In under 5 minutes, this article will guide you through the process of installing and using your first VPN!
For the purpose of this guide, it's assumed that you are completely new to VPNs, or are feeling unsure about the process of choosing and setting up a VPN. If this isn't the case, check out our list of the most popular VPN providers.
In this guide, we'll be buying and installing Private Internet Access. PIA is the most popular provider around today, and is well respected in the VPN community. It has servers in multiple countries, does not store logs of your activity, and despite being simple to set up and use, provides very good encryption and security. At $6.95/month ($3.33/month if paid yearly) it is also one of the cheapest VPNs available. Additionally, they support OpenVPN, L2TP/IPSec, and PPTP (don't worry if you don't know what any of those acronyms mean!).
Firstly, head over to PrivateInternetAccess and purchase either 1 month, 6 months or 12 months. If you're uncertain how long to pay for, choose one month: it costs only $7 (around €6.60 or £5.60) and is non-recurring, so you have no obligation to continue once your month is up.
Once you've purchased your VPN, you will receive an email containing links to installers for their Windows and Mac OS X clients, as well as an automatically generated username and password. Don't forget to write down the username and password!
If you want a hassle-free experience, using their client is the best option. Download and install the client via the link they emailed to you. Once it's installed, run the software and the following window will appear:
This is the PrivateInternetAccess VPN client. The client gives you two options:
Start Application at Logon. Tick this if you want the client to open automatically when you start the computer. Otherwise, leave it unticked.
Auto-Connect When App is Started. Tick this if you want to automatically connect to the VPN when the client is started. Otherwise, leave it unticked.
If you click on the "Advanced" tab, options for Connection and Encryption settings are shown.
It is generally advised to keep the defaults for these settings, although they can always be modified later.
VPN Kill Switch — this setting disables your Internet access when the VPN disconnects. Normally, if the VPN were to suddenly disconnect, your true IP address would be exposed to websites you were browsing through the VPN previously, or to services you were connected to. With the Kill Switch enabled, this risk is eliminated.
Enabling the Kill Switch can cause connectivity issues as it requires that PIA modify your Windows network settings, so tread carefully.
Press Save, and a small icon will appear in your system tray (bottom right of your desktop).
This is where PIA lives while it's running. It's red when the VPN is disabled, and green when the VPN is running. Right-click the icon, and a large list of countries will appear. These are locations with PrivateInternetAccess servers available. Click a country, and PIA will then connect to the VPN. It might take a few seconds, so be patient!
If all goes well, the icon should eventually turn green, and...
To disconnect, simply right-click the icon and click Disconnect. The icon will turn red, and you can then click Exit to close the client.
You can watch content normally restricted to certain countries, by choosing that country from PIA's list – for example pick Connect US California to watch videos restricted to America, and so on. You will be able to access content from Hulu, Netflix, Pandora, BBC iPlayer, YouTube, and many others.
Some sites, such as Netflix, try to block VPNs by blacklisting IP addresses from known VPN servers. To get around this, simply disconnect the VPN, then try to connect to the same country – you'll connect to a different server with a different IP, hopefully one that is unblocked!