A Virtual Private Network (VPN) is software that offers safety and protection in the modern world of technology. VPN’s major function is to create a private and secure connection between your device and the network you are using. Through encryption, a VPN disguises your online activities and sends internet traffic through a secure tunnel, ensuring your anonymity by hiding your IP address.
VPN reroutes your online traffic by creating a secure encrypted tunnel. Your online traffic that is passed through this tunnel is protected from unwanted interventions of hackers, ISP, and surveillance by government agencies.
How Does a VPN Work?
With the use of a VPN, a secure and encrypted tunnel is established between your device and private network, effectively barring any unauthorized access to your data and ensuring its protection against interception.
Below is a step-by-step breakdown of how a VPN works:
- A VPN app is downloaded and installed on your device (e.g., computer, smartphone).
- You open the VPN app and select a server location. Most VPN providers offer servers in numerous countries, so you can choose one close to your physical location or one that allows you to access geo-restricted content in your country.
- The VPN app establishes a secure and encrypted connection between your device and the VPN server with the help of VPN protocols.
- All of the internet traffic you are connected to is routed through the VPN server, which encrypts your data and masks your IP address.
- The VPN server sends your encrypted data to the internet on your behalf.
- When you receive data back from the internet, it’s sent to the VPN server first, which then encrypts it and sends it back to your device.
Advantages Of VPN:
Now let’s explore some of the benefits of having a VPN in greater detail.
Unblocking Websites and Bypassing Filters
There are certain websites ad contents that are geo-restricted and cannot be accessed outside of that specific region. In such situations where you are unable to access certain websites or content blocked by your employer, school, or college, but you still need to access them, a VPN can help you bypass those restrictions and gain access to those websites easily and your online activity will remain private.
Bypassing Regional Restrictions
In countries where governments restrict access to specific websites like YouTube and Google, a VPN can be used to bypass these restrictions, allowing access to restricted or blocked content without the government’s knowledge.
Accessing Geo-blocked Websites
With some websites and services only available in certain countries or regions, using a VPN to change your IP address can allow you to appear as a user from that country, granting you access to content and benefits reserved for users in that region.
For example, BBC iplayer is restricted to the UK only which means that it can only work within the boundaries of the UK. So anyone outside the UK trying to watch the content on BBC iPlayer won’t be able because of the restrictions. In this situation, a VPN can help you and make access to BBC iPlayer by connecting to a UK server location and masking your physical location’s IP address.
Changing Your IP Address
By encrypting your internet browsing activity, VPNs can hide your browsing history and activity from your ISP and local network, ensuring your privacy.
Online Anonymity and Privacy
Websites and servers track your IP address and location, and this data can be used to monitor your behavior online. A VPN can keep your identity anonymous, protecting you from identity leakage and unwanted tracking of your online activity.
VPNs can keep your identity safe and data encrypted while browsing the internet, reducing the risk of hacking attempts. This makes VPNs ideal for use in public Wi-Fi networks and browsing unsecured websites.
Disadvantages of VPN:
Slower internet connections
Using a VPN can result in slower internet speeds due to the distance between your location and the VPN servers. This distance increases the time it takes for your data to travel across the internet, ultimately leading to slower speeds.
VPNs may keep logs of your online activity, even if they claim otherwise. Governments have taken legal action against VPNs in cases of international crime, terrorist activity, or hacking, resulting in VPN companies being forced to hand over users’ activity logs.
VPNs should be avoided for illegal activities and instead, use them to protect your identity from potential malicious hackers.
Some websites and streaming services, such as Netflix, do not allow VPN users to access their content. While a VPN can be useful in many cases, there are some websites and servers that will not allow access through a VPN.
Although there are free VPN services available, using a VPN on a regular basis may require purchasing a paid version. Free VPNs often provide limited data usage and slower speeds. Premium VPNs typically cost between $10 and $15 per month.
What is VPN Encryption?
Encryption refers to the process of transforming readable data into coded or encoded messages to ensure confidentiality and security by preventing unauthorized access or interception. Here’s more detail about it:
- This is also called ciphertext, which is incomprehensible to anyone except the intended recipient who has access to the secret key or password used to encode the message.
- The process of converting an original communication into an unreadable format through encryption uses an algorithm and a secret key or password.
- Only someone with the relevant key or password to decipher the message can do so using the generated ciphertext. These keys are referred to as cryptographic keys.
- There are different levels of VPN encryption strength, measured by the number of bits used to create the encryption key.
- The higher the number of bits, the stronger the encryption and the harder it is for anyone to crack the code.
What are the Protocols in a VPN Connection?
A secure VPN connection relies on a VPN protocol that defines how your device interacts with the server, determining the level of security for your connection.
Common VPN protocols are, PPTP, L2TP, SSTP, IKEv2, WireGuard, and OpenVPN(TCP and UDP). Various VPN providers use them on their apps and manual connections.
PPTP ( Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol) is recognized as one of the earliest VPN protocols that were available for users and can be configured with ease on most of the major operating systems. However, it lacks the ability to ensure the security of the sender of data when it comes to encryption.
L2TP( Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol) is a VPN protocol that enables a secure connection and uses IPSec for data encryption. It creates a secure tunnel, and IPSec provides encryption and authentication within the tunnel using military-grade AES-256-bit encryption, which is considered flawless.
SSTP is a VPN protocol introduced by Windows that provides highly secure encryption for data. It uses 2048-bit SSL/TLS certificates for authentication and 256-bit SSL keys for encryption between the sender and receiver, ensuring maximum security for remote workers who handle sensitive digital data. SSTP is considered to be one of the most reliable protocols for such users.
IKEv2 is a protocol that is frequently used and that is compatible with a wide range of devices, particularly mobile devices, as it can automatically reconnect in case of disconnection or while switching from Wi-Fi to mobile data connection (3G or 4G). It is jointly created by Microsoft and Cisco. While L2TP creates the secure tunnel, IPSec facilitates the encryption and authentication of data inside the tunnel. This protocol employs 3DES and AES for encryption purposes.
WireGuard is a newly developed and highly sophisticated VPN protocol that is open-source with a simple codebase. It is very user-friendly, and despite maintaining high-security standards, it offers faster speeds than other protocols. It can be easily configured on multiple devices.
WireGuard employs publicly available cryptography packages such as Poly1305 for data authentication and ChaCha20 for data encryption purposes.
One of the most widely used, trustworthy, and well-liked protocols is OpenVPN. Many consider OpenVPN to be the safest protocol among others. It can also function as a third-party VPN client on different devices.
There are two primary types of OpenVPN protocols: TCP (Transmission Control Protocol) and UDP (User Datagram Protocol).
The TCP protocol provides the most secure encryption by using multiple data verifications, which can reduce connection speed but results in a more stable connection. Remote servers and remote work commonly utilize TCP for establishing connections.
On the other hand, the UDP protocol provides faster speeds by sacrificing some of the security features.
What are VPN Servers?
A private and secure internet connection is established between the device of the user and the internet connection upon connecting with a VPN server. The server’s main function is to route all the internet traffic through an encrypted VPN tunnel.
A mix of VPN hardware and software creates a secure private network that makes you browse securely and anonymously over the online world. It hides your online activities from your Internet Service Provider (ISP) and other third parties.
VPN servers are located in various parts of the world. Some VPN providers have a large number of servers in multiple countries, allowing users to connect to servers in different locations and access geo-restricted content.
There is also another facility of VPN servers, businesses or individuals can self-host VPN servers to establish their own private networks and secure their online activities.
Why Do You Need VPN?
A VPN can assist you in protecting your data and internet traffic in this more technologically advanced environment when cyber threats and data breaches are becoming more frequent. When you move without a VPN, fraudsters, hackers, and data harvesters can expose your internet data.
There are various reasons to have a VPN subscription:
- For More Security:
With a VPN connection, it becomes extremely difficult for hackers, ISPs, and government surveillance to intervene and read your crucial information due to a secure and encrypted VPN tunnel. Doing this can safeguard the user from theft or unauthorized access to sensitive information, such as credit card numbers, passwords, and personal data.
- For Secure Browsing:
A VPN helps to protect your online activities by concealing your IP address and location. It makes it difficult for third parties, such as advertisers, to track your online activities. This can prevent targeted advertising and enhance your online privacy. VPNs are very essential in providing security on public Wifis and other networks.
- To Bypass Internet Censorship and Geo-restriction:
A VPN can help you access websites and content that may not be available in your area, such as social media sites, streaming services, and news sites by bypassing internet censorship and geo-restrictions. This can be especially useful if you want to access content that is only available in certain locations or if you are visiting a country with strict internet regulations.
- To ensure a safe and secure remote working experience:
A VPN can help protect your sensitive information. By using a VPN, working remotely from home or while traveling becomes more convenient because you can securely access your company’s network or remote server from anywhere in the world.
- To Save Money:
Services such as hotel reservations, airline tickets, and online shopping can utilize a VPN to adjust pricing based on location.
How to Set up VPN?
Setting up a VPN (Virtual Private Network) is a process that involves several steps. Here are the basic steps to set up a VPN:
- Choose a Suitable VPN provider:
You can find numerous VPN providers available out there, each with its own features and pricing plans. Choose a provider that meets your needs and budget.
- Sign up for a VPN plan:
Once you have chosen a provider, sign up for a VPN plan that suits your needs and budget. You will usually need to provide basic details like your email address, create a password and choose a payment method.
- Download and install the VPN App:
After signing up for a VPN service, download the VPN software from the website of your provider. Install the software on your device by following the instructions given.
- Configure the VPN:
Open the VPN App and configure it according to your preferences and the instructions given. You will require to insert your login details provided by the VPN provider and choose a server location.
- Connect to the VPN:
Once you have configured the VPN software on your device, connect to the VPN by clicking on the Connect button present on the app.
- Verify the VPN connection:
After connecting to the VPN, verify if your IP address has changed and your connection is secure. You can do this by visiting a website that shows your IP address details, like whatismyip.com.
That’s it! You have successfully set up a VPN and are now able to browse the internet securely and anonymously.
How secure is a VPN?
Your internet activity is being monitored by your Internet Service Provider (ISP), including the online data you exchange, before forwarding it to the destination IP address. Your ISP has access to all your internet activity history and can monitor your internet activity.
By encrypting your internet activity, a VPN can help you safeguard your online identity. Instead of connecting directly to the server when you send a request to a website or server, the request first goes through the VPN server. Before sending your requests and data to the specified website, the VPN server encrypts them.
Your ISP still monitors your activity, but if you use a VPN, it will encrypt the connection and change the IP address of your destination. This means your ISP won’t be able to read it and will forward all your requests to the VPN.
Your VPN decrypts your request or information and forwards it to the website you wish to access. The website will behave as if the request is coming from the VPN server you are connected to and grant access to it without letting your ISP know.
Similarly, when you download a file, all the traffic flows from the web server to the VPN you are connected to. The VPN encrypts the information and sends it to your ISP. Your ISP won’t know what’s going on as the information is encrypted and unable to be read.
Once the information reaches your device, it decrypts, allowing you to view the website like any other user.
Some Common VPN Providers
There are several VPN service providers with different expertise and capacities throughout the world. VPN service providers come in both paid and unpaid varieties. Here is a list of some of the top VPN service providers, from which you may pick the one that best meets your requirements:
ExpressVPN, a major player in the VPN industry, is highly recommended as one of the top VPN service providers. It is a bit more expensive than the other VPN provider but it possesses certain features and connection quality that is unmatchable.
- It contains more than 3000+ servers in 94 countries.
- High-Speed Lightway Protocol- an ExpressVPN customized protocol
- Proves to be the one providing fast speed while streaming.
- Privacy with AES256 Encryption
- 30 days Money back guarantee
- P2P and Split Tunneling Feature
- 5 simultaneous connections at a time
- Kill Switch
- MediaStreamer – a streaming-specific feature for non-vpn supported devices.
- 24/ Support
- 1 Month Plan: $10.95
- 6 Months Plan: $59.95
- 12 Months Plan: $99.95
NordVPN is one of the most popular VPN providers in the VPN industry. It’s a bit cheaper than ExpressVPN and provides good quality connection and speed. Some of the features of NordVPN include:
- It contains more than 5300+ servers in 60 countries.
- High-Speed NordLynx Protocol- a Nordvpn customized Wireguard protocol- proves to be the one providing fast speed while streaming.
- Privacy with AES256 Encryption
- Automatic Kill Switch, P2P sharing, dedicated IP, and DNS leak protection
- 6 simultaneous connections at a time
- Zero log policy
- 30 days Money back guarantee
- 24/7 Support
- Built-in Malware blocker
- Privacy with AES256 Encryption
- 1 Month Plan: $11.99
- 12 Months Plan: $4.99 per month
- 24 Months Plan: $3.99 per month
Surfshark is considered one of the top VPN service providers. The key main features of Surf Shark include
- It contains more than 3200+ servers in 99+ countries.
- Supports protocols like WireGuard, and OpenVPN.
- Internet Kill Switch and DNS leak protection
- Diskless (RAM-based) servers & Double VPN
- Unlimited simultaneous connections
- Zero log policy
- Privacy with AES256 Encryption
- 24/7 Support
- 1 Month Plan: $12.95
- 12 Months Plan: $3.99 per month
- 24 Months Plan: $2.30 per month
Slower internet speeds, decreased network performance, and potential access issues with specific websites or online services are some drawbacks of using a VPN. Furthermore, certain VPNs offer logging policies that can compromise user privacy, and the level of security and protection provided by different VPNs can differ.
Whether the VPN is working or not can be verified by verifying your IP address and location after connecting to the VPN server. You can also check it by using online tools like WhatIsMyIP.com to check your location details like your IP address and location. If the IP address and location displayed on the website match the location of the VPN server on your App, then your VPN is working correctly.
Each device connected to a computer network that uses the Internet Protocol for communication is assigned a numerical label called the IP address or Internet Protocol address. It serves two main functions: identifying the host or network interface and providing the location of the device in the network.
An example of an IP address is 192.168.1.1 or 172.16.254.1.