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What is VPN and How does it Work?

If you are looking to boost your online privacy and browse the internet more securely and anonymously, VPNs are what you must be looking for. A VPN is one of the best tools that you can choose that will help you explore the internet more openly and securely while maintaining your privacy and anonymity on the web. You may want to use a VPN to give yourself more security and privacy online or you may want to use it to circumvent geographical censorships and content blocking. Hence, comprehensive knowledge about what VPN is and how it functions is essential to help you understand why you need one and what better suits your needs.

Virtual Private Network (VPN): All you need to know about it

In this article, we will elaborate upon the full definition of VPNs, the full working of VPNs, and why you need one. You can use the table of contents below to navigate through the article more easily.

What is a VPN?

VPN stands for “Virtual Private Network.” It is a privacy and security-focused service that creates an encrypted connection to the internet over your public network, via your device. This means that whenever you want to connect to the internet via VPN, it will create a private pathway for you to securely communicate and transfer data within the internet while using public networks. This essentially means that using a VPN will hide your IP address from your ISP (Internet Service Provider) and third-party data collectors. This makes you anonymous on the internet; helps you safeguard yourself from security threats; eliminates web activity tracking and data manipulation; and allows you to access geographically restricted content and bypass censorship.

A Brief History of VPNs

The foundation of the VPN technology can be traced back to 1996 when it was founded by a Microsoft employee Gurdeep Singh Pal, as a peer-to-peer tunneling protocol or PPTP.

VPNs were initially primarily categorized as “enterprise solutions.” The sole purpose of VPNs was to access private business networks and share sensitive business information over various corporate channels. However, with the development of new advanced protocols and stronger encryption standards, VPNs started gaining public attention.

VPNs started getting adopted on a consumer scale when more and more security flaws and digital vulnerabilities surfaced. Individual usage peaked when unconsented Government monitoring and third-party collection and sale of user data were exposed. Since then VPNs have been synonymous with privacy and security.

It has gained immense popularity in recent times, with new service providers entering the market and providing various options to users in the form of paid and free VPN services.

How do VPNs Work?

VPNs reroute your internet traffic via VPN servers that are spread globally, hiding your IP address from your ISP, only to make your rerouted IP address visible to your Internet Service Provider.

Let’s say in your region a certain show is not available to stream. Using a VPN, you can easily bypass the streaming firewall that will allow you to circumvent the geographical restriction and stream that show. To achieve this, you will need to first opt for a VPN service provider, and install their software on any of your devices of choice.

Once you are all set, you need to turn your VPN on before establishing your internet connection. This secures your internet connection and sends the connection request to a VPN Client. The VPN client creates a secure encrypted tunnel that sends your encrypted internet traffic through your ISP. Your ISP cannot see your internet traffic and can only see your masked IP address instead of your actual IP address. Your VPN client establishes the connection to a VPN server. This can be a random server located in a random country or a specific server or country, depending upon your selection. This creates a verified encrypted tunnel between your device and the internet and the decryption key stays only with you. This means that only you can access the data.

The VPN server establishes contact with your requested website on the internet. The website is also not able to see your original IP address. It can only see the IP address assigned to you by the VPN server. In this way, the website will not be able to collect your data.

This way, websites will not be able to show you targeted advertisements and sell your data without your consent. A VPN not only opens up the internet for you, but it also allows you to safeguard yourself on the internet and take control of your data.

Uses of Virtual Private Networks

You must be aware by now of what is a VPN and how it works. The primary function of any VPN is to provide privacy and security over the internet connection. Depending on your needs, you may use a VPN for the following reasons –

1. Staying Anonymous Online

If you are looking to stay anonymous while surfing the internet, a VPN will let you do that with ease. No matter if you are connected to your home Wi-Fi or any public Wi-Fi, a VPN will hide your IP address and reroute it through a remote VPN server (often selected randomly).

2. Access Geographically Restricted Contents

Another reason why you may probably use a VPN is to access content that has been restricted in your geographical location. This can potentially open up the entire global library of media at your fingertips by allowing you to view content from different parts of the world.

3. Secure Access to the Internet

If you are worried about your security online and want to stay protected and safe while surfing the internet, a VPN is a right tool for you. A good VPN connection with a robust encryption standard like AES 256 is necessary to protect you from online threats. You can also use it to make your transactions extra secure and prevent hackers from stealing your credentials or snooping in on your data.

4. To Communicate Securely Over the Internet

Since VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) systems use the internet as a medium for transmitting audio signals you can enhance the security of any communication that will happen over the internet, by using a VPN. This will provide end-to-end encryption, making your communications safer.

5. Game without Restrictions

If you are looking to game securely and openly, a VPN can be a boon for you. A good virtual private network can allow you to circumvent ISP restrictions and bandwidth throttling, improve ping, reduce latency and protect you from DDoS attacks.

Types of Virtual Private Networks

Here are the most common types of VPNs:

  • Remote access VPN: These are consumer-based VPN services, focused on the larger public audience. These are available to be used via different service providers and are the most commonly used. This is what you will essentially use on a day-to-day basis.
  • Site-to-site VPN: These are mostly reserved for enterprise management and organizational purposes. In this case, the organization controls the service, and is mostly used by the organization to connect with different offices, situated in different parts of the Country or anywhere else. These are usually connected to a primary HQ network via routers. This is also known as Intranet and the service is directly integrated with the router and is unique to the organization using it.
  • Mobile VPN: A mobile VPN ensures that the connection stays up and consistent, and lets the user change from one internet connection to another. A mobile internet lets users hop between networks while maintaining the same network session. This means that users can effectively switch from their Wi-Fi to their Mobile Data and vice versa, without any loss of connection or active session.
  • Hardware VPN: Hardware VPNs are mostly used by businesses and are often not available as a consumer-grade solution. They are also considered superior to software-based options. In addition to enhanced security, and privacy, they also allow administrators to perform “load balancing” to manage massive client network loads. Hardware VPNs are very expensive and are accessed via a web-based interface.
  • VPN Appliance: This is essentially is a router that provides the necessary authorization, authentication, encryption, and protection to VPNs. It is also known as VPN Gateway and SSL VPN Appliance.
  • Dynamic Multi-Point VPN (DMPVPN): A DMPVPN creates a bridge that allows data sharing between two websites, without the need for authentication by the headquarter. DMPVPNs create mesh virtual networks, that run on routers and concentrators. Every remote site will have a router configured so that they can independently access the data from the central hub (headquarter). This means that in case two remote sites need to exchange data, one of the sites can directly contact the hub, obtain the necessary data and create an IPSec tunnel directly between the sites.

India’s VPN Policy

In April 2022, the Indian Government made it mandatory for all existing VPN service providers in India to collect and store user data for up to 5 years. As of today, this law still upholds and has resulted in the exit of some noteworthy companies from India like Express VPN, and Nord VPN. India has not issued any ban yet but this law is a direct conflict with the very principle of VPNs: user privacy.

To make things easier for you, we have an in-depth article that will allow you to know everything related to the New VPN Policy in India. Head over to our interlinked article to know more.

VPN Tunneling

A VPN Tunnel is a private pathway that allows encrypted and secured data packets to pass through from the host device to the intended source. A tunnel acts as an anonymous pathway that allows the user to stay anonymous on the internet by generating a separate channel for the data traffic to pass through.

Types of Protocols

Every VPN service provider uses different tunneling protocols to secure their networks. The available VPN protocols are listed below.

IPSec

It is a suite of encryption-based protection services, and security protocols that provide security over an IP network, to establish a secure connection between two IP addresses via IP network. It allows the encryption of sensitive data, authentication, data leak protection, and more.

PPTP

It is the oldest known VPN protocol and as of today is outdated. It was pioneered by Microsoft. It used the outdated MS-CHAP v2 authentication suite. The lack of encryption and authentication made it the fastest VPN protocol.

L2TP/IPSec

It is a kind of tunneling protocol that creates a tunnel that allows data traffic to pass through. L2TP generally has 2 protocols combined namely, the Point to Point Tunneling Protocol (PPTP) and Layer 2 Forwarding. Usually, L2TP is combined with IPSec for the data encryption process since L2TP has a very strong level of encryption.

This image is in reference to the different tunneling and encryption protocols that are available for virtual private networks

IKEv2/IPSec

This is another tunneling that is based on IPsec. It establishes a secure connection between devices by defining authentication and negotiation as per IPsec security standards. One of the key highlights of this protocol is that it offers an auto-reconnect feature. IPsec handles the data transmission, and IKEv2 recognizes which kind of security will be feasible.

Open VPN

This is one of the more recent protocols that had been developed. Open VPN is open-sourced and is supported by the community, and it does not store any user data. It uses the SSL encryption protocol along with AES 256-bit encryption. Open VPN is popular for its reliability, fast speeds, and ability to bypass most firewalls.

WireGuard

Another up-and-coming VPN protocol is WireGuard. WireGuard is extremely simple, fast, and reliable. It uses the latest ChaCha20 cryptography to encrypt its data. Like Open VPN, this is also open source, but there are some key differences between Open VPN and WireGuard VPN. You can read more about it via the interlinked article.

How to Choose a Good VPN Service

  • The service should offer strict no-logs policy
  • It should provide you with robust security such as by using strong encryption methods
  • A good service should provide decent speeds with fewer downtimes and lag.
  • Should be able to let you unblock most of the geographically restricted contents.
  • Must provide additional features like a kill switch

Pros of Using a Virtual Private Network

Some of the top reasons why you should use a VPN are listed below.

  • Secure your data online and get industry-standard encryption like AES 258-bit encryption protocol, as well as advanced tunneling protocols like WireGuard to keep your data secure and prevent unethical use and targeting of your data.
  • Maintain your online anonymity and keep your online activity hidden from your ISP and the websites that you visit.
  • Access and stream geographically restricted content
  • Improve gaming experience by eliminating bandwidth throttling and capping.
  • Shield yourself from online threats like malware and phishing attacks, and boost your online safety tenfold.

Cons of Using a Virtual Private Network

Some of the top drawbacks of VPNs that you must keep in mind are listed below.

  • Slow internet speeds
  • Can be quite expensive
  • Does not make you 100% anonymous on the internet.
  • May or may not be able to unblock restrictions across different websites and services
  • Increases data consumption

Above are some of the key pros and cons mentioned in brief that you must know before opting for any VPN service. However, if you want to learn more and have a clear idea about the different advantages and disadvantages of VPNs, you can head over to the interlinked article.

Best VPNs to Use

If you’re looking to get started with virtual private networks, you can check out the following services:

  • Proton VPN
  • Nord VPN
  • Express VPN

What’s more, we have dedicated articles for the best VPNs for Windows, as well as VPN apps for Android and iPhone, and even one for Android TV VPN apps that you can check out for some more worthy options that you can consider.

FAQs

Q. Are VPNs Legal?

VPNs are completely legal to use. However, keep in mind that depending upon your geographical location, your Government can make their usage a punishable offense. Even in places where the use of a virtual private network is legal, keep in mind that any activity that breaks any form of law like Copyright Infringement or Pirating can still be a punishable offense.

Q. Which is the best VPN?

If you’re looking for the best VPN apps, you should take a look at options like Proton VPN, Express VPN, and Surfshark VPN. However, everyone’s needs are different, so whichever service is providing you with features that meet your needs will be the best option for you.

Q. How do I set up a VPN?

VPNs are available for every platform like macOS, Windows, Linux, iOS, Android, Routers, and Smart devices. Select a VPN service vendor that you trust, download their proprietary software, launch their app (some vendors even provide browser extensions), and you are good to go.

Q. Are there any risks or downsides to using a VPN?

A VPN will help you protect your online privacy and security and keep your data intact. However, it is not a foolproof solution. Some VPNs may not be trustworthy or provide the level of promised security. Also, a VPN will slow down your internet speed considerably. Hence, you must do your research and choose wisely.

Q. Can a VPN improve my internet speed and connectivity?

Choosing the right VPN can be a boon for you. It can considerably improve your internet speed and network connectivity by routing your Internet traffic (entire or partial) through a remote VPN server, which then will bypass your internet congestion and improve the overall performance and your experience.

Q. How can I tell if a VPN is Secure and Trustworthy?

It is extremely important that you do your extensive research before you make your VPN choice. You should always research the provider and look for reviews that back up the claims of the provider. It is also important that you go thoroughly through the VPN service provider’s terms of usage and user agreement to ensure that they have a clear security and privacy policy with proper encryption standards in place.

Q. How does a VPN differ from a proxy server or Tor?

The task of a VPN is to create a private, and secure connection between your device and a remote VPN
server with the help of a VPN client, with the help of a proxy server as an intermediary server that routes your internet traffic.

On the other hand, Tor (The Onion Router) is a network of servers that can be used to improve the standard of your online anonymity. However, do note that a VPN is much more secure and private than a proxy server and is similar to Tor in the sense that it routes your internet traffic and improves your online privacy.

Use VPNs to Safeguard Your Online Presence

After going through the article, I am sure you are now equipped with the basics of what is a VPN and how it functions. However, I will suggest you go through the different VPN protocols in detail, and what are the factors that you need to consider before selecting a VPN. You can also explore the top free VPNs and top paid VPNs, to understand your requirements and needs.

Having said that let us know if this article was helpful for you, and which VPN you are currently using or planning to use. We will love to hear from you! So, comment down below with your questions and doubts.

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