Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) are clever bits of software that create secure, encrypted connections between your device and servers on the web. The upshot of this is that when you turn on a VPN you immediately increase both the security and privacy of your browsing.
Another benefit is that your location can be spoofed. This means services like Netflix think you’re in a different country, and therefore offer access to content that might not be available on your normal menu.
Getting one up and running is very easy, so read on as we show you how to setup a VPN on your Windows PC and keep the snoopers at bay.
If the whole concept is new to you then you might want to also take a look at our What is a VPN? feature.
Should you use a free or paid VPN?
There are two main types of VPN: free or subscription-based. Both have their charms. The free variety is obviously the cheaper option, with our best free VPN 2018 gathering today the best ones currently available.
While these are a good way to experiment with private networks, we have seen a number of reports that question the security of some free VPNs. With that in mind we’d recommend opting for a paid one instead, as they often come with free trials that let you sample the experience. Check out our best VPN services 2018 guide for more details.
Using the Opera browser
A very quick and easy way to get going with VPNs is to download the Opera browser.
Alongside being a very capable and fast way to surf the web, Opera also has a free VPN built into the browser itself. Once you’ve installed Opera, open it, then click on the Menu icon in the top left corner.
From the list that appear choose Settings, then click on the Privacy & security section in the left hand column. In the main pane you’ll see a VPN section with a tickbox marked Enable VPN. Click this and you’ll see VPN appear in the left side of the search bar at the top of the screen.
Now you can search the web while Opera keeps your connection secure. To turn it off again just return to this option and click Enable VPN so that the box is empty.
Using a paid service
If you don’t want to switch browsers, and want the VPN to apply across all your devices, then a paid service is the way to go. We have some particular favourites at the moment, with NordVPN and ExpressVPN being at the top of the list. For the purposes of this feature we’ll be using the latter.
Go to ExpressVPN and click on the Download App button.
When the download is complete, double click on the file and follow the install instructions. When this is complete you’ll be given the option to Sign In or Get Started.
Click on the latter and you’ll be taken to the ExpressVPN site where you’ll need to choose a plan and setup an account.
The company offers a 30-day money-back-guarantee if you don’t want to continue using the service, and each account begins with a 7-day free trial, so there’s no need to worry about the expense just yet.
With that done you’ll receive an activation code. Copy this then go back to the ExpressVPN app and click on the Sign In button.
Paste in the activation code, then go through the options asking whether you want the app to automatically launch when you start your machine and if you want to share performance data.
Finally, you’ll be presented with a big power button that turns the VPN on and off. Beneath this there’s also the option to Choose Location, which allows you to specify the country where your server will be.
This is useful as sometimes one server will get bogged down if it’s experiencing high levels of traffic. Switching to a new one could very well give your connection a speed boost. Should you be using the VPN to watch region locked content on services like Netflix, then you’ll want to choose a server in the same country as the shows you’re trying to access.
See our How to watch American Netflix in the UK for more details.
With all this decided, all that remains is to click the power button and ExpressVPN will immediately secure your connection. Now, whichever browser you use, you’ll know that spying eyes will find it near impossible to know what you’re doing.
It should be noted that due to encrypting your data and routing it through various servers, there might be a performance hit on your normal browsing speeds. If that’s the case then read our How to speed up a VPN for tips on getting things back to their normal pace.