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There are a variety of ways to protect your identity online from clearing your tracks online with a program like CCleaner to ensuring web sites follow Do Not Track protocols. Using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) is another way to protect your IP address from prying eyes. At the very basic function, VPNs simply route your Internet traffic through another computer or computers in an effort to disguise your IP.

There are a lot of VPNs out there ranging from free to pricey, but we’re going to show you how to use one of the most popular: Hotspot Shield.

Get Started with Hotspot Shield

Hotspot Shield is one of the most popular and regarded VPNs in use. It’s available in a free and paid version. While the paid version of Hotspot Shield offers additional features to mask your identity online, the free version works for those simply looking to hide their personal information and browsing habits online.

Head to Hotspot Shield’s web site and click “Free download” to get started.

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The installation for Hotspot Shield starts with asking you if you want to install the Safe Search Bar toolbar in IE and Firefox. You can choose your options for this, then click “Install” to proceed.

Installing options

During the installation process, Hotspot Shield will ask if you want to launch it after install, create a desktop icon and close Firefox if open. You can make your selections, then wait for the installer to finish its work.

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Once finished, you can either open Hotspot Shield automatically, from the Windows task bar or from the Start Menu.

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How to use Hotspot Shield

When you first open Hotspot Shield, it will automatically begin connecting to a VPN server.

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You can cancel this if you want by clicking “Cancel” as you configure Hotspot Shield to work for you.

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If you click Cancel, Hotspot Shield will ask if you want to use the VPN over unknown or public networks.

Depending on where you browse from, this could be a good idea. Make your selection, then click “Continue.”

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When connected, Hotspot Shield will show up the upload/download speeds for the connection.

At any time you can change the country location of the VPN you’re using by clicking the “Drop Down Menu” by Virtual location.

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You can choose from three countries, and Hotspot Shield will randomly route you through a VPN located in any of them.

At any time you can pause your protection by clicking “Pause Protection.”

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Your default time frame will appear, and you can change it by clicking the “Drop Down Arrow.” You can automatically change that setting here or manually change it later in Hotspot Shield’s settings. Click “Pause Now” to pause protection.

turning-off-protection

When you pause or stop protection, you’ll be redirected to Hotspot Shield’s web site with a confirmation that you stopped it along with how much data was secured during the session.

If you’re curious if Hotspot Shield is actually protecting you, you can check your current IP while using the VPN any time by clicking “Test protection.”

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This will open a web browser tab that shows you your current IP address, location and other various details about your VPN service. You can compare this with your IP before you turned on the VPN if you’re in doubt of its protection.

Hotspot Shield will automatically be integrated into Firefox, Chrome and IE when you install it.

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This shows you you’re connected with a Green Shield, disconnected shows with a Red Shield.

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If you click on the Shield in one of your browsers, you will see your upload/download rates in the browser.

Hotspot Shield’s Settings

Click the “Gear Icon” to open the settings.

Network Detection is what you configured previously upon cancelling the connection when you first opened Hotspot Shield.

The Language tab in settings lets you choose the primary language you want Hotspot Shield to utilize. Simply click a language, then click “Apply” to change it.

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The General settings tab allows you to start the program automatically when you load Windows, show a taskbar icon and offer the default pause protection time frame. Remember to click “Apply” for any setting changes for them to take effect in Hotspot Shield.

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Back at the main screen for Hotspot Shield, you can click the “Share Icon” to let people know you’re utilizing the VPN and perhaps even get them to try it.

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Once more at the main screen, if you click the “Question Mark,” you can open Hotspot Shield’s help files for the program.

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Can VPNs like Hotspot Shield Really Protect you?

VPNs are one tool in your arsenal to protect yourself online. Coupled with privacy extensions, malware removal software and other tricks to securing your identity online, you can protect yourself from most harm. By taking the time to learn how VPNs work, finding the right one for you and implementing them on a daily basis, you are taking the right steps to protecting yourself and hiding your movements online.