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How to connect a VPN in Windows 10

A VPN will encrypt and protect your connection, especially over unsecured public networks. Here's how to set up a VPN in Windows 10.
Written by Lance Whitney, Contributor
Woman typing on laptop.

With more of us using our computers remotely, a VPN is highly recommended if you want to secure your connection, protect your data, and prevent other people from snooping on your online activities. 

Maybe you're working for your employer from home and connecting to the company's network. Perhaps you're using your laptop in a public place to shop or bank online. Either way, you should be using a VPN to encrypt and safeguard your access.

But how do you set up a VPN in Windows 10? Here, you have a couple of options. You can always install a third-party VPN application or a security program with a built-in VPN. 

Also: How to downgrade from Windows 11 to Windows 10

Alternatively, you can create a VPN profile directly in Windows 10, a handy option if your employer offers a VPN for employee use and requires you to set it up.

Using a third-party VPN app

A host of VPN apps are available, some free and many paid. With all the choices, though, picking the right one for your needs is challenging. To help in your quest, ZDNET tested a variety of VPN services, tagging ExpressVPN as the best of the lot, with nods to Surfshark VPN, NordVPN, IPVanish VPN, and Proton VPN

Narrowing the scope to the best VPNs for small and home-based businesses, ZDNET gave a thumbs-up to NordLayer, followed by Perimeter 81, Surfshark, and ExpressVPN.

Most of the VPN apps mentioned in those two articles linked above are paid products, typically with a monthly or an annual subscription. There are free VPN programs, but you have to be careful here as many of the freebies lack the features and effectiveness of the paid software.

Some products offer basic features for free and more advanced capabilities for a fee. Most will provide you with a free trial, so you can try before you buy. You'll find a lot of VPN apps in the Microsoft Store just by searching for the term VPN, but some are better than others. Check out our list for the best VPNs for Windows.

Also: What is VPN split tunneling and should I be using it?

Each VPN service naturally differs in certain ways, but let's look at a couple to see how they work.

How Proton VPN works

After installing Proton VPN, which is free for basic use, just open it and click the Quick Connect button to turn on the VPN.

Proton VPN with Quick Connect button

Proton VPN showing Quick Connect button.

Screenshot by Lance Whitney/ZDNET

Proton VPN then connects to an available network, showing you the connection and displaying traffic stats.

Proton VPN connection stats

Proton VPN connection stats.

Screenshot by Lance Whitney/ZDNET

Checking out the program's settings, you can set the VPN to automatically turn on when you log in to Windows or when you launch the app. As with many VPN apps, Proton VPN can protect your connection right out of the box. 

Also: Will using a VPN help protect you from malware or ransomware?

But you can also take advantage of additional features. A kill switch lets you quickly sever your internet connection if the VPN goes down. Port forwarding forwards data from the internet to a device on your own network. And split tunneling allows you to exclude an application or IP address from the VPN traffic.

Proton VPN settings with options turned on or off

Proton VPN settings.

Screenshot by Lance Whitney/ZDNET

How Hotspot Shield VPN works

Hotspot Shield VPN is another VPN app that's free for basic use. After launching the program, just click the Connect to VPN button to trigger the VPN.

Connecting to Hotspot Shield

Connect to Hotspot Shield.

Screenshot by Lance Whitney/ZDNET

The connection screen shows a map of the VPN network along with certain stats on the speed and traffic.

Hotspot Shield VPN connection stats

Hotspot Shield VPN connection stats.

Screenshot by Lance Whitney/ZDNET

Under Settings, you can tell Hotspot Shield to automatically turn on the VPN when you connect to a public network, enable a kill switch, and prevent IP leaks that could reveal your actual IP address when connected.

Hotspot Shield VPN settings

Hotspot Shield VPN settings.

Screenshot by Lance Whitney/ZDNET

How to add a VPN profile in Windows 10 

1. Gather info and go to VPN settings

Beyond using a third-party app, you can create a VPN profile in Windows 10. This is useful if a VPN is available to you through work but is not accessible as a separate application. To set this up, make sure you have the necessary details for the VPN, including the server name or IP address, VPN type, and login information.

Next, go to Settings > Network & Internet > VPN. Click the icon for Add a VPN connection.

Adding a VPN connection with options turned on

Add a VPN connection.

Screenshot by Lance Whitney/ZDNET

2. Set up and name the connection

At the next screen, click the drop-down field for VPN provider and choose Windows (built-in). For Connection name, type any name you'd like, such as Windows VPN. For server name or address, type the name or IP address of the VPN server that was supplied to you. Next, click the drop-down field for VPN type and select the method that was supplied to you. When done, click Save.

VPN connection profile with save button

Save the VPN connection profile.

Screenshot by Lance Whitney/ZDNET

3. Connect and use VPN

To use the VPN you set up, click the network icon on the System Tray and select the name of the VPN at the top of the pane. Click Connect.

VPN profile options

Select the VPN profile.

Screenshot by Lance Whitney/ZDNET

4. Sign in with password

You'll be prompted to sign in. Enter the username and password for the VPN and then click OK to connect. You should then be connected to the VPN.

Connecting to the VPN

Connect to the VPN.

Screenshot by Lance Whitney/ZDNET
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