Phew. I just got done writing the introduction to this post.
It turned into a cryptography rant, which I eventually moved to its own post. The theme of this post will be staying out of the weeds. If you’re interested in my cryptography rant, I’ll be posting it sometime soon, so feel free to subscribe or follow me on twitter and get updated when I do. For this one, we’ll dive right in.
A number of friends and family have asked about VPN (which if you read the rant you’ll know brings me a lot of happiness). Usually in the form of “which VPN is the best?”, to which I typically respond “just use tor“. The problem with VPNs is, they cost money. If you go the free route, your internet is either as slow as it is using tor, or their is a data cap on the service. In both cases you’re better off using tor. However, what if you’ve got cash to shell out for your online anonymity? Enter…
I’ve used this in the past when I was just toying around with VPNs and found it insanely easy to use and set up. For that reason I chose to use TunnelBear for this little tutorial, because I’d like to direct it toward less technical people. If there is interest, I’ll be more than happy to do a follow up with a more serious service, but for now TunnelBear will be great to get our feet wet with a VPN.
Getting an Account
The first step is creating an account. I lucked out when I started writing this and found a referral link to get 5GB of data free instead of the typical 500MB you’re given. So we’ll use it! Click the link, create an account, and the download for the installer will immediately start. Once it’s done, go ahead and run it. Agree to the service terms and install! After the installation finishes, login with the username and password you created at the above link. Before you can actually use the software, they’ll send a confirmation link to your email.
Now begins the fun. This is why I chose TunnelBear. People like to see feedback in the user interface to let them know something is actually happening. Well TunnelBear certainly does a fantastic job of this.
After your account has been verified simply turn the VPN on. You’ll see in the UI that your sheep has tunneled to a new continent and is now a vicious bear. You’ll also see your monthly data cap going down from 5.5GB when you navigate to a new page. You’ll notice that your internet is now presumably a bit slower. See these (1, 2, 3) for explanation.
Maybe your traffic got tunneled to Canada but you’d like it to appear as though you’re in India. With TunnelBear this is super simple. Simply use the map to navigate to another tunnel and now all of your traffic appears to be from that continent!
If you read either of the two links above explaining the speed loss, you’ll now understand why when you tunnel to a continent farther from you, your speed degrades a bit more.
There you have it, you’ve got a VPN up and running in a matter of seconds! Well, kind of. Remember what I was saying about shelling out cash? Once your 5.5GB of data runs out on TunnelBear you’ll no longer be allowed to use their services for that month. For reference that’s about 2 hours of HD streaming on netflix. If you’re willing to pay $10 a month, however, you’ll have unlimited anonymous internet to your hearts content. You can also tweet to TunnelBear and receive an extra GB of data per month on your free account.
I recently heard back from a friend who pointed me to this video. In it JayzTwoCents recommends Astrill. I haven’t tried Astrill, but JayzTwoCents is very scientific about the process and says he tried a bunch and Astrill was the best.
The friend ended up pulling the trigger on NordVPN after doing their own research. Another pointed out one of the flaws of TunnelBear is you can’t tunnel torrent traffic using their service. Apparently the Bear isn’t too keen on pirates.