You probably heard about VPN connections before.
A VPN server gives you a secure private network, lets you connect to your business network even if you’re remote, and gives you the opportunity to private internet browsing.
But how does a VPN works? How secure is a VPN? What are the benefits of VPN and when you should use a virtual private network?
You’ll find all the information to understanding VPN connections below.
What is a VPN?
A VPN (Virtual Private Network) represents a service that makes your connections secure and private. Simply put, a VPN server hides you online and protects your data across the internet.
A VPN extends a private network inside a local network. What does this mean?
Let’s say you need to exchange a big amount of data with one of the coworkers who work remotely and you both must be connected to your business’s local network. The easiest way to handle this situation is to set up a VPN connexion to your local network. This will let your coworker connect to the network as you are both connected to the same local network.
How does a VPN work?
To understand how a VPN works, you must first understand how the traffic on the internet works.
When you send a request online (navigating, downloading), the request is made through your local network (LAN). Meaning your data (like the IP) is visible and trackable.
When you connect to the internet through a VPN server, things change. The request won’t be made through your LAN, but it’ll be made through the VPN connection you set up. Your IP won’t be visible anymore and the data you send is encrypted.
The VPN client encrypts your data, meaning that your internet provider (ISP) won’t be able to read it. When the data reaches the VPN server, it gets decrypted and sent forward to the website you want to access. The website won’t see your IP and location but the IP and location of the VPN server you’re connected to.
Hence, the internet provider (ISP) won’t be able to track your moves online. This makes for private internet browsing.
One exception here is if you’re connected to a VPN server in the same county you live in, to the same ISP. In this case, the ISP might have access to your internet traffic. Still, it can only see the traffic that comes from the VPN server but can’t trace it back to your device.
The way a VPN works is similar to a proxy server connection.
Trough proxy servers, the ISP only sees the connection between you and the proxy server. The difference between proxies and VPNs connections is that through proxy servers your data is not encrypted while with a VPN server your requests are encrypted and untraceable.
The difference between a regular connection and a connection using VPN
As you can see in the above illustrations, there’s a firewall between your PC and the internet connection.
The firewall can be turned on and off. However, there are situations when you don’t have any authority over how the firewall works. The most common situations are in workplaces and state institutions. These places often use a firewall or proxy server to block users’ access to certain websites.
This is when connecting using a VPN server successfully and efficiently solves the problem. When you connect to a VPN server, the firewall will be able to see the connection between your device and the VPN server. But because the connection is encrypted, it won’t be able to see the data that’s being transferred. Hence, you’ll be able to access any website without the firewall blocking your connections.
Types of VPNs
There are two main types of VPN connections.
1. Site-to-Site VPN
You can also find it referred to as Router-to-Router VPN. Through a Site-to-Site VPN connection, networks from multiple locations are connected through the Internet. It makes for a private and secure communication between networks located in different geographic areas. This type of VPN is mostly used by big businesses with offices in multiple locations. There are two kinds of Site-to-Site VPN connections:
- Intranet VPN – When multiple offices of the same business are connected to each other. They can transfer data in a private manner.
- Extranet VPN – When offices from different businesses are connected to securely share data.
2. Remote Access VPN
This type of VPN creates an encrypted transfer of data, known as a VPN tunnel. It’s used both by employees to connect to their business’s network to get access to resources when they work remotely. And it’s also used by home users to keep their internet connection private or to avoid geographic restrictions.
How secure are VPNs?
If you’re wondering if you’re completely anonymous with a secure VPN connection, the answer is no.
A VPN server does hide and secure a lot of your connection, but you are not completely anonymous.
Every VPN service provider is different. And how secure a VPN is, depends on more factors:
- The VPN protocol. The level of encryption and security the VPN connection gives you is directly influenced by the protocol that’s being used.
- If the VPN service keeps records. Including payment records that hold identifying data.
- The location of the VPN server. In some jurisdictions, the server owners are being legally required to keep records so the government might get access to your data if necessary.
VPN Protocols types
A VPN protocol refers to how the data transfer is handled between your device and the VPN server. The protocol that’s being used by the VPN service determines how secure a VPN connection is. The most common VPN protocols are PPTP, L2TP, SSTP, IKEv2, and OpenVPN.
- PPTP (Point to Point Tunneling Protocol) – This protocol was created by Microsoft and it’s part of Windows’s OS. Given the fact that it’s an old technology, it doesn’t offer much security.
- L2TP (Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol) – This protocol is using keys to secure the connection at the ends of the data tunnel. It combines with another protocol called IPSec to enhance the security.
- SSTP (Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol) – This protocol is also created by Microsoft and it works on a symmetric-key cryptography. Meaning that only the ends involved in the transfer can decode the data.
- IKEv2 (Internet Key Exchange version 2) – This protocol is designed by Microsoft and Cisco. It’s usually combined with IPSec for authentication and encryption.
- OpenVPN – It’s an open source project, meaning that it’s in constant development. It’s based on SSL and TLS protocols which make it the most secure VPN protocol.
Not all protocols can be used across all devices. The protocols designed by Microsoft are authorized on all computers with Microsoft OS but are limited when it comes to Apple devices.
The advantages of using a VPN connection
- The traffic between your device and the VPN server is encrypted, meaning your online presence can’t be tracked.
- If certain websites are restricted in your geographic area, you can access them if you connect to a VPN server located in an area that’s authorized to use the websites.
- You can access any website through a VPN server even if your local connection restricts it. This means using a VPN connection at work to access any website.
- Your IP won’t be visible to the servers you connect to, only the VPN server’s IP.
- You can send confidential information, send messages and emails, stream, and download without being tracked or spied on.
- You secure your data when you use public WiFi connections, with or without a password. Even for password secured WiFi connections, it’s still easy to hack.
- Your data is encrypted. Even if someone manages to interfere with your data, he won’t be able to read or use it.
- You can turn on the VPN connection only when you need it. And you can also use multiple VPN servers and switch between them as needed.
When to use a VPN server?
- If you work with confidential data, a VPN server will keep your information private.
- You manage a business with multiple locations and your employees must access the local network connection.
- You work from places with public network connections (coffee shops WiFi, hotels). Mind that even though a WiFi connection is secured through a password, it’s still easy to hack.
- You want to use services that are restricted in your area. One example here is Netflix. Some shows are restricted in certain countries. To have access to them, you can connect to a VPN server located in a country where those shows are allowed (Mind that not all VPN services work on Netflix).
- If you use torrents and want to keep yourself anonymous so you don’t get into trouble.
Why should businesses use a VPN server?
Say you’re running a business that has multiple locations, even spread around the globe, with people working remotely.
You have to provide a secure and efficient connection to your business network for your employees so they can exchange private data from anywhere.
One popular way for businesses to handle this situation is to use leased lines. And although this is popular and efficient, it can also be costly. Especially if there’s a huge distance between locations.
A VPN server is a more affordable technology that allows you to create a secure connection between multiple locations and also with remote employees. Through a VPN connection, your remote employees and those in other offices can access your business’s connection as they are directly connected to the network.
Is it legal to use a VPN?
In most cases, the answer is yes. But there are exceptions.
The rules for using VPNs servers are not completely clear as this is a fairly new concept. But, in most countries, VPNs are indeed legal.
Countries where there are strict laws on using VPNs: China, Iraq, Turkey, Russia, Iran, Belarus, United Arab Emirates, North Korea, and Turkmenistan.
How to connect to a VPN server?
There are more ways to create a VPN connection, but the main step to all of them is the username and password authentication.
The easiest way to connect to a VPN server is by directly connecting to the VPN server by authorizing through the username and password you are provided by your VPN service.
Another way to set up a secure private network connection through VPN is by installing a dedicated software. It will take care of encrypting and encrypting the data. For this method, you’ll also have to authenticate with the username and password.
Should you use a VPN service?
These are the highlights of how VPN works for beginners so you get a better understanding of VPN connections and what they do.
In today’s overly monitored world, using a VPN server is a must if you want to have an intimate and secure internet connection. A VPN creates a private tunnel, a closed connection that can’t be decrypted by third parties like your internet provider (ISP).
The only disadvantage of using a VPN connection is that your internet connection might slow down due to the encryption process. But compared to all the benefits of VPN, a slightly slower connection is not such a big impediment.
If you value your privacy and want to keep your data secure from third parties, especially if you often use public networks, you should start looking for an affordable VPN service right away.