No one likes being monitored, which is why many individuals opt for VPNs or Virtual Private Networks. VPNs hide your online identity, protecting you from advertisers seeking to profit by targeting you. So, how does a VPN work, and how can you start using one? This article offers comprehensive information to help you understand VPNs and addresses these essential questions.
What is a VPN?
A Virtual Private Network (VPN) is software that protects your internet connection and privacy while you are online is known as a virtual private network (VPN). Your data is placed inside a secure tunnel, your IP address is concealed to protect your online identity, and secure connections to open Wi-Fi hotspots are made possible. VPNs use specialized technology to establish a secure connection between two locations.
To connect to resources on a private network, such as from your home to your workplace network, you can use a VPN. Alternatively, you can access these resources over the open network, which functions like a vast area network. Based on your needs, the secure network may offer particular services based on your requirements.
How Does a VPN Work?
A Virtual Private Network (VPN) establishes a secure, encrypted connection between your device and another computer anywhere in the world. It requires an internet-connected device and appropriate software. A VPN creates an encrypted tunnel, enhancing the security and privacy of your data. It can also provide access to servers globally, allowing you to bypass restrictions on websites and services in your area.
An IP address is your device’s unique identifier when connected to a network, including the Internet. It reveals your Internet Service Provider’s (ISP) client identification number (CID) and geographical location, often pinpointing your exact location. Upon activating a VPN, you’re assigned a new IP address from the VPN server, which can sometimes lead to tech-savvy websites blocking traffic from these servers due to their frequent use of static IP addresses.
Encryption is a complex process that protects your data from unauthorized access by converting it into an unreadable format. Only a specific key can decode this information, ensuring its confidentiality. Many advanced VPN services use ‘zero-access’ encryption, meaning they themselves do not have the key to decrypt your data. This type of encryption makes unauthorized access virtually impossible and shields your data from potential hackers or government agencies.
VPN protocols determine how your device connects to the internet. Each protocol offers varying features and security levels.
Here’s an overview of some common VPN protocols:
- PPTP (Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol): PPTP is an older, widely compatible VPN protocol. It’s easy to set up but lacks security.
- L2TP/IPsec (Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol combined with Internet Protocol Security): This protocol is more secure than PPTP but may be slower and more difficult to configure.
- SSTP (Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol): SSTP provides strong security and potentially faster speeds than L2TP/IPsec, but it’s only available on Windows systems.
- IKEv2/IPSec (Internet Key Exchange Version 2, coupled with Internet Protocol Security): IKEv2/IPSec is a newer, fast, secure, and user-friendly protocol supported on most devices.
Several VPN technologies are widely used today:
- OpenVPN: A reliable and secure VPN technology known for consistent performance. OpenVPN is a preferred choice for those seeking robust encryption. However, it may lack advanced features like faster browsing speeds, essential for content streaming services like Netflix or Hulu Plus.
- WireGuard: This newer open-source VPN protocol offers faster speeds and utilizes modern encryption methods. WireGuard is suitable for users seeking a compact yet reliable service.
- PPTP: An older VPN technology still in use today. Despite supporting only dial-up connections and compromised encryption, its fast performance has ensured continued popularity.
- IKEv2: A security protocol that offers protection against network threats through data encryption and authentication. IKEv2 has an advantage in speed, but its connection could abruptly switch networks, which might cause issues for users needing a rapidly updated IP address while on the move.
Your ISP tracks your online activities and monitors your IP address. Using a no-log VPN can maintain your online privacy and anonymity, as the VPN provider does not retain or log any information transmitted across their networks.
Site-to-site VPN enables users to connect to a corporate network from any location via the Internet. This feature allows access to vital network resources, such as email servers or application servers responsible for managing email or storing data.
Benefits of Site-to-Site VPN:
- Scalability: VPNs can be effortlessly scaled up or down in line with business requirements by adding or subtracting VPN servers.
- Performance: VPNs deliver high performance as each site is equipped with specialized VPN hardware.
- Stability: VPNs offer enhanced reliability and stability, unaffected by internet connection issues.
- Security: VPNs improve protection by encrypting data before transmitting it over the open internet.
Drawbacks of Site-to-Site VPN:
- Visibility: Supervising and controlling data transfers can be challenging due to the independent functioning of each site-to-site VPN connection, which might inadvertently lead to data decentralization and increased network latency.
- Security: While a site-to-site VPN can protect one location when both sites are connected to the same network, controlling access and usage of the data becomes challenging, potentially leading to suboptimal security even if it is encrypted at two separate locations.
Types of VPNs
Several types and protocols of VPNs are designed to cater to various needs. The three primary VPN categories are Remote-Access, Intranet-based Site-to-Site, and Extranet-based Site-to-Site.
An Intranet-based Site-to-Site VPN consolidates various localized networks into an extensive network domain. Enterprises with multiple branches use VPNs to securely merge resources from different sites as though they were within a single physical location. This configuration can also facilitate SD-WAN (Software-Defined WAN) implementation.
The importance of a site-to-site VPN becomes evident when every location possesses unique processes or resources that the entire organization needs access to. For instance, with an Intranet-based Site-to-Site VPN established among multiple corporate branches, each branch can access updated design blueprints customized for clients, regardless of their geographical location.
Site-to-site VPNs have been around for a long time, even predating the modern internet, due to their connection to ARPANET and the inception of Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) traffic.
Remote Access VPN
A Remote Access VPN is a software program that secures connections between two networks. Users working from home can securely access corporate data center applications and data, with all traffic sent and received encrypted.
VPNs enable remote users to access a company’s network as if they were physically present. Data can be transmitted without the organization worrying about it being tampered with or intercepted. Employees working remotely can connect to a server at their desk via a remote access VPN, creating a work environment similar to that of employees at the main office with a direct connection.
Extranet-Based Site-to-Site VPNs are used by organizations wanting to share specific information while preserving privacy. Each entity connects to the Extranet-Based Site-to-Site VPN and decides what information to share with other businesses. They can collaborate without compromising their intellectual property.
Extranet VPNs are commonly used to securely connect business partners to share data and applications, often using the internet as the transport medium. Extranet VPNs require special VPN gateway software at both ends of the connection to encrypt and decrypt data between the two sites.
Using VPN for Unblocking Streaming Services
Users may need to bypass VPN blocks to gain unrestricted access to geo-restricted content. Various methods can be used to evade these blocks, such as utilizing obfuscation or “stealth” servers that disguise VPN traffic as regular HTTPS traffic. Alternatively, trying a different VPN server or altering the VPN protocol can be effective.
Some users prefer using residential IP addresses over data center IP addresses to avoid being flagged by streaming services. Choosing a reliable VPN provider with robust features capable of overcoming these blocks is crucial for a smooth streaming experience.
Here are some VPNs known for unblocking streaming services:
- ExpressVPN: Known for its extensive network of servers in 94 countries, ExpressVPN can bypass geo-restrictions on platforms like Netflix, BBC iPlayer, and Hulu.
- NordVPN: With servers in 62 countries, NordVPN can unblock Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Hulu, and more.
- CyberGhost VPN: CyberGhost VPN, with servers in 60 countries, can bypass geo-restrictions on Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Hulu, and more.
- PrivateVPN: This is another excellent option for unblocking streaming services. PrivateVPN has a network of servers in 50 countries and can unblock various streaming platforms.
How to Use a VPN
Using a VPN is a straightforward process, applicable at home or on the go. Here’s a step-by-step guide to setting up and using a VPN across your devices.
- Choose a VPN Service: Start by choosing a good one offering an extensive server network across multiple locations, no logging policies, and robust encryption.
- Download and Install the VPN App: After choosing a service, download and install the VPN application on your device.
- Sign in and Select a Server Location: Open the VPN app and sign into it using your credentials.
- Select a server location based on your needs: For instance, if you wish to watch US Netflix, you would connect to a server located in the United States.
- Connect to a Server: Look for a quick connection option in your favorite apps. If there isn’t one, research the best server based on your wireless or wired connection’s traffic to ensure optimal performance during the connection.
You’ll be asked to sign in with your account upon downloading a VPN app. Before using it on public networks like airports or coffee shops, review each program’s settings to ensure they match your preferences.
Configure VPN on iPhone or iPad
- Download and install the VPN app. When prompted to allow the app access while creating a new connection, click “Allow” for automatic setup.
- Once the VPN is enabled, go to “Settings“.
- Tap “General“.
- Select the VPN app.
- Toggle the “Status” switch on.
Configure VPN on Android Devices
Android devices are versatile tools, and protecting your online activity is crucial. To connect your Android device with a VPN, follow these steps:
- Download and install a VPN app from the Google Play Store.
- Sign in.
- Choose a server.
- Tap “Connect“.
Configure VPN on Windows PC
To connect your PC with a VPN, follow these steps:
- Click on the Windows logo and go to “Settings“.
- Choose “Network & Internet“, then “VPN“.
- Fill in the connection settings: Select “Add a VPN Connection” from the drop-down list and add your VPN connection. Fill out the login details correctly and click “Save”.
- After selecting a VPN connection from the VPN Settings screen, click “Connect”.
Configure a VPN on Mac
Mac users can utilize the built-in settings to set up a VPN. Have all the necessary information ready, including the type of VPN (PPTP vs. L2TP), server address/name, username, password, and shared secret. This information is unique for each network provider; you should get it from them before setting it up.
- Click the Apple logo, then “System Preferences“.
- Click “Network“.
- Click the Plus key to create a new network.
- Enter the Server Address and the Account Name, then click “Authentication Settings”.
- Enter the Password, then the Shared Secret, and click “OK“.
- Click “Apply“, then “Connect”.
VPNs are potent tools for ensuring online security and privacy. They establish a secure, encrypted connection between your device and a remote server, allowing for anonymous browsing and data protection. By masking users’ IP addresses, VPNs help bypass geo-restrictions and guard against government scrutiny and unwanted surveillance. As they are compatible with smartphones, tablets, and laptops, it’s crucial to evaluate each VPN based on its security, speed, server locations, and privacy capabilities to ensure the best experience.