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4 Steps to Setup & Install a VPN

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A virtual private network (VPN) can hide your location and IP address from snoops and hackers or let you access sites that are blocked from your geographic region.

You'd like to use a VPN, but the whole process seems intimidating. How do you set up and install a VPN?  Here's how you can set up and install a VPN:

  1. Choose a VPN service.
  2. Download your VPN's apps.
  3. Connect your device manually if necessary.
  4. Know your VPN's limitations.

If you’ve been thinking about getting a VPN, but didn't know where to start, this article will help you understand better what VPNs are, how they work, and how you can install one to protect your devices.

Keep reading and learn how easy it can be to protect your online privacy. 

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1. Choose a VPN Service

A VPN acts as a go-between when you make an internet connection. It connects to the website or service, then sends the data to you.  

This connection hides your location and IP address from ad trackers, snoops, and computer criminals. It also covers your online activity from your ISP, which sees only your VPN connection. 

Because online privacy has become an increasing issue, VPNs have become more popular. An estimated one in three internet users around the world regularly uses them.

People looking for a VPN service have many choices, including a large number of free VPN options.

Can I Use a Free VPN?

While you can use a free VPN for your privacy needs, most free VPNs have severely throttled bandwidth and limited connections. In addition, many free VPNs support themselves through pop-up ads that can quickly grow intolerable and may infect you with malware.  

Many services block free VPNs, most prominently Netflix. Since most free services have download limits of 1GB or less, you're likely to max out your data cap well before the month (or your movie) ends.

Not to mention that most free VPNs will slow your internet activity to a crawl. If you need a VPN, you’ll need a paid service. 

What to Look for in a VPN

There are some things that you should look for when choosing a VPN. These include the following:

  • The number of connections. Ideally, every device you use to access the internet should be protected by your VPN.  
  • Home office location. Data retention laws and privacy rights differ between jurisdictions. The best countries for VPNs are countries with strong data privacy protection laws like Switzerland, Iceland, Malaysia, Romania, and Spain.
  • The number of servers. More servers mean more options for making a connection and less chance for your connection to be overloaded and laggy. 
  • The VPN's torrent and P2P policy. Some VPNs allow torrenting and p2p apps. Others block those services, while others enable downloading but not seeding. 
  • Logging policy. Ideally, your VPN should have a "no logs" policy where IP addresses and traffic aren’t recorded.
  • Kill switch. If your VPN fails to connect to one of its servers, it should terminate your internet connection entirely rather than defaulting to a direct connection. If your VPN fails, you can choose to make a direct connection, but your VPN should never let you think you’re protected when you’re not. 

Do your research on the available virtual private network options, and decide based on your needs. VPNs aren’t expensive, and you should easily be able to get a service that works for you for under $15 a month. 

There’s no reason to scrimp on internet security when fast, reliable, and trustworthy VPNs are available for just pennies a month. 

2. Download Your VPN’s App

Almost all VPNs have apps that do most of the work of connecting to their service once you enter your username and password. You log in, choose a server from the available list, and the app handles all the heavy lifting.

These apps make things quick and convenient for less technically-minded end users. But they also add several security issues. The app requires access to your device's operating system for setup – and not all VPN apps have the user's best interests at heart.

An Australian study of 238 VPN apps available on the Google Play store found that 38% contained malware, 75% used third-party tracker libraries, and 82% requested access to sensitive material like emails and texts.

18% did not encrypt their traffic, leaving their "private network" open to anyone who wanted to sniff their transmissions. 

Your VPN app should guide you through the setup process smoothly. But you should at the very least understand what the app is doing and how it’s connecting your device to the VPN.

You may not have to connect your phone or computer manually, but you should know how to do so for troubleshooting purposes.

3. Connect Your Device Manually if Necessary

Setting up your device manually will take more time and effort, but it also gives you more configuration options. And the data you need to compile to set your VPN up manually is information you really should know anyway. 

VPN Name and Address

Your VPN provider will provide you with a VPN name like yournewvpn.vpnprovider.com. You may also receive an IP address consisting of four numbers, each number ranging from 1 to 255.

Make a note of this information if something goes wrong with your app and you need to reconnect manually.  

You’ll also see a list of names marking the VPN servers available in different locations. Generally, it’s wisest to choose the server closest to your physical location unless you’re trying to get past a geolocation block.

The greater the distance between you and your VPN server, the greater your chance of lag or slowdown. 

VPN Protocols

To keep your browsing private, VPN encrypts your data while it’s within the virtual private network, then decrypts it at the other end. When setting up your service, you’ll need to know which VPN protocol you’ll use.

Some popular protocols include:

OpenVPN

OpenVPN is a popular open-source protocol that uses one of the strongest encryption algorithms available, AES-256. It’s very secure and can scale up to nearly any demand, but it can be slower than other VPN protocols.

Many administrators find OpenVPN complex and difficult to master. However, this shouldn’t trouble you too much as an end-user.

OpenVPN is secure, stable and shouldn't require a lot of intervention on your part. 

L2TP/IPSec

Layer 2 Tunnel Protocol (L2TP) creates the virtual tunnel between the user and the website. IPSec, an IETF series of protocols for encryption and key exchange, handles the security. L2TP/IPSec is secure but slower than many other VPN protocols.  

L2TP/IPSec is the most common combination, but you sometimes find L2TP paired with other encryption protocols as well. If your VPN provider is using plain L2TP, find a new VPN provider. Without added encryption, L2TP sends your information across the internet in plaintext. 

Internet Key Exchange Version 2 (IKEv2)

IKE v2 also uses IPSec, but their implementation has a more sophisticated key exchange, making it faster and more secure than L2TP. IKE was developed in a collaboration between Microsoft and Cisco and works well with Microsoft operating systems and Cisco routers.

Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol (PPTP)

Introduced in 1999 and originally used for dial-up connections, PPTP is fast and open source, but its security features are generally considered outdated, and firewalls easily block it. If you’re serious about your internet privacy, there are better VPN protocols. 

Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol (SSTP)

SSTP comes with every Microsoft operating system. If you’re running Windows, you’ll have no trouble running SSTP. SSTP clients are also available for other operating systems. 

Because SSTP is a proprietary Microsoft protocol, security professionals don’t have access to its code like open-source protocols. But for most users, SSTP will provide superb security.

Authentication 

You authenticate your credentials with the password you created when you signed up for the VPN. But for real security, you’ll want more than just a password. Some authentication options include:

  • Two-Factor Authentication. You sign on with your password, then confirm your identity with a code from an authenticator app or a list of authentication codes.
  • Biometric Authentication. The authenticator scans your face or your fingerprint and verifies your identity before proceeding. 
  • Certificate Authentication. The VPN uses certificates generated by a trusted authority to verify the identity of both you and the website you wish to visit.

You may need to generate a certificate or download an authenticator app like Google Authenticator or Authy. If you use a phone or tablet with biometric verification capabilities, you may use facial or fingerprint verification to gain VPN access. 

Here are the basic steps to the manual setup of a VPN on different devices.

Installing a VPN on Windows 10

  1. Settings > Network & Internet > VPN > Install a VPN Connection
  2. For "VPN Provider," choose "Windows (Built-In).
  3. Give your VPN connection a name in "Connection Name."
  4. Enter VPN name or address in "Server Name or Address."
  5. In "VPN Type," enter the VPN type (PPTP, OpenVPN, etc.). 
  6. Choose the type of sign-in credentials required in "Type of Sign-In Info."

Installing a VPN on OS X

If you received a VPN settings file from your VPN administrator, double-click the file. This will open Network Preferences, which will import the settings without any effort on your part. 

If you didn’t receive a VPN settings file, here’s how to set up your VPN manually:

  1. System Preferences > Network
  2. Click Add > Interface > VPN
  3. Choose the type of VPN connection from the VPN Type pop-up menu, depending on what VPN types your VPN provider supports.
  4. Name your VPN service.
  5. Click "Create."
  6. Enter the server address and VPN account name. 
  7. Click "Authentication Settings" and enter your login name and password.
  8. If necessary, click "Advanced" to set TCP/IP settings, DNS servers, or proxies. 
  9. Click "Apply."

Installing a VPN on Android

  1. Settings > Network & Internet > Advanced > VPN
  2. Tap the "Add" in the top right corner.
  3. Enter your new VPN information.
  4. Hit "Save."

Because there are many different flavors of Android in the world, including many that have been modified by phone and tablet manufacturers, there may be some variation in these steps.

If you get lost, consult the maker of your device.

Installing a VPN on iOS

  1. Settings > General > VPN
  2. Tap "Type" and select VPN Type.
  3. Enter VPN settings information.
  4. Enter username and password.
  5. If VPN requires a certificate for authentication, you can make your life easier by downloading the free app Apple Configurator from the App Store. 
  6. Under "VPN Configurations," switch Status to "On."

4. Know Your VPN’s Limitations

A VPN can obscure your IP address, geographic location, and online activity. However, it won’t protect you should you fall for a phishing link and give a hacker your credit card info.

Nor will it protect you against any malware or viruses you download or any vulnerabilities in your browser or operating system. Connections made through a VPN will always be slower than direct unencrypted connections through your ISP.

With a good VPN, you’ll generally see a minimal decline in speed. But network conditions and traffic loads mean that even the best VPNs will occasionally have lagging connections. 

VPNs are part of a complete security plan. You still need to be careful about visiting suspicious sites and clicking on dangerous links. Once your private information has been revealed, it’s out there for good.

Avoiding security leaks may require effort, but it’s still much easier than cleaning up after a breach. 

Quick Recap

Today, apps make VPN installation easy. But the more you know about VPNs, the more likely you are to have a safe and stable setup on your devices.

A little knowledge goes a long way in avoiding malware-infected apps and shunning untrustworthy VPNs that leak your information to the world or sell it to the highest bidder.

VPNs can help protect your privacy, but online safety involves due diligence on your part. The greatest barrier to hackers is a smart user who avoids dodgy websites, ignores suspicious links, and shares their personal information only with reputable companies.

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