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What is a VPN?

A VPN, or Virtual Private Network, is a tool that encrypts your internet traffic and hides your IP (Internet Protocol) address to ensure a secure and private connection to the internet. This hides your online activities from third parties snooping around and collecting data.

VPNs can help you keep your online activity private, block ads, trackers, and malware, and protect all your devices at the same time.

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Why do you need a VPN?

Enhance your security

By encrypting your traffic, a VPN protects you from a range of cyberattacks. It’s especially useful if you use public Wi-Fi, which poses more threats than your home network.

Overcome oppressive censorship

Some oppressive governments heavily censor internet use. A VPN can help you overcome these restrictions and enjoy the best that the World Wide Web has to offer.

Protect your privacy

Surfshark pairs secure encryption with a strict no-logs policy to keep you safe from advertisers, ISPs (Internet Service Providers), and any other third party looking to profit from your data.

Improve online gaming

Online games can leak just as much precious data as surfing the web — use a VPN to prevent this. Protect yourself from data leaks, DDoS attacks, and ISP throttling when gaming.

Reduce price discrimination

Some websites use your location and cookies to tailor prices for their goods or services. With a VPN, you can avoid these marketing practices and save a buck when shopping online.

Stream content safely

Not only does a VPN keep you private when you’re watching your favorite shows online, but it can also help overcome ISP throttling. The result is a secure and buffer-free viewing experience.

Interested in more details? Read our article on VPN benefits!


Disclaimer: Please note that using Surfshark services for any illegal activities is strictly forbidden and violates our Terms of Service. Make sure that any use of Surfshark services for your particular activities conforms to all relevant laws and regulations, including those of any service providers and websites you access using Surfshark.

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How does a VPN work?

A VPN encrypts your data and hides your IP address by sending your traffic through a VPN server before it reaches the internet. This encryption protects your data from snoopers and intrusive third parties, while the changed IP makes it seem like you’re visiting from the VPN server location rather than your home.

  1. Creates a secure connection

By connecting to the internet with a VPN, you establish a secure virtual tunnel between your device and the internet via a VPN server. This tunnel is then used to transfer all your internet traffic.

  1. Changes your IP address

Once your internet traffic goes through the VPN tunnel, your IP address changes. Instead of seeing your IP address, the websites you visit see the IP address of the VPN server.

  1. Encrypts your data

A VPN encrypts all your traffic to ensure the tunneling process is secure. The encryption hides your data under a code so no third parties can access your sensitive information.

How does a VPN work?

Understanding the basics of a VPN

What is a VPN tunnel?

A VPN tunnel is a secure connection between your device and the internet. Tunneling relies on encapsulation, which hides VPN communications on the public internet. So, if someone were to check your internet connection, they’d see that you are using a VPN, but not what you’re doing.

Want to hide the fact that you’re using a VPN on top of protecting your activity? You can use our obfuscated servers for that extra bit of privacy.

What is a VPN tunnel?

What is a VPN server?

A VPN server is just a standard internet server configured with VPN software. Your traffic is first routed through the server before reaching the internet. This allows the VPN to hide your actual IP address and keep your data protected from snoopers.

What is a VPN server?

What is an IP address?

An IP address is a digital label used for communication between networks. It’s used to identify you and your location in the network. A VPN hides your IP address, which prevents websites from gathering information about you. 

What is an IP address?

What is encryption?

VPNs use encryption to encode and secure your data. The VPN client and server generate a key when you connect to a VPN. This key is used to encode and decode your data every time it travels through an encrypted tunnel. No third parties have the key, so your encrypted data looks gibberish if they try to intercept your connection.

Encryption security depends on the cipher being used. The AES 256-bit cipher is considered the best encryption algorithm and is used by the US government, the NSA, and reliable VPN service providers, including Surfshark.

What is encryption?

What does a VPN hide?

A VPN hides and encrypts all your internet traffic including your IP address, location, the websites you visit, and what you do on those websites. That said, a VPN cannot hide any information you choose to show, such as social media posts or the information you voluntarily provide to register on websites.

Can you hide this? With a VPN Without a VPN
IP address ✅ Hidden ❌ Exposed
Location ✅ Hidden ❌ Exposed
Browsing habits ✅ Hidden ❌ Exposed
Internet traffic ✅ Encrypted ❌ Exposed
Email you use to register ❌ Exposed ❌ Exposed
Credit card information used for purchases ❌ Exposed ❌ Exposed
Googling when signed in to your Google account ❌ Exposed ❌ Exposed
Information you put on social media ❌ Exposed ❌ Exposed
Targeted ads ✅ Minimal ❌ Very frequent


If you’d like to know more, read our article on what a VPN hides.

Safety online & offline

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Does a VPN make you fully anonymous?

No, a VPN does not make you totally anonymous. In fact, there is no way you can be fully anonymous online. However, you can significantly enhance your online privacy by using a VPN. Though it doesn’t hide all the traces of your internet use, it encrypts your data, hides your IP, and protects you from trackers.

Does a VPN make you fully anonymous?

How secure is a VPN?

A VPN is very secure if it uses the best encryption and connection protocols, as Surfshark does. 

Most security measures are made to be too tedious to crack. An encrypted session could take millions of years to decode, depending on the computer used. Needless to say, that’s far longer than any VPN session lasts. 

Even if someone managed to crack the encryption, many VPN providers like Surfshark have implemented something called Perfect Forward Secrecy (PFS). This means that a VPN client generates a new key every seven minutes or so, keeping your private data out of bad actors’ reach.

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How secure is a VPN?

What are the types of VPNs?

While there is no hard-and-fast ISO-approved classification of VPN types, here are the currently agreed-upon definitions:

Remote access VPN

A remote access VPN allows the user to securely connect to a remote network. This way, users can safely access their private network from remote locations. Since work-from-home has become more common, this VPN type has seen a huge rise in popularity as it allows employees to establish a secure connection to a remote work network.

Site-to-site VPN

Site-to-site VPNs connect intranets to networks. This is useful for large companies with offices across the world. While the office intranets are spread out, the site-to-site VPN connects them into a single, seamless network that employees can use without having to configure and connect to other networks.

Personal VPN

Personal VPNs are meant for individual users. Instead of connecting to a different network, they connect users to a VPN server. When users access a website or service with a personal VPN, their traffic looks like it’s coming from the VPN server, not their home network. Surfshark and most other popular VPNs are personal VPNs.

VPN protocols

VPN protocols determine how your VPN connections work from start to finish. On top of that, they can impact the speed and security of your VPN connection. Quite a few VPN protocols exist, but to make it easier, here are some of the best ones to use right now:


OpenVPN is an open-source VPN protocol that is fast, secure, and compatible with many routers. Because it is open-sourced, its code has been examined through and through by cybersecurity experts worldwide. It’s a trusted workhorse but tends to perform worse than IKEV2 and WireGuard.

Available on: Windows, macOS, Android, iOS, Linux, and BSD.

Supported by Surfshark: Yes


WireGuard® is a relatively new protocol built to surpass OpenVPN and IPSec in power use and performance with only 4,000 lines of code. As it stands, WireGuard is the fastest VPN protocol available today.

Available on: Windows, macOS, Android, iOS, FreeBSD, NetBSD, OpenBSD, and others.

Supported by Surfshark: Yes


Internet Key Exchange version 2 (IKEv2) is on par with WireGuard’s quality. It can outperform other protocols in terms of speed when switching networks and at shorter distance connections, making it popular among mobile users.

Available on: macOS, Android, iOS, Linux, Blackberry, Unix, and others.

Supported by Surfshark: Yes


Both are severely outdated tunneling protocols, and it’s better to avoid them. While they’re relatively fast, they can’t offer the security or reliability of OpenVPN, IKEv2, or WireGuard.

Available on: Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS.

Supported by Surfshark: No


SSTP is a tunneling protocol rather than a VPN protocol. This means it lacks the functionality of OpenVPN, IKEv2, and WireGuard. While considered relatively safe and easy to use, its code was never audited, and it has issues working on certain operating systems like Mac OS.

Available on: Windows, Linux, and BSD.

Supported by Surfshark: No


Shadowsocks is not a VPN protocol but a tunneling proxy. However, it can run as a protocol on VPN clients. It was created for the sole purpose of bypassing The Great Firewall of China. It is fast, hard to detect, and can be used to skirt government-imposed censorship.

Available on: Windows, macOS, Android, iOS, and Linux.

Supported by Surfshark: No

How to pick a VPN service

Now that you’ve decided you need a VPN, you should know what to look for when choosing a provider. Here are the essential things to consider:

Server coverage

A strong VPN provider should have good worldwide VPN server coverage. This will give you more locations to choose from and will decrease server load.

VPN encryption

A secure VPN encryption algorithm is essential. Make sure to look for the AES-256 cipher — the current industry standard.

Server load

If there aren’t enough servers to balance the user load, connection speeds will suffer and become slow.

VPN protocols

Protocols are vital to a VPN’s security, and you can use different ones based on your preference. Look for services that offer OpenVPN, IKEv2, or WireGuard, as they’re some of the best options in the VPN game right now.


MultiHop is a VPN feature that directs your traffic through several servers simultaneously. This provides you with even more protection but slows the connection down. Using it is not essential, but it can give your online security an extra kick.

Obfuscated VPN servers

When you connect to an obfuscated server, your traffic seems like regular internet traffic. This helps bypass VPN blockers and protects you from censorship by oppressive governments.

Device support

Before purchasing a VPN, make sure it supports the device you wish to secure. Surfshark supports all major platforms, such as iOS, macOS, Android, Windows, Linux, and more.

RAM-only servers

RAM-only servers are becoming a staple for any good VPN service. When running on RAM, servers automatically wipe all the data when turned off.

The Privacy Policy

A solid Privacy Policy is one of the most important parts of any VPN service. It’s an immediate red flag if your VPN provider does not have a Privacy Policy or if they’re logging sensitive information without any stated reason.

How to set up a VPN in three easy steps

1. Create an account

Choose a subscription plan that suits your needs and create an account.

2. Download the VPN app

Install the VPN app on all your devices.

3. Connect to a VPN server

Connect to a VPN on the app or do so manually.

If you need help with the setup process, check out our guide on getting started with Surfshark. It includes detailed setup guides for all platforms and other useful information.

Or set the VPN up on your router!

Want to protect your entire home network? Set up a VPN on a router! Just one router connection allows you to protect your household, securing all devices, even those that don’t have a VPN app.

Or set the VPN up on your router!

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Frequently asked questions

The easiest way to check whether your VPN works is by performing a DNS leak check. Turn off the VPN, perform the test, and check your IP. After that, connect to a VPN and do the same test again. If your VPN works, the IP addresses you get should be different.

And if you want a more detailed description, check out this blog post for more ways to see if your VPN is working.

Device compatibility always depends on the VPN provider. Surfshark supports apps and plug-ins on most computers, mobile devices, smart TVs, and consoles.

No logging means handling user data without keeping any logs or records of their online activity. In short, a no-logs VPN will not collect the following information about your internet activity:

  • Your IP address;
  • Your network traffic;
  • Your browsing history;
  • Your bandwidth information;
  • Connection timestamps;
  • Session information.

The short answer is yes — VPNs are legal in most countries. However, using a VPN for illegal activities is still against the law.

Some countries ban VPNs for political and legislative purposes, such as controlling internet access and stunting freedom of speech. Yet, most countries do not forbid or restrict their use.

A VPN browser has a built-in VPN protocol that protects the user’s browser resources. Not everything that is advertised as a VPN browser is one; some are just privacy browsers.

In some cases, yes. If you’re streaming or downloading something, your ISP may throttle, i.e., slow down your internet connection. They do this to save on and distribute bandwidth across their internet users. But since a VPN hides your traffic, your internet service provider lacks the information to throttle you.

However, in most other cases, a VPN will not make your connection faster because it adds extra steps to accompany your connection. By default, the prolonged process may slow your connection, but it will hardly be noticeable.

The price of a VPN depends on the provider and the subscription period. Shorter subscriptions tend to be more expensive and are usually in the $12-15/month range. Longer subscriptions are much cheaper, so if you decide to go for a 2-year plan, you can get a premium VPN for as little as $2-4/month.

You can use a free VPN, but you shouldn’t. 

A VPN uses servers to reroute your information. Thousands of these servers are scattered worldwide, costing money to set up and maintain. The same goes for developers and everyone else who works to keep the VPN functioning.

In other words — VPN services are expensive to maintain, so they all have to make money in one way or another. There are three ways to do this:

  1. Setting up a subscription.
  2. Bombarding the user with ads.
  3. Collecting and selling the user’s information.

A “free” VPN often does numbers two and three simultaneously. So, be careful when choosing a VPN service provider!

Yes, a VPN is safe as long as it’s not a free VPN. Reliable VPNs tend to have AES-256 encryption, which is considered to be the best option today. They also use modern VPN protocols without known vulnerabilities to ensure a secure connection.

When not using a VPN, you are easier to track, the ISP can get your internet browsing history, and you may experience bandwidth throttling. 

If you want in-depth information, check out our article on why you should use a VPN.

Your Internet Service Provider and websites can monitor, log, and later sell the information connected to your browsing, e-shopping, and other habits. This data is valuable to ad brokers and service providers because it reveals patterns in your actions, such as likes, hobbies, and interests. They can later use this to make product offers you’re more likely to buy.

VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. This refers to a secure, encrypted connection to a server or network. While there are several types of VPNs, the most common is a VPN client that users can use to connect to a VPN server without needing a laborious, technical setup.

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