You may have heard of a VPN (or virtual private network) but much like it's abbreviated name, there are a lot of terms that go with it which you may have never come across before.
While a VPN can be really useful for everyday life, to understand how it does what it does, you need to read into it...a lot. Luckily we've done that already – more than a lot – so you can enjoy the benefits of having it all condensed in one place that's easy to understand and use.
A VPN will let you get access to geo restricted content, like BBC iPlayer when away from the UK. But it'll also keep you safe and anonymous when connected to the internet, especially useful when on potentially flakey public Wi-Fi like at hotels or coffee shops. It'll even work to help save you money on flight bookings.
So what do you need to look out for when picking a VPN? Lots of features which are listed, with explanations below.
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VPN jargon buster
DNS (Domain Name System)
The way internet addresses are located and translated into IP addresses.
To prevent a DNS request being revealed to ISP DNS servers, which may not be secure. By cutting off access to the DNS, so too is the risk of the DNS being at risk.
A way of securing data so that only the sender and receiver can decrypt what is held within the message. Even if a hacker managed to get access to the data and information shared between the servers of sender and receiver, it is basically impossible for that hacker to decrypt it.
They block content based on your location. So, Netflix US blocking you if you're detected as being in the UK, for example. Most streaming services and TV networks do this due to rights reasons over the content that they're broadcasting or streaming.
IP address (Internet Protocol Address)
A unique string of numbers, separated by dots, which identifies each device online. Using a VPN to relocate to another IP address helps keep you anonymous while also virtually placing your device in another location or country altogether.
A lock which automatically disconnects your device from the internet if the VPN is suddenly shut down. Another line of defence that the best services out there all have (or, at least, should).
This means data is not stored on logs which could potentially identify you. Most VPN companies have no-logging policies that may differ by degrees.
A feature some VPNs offer which will connect to the fastest server possible to get you the best speeds while staying secure. A nice-to-have feature that makes using your VPN much more straightforward.
P2P (Peer to Peer)
This is the system of sharing packs of data between multiple devices – typically known for being used to torrent files.
A sequence of operations that ensures security of data. For a full explanation, check out our VPN protocols feature.
The virtual pipeline through which your data is sent. Usually encrypted.
Which VPN is best?
From our testing, we reckon the best overall VPN is ExpressVPN. It offers lots of international servers, high-speed connections and great 24/7 live chat customer support.
Expect that customer service to be live chat and near instant, expect great geo restriction unblocking and expect lots of clients so you can use this on plenty of devices super easily.
Will a free VPN do?
There are also free VPN options out there but expect slower connections, fewer location options and limited data access in most cases.
The data limited options aren't ideal for streaming video and the ones with more free data are limited on locations, so pick wisely if you're trying to get it for free.