What is a VPN connection?

what-is-a-VPN-connection

VPN connections are becoming a favorite tool for companies and individual users alike. The term VPN stands for a virtual private network, and it’s a relatively new technology that allows internet users to browse the web safely and securely. It offers quite a few more benefits, but the added security is reason enough to start considering this useful service.

Cybersecurity might not be a top of mind concern for everyone, but more people are becoming aware of the dangers they face while traversing the virtual realm every day. These days, people have online lives that are just as important to them as their real ones are. So many aspects of daily life now depend on the internet to work, with very sensitive information being shared to and fro. Just think about all of the online banking, shopping, and other transactions that are being made every second of the day.

That’s a whole lot of transactions that are vulnerable to exploit. Cyber attackers know that and are always on the prowl. That is why the recorded cases of cyber attacks are on the rise. Plus, since people all over the world are becoming more and more connected, the size of these attacks can be devastating. Just earlier in 2018, Under Armor’s MyFitnessPal app was hacked, which affected more than 150 million users worldwide.

The problem is, internet service providers (ISPs) aren’t doing all they can to protect their clients’ online privacy. In fact, they’re not helping mitigate the problem at all but rather making it worse. ISPs are monitoring and tracking every move their client’s make online, and there are even rumors of them throttling specific online behavior. So the internet is not as secure as most people would like to believe.

How VPNs got started

Many people have heard of a VPN before and are sort of familiar with what it does but don’t know what it is exactly. VPN technology is a system that connects to a network of servers, run by a VPN service provider that then encrypts the data to ensure the connection is secure. The technology was developed to help companies that have remote workers and branches in different regions or countries. With a VPN connection, these people can connect to their corporate servers and access company data and resources securely. So how is this possible?

Read on below to find out how a VPN protects user’s security and more about the many other benefits a VPN offers.

A VPN encrypts all internet traffic

A VPN acts as a middleman between a user’s private network and the internet. So that no one can gain access to the data being transferred through the line. A VPN sends data through what is called an encryption tunnel, which has lead to a very relevant analogy: data acts like a vehicle that has to travel from one point to another to serve a purpose. When people use a VPN connection, it is like their data is moving through a tunnel that cannot be accessed by any other traffic other than the vehicle passing from one end to the other. So there’s no chance of any unwanted passengers hopping on for a ride.

Anyone who may be trying to monitor a network that is protected by a VPN won’t be able to do so. Meaning that any sensitive information that a person or company may share with each other or other websites is safe.

A VPN masks your IP address

One of the other significant benefits of a VPN is that it hides a user’s IP address. An IP address is a sort of address that’s assigned by an ISP to any piece of hardware on a network. Each address is unique and can be used to track a person’s activities as well as their location. All of that is canceled out by a VPN service provider that can choose which server users connect to and give them a new virtual IP address.

Access geo-restricted content

One of the more fun (and also most popular) reasons for using a VPN connection is to bypass a country or website’s geo-restrictions. Since VPN allows people to connect to a server in the region of their choice, they can connect to streaming sites like Netflix, Hulu, ESPN, and HBO even if they don’t live in the USA. Some people who travel a lot also like to use this method to connect to their streaming service accounts when they aren’t in the US.

Evade government censorship

Some governments don’t allow their citizens to visit certain websites. While it’s useless to get into the moral reasoning of why some countries block individual sites, luckily, not all countries do. So anyone who wants to visit a restricted website can use a VPN to connect to a server in a country where there is no such restriction. This works because the VPN server isn’t on the list of websites that the government restricts, so all they see is the user connecting to that server.

Torrent anonymously

While a VPN connection already stops a person’s ISP from snooping in on what they do, it also stops everyone who is connected to the torrenting network from identifying the person as well. How is that possible? Well, it’s because most VPN providers have multiple users who share the same IP addresses when they’re connected to the VPN. This affords those users anonymity and makes it nearly impossible for a lurker to find out who is actually connected to the torrent server. Of course, this system works at its most optimum level for popular VPN service providers because more users mean more anonymity.

How to choose a VPN

Since VPNs are just starting to gain momentum in popularity, many people wonder: “are VPNs safe?” and “do I need a VPN at home?” The answer to both those questions is yes. Though which type of VPN a person chooses depends on their needs.

Most free VPNs don’t come recommended since many of them likely sell their user’s data – they need to pay for those servers somehow. This makes them the exact opposite of what a VPN promises to be.

When choosing a VPN, there are a few things that a person needs to consider and research to make sure the VPN service provider and VPN protocols they’re picking are right for them. Here’s a list of things to consider:

  • Level of encryption: It’s important to look at which types of protocols a VPN provider offers because that will affect VPN security. Older encryption types like PPTP don’t come recommended because they aren’t secure anymore. While the latest types like OpenVPN and IKEv2 come highly recommended. Then again, one needs to look at exactly what each encryption type is and offers. For instance, IKEv2 has minimal support for devices with operating systems outside of Windows.
  • Logging Privacy: The point of a VPN is users’ privacy. So it’s better to stay away from any VPN provider who logs information, like personal contact info, that can identify the user. Many VPN providers even go a step further by accepting cryptocurrency payments like bitcoin, so users don’t need to hand over their banking data either. It is also important to make sure that the VPN provider doesn’t keep any traffic logs. Any service provider who maintains records of that kind must be selling the data.
  • Internet speed: A VPN connection has to go through an intermediary server, which will have an effect on the regular internet speed a person experiences. The goal should be to choose a service provider that won’t drag down the internet speed too much. Most of the popular VPN services don’t have a noticeable effect when browsing the internet.

How to set up a VPN

There are two ways to set up a VPN. The first is manually, which can be done on Windows PCs, Mac, Linux, and some other devices like Amazon Firestick. The method will be different depending on which platform and which encryption type a user chooses. Here’s a detailed guide on how to manually set up a VPN on both Windows and Mac. The second, much easier way to gain VPN access is through a service provider’s third-party client. The VPN service providers that do have clients of their own (not all do, in which case a manual setup is necessary) will have instructions for the process.

Benefits of using a VPN

Whether a VPN is beneficial to a user or not depends on their situation. Some people may make use of all of the benefits VPN has to offer while others may have no use for a secure private network. Although it is arguable that most people need a VPN just as an added security measure, it’s up to each person to assess what’s best for them. The benefits of VPN access need to be weighed against the financial costs as well since not everyone can afford to pay for the service. But this is why it’s also a good idea to shop around to make sure the optimal benefits are gained at the most cost-effective rate.

Hopefully, anyone can now make an informed choice on whether they need a VPN and which VPN to choose with the knowledge gained here. Of course, this is a lengthy topic with many details that need to be further investigated, such as which encryption type to choose. But the information here serves as an excellent base to start with.