What It's Like - VPN
Holy shit this is wordy, it looks like I'm trying to meet some kind of quota lol
My friends and I decided to get a shared VPN. Heavily recommend this if your friend group is on that level of trust with each other. I use Mullvad.
It's €5 per month, and not an automatic subscription service. Instead, you pay for a number of months in advance. It's designed to collect zero personal info on you. Other people using the VPN can't see any info on you either.
All you need to run Mullvad is this little program that tucks into your system tray. You just enter the account number, pick a country, and lock in. It's so easy a baby can do it. It works flawlessly and the speed is good enough for Discord voice chat.
I am not sponsored or paid for this blog post, or anything on this site, just so you know.
I've been aware of the benefits of a VPN for so long, but I really took a while to give in and try it. I think I had a lot of back-of-my-mind worries about it - about expenses, about complexity, maybe I'm missing something from the simple explanations? Maybe it's not as fool-proof as it sounds?
I'm using a VPN as we speak now, though, so here's WIL to start using a VPN.
Why I chose a VPN
Me and my friends are somewhat internet privacy-conscious. Some of my friends were already interested in VPNs to dissuade tech/surveillance paranoia related to their online activity, but none of us really had one of our own yet. So we decided to effectively crowdfund a VPN that anyone in the server can use.
I was kind of wary of NordVPN and ProtonVPN. One, I don't want to give a YouTube sponsorship a yard and neither should you. Two, I think I heard off-hand that one of these had major privacy violation issues? I don't remember which but IMO it doesn't matter. What matters is that I had a better VPN in mind.
We chose Mullvad. Some of the reasons we had for this:
- They have a whole page of pretty good reasons. Very strong commitments to privacy and transparency about their security, for one.
- Used by a really good friend-of-a-friend's website I viewed.
- Supports up to five devices, which was good because we wanted it to be usable for our friend group (and we'd encourage each other to not use the five slots as much as possible).
- Ridiculously easy to set up, like almost cartoonishly so.
- They're so committed to anti-tracking/anti-logging that they removed auto-renewal payments because they didn't want to store your payment data on their servers. This seems like an inconvenience but I think the upside of it makes up for it.
- Very secure, with security measures in place to make sure there's no leaking in your connection.
My experience with Mullvad
Using a VPN is so easy I bet a baby could do it. No but really it is that easy, and it's pretty much foolproof, and it's actually better than I expected. It's easier than switching browsers.
They definitely hold up to their promises of privacy. It's so private your friends will have no idea what the fuck you're doing on the VPN. They won't see your payment details if you pay for extra time. If they look in the devices window, they won't know which one is yours unless you tell them. You probably won't even know how many people are using the account at a given moment unless you watch the devices page.
My friends can really vary in their tech knowledge, but I don't think any of them have ever needed to ask a question about how to use Mullvad except "where is the download link". (No shame if you do need to ask questions! But don't feel daunted by the service, they really did a good job making it as pain-free as possible.)
The pricing is really simple. It's not a subscription, more like a reservation, so the price never changes. It's €5 per month (that's Euros) and paid as much as you want in advance.
So for example, you want to buy 18 months of Mullvad. You pay €90. Now it'll expire 18 months from now. You can buy six more months for €30 and it'll expire two years from now.
How to use Mullvad
You generate an account number (you don't even need to pay for it right away, if I recall.) Save this somewhere safe because it can be hard to recover, especially before you've ever logged into it or paid for it. Then, you can log into Mullvad's website using that number.
Once you're in the website, you get a page with the following:
- Your account number, in big text
- A "manage devices and ports" button in the top right.
- This lets you remove your device from the VPN so someone else can use it.
- There's also a port forwarding thing if you need it for something like a Minecraft server.
- A green date label showing when your VPN expires, if you've paid for it.
- A lot of payment options.
In case you're wondering; your payment history or details aren't findable in this page, so don't worry about your friends snooping into your money details. My friend paid for 6 months of Mullvad before I could even notice and it genuinely caught me by surprise because there's no indicator of it happening. So if you're paranoid, don't worry, nobody will see it.
Once you have a Mullvad account, you can download the Mullvad app. It's a little application that tucks into your system's tray. You just enter your account number in the app and you can use the VPN.
When you enter, you'll see an option to pick a location and then a big "Connect" button. By default, it's on Sweden, which is a pretty safe choice. Sweden's a pretty good country for privacy.
When you connect:
- Your public IP address will change to look like you're in the target country.
- Your internet connection will probably slow down. For me, it's fast enough to voice chat on Discord and play multiplayer video games (at the same time!) relatively smoothly, but you will notice more lag spikes.
- Your device will be registered on your account number. If you look on the Mullvad website's devices page, there is no information that can personally identify you - it will generate a WireGuard key and a simple name associated with your device, but no one on the same account will know it's you.
- The Mullvad icon in your tray will turn green.
Remember those security measures I mentioned earlier? If, for some reason, Mullvad can't keep your IP address 100% hidden, it'll shut down your internet connection entirely. This is not something that happens at random, but it does happen briefly when you connect/disconnect, which takes about five seconds at most.
When you want to disconnect your device from the VPN, you can go into the "Manage devices and ports" page on the Mullvad website. First, find your device name in your Mullvad app by clicking the gear icon and then the "Account" tab. Then click the trash can next to that name on the devices page. This frees up a slot in the devices, allowing another person to use the VPN if you're co-owning it with your friend group like I am.
I don't know what a WireGuard key is so I've censored it in case it can be used for something malicious. I kind of doubt it though.
Ok, but how to "use" Mullvad
Try this guide. (Ve uses Mullvad too.)
I hope, if you've been worried or doubtful about using a VPN, that this blog post has been informative. I wrote this thinking to myself "if I showed it to myself years ago, I probably would've done this a lot sooner."
Also, highly highly recommend consulting your friend group to share the burden of payment. I don't see any options on the "My account" page for sabotage, so if you've got trust issues, there's nothing to worry about here.
Make sure you're aware of data privacy laws in other countries, though. For example, you might want to look up the "Fourteen Eyes" countries. It's not illegal to use a VPN in/to any country, but if you're doing shifty stuff, rumor has it some countries might snitch to your ISP.