Join Scott Simpson for an in-depth discussion in this video Using a VPN provider's app, part of Browsing the Web Securely.
- [Instructor] When you connect to a VPN service from your computer or mobile device, you'll usually do so through an app that you downloaded from the provider's site. This app handles the technical details of configuring the network tunnel and so on, and because there's hundreds of providers, we can't go through them all, so in this video I'll show you around an app called Private Internet Access, which is fairly popular. It's pretty easy to setup, and it's a good example of how a VPN provider's app works on a mobile device and the desktop. Definitely check out the options before choosing a provider though.
From the provider's website, I'll find the link to sign up, and I'll choose a service offering. For now I'll just choose the Monthly offering, but if you want to use a longer term plan you should choose whichever one suits you. Now, in my email, I'll have a username and password that I can use to login to the service. I'll download the client for my system. In this case I'll download the one for the Mac. Once it's downloaded, I'll install it.
Once it's installed the interface will popup, and I'll put in the username and password that I received in my email. I can choose if I want to start the application at login, which seems like a useful idea, and whether or not I want it to auto-connect on launch. I'll leave that off for now. I can choose a region from this drop-down as well, and let's choose the Netherlands. I'll save this, then I'll go up to the bar at the top of the screen. Click on the application icon, and choose Connect. I have a notification that the system is connecting and then I'm told that I'm connected, and over here in my browser, I'll go to a site that shows my IP address.
It also tries to guess my location, and it'll show me that I'm communicating with the internet through this address here, which is a Dutch network. It's important to recognize that while my IP address is in a different place, VPNs aren't necessarily useful for geoshifting, or looking like you're actually in a different place. Using a VPN in a different country may convince some websites that you're in that country, but some sites and many mobile apps use a different kind of location services based on nearby Wi-Fi networks, and phones and tablets often use data from their GPS and cellular signals, so if you're trying to be sneaky and check into Facebook at the Eiffel Tower or the Great Wall of China from your living room, that may not work quite like you expect, and location data on photographs that you take and map requests that you make will still represent wherever you really are.
It's also important to realize that when you tunnel traffic outside the US, if you're a US citizen, some of the protections that you enjoy may not apply. When I'm doing using the connection, I can go back to the application icon and choose Disconnect. Then I see a notification that I'm disconnected. I'll switch over to Windows, and we can download the client for that platform too. Under Downloads & Support, I'll choose the software for my platform. I'll save the installer, and then I'll run it.
Once the software is installed, I'm prompted for my username and password, so I'll put that in, and again I'll choose to start the application at login. I'll set a different region this time. Let's go visit Ireland. I'll press Save, then from the system tray, I'll find the icon. I'll right-click and choose Connect. Once it connects I'm notified, and let's take a look at where this IP is. I'll go to whatismyipaddress.com, and I can see that I'm visiting the internet through Ireland.
When I'm done using this connection I'll right-click on the icon again in the system tray and choose Disconnect. Let's take a look on my mobile phone here. I'll open up my platform's App Store. And I'll search for the application. I'll download it, and then I'll choose to Open it. I'll click through, and then I'll put in the password from my email. I'll allow the software to send me notifications, and then I'll authorize it adding a VPN configuration.
And just like that, I'm connected. I can tell that I'm connected by this little VPN badge here up in the top bar. Depending on what else is in the bar, that could move to the right side of the screen as well. Or, on an Android, you'll see a key up here up in the top bar. If I wanted to change my location, I can tap on the green icon and change my traffic to come from Japan. I'll go to whatismyipaddress.com and I can see that my traffic is coming from Japan.
I can switch to my Settings application and in the General section under VPN, I can see the profile that's been added to allow me to connect to a VPN. Choosing the Information option shows me even more information about the connection, and I can choose whether or not I want to Connect On Demand. When I'm done using this software I can go back to the app and turn off the switch. If you switch networks while you're using a VPN app, like if you're on Wi-Fi and then walk down the street, and go back on the cellular data connection, the VPN connection will be broken, and the software will try to reconnect.
So if you're doing something sensitive while you're walking, be sure to watch for the VPN indicator to come back before you continue. That's been a look at Private Internet Access, and again I'd recommend that you look at the options available to you if you have concerns about privacy of different kinds. This service does ask for an email address, so if you're concerned about the privacy implications of sharing your email address, you could setup a different account, or you could check out some of the other apps that don't use an email account, like Mullvad, BolehVPN, or OVPN.se. Many providers like Nord, SecureVPN.to and others take Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies if you're extremely concerned about associating a traditional payment method with your account.
If you have specific privacy concerns such as where the service is hosted, what the providers' policies are, or what kinds of encryption they support, you should do some research and see which providers suit your needs. Most providers support all the popular desktop and mobile platforms, but some of them, like Cloak, only support a limited set. That's not to say they're any less useful. In fact, Cloak is really simple, and is great if you have an iPhone and a Mac.
- Selecting a VPN provider
- Installing a VPN
- Setting up your own personal VPN
- Browsing the internet with Tor