What is a VPN and how does it work?
Edward Snowden was someone who reminded us of our right to privacy on the internet by revealing shocking information about snooping by NSA i.e National Security Agency, USA.
From then whenever we saw debate or discussion about “Internet Privacy”, we have definitely heard about VPN.
VPN technology that was once considered to be used by techies or hackers was the talk of the town, suddenly everyone started taking interest in knowing more about it.
In simple terms, VPN is something that will protect your privacy, help with implementing internet neutrality.
The following guide will help you understand the technology and will let you know how important it is for your daily internet usage.
What is a Virtual Private Network?
A VPN creates a secure communication tunnel over a public network setup. It uses encryption and authentication to make sure information is kept private and confidential. Therefore, you can share data as well as resources among various locations anonymously without your data being compromised.
So it is a virtual point-to-point link, which is determined by traffic encryption, virtual tunnelling protocols or dedicated connections.
You can consider this as an invisibility cloak that will hide you from the unsecured networks. But this also has secondary usage as it will also unblock the restrictions put by our ISP or your government as you are now invisible on their network.
When it comes to TOR which was widely used earlier, it used to send your traffic over a widely distributed network. But this was not always secure and there could be chances that the exit node was compromised as successfully tested by NSA.
Hence VPN showed us the way to be completely anonymous online.
History of VPN:
Only recently commercialisation of VPN has started. VPN was actually started my Microsoft so that their employees could access the workstation remotely over a secured network or channel.
Well, this actually was a start of a revolution. Not only in terms of privacy or security, you could just wake up and start working on your assignments while lying on the bed.
As privacy concerns started growing, there were visionaries who saw a commercial market in this technology, thus the VPN that we see today was born. It was something that common people like us could enjoy and was very simple to use.
Do we need a VPN?
The one word answer would be, “Yes”. We do need VPN in our day to day online activities. One of the best and recent example if of “Internet Neutrality”
Net neutrality means that the ISPs should treat all their users equally i.e there shouldn’t be any discrimination based to the amount being paid.
In the year 2017, FCC nullified net neutrality so this means that there is still time for equal rights when it comes to internet.
Because of this ISPs can sell your data, like personal info, browsing habits, etc
Using VPN, you can hide all these activities from your VPN provider and thus be anonymous.
The second reason is because nowadays providing and using Hotspot has been trending. Such public Wi-Fi hotspot can be rigged and when you use such network, you are at a risk of compromising your data
How does VPN work?
A VPN works as a private point-to-point tunnel created that is protected with encryption. On the other side of the tunnel, you connect to a VPN server. You can select from different geo-locations of a VPN server for your VPN connection.
For it to work you need to create a special network connection using your current internet connection.
So you will have pre-configured VPN server that you need to connect to using any of the VPN protocols like PPTP, L2TP, OpenVPN or SoftEther. For the connection, you can use an application or connect through the network settings of the device you are using.
This creates a secondary tunnel i.e the VPN. This tunnel will secure your data from various atrocity on the internet.
What are the pros and cons?
Let’s see the pros of using a VPN, which is not limited to the following:
- Data encryption:
A VPN scrambles all the data to and from your device like mobile, tablet or a PC, this is known as encryption.
- Remotely access your workstation:
With the help of VPN, employees can securely connect to the company’s network over a secure encrypted network, enabling them to share files, documents securely.
- Accessing internet while travelling becomes safe:
A VPN is very useful when you are travelling abroad. You can maintain privacy and anonymity when sending and receiving files, checking bank accounts and even when uploading photos online by using a VPN, which uses an encryption.
- No Logs:
A trusted VPN provider ensures that there are zero logs of your browsing or session history and thereby shielding you from harm or tracking.
- Bypass censorship:
This restriction can be from your ISP, school or office management, VPN helps you to bypass any of these browsing restrictions.
- Save money using a VPN:
There are websites that modify prices of their service for different countries.
For example, airline ticket prices often change and several factors affect the prices. If you go to an airline company website to buy a ticket for the first time and you decide not to buy a ticket, the next time you check the same website, their price will go.
VPN solves this very easily. Choose an IP address from a country that offers the cheapest ticket, and then access the airline website to book tickets
All the technologies out there will have some sort of disadvantage and VPN is no exception but the pros will always outweigh the cons when it comes to this technology.
As VPN provides encryption, the speed after VPN connection will always be less than the original internet speed. This will vary depending upon then VPN protocol you are using.
Most of the times this difference in speed doesn’t affect your online experience.
- Blocking of VPN:
Few countries like China and Russia have started scrutinizing commercial VPN services so that they will still have control over their respective countries internet.
- Complete Privacy:
VPN doesn’t guarantee complete privacy because even after hiding the IP and using the encrypted tunnel, there are chances that you give away your identity by other means like browser cookies or browser location service
What are the different types of VPN:
When you see technically, there are two types of VPN.
- Remote access VPN:
This allows a user to connect to a different network which can be in a totally different region using an encrypted tunnel. This network is mostly the internet.
- Site to Site VPN:
This VPN is used inside the corporate network, specifically when they have offices in several regions. The internal network where the different offices can be connected with each other is known as an intranet.
To connect to any type of VPN, you need protocols and the oldest one which was developed by Microsoft is PPTP, this protocol is considered to be unsecure. Other widely used protocols are L2TP over IPsec, OpenVPN, SSTP and SoftEther.
What devices can use VPN:
Now you know about the working of a VPN, the next question that usually follows is, on what devices a VPN can be used?
The answer to this question is very simple, any device that you can connect to the internet can be configured to work with a VPN.
Nowadays most of the devices have an inbuilt VPN option and for devices that do not have this option can be connected to a VPN enabled router.
How to distinguish a good VPN:
A superior VPN service will always have the following:
- Ranking: Always check reviews of the VPN service. If there are negative reviews, it doesn’t make their service bad. You will always find positive and negative reviews, just make sure there are enough reviews for you to trust.
- Encryption: The widely used encryption standard is the AES-256. This standard is almost impossible to crack as it has billions of combinations.
- Logs: Make sure there is no log policy as you don’t want your browsing info to get into the wrong hands, defeating the purpose of using a VPN
- Money back guarantee: This assures you that your money is safe, as you get a time period to test the VPN and if not satisfied, you get your money refunded.
- Customer support: This is the backbone of any service and make sure the support is 24×7
Is Free VPN good:
Never go for free VPNs, you cannot be sure if you are secure over that network.
They can keep logs of your browsing history and if needed they could sell it as well. Hence it will become pointless using the VPN as you will be exposed to all threats
Remember that they need money to keep their server running
When it comes to paid providers all most all of them have a No Logging and Log Keeping Policy.
This was a simple guide that will make you understand the importance of VPN and how can you get it to use in your day to day life. Go for the VPN to have a anonymous life online.