A VPN is a great way to improve privacy and security online, but have you explored the settings? If you just accept the defaults, you may be missing out on better privacy and security.
Although your VPN software may work fine without having to change any of the default settings, this does not mean that they are the best possible settings. There may be options and alternative settings that make using the VPN easier or quicker, and you can almost certainly increase privacy and security in some way.
The settings and options available depend on the brand of VPN you are using and they are all different. Here I will explore some of the settings in the Hide.me VPN software. If your VPN software is a different brand, you will probably find similar settings that can be customized, so take a look.
If you don’t already have a VPN installed on your computer, phone or tablet, take a look at Hide.me, it is pretty good and has a great range of features. Click here to go to the Hide.me VPN website to check it the latest offers (my affiliate link), then come back and see the ways it can be customized.
I will be using the Windows PC version of Hide.me, but the Apple Mac version is the same. It does not matter which computer you use. See Install Hide.me free VPN on the Mac and PC for internet privacy where I show how to install it.
Select a VPN protocol
Click the gear icon in the Hide.me VPN window to open the settings and then select VPN Protocol in the sidebar. On the VPN Protocol tab at the top are different ways to create a secure encrypted private connection to the internet.
You may be surprised to find that there is not just one way to connect to the internet and there are several. Why? Different ones are needed because some people will be at home using a home ISP, some people will be at work using a company network, some will be using a public Wi-Fi hotspot at a cafe, hotel or airport. Some people may be using a very limited or partially blocked connection because some parts of the world may not be as free as where you live.
You may find that the default Automatic setting works fine, but even if it is OK, it may not be the best. Try selecting each of the protocol options and connecting to the VPN service and see if one is better, faster for example, than the others. If one will not work, then select another.
Select a fallback protocol
If you select a specific protocol, like IKEv2 because that works best for you most of the time, you might want to set an alternative protocol to use if that one is not supported by the Wi-Fi hotspot. Some public Wi-Fi is quite limited for example. Select Settings in the sidebar and enable Fallback Protocol.
Select VPN Protocol in the sidebar and there is a list of available protocols and a list of fallback protocols – ones to use if the main one fails. Double click one or even all of the available protocols to add them to the fallback protocol list.
Set the DNS server to use
We use URLs like google.com, facebook.com and other easy to remember names. Computers are number crunchers and websites are simply strings of numbers to them, like 22.214.171.124 and 126.96.36.199 (type those numbers into the address box of a browser and see).
A DNS server turns website URLs into the numbers used by computers and they need to be fast and private. Your ISP’s DNS servers or whatever public or work internet connection may not be and every website you visit could be logged using the DNS information.
Cloudflare provides DNS servers you can use that are very fast and also a lot more private than your ISP’s, work or public Wi-Fi hotspot’s. There are other alternative DNS, but they are all configured in the same way.
Hide.me VPN enables you to select the DNS servers to use when connected to the internet using the service. Increase speed and privacy by using Cloudflare DNS. Select Settings in the sidebar and the Network tab at the top. Turn on Use Custom DNS and enter these into the first four boxes:
The first two are IPv4 and the second two are IPv6 DNS server addresses.
Enable the kill switch
What can sometimes happen when using a VPN with a less than perfect internet connection is that you connect to the internet and a private, secure connection is made. You begin browsing the web, chatting, watching videos or whatever you do, and then the VPN connection is dropped at some point.
Browsers and apps will automatically switch to a normal internet connection and this means that your online activities are then instantly revealed to anyone that is watching. Prevent this with the kill switch.
Select Kill Switch in the sidebar and turn on all the options. Kill Switch immediately stops internet activities if the VPN connection stops in order to prevent your online activities from being spied on by your ISP, work, Wi-Fi hotspot or whatever.
Reconnect automatically tries to re-establish the encrypted VPN connection so you can continue browsing the web privately and securely. Limit Connection to VPN prevents other network connections from being used while the VPN is active.
To return to normal, possibly insecure browsing, just close the VPN app. The kill switch only applies when it is running.
Auto connect to the VPN
You might want the VPN to connect automatically when a particular network is used or you might want to only connect when you choose, by clicking a button. It is your choice. Select Auto Connect in the sidebar and turn on Auto Connect. Choose what actions to take with different types of network connection.
Select Settings in the sidebar and turn on Connect on application start to automatically start the VPN when you run the program.
Use split tunneling
It might sound like a complicated term, but is is really quite simple. Select Split Tunnel in the sidebar.
The top option, All apps use the VPN, is the most private and secure and all apps on the computer are forced to use the secure, private, encrypted VPN connection. However, for various reasons, you might not want to use a VPN for a specific application, in which case Do not allow selected apps to use the VPN could be selected instead. Apps can be added to a list below.
You might want to browse the web, stream video and so on as if you were in the US, UK, Australia or some other country, which is a common use for VPNs. However, some apps may not work like this. For example, for security reasons, a website or email service may block access from countries other than the one you live in. It might assume a hacker is trying to gain access to your account if someone from a foreign country tries to log in.
For this reason, you can choose which apps use the VPN and which don’t. This is split tunneling. You might not need it, but if you have problems with a site or service, add a browser, email app or whatever, to the exceptions list.