Let this article be your ultimate ‘VPNs explained’ guide, where we look at the essential parts of this topic.
VPN: what does it stand for?
VPN stands for ‘virtual private network’ and describes converting a public network into a private one through a particular tunnel online. When you are using this system, it appears you are from the server’s location to all the services you visit.
Thus, it masks your real IP (Internet Protocol) address, letting you access country-specific content that you may not have been able to with your actual IP. This quality is also helpful when using public Wi-Fi networks if you fear someone is tracking you. With a private network, the computer’s location will only show as the connected server’s location, not the real one.
What is the importance of using a VPN?
So, what are the benefits of a VPN? The first purpose is to hide your online activity and keep it private. Your present IP address may seem like worthless information, but it’s not. It doesn’t provide your exact home address (only offering a general city location).
However, if a hacker has other information about you, they may be able to pinpoint you. Remember that cybercriminals can scam your internet service provider to get your data from them.
This information can help them:
- Impersonate you online in illegal activities
- Infect your device with malware
- Track your online tasks
The underlying purpose of VPNs is privacy protection. Once a hacker has your IP address, they can disable it with a distributed denial-of-service attack. Of course, VPN has other exciting use cases, which we’ll cover later.
How does VPN work?
The core of any VPN is that it redirects your internet network through a remotely configured server. Once connected, this server becomes the new data source for your IP.
Moreover, a VPN connection encrypts your data and makes it unreadable to any person who may intercept it. The private network creates a ’tunnel,’ an encrypted link between itself and any of its many remote servers.
Let’s use a more straightforward example to demonstrate what a tunnel does. Think of an envelope with a letter.
A tunnel would take that envelope, put it in a second envelope and write a new address. This is how your original message and address would get hidden from the outside world. In this way, nobody could alter or intercept the communication.
Data in a VPN network is split into packets placed inside other packets, a system called encapsulation. Finally, the host encrypts the data to prevent intruders from seeing what’s inside.
Ultimately, your IP address reflects that of the tunnel instead of your actual IP.
Encryption of protocols
A protocol is a set of rules a VPN follows to create the tunnel or private connection. There are different kinds of protocols with varying levels of security.
Each protocol affects the speed and rate of your network, depending on the service provider and device. In other cases, you may not connect to a server in a particular country due to the protocol.
Let’s look at the most popular virtual network protocols, many of which you can choose with your VPN app.
The Point-to-Point Tunnelling Protocol, or PPTP, is an old protocol rarely used nowadays because of its security weaknesses.
Microsoft, 3Com, Ascend, and several other vendors were the first to develop PPTP in the 90s for dial-up networks. Judging by age, you can tell that PPTP is the most basic tunnelling method, which is one reason it’s the least secure.
You’ll typically find PPTP with free VPN vendors, which many experts advise people not to use. Yet, not all is doom and gloom since PPTP is easy to use, faster, and doesn’t need special software. Also, the full encryption with PPTP is 128 bits, while other protocols are much higher.
L2TP with IPSec
This is the second generation of tunneling techniques for VPN connections after PPTP. L2TP stands for Layer 2 Tunnel Protocol, while IPSec means Internet Protocol Security. Using IPSec along with L2TP offers more defense.
Still, this protocol is quite old, having been introduced in 1999 by Microsoft and Cisco. Some of L2TP’s key features include encryption keys up to 256-bit on 3DES and double encapsulation.
The latter quality makes L2TP more resource-intensive, possibly slowing your internet. Also, L2TP runs on one port number, the UDP 500, which many firewalls block.
OpenVPN is an open-source protocol initially written by James Yonan in 2001. It is non-proprietary software, meaning any developer can improve it over time since no particular entity owns it.
OpenVPN is flexible, secure, and compatible with virtually all VPN types. It relies on 256-bit encryption, which can work on various cyphers like Blowfish, 3DES, AES, Camellia, and CAST-128.
OpenVPN works with the OpenSSL library through two transport layer protocols: UDP (User Datagram Protocol) and TCP (Transmission Control Protocol). TCP is generally the better option because it has error correction and waits for confirmation when it transmits a network packet.
Microsoft introduced the Secure Socket Tunnelling Protocol in 2007 for Windows Vista. Along with TLS (Transport Layer Security), we use it for many things online, like email, web connections, and instant messengers.
Experts praise SSL/TLS for using authentication certificates, along with its privacy and security. SSTP is known for a few other things. Firstly, it runs only on computers with Windows OS, Linux, and BSD.
It uses the TCP port 443 (the same port for all HTTPS traffic), which can bypass nearly all proxy servers and firewalls. So, your private network connection is unlikely to get blocked.
IKEv2 with IPSec
IKEv2 (meaning version 2 of IKE) came out in 2005, seven years after its predecessor IKE (Internet Key Exchange). Like LT2TP, IKEv2 works with IPSec for security. Despite its age, many private network providers support IKEv2/IPSec for several reasons.
IKEv2/IPSec has efficient reconnection at high speed when you lose your VPN network connection. It uses 256-bit encryption across several cyphers like AES, Camellia, and ChaCha20. It works across many operating systems like Windows, macOS, iOS, Android, and Blackberry.
It is the newest among the many types of VPN connections. Jason Donenfield initially developed it in 2016 but only got released on Linux in 2020. While a relatively young open-source software, many well-known VPN services already have it.
WireGuard® aims to be simpler, faster, and leaner than other tunnelling protocols.
As with many web applications, two-factor authentication is necessary with private networks nowadays. It’s a way of ensuring that only you access it rather than an unwanted third party. The most common 2FA methods include an authenticator app and email.
If you have the setting on, you’ll get a prompt to enter a code each time you access your VPN.
How to securely surf with VPN?
By now, you should understand the full meaning of VPNs. But what about using them in the safest way possible? Let’s preface this by saying that using a VPN in most countries is legal. Yet anything illegal you do through a VPN will remain that way in the eyes of the law.
Assuming everything is clean, you should ensure your VPN service is reputable and secure. The first thing is to avoid a free provider due to several flaws:
- They are known for disrespecting users’ privacy by selling their data (because they come with ads).
- They may be tracking your activity.
- They may infect your device with malware.
- They are known to slow down your internet.
- They use inferior encryption and tunneling technology compared to paid ones.
- They usually have data caps per session or monthly, along with not granting access to all websites.
In a nutshell, get on a paid subscription. Fortunately, most VPNs provide excellent yearly discounts to save you money.
Now that’s out of the way, what else should you look for regarding VPN protection? An excellent VPN company should:
Not collect any information passed over the network
The ’no logs’ policy is one of the most crucial elements of any provider. It means the service doesn’t keep a usage log of any data sent through its network, like browsing history and downloads.
The service provider doesn’t track your whereabouts and activities. You can verify if the VPN has this policy by looking at their terms of service. Furthermore, the ones that do should have a security audit for proof.
Have two-factor authentication
We have mentioned 2FA briefly before. Its purpose is to ensure that only authorized users can access the VPN. Nowadays, VPNs can work across multiple devices. So, if you’ve paid for a VPN, you’ll want to know that only you and someone you’ve authorized should use it.
Have a ‘kill switch’
A ‘kill switch’ is one example of VPN security. This feature terminates your connection if you disconnect from a server. This may be due to the following:
- Poor connectivity
- Switching between servers
- Using a new firewall
- A computer update where it reconnects to the net without starting your VPN first
The primary purpose of this feature is to ensure that your IP remains hidden. If you don’t connect to the server, your internet reverts to its ordinary traceable form.
Types of VPNs and their comparison
Let’s look at the main kinds of VPNs and compare them in table form.
As the name suggests, this consumer-grade VPN connection is one for the average internet user browsing primarily from home. It allows them to do various things like surf anonymously (including on public Wi-Fi hotspots), bypass geo-specific restrictions, and find cheaper online deals.
Since this is your average VPN, it is easy to set up, cheaper than enterprise-focused networks and has limited settings. You create an account, download an app, and voila!
This VPN establishes a single connection between multiple networks. Corporations and government agencies use it with dispersed global offices working collaboratively. The organization may have resources or a specific application on a primary network.
So, a site-to-site VPN can allow all sites full access as though that application came from their physical location.
A critical distinction between this VPN and an ordinary VPN is the client/server model. With the latter, you must launch an app (client) each time you run your VPN. Yet, with a site-to-site private network, users don’t need to do this with their respective devices.
This VPN is similar to a site-to-site network because it works with multiple employees in different global locations. The main difference is that users must have a client or app (or even hardware device) to enter the desired server.
People most commonly use this VPN when accessing public Wi-Fi places. Since such hotspots are not the safest, this VPN helps with encryption and privacy.
This VPN maintains a connection even when there are connectivity changes. An ordinary VPN will disrupt these environments, causing apps to disconnect or time out.
It’s useful for people moving around where they need to have a running session despite changes in a physical location or when they suspend and resume their devices. Examples of where this virtual network is used include hospitals, home care, public safety, and utilities, among other industries. Of course, individuals can also utilize this VPN.
Who needs to connect? Ordinary users looking for a private network Companies and government agencies with different global offices Companies and government agencies with different global offices Ordinary users looking for a private network
Need for additional software:
Best for: Personal privacy and bypassing online country-specific limitations Combining two or more separate networks to have a combined individual one Using by companies with workers in different locations or workers using public Wi-Fi Maintaining a constant private connection even with physical changes, unstable internet, or the unexpected restarting of devices
What are the benefits of using a VPN connection?
Let’s now explore the beneficial uses of VPNs.
Secure data transfer
We are referring to data security here, considering how much information companies like internet service providers (ISPs) and digital marketers have on us. Think of your location, the apps you’ve downloaded, the websites you’ve browsed, or even how long you’ve spent on them.
A private network means no one else, including your ISP, can see your browsing activity thanks to encryption. Instead, a third party only sees you connected from a different location.
A massive component in the use of a VPN is encryption. A virtual private network does more than merely offer a different IP address. Even when third parties intercept or sniff your connection, they would only see muddled-up data instead of the real thing.
Security on public Wi-FI
Public hotspots are not the safest networks, whether they are at airports, libraries, or coffee shops. It’s an environment where an outsider may easily recover your personal information, like login credentials and financial data.
Packet sniffing is also common with public Wi-Fi since hackers understand how to connect to the network, which is naturally insecure. So, setting up a VPN before doing your things is a much safer way to browse the internet here.
As mentioned before, encryption will hide your browsing activity from eavesdropping.
Access to any content anywhere
It has become a major reason many people have started using virtual private networks. It is popular with streaming services like Netflix or Hulu when content is locked in one’s native country.
For instance, if someone from the UK cannot watch a show on Netflix in their region, they can use a VPN and connect to another server without this restriction. Another popular benefit is torrenting, which has become increasingly banned in many countries due to copyright issues.
So, you can switch to a VPN server from a torrent-friendly nation and download what you need from a torrenting site.
Can be used on any device
Virtual private networks are compatible with various mediums (desktop, laptop, tablet, smartphone) and operating systems such as Windows, macOS, Android, iOS, Linux, Blackberry, BSD, Unix, etc.
Prevents bandwidth throttling
Data throttling is a common trick implemented by ISPs globally, even when you have an unlimited data plan. No one wants slower internet service due to network congestion or other reasons.
Throttling often happens when visiting specific sites or performing certain activities that the ISP has flagged. So, with a private network, they won’t be able to tell if you are using those services and, therefore, shouldn’t limit your internet speed.
Lessens price discrimination
VPNs are international, offering a surprising benefit when buying goods and services overseas. Price discrimination is a common pricing strategy where companies charge differently based on pure bias.
For instance, according to socioeconomic status, one market may seem more lucrative than another. If you went on an international e-commerce site, you could find different prices when searching from different countries.
With a VPN, you can get a cheaper airline ticket or an attractive discount from a coupon site that may not have been available in your home country.
VPN encryption: what is it?
Encryption is something used in virtually all online data transmission. The concept is to convert plaintext into ciphertext or something not readable to the human eye (which is how data remains private).
A specific cypher algorithm will decrypt that cypher text back to its original form. This cypher system uses complicated bits and blocks of numerous key lengths and other mathematical patterns, which is how we get an encryption standard.
For instance, AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) is the go-to algorithm. It converts text into blocks of 128, 192, or 256-bit keys.
There are other standards with various complexity and security levels implemented in virtual private networks, like Triple Data Encryption Standard (3DES), Blowfish, Camilla, etc.
Encryption is something that is part of Duckist. When you send a message or password from your site, neither you nor anyone else can view it during the transfer journey. Instead, the data appears as gibberish. The provided link you offer to the receiver will reveal the file in a human-readable form.
By now, you should have a much better comprehension of explaining VPNs in a way where it’s not shrouded in mystery. They are a fantastic technology for anyone who values online data, privacy browsing and, of course, streaming services.
While virtual private networks offer immense benefits, as with anything, always stay on the right side of the law and only use them for good.
A VPN helps on encrypted connection. With the information we have for VPNs now, check up on How To Be Safe When Chatting Online With Strangers?