Can You Use a VPN on Linux?
If you have ever had to use a Linux based system for any length of time for work or studying, then you will no doubt have started to wonder what else you can do with the OS.
My current test machine is running nothing but MX Linux, based on a Debian build it is rock solid and it performs really well. I have a few requirements for my current assignments, so I need to make sure I have a solid VPN connection. I will be testing out many different kinds of services in the coming months and I have decided to try out NordVPN for my first test.
Table of Contents
- But Wait, What is a VPN for In the First Place?
- What about data throttling though, VPNs are slow, right?
- What About Security?
- Anything Else Worth Noting?
- Let’s Get NordVPN Installed on MX Linux
- Why Do You Need to Connect to a VPN on Linux Anyway?
Many people are frightened of using an alternative Operating Systems like Linux, and that would have been understandable 15 or 20 years ago. The fact is that the modern Linux architecture across the various distributions is world class.
You can install an operating system on a desktop, laptop or server in a few minutes, with very little in the way complications. No kernel recompiles needed, hardly any drivers, and most applications are already installed. VPNs are totally usable on Linux systems, and NordVPN is an example of a VPN company that has done it right.
We want to show you how to install and run it on MX Linux, a Debian distribution that is running on an Acer Aspire E15 Laptop. We have removed Microsoft Windows 10 entirely. Ironically we have a Windows 10 Virtual machine for some legacy scripts that I still maintain. (The future is now!)
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It should be pretty obvious to you at this point that VPNs can run on just about any device that can connect to the internet. This means that if it has a Wi-Fi connection or a LAN connection, then the chances are good that you can use a VPN with your device, even if it is installed or configured on your internet router at home.
Today I will just be running through the basics of installing the application and what you will need to do if you are also contemplating a Linux install. If you would like to support the Blog then check out NordVPN and see if you would like to sign up for yourself. I have used many different VPN providers over the years. I have only really ever installed it on my router, on an individual Windows 10 Professional PC, and on my Android smartphone, so it seems like now would be a good time to try it out on on my Linux machine.
But Wait, What is a VPN for In the First Place?
Oh, sorry my bad- let me explain. Generally speaking, a connection to the internet needs to make a series of connections from your computer, laptop or smartphone. In most cases this is fine for things like internet traffic that uses a secure protocol like TLS/SSL as it it is secure and encrypted end to end. Whenever you browse to a website like https://itblogpros.com , for instance, you know that the owner of the site has taken necessary security precautions to ensure that your connection to the site is encrypted. This is great because your data transfers between sites are not viewable to anyone outside of the connection.
The issue is that your Internet Service Provider (ISP) is responsible for tracking your IP address and they are duty bound in most cases to keep records of your traffic, what sites you have been visiting and a lot of other meta data. This is normally not a problem for most people, but it is a little weird. It is kind of like having somebody going through your phone or computer to see what you have been up to. A VPN redirects your traffic through their own secure servers, and they handle all of the data requests for the duration of your session. So this means that all your ISP knows is that you have connected to a VPN, and that is the only record that they will have of your connectivity sessions going forward.
That sounds great, but then surely you end up with a situation where the VPN provider has all of those records then, right? Well that has actually been the case with some VPN providers in the past, but this is not the case with NordVPN. They are located in Panama, a country that has no data retention laws in place. The off-shot of this is that NordVPN has no legal responsibility to keep any records of your connectivity data at all. They actually have a strict “no logs” policy, which means they couldn’t tell you anything about your session history even if you wanted them to – which is perfect. This means that no one else can trawl through the logs of your sessions and potentially find data that could compromise important services like internet banking or other financial services that you connect to over the internet.
What about data throttling though, VPNs are slow, right?
Again, this depends on which VPN you use as some of them actually impose a bandwidth throttle on your connection. This means that if you are using a provider that doesn’t have the capacity to spare, or they are unable to connect you at high speeds, then you will have a terrible time browsing the internet, watching NetFlix, or anything else that you would normally do on the internet.
NordVPN doesn’t apply any type of bandwidth restriction on your connection, and there are no data limits either. Part of the reason I am looking forward to testing out this service is that you can connect up to 6 devices to a single NordVPN account. I am hoping to do some side by side comparisons between the different operating systems that I am running, including some virtual machines that I have in my test environment.
Back to the question of performance. Many people think about internet speed when they are actually thinking about latency. Latency is the time that it takes for you to perform an action over your connection, and then receive a response. If you have ever had an online gamer in your house then you know that uploading your video and photo files while they are busy normally elicits a scream of horror from the other room.
This is because on a slower connection that becomes saturated data packets have to wait their turn to be sent, and then when the response returns, depending on the connection type, there can be additional latency when trying to send the next batch of packet data. It isn’t pretty. Line saturation is not the only cause though. Other issues such as geographical distance can also cause your data packets to take a long time to travel over great distances both there, and back.
NordVPN is able to combat the geographical latency phenomena by offering over 5,000 servers world wide in over 60 countries. This means not only do you have a wide variety of servers to choose from, but you also have a greater number of servers closer to you than some of the other VPN providers that are out there. Choice is a great thing to have, especially when you are looking at VPN servers. This gives you a VPN experience that its fast and smooth.
What About Security?
On the security front, NordVPN uses some pretty serious encryption. It has implemented a military grade AES-256-GCM encryption that works across multiple protocols. These protocols include:
- OpenVPN (Both UDP and TCP)
- NordLynx (based on WireGuardⓒ)
This is great because you may want to experiment with your various applications and devices to find the right protocol for you. This is also great news if you live in a region such as China or the Middle East where certain services are not available. If you are not able to make use of traditional payment methods then you can also make use of Bitcoin to make payment, which gives you an additional layer of privacy as Bitcoin is a secure and private payment method thanks to the use of BlockChain technologies in the cryptocurrency.
Speaking of services, have you ever wondered what different shows are available on different platforms in different regions? Well, by connecting to a server in one of these different countries you can go ahead and sign into your account, but then be greeted by the content that is distributed in that country or region. This is also a fantastic way to catch up with your favorite shows if you
are unfortunate enough to be in an area that does not get that content, then this is a great way to get what you are paying for, but sadly not receiving from your region.
The cyber security threats that we face in 2021 are only set to increase as malware becomes more prevalent on the internet, so using a VPN is no longer an optional extra, but as a necessity.
Anything Else Worth Noting?
NordVPN is serious about customer service, and they offer a wide array of contact channels on a 24/7 basis. You can reach out to them on live chat, email, or simply log a ticket via the web portal when you are experiencing issues. If you have been experiencing issues with malicious traffic and super annoying ads, then you can use their CyberSec software to block any of these annoyances so that you can enjoy your online experience.
NordVPN also comes with a kill switch feature. This means that if the VPN disconnects for any reason, then your device will disconnect from the internet entirely. This might not sound like a feature, but it is a very good security measure. If your VPN disconnected you from a site, but you then connected without the VPN, then your session would suddenly no longer be connected and you will lose the anonymity that NordVPN gave you in the first place. They also offer double encryption son both ends of your connection, providing even greater security and privacy than some of the other providers in the VPN sector.
Many VPN companies will tell you that they are the best providers out there, but not many are able to tell you how they measure this important metric. NordVPN has been rated by many independent security experts and they have the following credits to them:
- PCMag rated NordVPN as “outstanding” and has elected it their Editors’ Choice for two years in a row.
- VPNMentor has chosen NordVPN as the Best VPN Overall, Best VPN for iOS, and Best VPN for USA
- BestVPN has selected NordVPN as one of the best VPN service providers in 2018
- TechAdvisor ranked it as the best VPN overall in 2018
- Many other top tech experts choose NordVPN for their #1 spot
Let’s Get NordVPN Installed on MX Linux
At this point we will look at the installation steps for getting this installed on my Linux laptop. First things first, lets see what resources are available for us on the NordVPN website. If we navigate over to https://nordvpn.com/download/linux/ we will find some useful installation steps. From there I download the Debian package for my Linux Distro, which is a .deb file. Once downloaded, I open a terminal window.
I have downloaded the file to my home/Downloads folder, so I will type:
sudo apt install home/graeme/Downloads/nordvpn-release_1.0.0_all.deb
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install nordvpn
And just like that, we have installed the NordVPN application on our Linux machine! Now let’s fire it up!
I would like to connect to an American website for this test, so I will try that as an example. All we need to do is drop into a terminal and then type the following:
nordvpn connect United_States
Next you will need to enter your username and passowrd
And just like that, we are connected!
For a full list of commands you can type in the following:
Now that we are connected we can browse the internet and we can access services as if we were sitting in the US, brilliant.
Why Do You Need to Connect to a VPN on Linux Anyway?
There are a number of reasons why we need to connect to different countries in order to use the internet. The primary reason for many people is the fact that there are far more options available to users living in the United States because it is one of the wealthiest markets in the world. This means that companies such as Netflix are able to offer their users a full range of products and services for users that are resident in those areas, In many cases these services are geographically restricted, which means that unless your IP address is associated with that region then you may not get the desired experience that you are after.
NordVPN has helped in the past with this annoying problem by providing a wide range of servers in different countries with excellent coverage, speed and latency. Latency is an option for most VPNs because they do not have enough servers to balance the load between their different regions. This means that the limited infrastructure that other VPNs have often create bottlenecks. The overall experience is rather unpleasant for users that are in far away countries because the internet speeds are not great to begin with.
Other reasons you may want to connect to a different region is that a service is simply not available to you, or you might need to connect to a strict website that needs you location to be in a specific region. One example of this is banking software and websites. Some banks will flag your attempted logons if you do not let them know that you are travelling abroad, so being able to connect to a server back in your home country is an excellent way to keep your information safe and also satisfy your bank’s security requirements too.
We have touched on security a few times in this article, but it bares repeating. The more security you have when conducting yourself on the internet, the better. Not only do VPN connections help to keep you anonymous and safe, but they also create a barrier between you and your Internet Service Provider. If your ISP is ever hacked or compromised, then your information is vulnerable to bad actors that can sell your data on to third parties. NordVPN is an excellent option for trying to keep your information safe because they have a strict policy where they do not keep any logs. Ever. This makes it a fantastic privacy partner.
There are literally tons of other reasons to use a VPN, for working from home, for entertainment, and for finances: the applications that benefit from VPNs are many.
Can you think of any reasons to use a VPN that we haven’t mentioned? Drop us a comment below!
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