‘Virtual Private Network’ is a service that aids in maintaining your online privacy. A VPN (Virtual Private Network) service creates a private tunnel for communications and data, establishing encrypted and secure connectivity between your computer and the public networks.
VPNs employ real-time internet traffic encryption, which also masks your online identity. Thus, making it challenging for third parties to steal your data or monitor your internet activities.
In 1996, a Microsoft employee created the PPTP, launching VPN technology. In 1999, a standard framework was released which enabled a safer private connection between the internet and a user device.
Average online users didn’t use VPN technology in the early 2000s. A virtual private network was primarily utilized and exclusive to corporations. Businesses were using VPNs at the time to access private networks. They were able to access corporate data from any location. It became feasible to share files between various workplaces securely.
After that, developers created new tunneling protocols, and encryption strategies started to get stronger. Individual, at-home virtual private network users increased as people became more aware of potential privacy concerns and online threats. The modern zeitgeist was filled with privacy scandals like WikiLeaks and Edward Snowden’s independent security revelations. Around 2017, American internet users found that their ISPs could track and sell their surfing information, making net neutrality a cause they had to battle against- but they ultimately lost. The 2019 legislation approved by the US House of Representatives reinstates net neutrality, but the Senate eventually rejected it. Since then, various states have passed their forms of net neutrality legislation. Hence, people’s use of VPNs for privacy concerns started to make more sense.
You must be skeptical about what elements a VPN conceals and protects. A virtual private network can conceal a lot of data that might compromise your privacy. These include:
Online activities are not hidden. Web browsers and internet service providers track all your internet activity. They can link your IP address to your search history. Many websites also preserve your history.
IP Address And Location
A device’s IP address serves as a return address. Anyone with your IP address can return to your device, viewing your online searches and location.
A VPN enables you to browse the web anonymously and retain your online privacy by using a different IP address than your own. Your search history won’t be recorded, accessed, or monetized. Remember that your search history can be accessed even using a public device or the one given by your work, school, or other institution.
For instance, you pay for streaming services. But it might not be accessible after you leave the country. There are valid justifications, such as contractual clauses and international laws. However, a VPN would let you choose an IP address from your residential state. It enables you to watch any event available on your streaming provider. Additionally, you might be able to prevent speed or data limitations.
When you browse the internet, your gadgets (desktop, smartphone, laptop, and tablet) may be a top target for hackers, especially if you’re using a public Wi-Fi network. A VPN protects the information you transmit on any device, preventing hackers from monitoring your activities.
A VPN blocks your internet service provider (ISP) from accessing your browsing history. Therefore, you are protected if a government agency requests records of your internet activity from your internet service provider. Your VPN can help safeguard your online freedom, provided your VPN provider doesn’t keep a record of your surfing activities.
How Does A VPN Work?
Understanding how a VPN operates is useful for comprehending the VPN service properly.
- Accessing a virtual private network (VPN) service authenticates your client with a VPN server.
- The server then encrypts all the data you transmit.
- Over the internet, the VPN service establishes an encrypted “tunnel.” It protects the information that is transferred to and from your destination.
- A VPN hides each data packet in an outer packet that is subsequently encrypted via encapsulation to guarantee its security. It is the core component of the VPN tunnel, which safeguards data while it is being transferred.
- Once the data reaches the server, the outer packet is eliminated during decryption.
Your client (computer, tablet, or smartphone) must first authenticate with a VPN server before establishing the VPN tunnel. The server then employs encryption algorithms to ensure that no one can track the information as it travels between you and your internet destination. Any data must be divided into packets before being transmitted over the internet. A VPN service encapsulates each data packet in an outer packet that is subsequently encrypted to maintain its security. This process is known as encapsulation. This external packet is the main component of the VPN tunnel. It must be removed from the VPN server to access the data inside, necessitating a decryption procedure.
VPN tunneling establishes point-to-point connectivity that is secured from unauthorized access. A tunneling protocol is applied over current networks to build the tunnel. VPNs utilize various tunneling protocols, like Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol (SSTP) or OpenVPN. The strength of data encryption varies based on what VPN tunneling protocol is utilized for which platform, like SSTP on Windows OS. In the background, the endpoint device must execute a cloud-based or local VPN client (software program). This VPN client is not visible to the end user until it causes performance problems.
A VPN tunnel enables a user’s device to connect to another network, ensuring data encryption and IP address concealment. It will shield confidential information from hackers or those attempting to monitor a user’s activity. The user will appear elsewhere because the VPN tunnel will link the user’s device to an exit node in a far-off place.
VPNs link a user’s search history to the IP address of the VPN server. Because VPN services have servers spread throughout many regions, it will appear that the user is from any of those places.
VPNs impact performance in various ways, including users’ internet connection speed, employed encryption types, and available protocol types for VPN providers. Poor quality of service (QoS) outside the control of a company’s IT (information technology) department can also impact an organization’s performance.
Some VPN packages have a kill switch as a last-resort security measure. The kill switch will immediately disable the internet from the device if the VPN connection is lost, preventing the possibility of IP address disclosure. Two different varieties of kill switches are:
- Active kill switch protocols– A device linked to a VPN prevents it from unsecured network connections. Aside from server disturbances, it is disabled when a device is disconnected from the VPN.
- Passive kill switch protocols– This protocol prevents non-VPN connectivity even when the device is disconnected from the VPN server. Hence, offering a more secure connection than an active kill switch protocol.
How Do VPN Servers Work?
Your device transmits encrypted data to the VPN server when the VPN tunnel has been formed. It decrypts it before sending the data to the specified web server. In addition, before transferring the data, it conceals your true IP address. Your IP address will appear as that of the VPN server you are now connecting to.
The VPN server encrypts the data and transmits it via your ISP when the web server connects. Your VPN client will decrypt the data once it gets to your device.
Types Of VPN
When it comes to establishing a VPN connection, network administrators have various options, including:
Remote Access VPN
Remote access VPN users connect to a VPN gateway server on the company’s network. Before allowing access to internal network resources, the gateway necessitates device authentication. It uses SSL or IPsec to safeguard the connection.
A site-to-site VPN connects a whole network in one location to a network in another location using a gateway device. Because the gateway manages the connection, end-node devices in the distant site do not require VPN clients. Mostly site-to-site VPN connections employ IPsec. Additionally, Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) connection is the preferred carrier over the public internet. Base transport lines can have either Layer 2 connectivity (virtual private local area network service) or Layer 3 connectivity (MPLS IP VPN).
Mobile VPN involves the server that continues to be located at the network’s perimeter, allowing authorized and authenticated clients to access the network through a secure tunnel. Mobile VPN tunnels are associated with logical IP addresses instead of physical IP addresses. The mobile device retains that logical IP address. An efficient mobile VPN allows switching to various public and private networks and access technologies and offers users uninterrupted service.
Hardware VPNs are expensive but have various benefits compared to software-based VPNs. These VPNs are more financially feasible for large organizations. Hardware VPNs offer improved security along with load balancing for heavy client loads. A web browser interface allows handling administration. Hardware VPN devices are available from various vendors.
A VPN appliance, VPN gateway appliance, or SSL VPN appliance is a network device with improved security capabilities. It is a router that offers authorization, authentication, encryption, and security for VPNs.
Dynamic Multipoint Virtual Private Network (DMVPN)
A DMVPN allows data to be sent between locations without going through a VPN router or server of the corporate headquarters. A DMVPN establishes a multilayer VPN service that utilizes firewall concentrators and VPN routers. Each remote location has a router to link to the hub at the corporate office, giving it resource access. A dynamic IPsec VPN tunnel will be established between two spokes when they need to exchange data, such as during a voice-over IP (VoIP) connection. The spoke will communicate with the hub to get the required data about the other end.
What Is VPN Encryption?
The practice of employing data encryption to build a secure tunnel for data transmission is known as VPN encryption. Data appears scrambled in a VPN connection. It can only be encrypted, decrypted, or unscrambled by your VPN server or device. Although there are other encryption algorithms and techniques, most VPNs use the 256-bit AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) algorithm. Governments and banks rely on this encryption level as it is highly secure.
Encryption converts normal text into an incomprehensible tangle of code. The text is decrypted and made legible again using a decryptor or key. The decryption key is only present with the VPN service provider or on your device when you use a VPN. Anyone else snooping on you would only be able to make out a jumble of characters.
Asymmetric and symmetric cryptography and hashing are the three basic methods of encryption. Although each type has specific advantages and disadvantages, they all are successful in data encryption so that it is meaningless in anybody else’s hands.
There are many levels of encryption strength offered by various VPN companies. The Domain Name System (DNS) converts numerical IP addresses into text-based URLs, which are easier for users to remember. Using the DNS, you can provide a site name rather than a long string of numbers. Cybercriminals can record your online activities by monitoring your DNS requests, but a VPN’s DNS resolution system is developed to deceive them with additional encryption.
VPN Encryption Protocols
The collection of guidelines a VPN uses to establish a connection between your device and its proxy servers is known as a VPN protocol. Each VPN protocol combines different encryption techniques and transmission protocols. VPN protocol can be modified in the settings of the VPN application. Several VPN protocols are:
Point-to-point tunneling protocol is the most commonly used protocol and is compatible with thousands of devices and operating systems. It is extremely simple to set up without installing additional software. However, PPTP is outdated and less secure than other modern protocols.
Data transfer from one device to another can be accomplished using the Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol (L2TP). Since IP Security (IPSec) secures the cryptographic keys to establish a VPN-like network, L2TP usually always pairs with it because it doesn’t provide any form of encryption. Although it is a very safe protocol because it double-encapsulates data, it can be exceedingly sluggish.
Because it can get over most firewalls, Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol (STSTP) is a good substitute for conventional protocols in places where VPNs are prohibited. SSTP is comparable to OpenVPN; however, independent auditing is impossible since it is a Microsoft product.
Internet Key Exchange version 2 (IKEv2) typically works with IPSec to provide encryption. It has a lot of benefits, including the ability to maintain a secure connection even when the internet is interrupted. It also readily adjusts to shifting networks. This makes it a fantastic option for smartphone users who frequently hop between hotspots, mobile connections, and home Wi-Fi.
Many VPN providers worldwide today employ a well-known encryption protocol, OpenVPN. The strong configuration is its greatest advantage. Due to its compatibility with both UDP and TCP ports, it provides highly balanced security and speed. Although the UDP port is quicker, and many users prefer it for a seamless experience when playing online games or watching videos, the TCP port is safer.
SSL VPN and TLS
Before 2015, the Secure Sockets Layer (SSL VPN) was the standard VPN encryption technology. It developed into TLS to encrypt data sent to an SSL VPN server. Due to the significant number of flaws in the protocol, SSL VPN was supplanted.
Importance Of VPN
You require a VPN for various reasons, with access and privacy as the two primary goals. Public Wi-Fi networks are extremely vulnerable and may be found in coffee shops, airports, and other public spots. A hacker connecting to the same network can simply monitor all your activity. A VPN makes all the online activity on a computer or phone invisible.
You may wonder if VPN is useless for home, but it is not. At home, VPN allows concealing from your internet service provider (ISP), advertisements, and governments. Using a VPN connection, you can also evade media censorship, geographic restrictions, and price discrimination.
The US ended net neutrality in 2017, and lawsuits are still pending. Net neutrality was the idea that ISPs should regard all internet data identically. If net neutrality were completely repealed, ISPs would be permitted to gather and monetize your private information, including physical location, browser history, social security number, health data, etc.
It will allow ISPs to create biases toward internet users by slowing down the connections of those who stream or download a lot of content. With a VPN, your ISP cannot see your browsing history or other private information.
Benefits Of VPN
There are multifold benefits of VPN, including:
VPN use allows users to avoid being tracked by hackers, businesses, cybercriminals, governments, or your ISP. Avoid being the target of prejudice, harassment, or repression.
A key is required to decrypt the data. A network intrusion will require a million years to crack the encryption without one. Your internet activities are concealed with a VPN on public and private networks.
Stream Geographically Restricted Content
Not all locations have access to local web content. Websites and services frequently include content only available in specific regions. Typical internet connections use local servers for location identification.
This means domestic content is inaccessible internationally, and foreign content is inaccessible at home. VPN location spoofing allows altering your location by switching to a server in a different country.
For instance, a US resident might not access certain content from his account outside the US. A VPN will allow selecting a US-based IP address to access your required content.
Secure Data Transmission
You might need to access confidential files on your organization’s network when working remotely. Such confidential data requires a secure connection for added security. Hence, a VPN connection is necessary here. VPN services link to private servers and employ encryption techniques to prevent data loss.
Many governments control or limit data access. While it may be against the law in some of these regions to violate official prohibitions, a VPN supports pure free expression.
Access Restricted Websites
Access to websites, like social media, is sometimes restricted by organizations like enterprises, libraries, and schools. However, the encrypted connection offered by your VPN will allow you to tunnel through undetected.
VPN servers essentially serve as your online proxy servers. Identification of your precise location is impossible since the demographic location data originates from a server located in another nation. Additionally, many VPN services don’t keep activity records. Contrarily, some services track user activity without third-party disclosures. It implies that any possible user activity record is kept permanently confidential.
Avoid Price Discrimination
There are two ways that price discrimination might harm you. One factor is where you live; those in New York or San Francisco have higher living expenses and hence higher salaries. Smart companies are aware of this. They set up their websites to show higher product prices to customers from such regions.
Contrarily, price discrimination might occur because ISP monitors user preferences and purchases. Once they discover that users frequently purchase a particular product, they sell this information to suppliers.
Later, users might get an increased price for that product because the suppliers now know they need it. Hence, users are protected from this sort of targeting by the anonymity and privacy features of a VPN.
Drawbacks Of VPN
Like every other technology, VPN has its drawbacks, including:
A VPN can still monitor your online activities even while it blocks your ISP, governments, hackers, etc. That’s why selecting a dependable supplier that doesn’t keep records is crucial. Also, VPN is not completely safe as browser fingerprinting can lead to tracking your device.
Some companies are becoming aware that VPNs provide their consumers with unrestricted access to content. Organizations are starting to limit access from several VPN IP addresses for defense. VPNs can readily activate new IP addresses to deceive them once again because they are not that easily obliterated.
Free VPN services are far less secure than paid VPN services. You often see advertisements or have your data collected and sold to replace subscription costs. Additionally, free VPNs typically forbid simultaneous connectivity with many devices, so you cannot connect to your VPN from multiple devices simultaneously. Moreover, free VPNs offer limited server locations, sluggish connectivity, and bandwidth restrictions.
Significant Speed Slowdown
When using a VPN, your online traffic goes through multiple steps than usual, which could cause a noticeable slowdown. Since this is the most common VPN shortfall, developers are committed to overcoming it. Many have succeeded in performance and speed optimization to the point where VPNs are now even used for gaming without delay.
Not Suitable For Every Device
Although VPNs can connect to all devices, from desktops to smartphones, etc., users can connect multiple devices simultaneously to their VPN server. But not all devices can link to a VPN—for instance, older operating systems like Windows 7.
No Protection Against Cookies
Although a VPN keeps users encrypted and hidden, a VPN can’t prevent cookies. Cookies are important to the proper operation of websites. Tracking cookies are harmful as they get saved in the browser and can locate a user. Fortunately, they are simple to remove. Or users can connect to a private browser that stops tracking cookies from monitoring their internet activities.
Suppose there isn’t a necessity in the VPN connection procedure to check the state of the connected device. In that case, each device that connects to an isolated network over a VPN runs the danger of malware introduction into that network.
Hackers with user credentials can exploit network resources, including routers and switches, without a check to see if the connecting device adheres to an organization’s security policy.
Quality of Service (QoS) refers to how well a service or network performs. There is no established standard for measuring and reporting such data for VPNs. Without measurements to examine, you must rely on expert opinions to determine what is the most trustworthy.
Despite these drawbacks, VPNs are unquestionably worthwhile for your online anonymity. Apart from VPN connection, to further decrease potential attack surfaces, security experts advise network administrators to incorporate SDP (Software-Defined Perimeter) components into their VPN protection architecture.
SDP programming allows large and midsize enterprises to employ a zero-trust strategy to access cloud and on-premises network environments.
Selecting A Suitable VPN Provider/Connection
VPN users must steer clear of free VPNs as they are quite insecure and of poor quality. They can employ poor security protocols like PPTP, offer limited usage, and have poor bandwidth and connectivity speed due to limited servers. Some free VPN services also include many advertisements to make income from running their free VPN application.
Many excellent premium services provide a free trial, so you may test them before buying. For safe, trustworthy VPN use, a paid VPN service is necessary. When choosing a suitable VPN service, a user must consider the following:
Check customer and expert reviews to get a fair idea of VPN functions. Ensure that the VPN is legitimate because many fraudulent ones have appeared since the net neutrality problem gained attention.
Since many providers find it difficult to maintain adequate downloading or streaming speed, you must ensure the VPN delivers enough speed.
Select a VPN that provides shared IPs. It makes browsing even more private when there are other anonymous users around.
Regarding encryption, consider the most efficient standard available, i.e., AES-256. It is practically impossible to crack AES-256.
The greater the number of VPN servers, the more improved browsing performance since the servers will be less crowded. Additionally, the VPN connection will be speedier and more dependable the closer a user is to a server.
Opt for strong security protocols like OpenVPN rather than ineffective PPTP.
Consider the important features and ensure that your selected VPN meets your requirements. For instance, if your VPN provider allows changing server location whenever needed.
If your VPN service includes the kill switches, ad filtering, multiple connections, firewalls, etc., if the VPN forbids or permits BitTorrent use. Suppose the VPN download limits have a cap on the number of downloads. Discover what best fits your digital and internet needs.
Select a VPN provider that ensures “no logging,” i.e., it does not store your data. VPN users must read the policy to determine if a VPN collects their information.
The top VPNs offer customer support if something goes wrong.
Many VPNs have free trials, so it’s a good decision to use one before purchasing. Before deciding whether to buy a VPN, test the VPN’s performance and usability.
Multiple Device Connectivity
Knowing if you can set up VPN access across several devices is also important. Most consumers use three to five gadgets daily. The VPN service should be accessible simultaneously on all these devices.
No matter which VPN service you select, you can be confident that it will offer greater online security, anonymity, and privacy than a public or free Wi-Fi hotspot.
The risk of disclosing sensitive personal information increases with digital advancement. Users risk being tracked by their ISP, advertisers, or government without security measures. You also run a higher chance of falling victim to identity theft or other types of cybercrime.
Users can securely connect to the internet using a VPN connection. VPN directs all your data traffic over an encrypted tunnel. It masks your IP address and location upon internet access.
Since nobody except you can access the data in the encrypted tunnel as they don’t have the key, a VPN connection is safe from outside threats. VPN service also enables you to access geographically restricted data from any location. Not every country can access all streaming services, but you can still access them using a VPN connection.
However, a VPN merely protects and anonymizes your internet data traffic. A VPN connection does not protect you from viruses, malware, trojans, cyber assaults, etc. As a result, you ought to use additional reliable antivirus software.