What is a VPN?

January 14, 2021

Try Norton 360 FREE 30-Day Trial* - Includes Norton Secure VPN

30 days of FREE* comprehensive antivirus, device security and online privacy with Norton Secure VPN.

Join today. Cancel anytime.

*Terms Apply

A virtual private network (VPN) gives you online privacy and anonymity by creating a private network from a public internet connection. VPNs mask your internet protocol (IP) address so your online actions are virtually untraceable. Most important, VPN services establish secure and encrypted connections to provide greater privacy than even a secured Wi-Fi hotspot.

Why do you need a VPN service?

Surfing the web or transacting on an unsecured Wi-Fi network means you could be exposing your private information and browsing habits. That’s why a virtual private network, better known as a VPN, should be a must for anyone concerned about their online security and privacy.

Think about all the times you’ve been on the go, reading emails while in line at the coffee shop, or checking your bank account while waiting at the doctor’s office. Unless you were logged into a private Wi-Fi network that requires a password, any data transmitted during your online session could be vulnerable to eavesdropping by strangers using the same network.

The encryption and anonymity that a VPN provides helps protect your online activities: sending emails, shopping online, or paying bills. VPNs also help keep your web browsing anonymous.

How a VPN protects your IP address and privacy

VPNs essentially create a data tunnel between your local network and an exit node in another location, which could be thousands of miles away, making it seem as if you’re in another place. This benefit allows online freedom, or the ability to access your favorite apps and websites while on the go.

Here’s a closer look at how a virtual private network works. VPNs use encryption to scramble data when it’s sent over a Wi-Fi network. Encryption makes the data unreadable. Data security is especially important when using a public Wi-Fi network, because it prevents anyone else on the network from eavesdropping on your internet activity.

There’s another side to privacy. Without a VPN, your internet service provider can know your entire browsing history. With a VPN, your search history is hidden. That’s because your web activity will be associated with the VPN server’s IP address, not yours. A VPN service provider may have servers all over the world. That means your search activity could appear to originate at any one of them. Keep in mind, search engines also track your search history, but they’ll associate that information with an IP address that’s not yours. Again, your VPN will keep your online activity private.

VPN privacy: What does a VPN hide?

A VPN can hide a lot of information that can put your privacy at risk. Here are five of them.

1. Your browsing history

It’s no secret where you go on the internet. Your internet service provider and your web browser can track just about everything you do on the internet. A lot of the websites you visit can also keep a history. Web browsers can track your search history and tie that information to your IP address.

Here are two examples why you may want to keep your browsing history private. Maybe you have a medical condition and you’re searching the web for information about treatment options. Guess what? Without a VPN, you’ve automatically shared that information and may start receiving targeted ads that could draw further attention to your condition.

Or maybe you just want to price airline tickets for a flight next month. The travel sites you visit know you’re looking for tickets and they might display fares that aren’t the cheapest available.

These are just a few isolated examples. Keep in mind your internet service provider may be able to sell your browsing history. Even so-called private browsers may not be so private.

2. Your IP address and location

Anyone who captures your IP address can access what you’ve been searching on the internet and where you were located when you searched. Think of your IP address as the return address you’d put on a letter. It leads back to your device.

Since a VPN uses an IP address that’s not your own, it allows you to maintain your online privacy and search the web anonymously. You’re also protected against having your search history gathered, viewed, or sold. Keep in mind, your search history can still be viewed if you are using a public computer or one provided by your employer, school, or other organization.

3. Your location for streaming

You might pay for streaming services that enable you to watch things like professional sports. When you travel outside the country, the streaming service may not be available. There are good reasons for this, including contractual terms and regulations in other countries. Even so, a VPN would allow you to select an IP address in your home country. That would likely give you access to any event shown on your streaming service. You may also be able to avoid data or speed throttling.

4. Your devices

A VPN can help protect your devices, including desktop computer, laptop, tablet, and smart phone from prying eyes. Your devices can be prime targets for cybercriminals when you access the internet, especially if you’re on a public Wi-Fi network. In short, a VPN helps protect the data you send and receive on your devices so hackers won’t be able to watch your every move.

5. Your web activity — to maintain internet freedom

Hopefully, you’re not a candidate for government surveillance, but who knows. Remember, a VPN protects against your internet service provider seeing your browsing history. So you’re protected if a government agency asks your internet service provider to supply records of your internet activity. Assuming your VPN provider doesn’t log your browsing history (some VPN providers do), your VPN can help protect your internet freedom.

How can a VPN help protect against identity theft?

Identity theft occurs when thieves steal your personal information and use it to commit crimes in your name — like taking over or opening new accounts, filing tax returns in your name, or renting or buying property. A VPN can help protect against identity theft by helping protect your data. It creates an encrypted tunnel for the data you send and receive that’s out of reach of cyberthieves.

If your smartphone's Wi-Fi is enabled at all times, your device could be vulnerable without you ever knowing it. Everyday activities like online shopping, banking and browsing can expose your information, making you vulnerable to cybercrime.

A VPN can protect the information you share or access using your devices. That’s especially important when using a public Wi-Fi network, where a cyberthief on the same network could capture your login credentials and the credit card number you type in when you shop online.

You can’t prevent identity theft. No one can. Some security aspects — like a data breach at an organization where you have an account — are out of your control. But a VPN can help safeguard the information you send from and receive on your devices.

What should you look for in VPN services?

The VPN market is crowded with options, so it’s important to consider your needs when you’re shopping for a VPN.

Think about what is important to you. Do you want to be able to surf the web anonymously by masking your IP address? Are you afraid that your information could be stolen on public Wi-Fi? Are you a frequent traveler who wants to be able to watch your favorite shows while you’re on the go.

A good VPN can help you check all three boxes, but here are some other points to consider.

How to choose a VPN

A smart way to stay secure when using public Wi-Fi is to use a VPN solution. But what’s the best way to choose a virtual private network? Here are some questions to ask when you’re choosing a VPN provider.

  1. Do they respect your privacy? The point of using a VPN is to protect your privacy, so it’s crucial that your VPN provider respects your privacy, too. They should have a no-log policy, which means that they never track or log your online activities.
  2. Do they run the most current protocol? OpenVPN provides stronger security than other protocols, such as PPTP. OpenVPN is an open-source software that supports all the major operating systems.
  3. Do they set data limits? Depending on your internet usage, bandwidth may be a large deciding factor for you. Make sure their services match your needs by checking to see if you’ll get full, unmetered bandwidth without data limits.
  4. Where are the servers located? Decide which server locations are important to you. If you want to appear as if you’re accessing the Web from a certain locale, make sure there’s a server in that country.
  5. Will you be able to set up VPN access on multiple devices? If you are like the average consumer, you typically use between three and five devices. Ideally, you’d be able to use the VPN on all of them at the same time.
  6. How much will it cost? If price is important to you, then you may think that a free VPN is the best option. Remember, however, that some VPN services may not cost you money, but you might “pay” in other ways, such as being served frequent advertisements or having your personal information collected and sold to third parties. If you compare paid vs. free options, you may find that free VPNs:
  • don’t offer the most current or secure protocols
  • don’t offer the highest bandwidth and connection speeds to free users
  • do have a higher disconnection rate
  • don’t have as many servers in as many countries globally
  • don’t offer support

There are many points to consider when you’re choosing a VPN, so do your homework to make sure you’re getting the right fit for your needs. Regardless of which provider you choose, rest assured that a good VPN will provide more security, privacy, and anonymity online than a public Wi-Fi hotspot can.

VPN product comparison

The inclusion of websites, links, or providers does not imply endorsement or support of any company, product or provider listed herein. The data published herein was updated in October 2020 as a tool to assist consumers when considering VPN offerings. This article is not intended to be a comprehensive listing of features, services and/or prices which may or may not apply to each vendor listed, and the features, services, and prices listed below are subject to change.

Which VPN provider is right for you? We can’t tell you that. But we can help you comparison shop. Here’s a look at some relevant factors to consider when hunting for a VPN provider and how some of the top VPN services rank when it comes to these key features.

We focused on these nine factors to consider when choosing a VPN. Click on the links if you want to skip ahead.

VPN prices

It’s tempting to choose your VPN provider based on price. After all, we all want to spend as little as we can each month, right?

But focusing only on price could be a mistake. You want your VPN provider to protect your online privacy and encrypt the data you send and receive. You want it to be reliable. And you want fast connections. All of these factors are just as important — if not more so — than price.

That being said, most providers of VPN services charge similar prices, usually ranging from $9.99 to $12.99 a month, with some exceptions. When looking at prices, though, make sure to understand what you’re getting.

A provider, for instance, might charge you as low as $4.99 a month to provide VPN protection on one device. It might charge $9.99 a month, though, to provide the same service for 10 devices. You might also be able to reduce your monthly rate by signing up for a longer term. You’ll typically spend less on a monthly basis if you sign up for a yearlong VPN plan than if you elect to pay on a month-by-month basis.

VPN prices (comparing 1 month plans):

  • Norton Secure VPN – $4.99/mo, $7.99/mo, $9.99/mo
    • Prices vary based upon the number of simultaneous connections supported
  • PureVPN – $10.95/mo
  • PVanish – $11.99/mo
  • CyberGhost – $12.99/mo
  • Hotspot Shield – $12.99/mo
  • VyprVPN – $12.95/mo
  • Private Internet Access – $9.95/mo
  • StrongVPN – $10/mo
  • Surfshark – $12.95/mo
  • NordVPN – $11.95/mo
  • ExpressVPN – $12.95/mo
  • TorGuard – $9.99/mo
  • – $12.99/mo
  • Safer VPN – $12.95/mo
  • HMA – $59.88/year (only annual plans available)
  • Tunnel Bear – $9.99/mo

Are there free versions, and does it matter?

Many of the top providers offer free versions of their VPNs. But the free versions may be limitations — for instance, on how much data you can use.

Some VPN providers offer free trials of their paid versions. The trials typically run for about a month. Some allow to access most of the VPN features of the paid service, although there may be data limitations.

If you sign up for a free trial, you provide the same personal and payment information you’d use if you were signing up for the paid service. You can cancel your account before the end of the trial. If you don’t cancel, the provider will begin to bill you for continuing service.

Keep in mind, some free VPNs may collect and share or sell your data to third parties for marketing purposes, while others may not block ads.

Are free versions available?

  • Norton Secure VPN – 7 day free trial for mobile devices only and a 60-day money back guarantee is offered
  • PureVPN – no free version available but a 7-day trial is available for $0.99
  • IPVanish – no trial or free version available but a 30-day money back guarantee is offered
  • CyberGhost – 1 day free trial and 14-day money back guarantee
  • Hotspot Shield – a free version is available with 500 MB/day data limit
  • VyprVPN – no trial or free version available but a 30-day money back guarantee is offered
  • Private Internet Access – no trial or free version available but a 30-day money back guarantee is offered
  • StrongVPN – no trial or free version available but a 30-day money back guarantee is offered
  • Surfshark – no trial or free version available but a 30-day money back guarantee is offered
  • NordVPN – no trial or free version available but a 30-day money back guarantee is offered
  • ExpressVPN – no trial or free version available but a 30-day money back guarantee is offered
  • TorGuard – 7 day free trial
  • – 14-day free trial
  • Safer VPN – no trial or free version available but a 30-day money back guarantee is offered
  • HMA – 7-day free trial
  • Tunnel Bear – free version with up to 500MB of secure browsing

Number of servers

More important than price is the number of servers your VPN provider offers. In general, the more servers, the better.

Why? VPNs that don’t offer a high number of servers will often be plagued by slow online speeds. That can be a problem if you’re first connecting to a VPN and then downloading files or streaming videos.

If too many users are on the same server, that server can get overloaded. Once that happens, you’ll notice a slowdown in your browsing speed.

When looking at a VPN provider, then, make sure you sign up with one that does offer a high number of servers. How many servers is enough? There’s no one answer for that. But VPN services that boast 1,000 servers or more may be less likely to get overloaded.

Number of VPN servers compared:

  • Norton Secure VPN – 2,000+ servers
  • PureVPN – 2,000+ servers
  • IPVanish – 1,500+ servers
  • CyberGhost – 6,600+ servers
  • Hotspot Shield – 3,200+ servers
  • VyprVPN – 700+ servers
  • Private Internet Access – 12,011+ servers
  • StrongVPN – 950+ servers
  • Surfshark – 1,700+ servers
  • NordVPN – 5,465 servers
  • ExpressVPN – 3,000+ servers
  • TorGuard – 3,000+ servers
  • – 100+ servers
  • Safer VPN – 1,300+ servers
  • HMA – 1,100+ servers
  • Tunnel Bear – ~1,800 servers

Number of locations and countries for servers

Paid VPN providers will offer servers in several different countries. As an example, Norton Secure VPN has servers in 31 different countries.

Why does this matter? Having servers in different countries offers you more flexibility and could boost your connection speed. Usually, your internet speed will be greater if you are connecting to a server that is closer to you. When you choose a VPN provider, then, it makes sense to select one that has servers in your country.

There might be times when you want to connect to a server outside of your country. Maybe you live in a part of the world where the government censors the internet. By connecting to a VPN based in a country without this censorship, you can browse the web more freely. Even so, it might be smart to adhere to a particular government’s regulations and laws.

Or maybe you want to access online content that is only available in a country other than yours. If you connect through a server outside your country, the providers of this content won’t see that your actual IP address is coming from your home country. Keep in mind, though, you may be violating your user agreement of your content service.

Again, there is no right number of countries or locations for a VPN service. Instead, look for services that offer a large number of locations in a variety of countries. This will give you the most flexibility.

Number of server countries/locations compared:

  • Norton Secure VPN – 31 countries
  • PureVPN – 140+ countries, 180+ locations worldwide
  • IPVanish – 75+ locations worldwide
  • CyberGhost – 90 countries, 111 locations worldwide
  • Hotspot Shield – 80+ countries
  • VyprVPN – 70+ countries
  • Private Internet Access – 74 countries
  • StrongVPN – 35 countries
  • Surfshark – 63 countries
  • NordVPN – 59 countries
  • ExpressVPN – 94 countries, 160 locations
  • TorGuard – 50 countries
  • – 60 locations worldwide
  • Safer VPN – 50 countries
  • HMA – 290+ locations worldwide
  • Tunnel Bear – 23+ countries

Operating system support

This is fairly self-explanatory: You want a VPN service that works with the operating systems on your laptop, smart phone, desktop or tablet. Fortunately, paid services tend to work on all the major operating systems. Finding a VPN provider that works with your devices’ operating systems, then, shouldn’t be difficult.

Supported operating systems comparison:

  • Norton Secure VPN – Windows, MacOS, Android, iOS
  • PureVPN – Windows, MacOS, Android, iOS, Linux
  • IPVanish – Windows, MacOS, Android, iOS, Linux
  • CyberGhost – Windows, MacOS, Android, iOS, Linux
  • Hotspot Shield – Windows, MacOS, Android, iOS, Linux
  • VyprVPN – Windows, MacOS, Android, iOS
  • Private Internet Access – Windows, MacOS, Android, iOS, Linux
  • StrongVPN – Windows, MacOS, Android, iOS, Linux
  • Surfshark – Windows, MacOS, Android, iOS, Linux
  • NordVPN – Windows, MacOS, Android, iOS, Linux
  • ExpressVPN – Windows, MacOS, Android, iOS, Linux
  • TorGuard – Windows, MacOS, Android, iOS, Linux
  • – Windows, MacOS, Android, iOS
  • Safer VPN – Windows, MacOS, Android, iOS
  • HMA – Windows, MacOS, Android, iOS, Linux
  • Tunnel Bear – Windows, MacOS, Android, iOS, Linux (Limited Support)

Does the provider offer mobile VPN?

You might understand that you need the privacy protection of a VPN when you’re accessing the web through your laptop or desktop. But many of us spend a lot of time visiting websites, watching videos, and playing online games through our mobile devices. Because of this, it’s important to rely on VPN services when using your mobile devices, too.

Fortunately, most major VPN providers — especially those that charge a fee — offer mobile services, too. All of the companies in our list, for example, do this. Finding a VPN service that can protect your phone and tablet, then, shouldn’t be a challenge.

Is mobile VPN an option?

  • Norton Secure VPN – yes
  • PureVPN – yes
  • IPVanish – yes
  • CyberGhost – yes
  • Hotspot Shield – yes
  • VyprVPN – yes
  • Private Internet Access – yes
  • StrongVPN – yes
  • Surfshark – yes
  • NordVPN – yes
  • ExpressVPN – yes
  • TorGuard – yes
  • – yes
  • Safer VPN – yes
  • HMA – yes
  • Tunnel Bear – yes

How many devices can connect to the VPN at once?

Think of how many devices in your home connect to the internet. You have your laptops, tablets, smart phones, and voice assistants. You might even have smart appliances that access the web.

That’s why it’s important to work with a VPN provider that allows several devices to connect to it at one time. That way, you can have both your laptop and your children’s tablets routed through a VPN at the same time.

Some VPN providers might offer different plans that allow for a higher or lower number of simultaneous connections. In general, you can expect to pay more for a greater number of connections. Top providers allow you to connect 10 or more devices simultaneously.

Number of simultaneous VPN connections:

  • Norton Secure VPN – 1, 5 or 10 based on plan level
  • PureVPN – 5
  • IPVanish – Unlimited
  • CyberGhost – 7
  • Hotspot Shield – 5
  • VyprVPN – 5
  • Private Internet Access – 10
  • StrongVPN – 12
  • Surfshark – Unlimited
  • NordVPN – 6
  • ExpressVPN – 5
  • TorGuard – 8
  • – Unlimited
  • Safer VPN – 5
  • HMA – 5
  • Tunnel Bear – 5

Does the VPN block ads?

Pop-up ads can be annoying and dangerous. They can slow your browsing speeds and clutter your screen when you’re trying to watch videos or read a blog post. Even worse, cybercriminals often use pop-up ads — if you click on them — to infect your computer with malware.

That’s why ad blockers are so important: They help to keep these ads from showing up on your screen when you’re surfing the web. This can improve speed — web pages load faster when they’re not bogged down with ads — and help keep your devices safe from ads littered with malware.

You want a VPN service that blocks ads, then. Again, most paid services will do this. And you can see that each VPN provider in our list does block ads.

Does the VPN block ads?

  • Norton Secure VPN – no
  • PureVPN – yes
  • IPVanish – no
  • CyberGhost – yes
  • Hotspot Shield – no
  • VyprVPN – this information is not available
  • Private Internet Access – yes
  • StrongVPN – this information is not available
  • Surfshark – yes
  • NordVPN – yes
  • ExpressVPN –no
  • TorGuard – yes
  • – yes
  • Safer VPN – this information is not available
  • HMA – yes
  • Tunnel Bear – yes

Does the VPN have a kill switch?

What if your connection with your VPN provider drops? Usually, your laptop, smartphone or other device will revert back to public Internet Protocol address provided by your home Internet Service Provider. This means that snoops could then be able to track your online activity and see your IP address until you connect back with your VPN provider.

Some VPN providers offer a kill switch feature to deal with this. If the VPN connection drops, the kill switch is designed to instantly sever your connection to the internet. This way, your IP address and online activity aren’t visible to anyone else.

Does the VPN have a kill switch?

  • Norton Secure VPN – no
  • PureVPN – yes
  • IPVanish – yes – currently macOS, Android, and Windows clients support this feature
  • CyberGhost – yes
  • Hotspot Shield – yes
  • VyprVPN – yes
  • Private Internet Access – yes
  • StrongVPN – yes
  • Surfshark – yes
  • NordVPN – yes
  • ExpressVPN – yes
  • TorGuard – yes
  • – no
  • Safer VPN – yes
  • HMA – yes
  • Tunnel Bear – yes

Does the VPN log user data?

Paid VPN services usually promise that they won’t log your data. That’s a good thing: If your VPN provider is logging — or tracking — your activity online, what’s to stop it from one day sharing or selling your browsing history with businesses or government agencies?

The logging of data is why many tech experts recommend that consumers avoid free VPN services. These services might log your data and then sell them to others as a way to make money because they are not collecting monthly subscriptions.

Remember, the purpose of a VPN is to protect your online privacy. So it’s wise to consider a VPN provider that doesn’t log your data.

Does the VPN log user data?

  • Norton Secure VPN – no
  • PureVPN – no
  • IPVanish – no
  • CyberGhost – no
  • Hotspot Shield – no
  • VyprVPN – no
  • Private Internet Access – no
  • StrongVPN – no
  • Surfshark – no
  • NordVPN – no
  • ExpressVPN – no
  • TorGuard – no
  • – yes
  • Safer VPN – no
  • HMA – no
  • Tunnel Bear – no

VPN glossary

Learning about VPNs may seem like it requires a specialized vocabulary. Here’s a glossary with definitions of some of the most common terms you’ll see.

AES encryption

Encryption is essential to helping keep your data unreadable by hackers, private companies, and possibly by government agencies. Encryption jumbles up your data so that others can't make sense of it without the specific decryption key. AES, which stands for Advanced Encryption Standard, was an encryption method developed by Belgium cryptographers Joan Daemen and Vincent Rijmen. In 2002, AES became the U.S. federal standard for encryption. It has since become the standard form of encryption for the rest of the world, too.

Browser history

A record of all your internet activity using a particular web browser, including keywords you searched for and websites you accessed.


One of the main reasons users rely on VPNs? They want to get around geo-restrictions. These restrictions are often put in place by entertainment companies that only want to distribute content to certain regions. For instance, Netflix might offer content in the United States that it doesn't show in the UK. It might offer programming in the UK that Netflix users in the United States can't access. By using a VPN with an IP address based in the UK, U.S. viewers can try to access Netflix programming that isn't available in their home country. The VPN service — and the VPN connection — hides the location where the actual internet connection is made. Check your streaming service agreement for its Terms of Service, and also be mindful that some countries may have penalties for using VPN to circumvent its rules.

Google search history

A record of all your internet searches using the Google search engine.

IP address

IP stands for Internet Protocol, and an IP address is a series of numbers and periods that identifies a computer that’s using the Internet Protocol to send and receive data over a network.


IPsec is a series of protocols, or rules, that virtual private networks use to secure a private connection between two points, usually a device such as a laptop or smartphone and the Internet. Without these protocols, VPNs would not be able to encrypt data and ensure the data privacy of users. The name IPsec stands for Internet Protocol Security.


Short for Internet Service Provider, this is a service you pay for to connect to the internet. ISPs can record your browsing history and may be able to sell it to third parties, for marketing or other purposes.

Kill switch

Users sign up with a VPN provider for online privacy and data security. But what happens if a VPN provider’s network connection fails? Your computer or mobile device will default back to the public IP address provided by your ISP. This means that your online activity can now be tracked. A kill switch, though, prevents this from happening. If your VPN provider’s connection fails, the kill-switch feature severs your connection to the Internet completely. This way, your online activity won't be monitored by others. Not all VPN providers offer this feature, so look for it when shopping around.


The acronym L2TP stands for Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol, and is a series of rules that allow internet service providers to allow for VPNs. L2TP on its own, though, does not encrypt data, so does not provide complete privacy for users. That's why L2TP is usually used with IPsec to help protect the online privacy of users.

Public Wi-Fi

A wireless network in a public place that allows you to connect a computer or other device to the internet. Public Wi-Fi is often unprotected and potentially accessible to hackers.

Search engines

A service that allows you to search for information using keywords on the internet. Many popular search engines record your search history and can make money off that information.

Service provider

A company that provides a virtual private network — essentially routing your connection through a remote server and encrypting the data.

Simultaneous connections

You probably have plenty of devices connected to the internet at any one time, everything from your smartphone to your laptop to the desktop computer in your home office. Many VPN providers now offer protection for all your simultaneous internet connections with one account. This is important: You might think to log into a VPN before searching the internet on your laptop. But if your smartphone isn’t protected by a secure VPN, your browsing activity on that device won’t have protection.

Virtual private network

A VPN gives you online privacy and anonymity by creating a private network from a public internet connection. It masks your internet protocol address to keep your online actions private. It provides secure and encrypted connections to provide greater privacy and security for the data you send and receive.

VPN connection

A virtual private network connection allows you to access the internet through a remote server, hiding your actual location and browser history, and encrypting your data.

VPN privacy

This refers to the privacy that using a VPN provides. For instance, a VPN encrypts your data, disguises your location, and conceals your browsing history and the data you transmit via the internet.

VPN clients

A VPN client makes it easier for users to connect to a virtual private network. That's because it is the actual software that is installed on your computer, phone or tablet. The most common operating systems, such as Android, Windows, and iOS, already come with VPN client software pre-installed. However, many users choose to work with third-party VPN clients that offer different features and user interfaces.

VPN protocols

VPN protocols are similar to a set of instructions. VPN providers use these protocols to make sure that users are able to connect securely to a virtual private network. There are several VPN protocols available, all with their own strengths and weaknesses. OpenVPN is one of the more popular protocols. Users like OpenVPN because it is secure and works with most operating systems. The biggest downside of OpenVPN? It can offer slower connection speeds than other protocols.

VPN provider

Synonymous with VPN service, this is a service you sign up for that allows you to connect to a virtual private network by providing a temporary IP address that hides your actual address.

VPN server

VPN services allow you to connect to the internet through remote servers that they either own or have access to. This disguises your location.

VPN service

A service you sign up for that allows you to connect to a virtual private network by providing a temporary IP address that hides your actual address.

VPN tunnel

You might sometimes hear your virtual private network referred to as a VPN tunnel. This is just another name for the encrypted connection between your device — a laptop, phone, tablet or desktop computer — and the internet. You can create a VPN tunnel at home or on public Wi-Fi. Once you are using a VPN tunnel to connect to the internet, your ISP, private companies, or the government can no longer see the sites you are browsing or the links you are clicking. A VPN tunnel also hides your IP address. Instead of showing your real location, the sites you surf will only register the location of the VPN provider with which you are working.

VPN web browser

A web browser that includes a built-in VPN service, allowing you to hide your browsing activity on the internet.

Web search history

A record of what you searched for on the internet. Your internet service provider and your web browser likely have a complete history of your internet search activity.


A wireless network using a radio frequency to connect your computer and other devices to the internet and each other.

VPN Frequently Asked Questions

What is a VPN in simple terms?

A virtual private network, better known as a VPN, protects your identity and browsing activity from hackers, businesses, government agencies, and other snoops. When connecting to the internet, your data and IP address are hidden by a type of virtual tunnel. This keeps others from spying on your online activity.

How does a VPN work?

When you sign up with a VPN provider, you first log onto that service before you connect to the internet. Once you are connected, others can’t see your activity. Your VPN provider will encrypt your data, scrambling it so that hackers, government agencies, and businesses can't see what websites you visit, messages you send, social media sites you use, or files you download.

Is using a VPN safe?

A quality VPN is a safer way to search the internet. Without a VPN, your browsing and downloading activity could be visible to hackers, snoops, and cybercriminals. A hacker could intercept your email messages, mine personal data such as your Social Security number, or uncover the password to your online banking portal or credit card. Any of this could expose you to identity theft or fraud. That's why logging onto a VPN, which protects your privacy, is one of the safest ways to browse the web.

Is a VPN legal?

VPNs are not illegal in the United States. However, not all countries have the same laws regarding these services. For instance, China, Russia, and North Korea either regulate or ban VPNs. You should know, too, that if you commit an illegal act online using a a VPN, that act is still illegal. Customers often use VPNs so that they can stream sporting events and TV shows that they may be blocked from accessing in their own region. Using a VPN to pretend that you are logging onto the internet from a different location might violate the service agreements of streaming services.

Are free VPNs safe?

You can choose from many free VPNs. This could be useful if you are on a limited budget. Be aware, though, that free VPN services might not provide the same type of browsing privacy that pay services offer. Free VPNs have to make money somehow. They might do this by tracking and collecting your browsing data and selling it to third parties, like advertisers. Others might hit you with a steady stream of online ads. Free VPNs might be easier on your wallet, but using one might compromise some of your privacy.

What are the disadvantages of a VPN?

There aren’t too many negatives of using a VPN. A possible one? A VPN could result in a slightly slower internet connection. That’s because a VPN encrypts the data you send and receive, which could result in a lag while you browse the internet or download files.

Should I use a VPN at home?

VPNs are especially useful when you are browsing the web through public Wi-Fi, whether you are at a coffee shop, hotel lobby, or public library. But a VPN can also protect your privacy when you’re at home, keeping your browsing safe from prying eyes. You can also use a VPN to access streaming content from your home that might be otherwise locked in your area.

Does a VPN hide your IP address?

With a VPN, you log onto the internet through another provider. This hides your actual IP address. If someone is trying to spy on your browsing activity, that person will only see the IP address of one of your provider’s servers, not yours.

Can you be tracked if you use a VPN?

Your VPN provider should both encrypt the data you send and receiveyour data and hide your IP address. This means that criminals, hackers, and others won’t be able to track your online activities. However, your internet service provider — also known as your ISP — can determine if you are using a VPN by looking at your IP address. If it doesn’t match, your provider will know that you are using a VPN when connecting to the internet. Fortunately, your internet service provider still won’t be able to track your browsing activity if you are using a VPN.

Should I leave my VPN on all the time?

If you want the most protection, you should leave your VPN on at all times. You should especially leave your VPN on when you are logging onto the internet using public Wi-Fi. These connections are notoriously unsecure, providing tempting targets for hackers and cybercriminals. You should also use a VPN whenever you are logging into your credit card or online banking accounts. You don’t want to expose this sensitive financial information to online thieves.

Can your internet provider see your history with a VPN?

If you connect to the internet through a VPN, your internet service provider can’t see your browsing history and downloads. That is one of the main benefits of a VPN: keeping your browsing history private from your internet service provider.

Does your VPN drain battery?

A VPN will consume more of your battery’s power when it is on. This can be a problem when you are using a VPN with your smartphone. Many VPNs do come with a “power saver” feature, though. This automatically turns your VPN off when your device’s screen turns off. Then, when you turn your device back on, the VPN automatically turns itself back on, too.

Is using a VPN safe for banking?

Because a VPN encrypts the data you send, such as when you enter your log-in credentials, it can protect you while you are visiting your bank’s online portal. Snoops won’t be able to see your log-in information if you first connect to a VPN. This is especially helpful if you must access your online bank through a public Wi-Fi connection. You should only do this in an emergency because such online connections are so vulnerable to hackers. But by logging onto public Wi-Fi through a VPN, you can block your browsing activity from cybercriminals, hackers, and other spies.

Try Norton 360 FREE 30-Day Trial* - Includes Norton Secure VPN

30 days of FREE* comprehensive antivirus, device security and online privacy with Norton Secure VPN.

Join today. Cancel anytime.

*Terms Apply

Editorial note: Our articles provide educational information for you. NortonLifeLock offerings may not cover or protect against every type of crime, fraud, or threat we write about. Our goal is to increase awareness about cyber safety. Please review complete Terms during enrollment or setup. Remember that no one can prevent all identity theft or cybercrime, and that LifeLock does not monitor all transactions at all businesses.

Copyright © 2021 NortonLifeLock Inc. All rights reserved. NortonLifeLock, the NortonLifeLock Logo, the Checkmark Logo, Norton, LifeLock, and the LockMan Logo are trademarks or registered trademarks of NortonLifeLock Inc. or its affiliates in the United States and other countries. Firefox is a trademark of Mozilla Foundation. Android, Google Chrome, Google Play and the Google Play logo are trademarks of Google, LLC. Mac, iPhone, iPad, Apple and the Apple logo are trademarks of Apple Inc., registered in the U.S. and other countries. App Store is a service mark of Apple Inc. Alexa and all related logos are trademarks of, Inc. or its affiliates. Microsoft and the Window logo are trademarks of Microsoft Corporation in the U.S. and other countries. The Android robot is reproduced or modified from work created and shared by Google and used according to terms described in the Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution License. Other names may be trademarks of their respective owners.

No one can prevent all identity theft or cybercrime.  Not all products, services and features are available on all devices or operating systems. System requirement information on

*Important Subscription, Pricing and Offer Details:

  • The price quoted today may include an introductory offer. After that, your membership will automatically renew and be billed at the applicable monthly or annual renewal price found here.
  • You can cancel your subscription at or by contacting Member Services & Support. For more details, please visit the Refund Policy.
  • Your subscription may include product, service and /or protection updates and features may be added, modified or removed subject to the acceptance of the Customer Agreement.

The number of supported devices allowed under your plan are primarily for personal or household use only. Not for commercial use. If you have issues adding a device, please contact Member Services & Support.

§ Dark Web Monitoring in Norton 360 plans defaults to monitor your email address only. Please login to the portal to review if you can add additional information for monitoring purposes.