- Go to Appstore/Playstore
- Type “FREE VPN” in the search box
- Download any of the top 5 results
- Open the app, install
- Choose the country of your dreams as your location.
A VPN is one of the simplest ways to protect your privacy online. Best of all, installing and using a VPN app is easy. Whether you’re working from home because of COVID-19 or you’re using unsecured Wi-Fi in a coffee shop, this is how to do so safely!
It might sound paranoid to say you should use a virtual private network (VPN) as often as possible, but there are real threats to your privacy. Whenever you connect to the internet, your internet service provider (ISP) has access to everything you send and has been given the green light from Congress to sell your anonymized information to advertisers. If Coronavirus has forced you to start using public Wi-Fi, unscrupulous individuals can attempt to intercept your web traffic. Out on the wide-open internet, advertisers can track your movements between websites and discern your location by peeking at your IP address. And don’t forget what three-letter government agencies may be up to—it’s scary out there!
The fact is that the internet was created for easy information exchange, not user privacy, anonymization, or encrypted communication. While HTTPS goes a long way toward protecting your information, it doesn’t guard against all ills. Unless and until a new, more private internet comes together—don’t hold your breath—using a VPN is the easiest way to make sure that you’re sharing as little information as possible.
What a VPN Does and Does Not Do
As with any security tool, it’s important to understand the limitations of a VPN. After all, you wouldn’t expect a Kevlar vest to save you from falling out of an airplane or a parachute to stop a bullet.
When you switch on a VPN, your traffic is routed through an encrypted tunnel to a server operated by the VPN company. That means that your ISP and anything (or anyone) connected to your router won’t be able to see your web traffic. From the VPN’s server, your traffic exits onto the public internet.
Because your traffic appears to come from the VPN’s server, your actual IP address is effectively hidden. That’s important, because IP addresses are distributed geographically and can be used to find your rough location. This can come in handy if you want to spoof your location. By connecting to a VPN server in London, you can make it appear as if you were accessing the internet from the UK.
What a VPN won’t do is completely anonymize your traffic. For that, you’ll want to use the free Tor anonymization network. Instead of just piping your data through a single intermediary (such as a VPN server) Tor bounces your data through several different volunteer computers. This makes it much harder for someone trying to track your activities to see what you’re up to, but note that it will also slow down your web traffic in the process.
Additionally, websites can track your movements through cookies, browser fingerprinting, online trackers, and other tricky tools. Using an ad-blocker such as Privacy Badger and a privacy respecting browser such as Firefox helps suppress these ever-watchful nasties and can make it much harder for advertisers to follow your movements across the web.
Finally, just because you have a VPN doesn’t mean you can forget about the security basics. While some VPN services claim they can block malware, we recommend standalone antivirus software for your computer, because these tools are designed specifically to protect your computer from malicious software. You can protect against password breaches by using a password manager, because recycled passwords are a major point of failure. We’re particularly fond of Dashlane and Keeper password managers. While you’re locking down your passwords, be sure to switch on two-factor authentication wherever possible.
Worthwhile free VPNs are rare, but they do exist. Many VPN services offer a free trial, but it’s usually for a limited time. Others, like TunnelBear and Hotspot Shield, have totally free versions but reserve some features for paid users. ProtonVPN is our top choice for free VPNs, because it places no data limitation on free users.
Unfortunately, most VPNs are a far cry from free, but you don’t need to break the bank to get protected. After trying out a service for a month or two, you can save more by purchasing longer-term contracts.