use your login details from Step 1 to log into the NordVPN app.
  5. Tap “Quick Connect” to connect to the optimal server for you. Otherwise, tap the drop-down arrow to pick a server of your choice.
  6. Surf the internet securely and anonymously!
Safeguard Your Windows PC With NordVPN for Only $ 3.39/Month!

If you’re interested in installing a virtual private network manually, our comprehensive guide on how to set up a VPN connection on Windows 10 will give you step-by-step instructions on how to do it.

How to use a VPN on a Mac

Mac computers are generally secure. However, Apple and other tech companies collect your data for marketing and other purposes. We recommend NordVPN for a Mac to keep your data private.

Here’s how to download and install NordVPN on a Mac:

  1. Go to NordVPN’s website and get a subscription.
  2. Download NordVPN for Mac.
  3. Run NordVPN after the installation is finished and tap “Quick Connect.” Or you can search for a server of your choice, as shown below.
  4. Browse the internet with peace of mind!
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How to use a VPN on iPhone and iPad

You can find apps for the top-rated VPNs in the Apple App Store. We recommend NordVPN for its seamless compatibility with iOS, blazing-fast speeds, and security for your iOS device.

Here’s how to install NordVPN on iPhone:

  1. Navigate to NordVPN’s website and get a subscription.
  2. Download NordVPN from the Apple App Store.
  3. Open NordVPN and sign in with the credentials from step 1, then tap on any country or location on the map to connect to a server.
  4. Use your iPhone to surf the web fully protected!
Protect Your iPhone With NordVPN’s 256-bit Encryption!

You can also manually install a VPN on iOS using our detailed guide on installing a VPN on iPhone or iPad.

How to use a VPN on Android

Android is the most popular mobile phone operating system in the world. For this reason, Android devices are a prime target for hackers, advertisers, and big technology companies like Facebook and Google.

To protect your data, we recommend using an Android VPN. We tested dozens of VPNs to come up with the best in terms of privacy and security, high speeds, compatibility with Android, affordability, and user-friendliness.

NordVPN checked all these boxes, which is why we recommend it to Android users. Here’s how to install NordVPN on Android:

  1. Visit NordVPN’s website and get a subscription.
  2. Download NordVPN from the Google Play Store on your Android device.
  3. Open NordVPN and tap “Quick Connect” to connect to the optimal server for you.
  4. Continue your online activities, as you are now protected from prying eyes.
Download NordVPN for Your Android Device Today!

You can learn more about installing a VPN on Android by checking out our complete VPN set-up guide for Android.

VPN Limitations: Is a VPN Worth It?

A virtual private network has a lot to offer when it comes to privacy and security. However, there are limitations on what a virtual private network can do to protect you.

Below, we’ve listed five possible limitations to consider when opting for a VPN.


Big tech profiling

Let’s say you’re logged into your Google account. You could be connected to a virtual private network on the other side of the world, and Google will still be able to create a profile of you as an internet user.

After all, it’ll simply correlate your search history with your account information, regardless of whether you change your IP address or not. The same is true for services like Facebook.

The above doesn’t mean using a VPN is futile; however, you can use many profile-based services without actually logging into an account. For instance, Google Search will work just fine without logging in, and you can even watch unlimited videos on a service like TikTok without an account.

The above merely means you should take extra precautions on top of VPN use. In this case, that means not logging into any service that gathers tons of user data.

GPS tracking

There are more ways to determine your identity that a VPN doesn’t protect you from. When using Google Maps, for instance, you’re often required to turn on your GPS.

This means Google Maps can see exactly where you are. There are also more advanced ways that are used to identify internet users, such as browser fingerprinting. This method uses your browser’s and device’s settings to distinguish you from other internet users.

Fortunately, some VPNs have expanded their portfolio of tools to deal with non-IP-based privacy violations. For instance, Surfshark offers a GPS override function to not only change your IP but also your GPS location.

Slower internet speed

Your internet speed may decrease if you use a virtual private network. Your data has to be sent through the VPN server, which means it can take slightly longer to end up where it needs to be.

However, there are several effective ways to increase internet speeds while connected to a VPN, like choosing a server closer to you or closing background apps you don’t need.

What’s more, premium VPNs like NordVPN only have minimal speed decreases. During our speed tests, we were able to retain as much as 96% of our original download speed.

VPN blockades

Some countries regulate or outright ban virtual private networks. For example, Iran was planning to restrict the sale of VPNs at the beginning of 2024. There are also websites, apps, and services that will deny you access if they detect that you are using a virtual private network.

Fortunately, a VPN with obfuscation technology will often do the trick in this case and allow you to access the site you want. That’s because obfuscated servers remove the metadata that identifies your traffic as a VPN connection.

Our number one VPN, NordVPN, offers outstanding obfuscated servers to help you stay one step ahead of oppressive governments!

Use NordVPN’s Obfuscated Servers to Bypass Censorship
Poor service providers

You should be especially cautious about free VPNs. These are notorious for compromising your security and selling your data to third parties, which can be even worse than not using a virtual private network at all.

You should always do your own research and never just pick a virtual private network at random. Our list of the top five best VPNs of the year is an excellent start.

Collection of your data

Some VPNs, like Hola VPN and Tuxler VPN, log your data and sell it to third parties. These low-quality VPNs will put your privacy at risk instead of protecting it.

To ensure your cybersecurity, only use a VPN that’s been tested and that has a good reputation for upholding user privacy. We have a list of the best VPNs with airtight no-logs policies for your reference.

Do VPNs Keep You Safe Online?

Modern VPNs play a crucial role in keeping you and your data safe online. As far as security goes, a VPN’s most important feature is its encryption, which makes your data illegible to third parties that want to steal or abuse it.

Of course, you might ask, “But don’t most websites already offer encryption thanks to the HTTPS protocol?” You’re right, most do, but not all of them. Therefore, the real question is: Do you want to have to rely on what websites do, or do you want to take your security into your own hands?

Perhaps even more importantly, a website’s HTTPS protocol won’t keep you safe from man-in-the-middle attacks on public Wi-Fi networks. That’s because the first part of your traffic’s journey, up until it reaches the web server that will submit your web request to the final website, is still unencrypted.

Because of the above, a hacker on the same network as you can intercept your traffic and steal your data. As such, a good VPN with military-grade encryption, such as NordVPN, is indispensable to staying safe online.

Types of VPNs

Below, we’ll discuss some of the most common types of VPNs.


Personal or commercial VPN

These VPNs are the most common commercially available VPN type. They are geared towards individual users or families who want to protect their data, improve their privacy, and access blocked pages or streams.

These VPNs allow you to connect to one of many remote servers. These are generally spread out over many different countries. For instance, NordVPN boasts 6000+ servers in 61 countries. The user’s public IP will change to the VPN server’s IP, thus hiding their real IP and increasing their privacy.

Because of the IP change, users will also be able to access streams and pages that are only accessible in a certain country. For instance, you’ll be able to access the US Netflix even when you’re abroad or to unblock free NFL playoff streams.

The best remote personal VPN right now is NordVPN.

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Remote access VPN

These VPNs are similar to personal VPNs in the sense that you’ll connect to a remote server. However, these VPNs are mainly used by businesses to connect remote employees to a private network.

The private network will generally contain digital resources that the employees need, such as files, applications, tools, or internal systems. By using a VPN, employees can get secure access to these resources, and employers don’t need to worry about company documents or systems getting compromised.

One of our favorite remote access VPNs is NordLayer. This outstanding business VPN supports thousands of users, offers great extra security features like malware blocking and two-factor authentication, and features 24/7 customer support.

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Feel free to check out our article on the best business VPNs if you’re looking for other remote access VPN suggestions.

Site-to-site VPN

Site-to-site VPNs are used to form a so-called “intranet.” This means they’re generally employed by larger companies to connect the networks of different branches or locations, allowing for seamless communication.

All of these different connected networks also have their own local area network (LAN). Traffic between all of the LANs is secured and encrypted. As a result, interception of sensitive data between the LANs becomes virtually impossible.

Some examples of site-to-site VPN applications include sharing documents between different departments, company-wide shift management, and giving all employees insight into when people in other departments, whom they might need for a project, will be on leave.

Final Thoughts: What is a VPN and Why Do You Need One?

A VPN is a cybersecurity tool that hides your real IP and protects your data, keeping you safe and anonymous online. It can also be used to unblock websites and streaming services.

For the most part, VPN usage is safe and legal as long as you avoid sketchy and untested VPNs. Be careful when choosing your VPN, as there arelow-quality VPNs that can actually harm your privacy instead of improving it.

If you want all-around protection for your online activities, we recommend NordVPN. It has excellent security features, offers outstanding speeds, is very user-friendly, and unblocks popular streaming platforms like Netflix US.

What is a VPN?: Frequently Asked Questions

If you have a burning question about VPNs, we might be able to help you out. Simply click one of the queries below to see the answer.

How much does a VPN cost?

There is a large price difference between the various VPN providers. This makes it difficult to give a a clear answer to this question. That said, premium VPNs will cost between $2 and $7 per month.

There are also free VPNs. You don’t pay for these, but limits on data or speed may apply.

Should I use a free VPN?
We do not recommend using a free VPN. Some free apps don’t secure your connection very well, while others might even install malware onto your device. We have tested free VPNs to see which ones can be trusted. Take a look at out best free VPNs article.
What is a VPN?
A VPN is a secure connection between you and the internet. This connection is sent through an external VPN server, meaning your IP address, location, and data traffic remain hidden. Moreover, you’ll often be able to choose from different server locations, allowing you to access the web as if you were in a different country.
How does a VPN work?

A VPN creates an encrypted VPN tunnel between your device and the internet. All your online traffic is sent through this tunnel, meaning no one on the outside will be able to see what you’re doing online. The VPN also alters your IP address by changing it into the IP of the VPN server you’re using.

Therefore, your location will no longer be visible to everyone on the internet. The encrypted VPN tunnel is able to keep your data secure because it uses high-level encryption protocols.

Can I use a VPN to watch Netflix?
Yes, you can use a VPN to watch Netflix. The best VPN for Netflix will allow you to watch movies and series that may not be available in your country.
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