It’s clear that VPN (virtual private network) usage in the UK is becoming increasingly widespread, particularly among younger individuals (aged between 16 and 22) and those who are particularly active through their smartphones.
For example, approximately 39% of all VPN users are aged between 16 and 22, while 53% of users have also reported using a virtual private network on an iOS device.
But how exactly does a VPN work, and how can you leverage this type of network across the four primary operating systems (namely Windows, Mac, Android and iOS).
What is a VPN and How Does it Work?
Before we delve into the accessibility of VPNs on different operating systems, it’s important to define this type of network and ask how it works.
In simple terms, a VPN can create a secure and private network within public network infrastructures, while routing your device’s Internet connection through a VPN service provider rather than an ISP (Internet Service Provider).
When establishing a VPN between two servers, your data is routed through a virtual and encrypted tunnel, which presents information as a random and largely indecipherable string of code.
VPNs also actively mask your real-time geographical location and device’s unique IP address, making it harder for third-parties to track your movements or the activity that you undertake while online.
What are the Main Advantages of Using a VPN?
Arguably, this is one of the main advantages of using a VPN, as it affords you a genuine sense of anonymity when online and actively prevents third parties on a public network from tracking or monitoring your activity.
But what are the other core benefits of using a VPN? Here are some of the key considerations to keep in mind:
#1. Improve Your Security Online
The mere process of hiding your IP address from view makes you less susceptible to malware or denial of service (DDoS) attacks.
Beyond this, the fact that VPN connections encrypt your data when in-transit between two servers makes it much harder for hackers to intercept this information, creating a much needed layer of network security (particularly when gaming or streaming various types of content).
This is particularly important when using insecure and open public networks, as even in instances where hackers set up familiar sounding access points in an attempt to trick you, your VPN will directly encrypt any shared data and make your activity invisible (even to public network owners).
#2. Access Geographic Restriction When Streaming
On the subject of streaming content through libraries such as Netflix and Hulu, it’s important to note that platforms of this type operate according to relatively complex licensing restrictions.
This requires them to publish variable libraries in different jurisdictions, making it hard to continue watching the same shows while travelling.
However, using a VPN provides a solution to this issue, by masking your device’s IP address and physical location. This enables you to access Netflix and similar streaming platforms freely, accessing comprehensive US and UK libraries wherever you are in the world.
#3. Keep Your Information Private From ISPs
While VPNs don’t guarantee your total safety or privacy when online, they do ensure that ISPs are unable to track or log your online activity over time.
So, while a VPN connection won’t entirely prevent website cookies from identifying users and tracking their activity (although it may trick cookies into thinking you’re located in another part of the world), it will prevent some third party service providers from monitoring your movements online.
Similarly, the use of a VPN will safeguard you against the risk of being logged while torrenting, so it may have particular merit depending on precisely what you do while online.
Are There Any Disadvantages to Using a VPN?
In order to adopt a balanced approach and ensure that you make an informed decision, we should also consider if there are any potential disadvantages to deploying a VPN.
While these are relatively rare and easy to overcome, here’s a breakdown of the drawbacks that can present themselves when using a VPN:
#1. It Can Slow Down Your Internet Speed
It’s often argued that the use of a VPN can slow down your Internet speed, but this is dependent almost entirely on your choice of service provider.
For example, not all providers are created equal in terms of their number of servers and the international locations that they cover. This means that some can offer thin or less impressive network coverage, potentially increasingly latency as you work or travel from one location to another.
However, the reverse is true, as selecting a provider with dense network coverage and multiple server locations across the globe can actively reduce latency and increase speeds over time.
#2. It’s Not a Foolproof Solution
This is a common (albeit slightly spurious) observation, although it’s technically true to say that installing a VPN doesn’t create a foolproof or impregnable layer of network security online.
We’ve already touched on how VPNs can’t completely prevent website cookies from monitoring you online, for example, while it doesn’t automatically mean that you’ll be able to bypass all content or accessibility restrictions across the globe.
However, this shouldn’t distract from the fact that VPNs provide clear advantages in terms of network security and accessing geographically restricted content, particularly if you’re a gamer or frequently stream content through different platforms.
#3. It May Not be Legal in Some Countries
Despite some claims to the contrary, VPNs are completely legal in most jurisdictions in the world, usually without restriction so long as such connections are used to carry out legally accepted practices such as streaming or improving online security.
However, there are some exceptions to this rule, with the use of VPNs completely outlawed in authoritarian countries like the UAE, China, North Korea and Iraq.
There are also heavy and variable usage restrictions in place in countries such as Russia and Turkey, so you’ll need to be wary when travelling to these and similar destinations.
Accessing a VPN on the Four Primary Operating Systems
Different VPNs are available depending on your choice of operating system, while you should note that some are more compatible with specific protocols than others (we’ll have more on this later on).
Many VPNs offer native apps across the four main operating systems; namely Windows, Apple Mac, Android and iOS.
As we’ve also touched on, downloading a VPN for Android and iOS has become increasingly popular of late, particularly as viewing and streaming habits change and customers begin to access more content through their smartphones.
But how exactly do you access and initiate a VPN connection on each of the four core operating systems? Here’s a brief guide to help you on your way.
- #1. On a Windows PC or Laptop: Before you install and access a VPN on your chosen device, you’ll need to have selected a service provider and activate the product. When using a Windows device, you can then click through ‘Settings’ from the Start button before selecting ‘Network and Internet’. Then, choose ‘VPN’ and ‘Add VPN Connection’, before hitting ‘Windows (built-in)’ and entering a connection name you’ll easily recognise going forward.
- #2. On An Apple Mac: On this type of device, you’ll open the ‘Apple Menu’ and then click through ‘System Preferences’. Then, select ‘Network Preferences for me’ and hit the ‘VPN service’ tab on the left-hand menu. A configuration pop-up menu may appear here depending on your device, and you should click this to confirm your VPN’s configuration. Then, you can click ‘Connect’ and launch the VPN successfully on the operating system.
- #3. On Android: Hopefully you’ll have selected the best VPN for Android, and you can activate this on your handset by initially opening ‘Settings’ and selecting the ‘Wi-Fi & Internet’ tab (this may also be named ‘Wireless and Networks’ depending on your device. Then, choose ‘VPN’, before selecting the ‘Plus’ sign located in the top right-hand corner of the display. At this stage, you’ll have to enter all of the necessary security information, including server address, username and password.
- #4. On iOS: If you’re one of the 52% of iOS users utilising a VPN, you can activate this by selecting the ‘Settings’ option from your home screen. Then, click through ‘General’ and hit ‘VPN’, before scrolling through the available options and highlighting the exact service provider you want to use (if more than one listed). So long as the VPN’s status is switched on, the product should be able to use and provide additional protection immediately.
The Last Word – Understanding Different Protocols
When choosing a VPN for your operating system, you’ll need to consider the most relevant options that offer practical support (either native or otherwise) and compatibility.
Not all VPN service providers have been created equal in this respect, so we’ve outlined four of the most widely accessed protocols and how they perform on specific operating systems.
- #1. WireGuard: WireGuard is supported by market leading VPN clients like Surfshark, and is fast becoming one of the most popular protocols in the marketplace. While it only supports UDP (User Datagram Protocol), it offers noticeably high-speed cryptographic primitives and deeper integration with both iOS and Android operating systems. Overall, WireGuard is the fastest VPN protocol available, and one that’s also inherently secure and easy to use.
- #2. OpenVPN: While OpenVPN isn’t natively supported by either iOS or Android and can only be installed on your handset through a third party platform, it’s highly configurable and compatible with 256-bit device encryption. It’s also one of the most effective VPNs from the perspective of bypassing even the most robust firewalls, and can provide an incredible level of security across all available operating systems and device types.
- #3. IKEv2: In today’s market, IKEv2 isn’t as widely supported as WireGuard and OpenVPN, while its lack of native iOS and Android support and standalone encryption (which means that it has to be installed alongside the separate IPSec protocol) also makes it less popular among users. However, it’s noticeable quick and secure, while it’s particularly suited to mobile usage as it can easily shift from one connection type (mobile Internet) to another (public or private Wi-Fi).
- #4. IPSec (and L2TP): The aforementioned IPSec can be used as a standalone protocol, while it’s also frequently combined with Layer 2 Tunnel Protection (L2TP) to create our fourth listed protocol. When used in unison, these protocols provide an effective and easy to install option that offers broad native support, including on iOS and Android. Unlike OpenVPN, however, it uses a single port (UDP port 500) and is far easier to block by firewall technology.
It’s important to consider the protocols supported by your operating system before choosing a VPN, as each service provider uses different options to deliver the products and safeguard individual users.