VPN (Virtual Private Network) is a service that allows you to connect securely and privately to another network through the internet.
You can use VPN to access blocked or restricted websites and hide your browsing activities when using public Wi-Fi.
Initially, VPNs were only used as a way of connecting business networks securely over the web. But things have changed these days.
VPNs have become very popular, and their uses have continued to diversify as more and more people look to access the web securely and privately.
Basically, the VPN forwards your traffic to the secure network.
Most Operating Systems come with built-in VPN support.
But what is virtual private network?
Read this explanation post to learn more.
What Is VPN?
Many people often ask ‘what is vpn meaning.’
In simple terms, a VPN allows you to connect your smartphone, tablet, or computer to another computer known as a server somewhere on the web and browse the web using the internet connection of that computer.
Therefore, if the server is located in a different country, it will look like you are from that country, and you will be able to access the things that you wouldn’t normally.
You can use a virtual private network to:
- Bypass restrictions on websites or video and audio streaming
- Streaming media like Hulu and Netflix
- Protecting your browsing activity on unsafe networks such as Wi-Fi
- Browse the web anonymously by hiding your true geo location
- Protect yourself while using torrents
Many people today use VPN for bypassing geographical restrictions or torrenting. They are also useful when it comes to protecting yourself while using the network at a restaurant, but that’s not the main use anymore.
Now that you know how vpn works, let’s look at why you should use vpn.
Advantages of Using a VPN
VPN is fast becoming an essential tool for businesses and individuals and privacy-conscious.
There are many reasons why you should use a VPN, but it depends on what you are looking to achieve.
Here are the benefits of using VPN:
- Helps you to maintain privacy and security by hiding your real location and IP address
- Encrypts your VPN connection to the web, securing and protecting you against surveillance and attacks
- The encrypted VPN connection prevents hackers from tracking your browsing activity
- Enables you to bypass geographical restrictions and give you access to blocked sites
- Protect you while surfing the internet, especially when using untrustworthy Wi-Fi hotspots
- Protects your personal details, such as credit card, bank account PIN, phone number, email address, and more.
How Does a VPN Work?
One of the most common questions people ask is ‘how do VPNs work.’
A VPN works by establishing a safe, secure, and private network between the VPN client, which is your device, and the VPN’s private server.
This way, the encrypted data transmitted from your device to the internet appears as though it is coming from the VPN server and not your computer.
You can think of a VPN as a secure “tunnel” through which data is transmitted between the VPN client and VN server via the web.
Let’s look at how a VPN works from the user’s point of view.
You launch the VPN software (client) from your VPN service. The software then encrypts your data before your internet service provider or restaurant Wi-Fi provider spots it.
The data goes to your VPN and from the VPN to your web destination, which could be your bank website, search engine, or video-sharing website.
Your online destination sees the data from your computer as coming from the location of the VPN service and not your real geographical location.
A VPN encrypts your data because you are using their software and goes straight to your internet service provider in the encrypted form then to the VPN server. Basically, the VPN server acts like a third party that connects to the internet on your behalf.
Any device that connects to the internet, whether it is a computer, iPad, tablet, or smartphone, has a unique IP (Internet Protocol) address. Your IP address and geographical location could easily be traced if you don’t use a VPN when connecting to the internet.
A VPN will replace your IP address with that of the VPN server to hide your real geographical location.
VPNs service providers have servers around the world, which gives you a wide range of options.
To start using a VPN, you have to purchase a subscription and download the VPN software to your device (computer or mobile device).
How Safe Is A VPN?
VPNs are safe, but only top-quality VPNs will provide the security and privacy you are looking for.
There are over 300 VPNs out there. When you perform a search on Google Play Store and Apple Store, you will find a wide range of VPN apps, all claiming to provide security and privacy. However, most of them have bugs and other issues that may compromise your privacy.
According to a report, Google Play’s 84% of VPN apps leak.
Unfortunately, although many people know that most free VPN apps leak, they still use them. There are only a handful of VPNs that provide reliable security.
Here are the disadvantages of using free VPN apps:
- They contain malware
- Contain secretly installed apps that log your online activities
- Associated with bandwidth theft
- Traffic leaks
- Fraud and identity theft
Is VPN legal?
It is legal to use VPN in Western countries. Many companies on the website use Business VPN in their day-to-day operations.
However, for people living in the United Arab Emirates, Iran, Oman, and other middle-east countries, using VPN might not be possible.
These nations don’t allow their citizens to use any software or means to bypass their censorship efforts.
The good news is that these countries don’t have a law that restricts the use of VPNs. However, they don’t allow them to bypass restricted websites and content.
China has also banned the use of VPN and uses a strong firewall to block it. Russia has tried to ban VPN, but it has not been successful because VPN traffics looks like HTTPS traffic, thus making it difficult to detect.
Since most modern businesses use VPN to protect their data, it is unlikely there will be a total ban on VPNs. This is because they have proven to be vital in the security and privacy of both individuals and businesses.
Is VPN Truly Anonymous?
Well, the answer to this question is NO. Considering the fact that there are many ways to know when someone is online, a VPN alone cannot provide 100% anonymity and security.
With so many surveillance agencies operating today, it has become even more difficult to attain total anonymity.
But you can enhance your security and privacy by using a VPN together with the following:
- A secure web browser
- A reliable Ad blocker
Free Vs. Paid VPN: What’s The Difference?
If you are looking for a reliable VPN, then you must be willing to part with a good amount of money.
This is understandable considering the cost of the infrastructure, services, data transfer, employees, and more, that is required to create a Virtual Private Network.
Free VPN is never “free.” In addition, they are usually not reliable. The question you should ask yourself is the price you will pay for using a free VPN at the end of the day. They could be tracking your activities, displaying ads, or even worse stealing your personal information for their own gain.
Choosing paid VPN is worth it. You can find great solutions out that that charge as low as $5 per month.
How to Set Up a VPN
How you set up your VPN depends on device you would like to use and your VPN service.
Fortunately, most VPN services have easy set-up guides for the most common OS and major devices.
Here are simple steps on how to set up a VPN:
- Choose a reliable VPN service
- Purchase a subscription that suits you
- Download and install the software on your device
- Login into the VPN service
- Connect to the VPN server and start browsing the web securely and privately
Devices that use Windows, Mac, Android, or iOS have a built-in VPN that uses IPSec/IKEv2 or IPSec/L2TP protocols in place of OpenVPN.
If you choose the route, you will have to download VPN configuration files from your VPN service.
However, most people use Virtual Private Network through a VPN app or VPN client. This allows them to not only establish private networks but also access all the leak protection settings and features.
VPN Encryption and Protocols
AES, which stands for Advanced Encryption Standards, is a pretty common abbreviation in the tech industry.
Nearly all VPNs today use AES key, which can either be 128-bit or 256-bit. The 128-bit encryption remains the most secure in establishing private networks despite the recent advancements in quantum computing.
There are a few VPN protocols you can use with your VPN application to create private networks.
But before we discuss them, let’s define a VPN protocol.
A VPN protocol is a set of instructions or rules used by VPN providers to establish a safe and secure connection between the VPN client and the VPN server.
Here are the most common VPN protocols:
This is by far the most secure protocol. The open-source commercial software is compatible with many devices, which makes it a versatile protocol. In addition, it has a number of features and can be used over UDP or TCP ports.
OpenVPN utilizes a custom security protocol that uses OpenSSL and TLS for key exchange.
IKEv2/IPSec (Internet Key Exchange version 2/ Internet Protocol Security) is a fast and high-performance VPN protocol. This protocol is pre-built into most Operating Systems and plays a key role in restoring the lost connections.
On the downside, IKEv2/IPSec is not open-source as it is a creation of Microsoft and Cisco.
But it remains the best option for mobile devices mainly because it is lightweight, fast, secure, and quickly re-establishes lost connections.
PPTP (Point-to-Point Protocol) is an obsolete VPN protocol built into most Operating Systems. The downside of this protocol is that it has many security vulnerabilities.
L2TP/IPSec (Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol/ Internet Protocol Security) is another popular VPN protocol.
It is more secure than PPTP, but it is not fast as it double-encapsulates data packets. L2TP/IPSec is pre-configured into most Operating Systems and commonly used on mobile devices.
This is the latest protocol that promises better security and enhanced performance.
WireGuard is a free open-source software app protocol that implements VPN techniques to establish a safe and secure point-to-point connection in bridged or routed configurations.
Each protocol has its pros and cons, but the most reliable and widely used is OpenVPN. This is because it is an open-source software application that delivers excellent performance.
Most VPN providers will allow you to choose the protocol you want to use. But when using VPN on your mobile device, you will only have access to a limited number of protocols.
Types of VPN Logs
You need VPN logs and logging policies to ensure you have a secure connection.
Here are the different types of VPN logs:
These include all user activities on the web i.e. IP address, browsing history, and time. VPN providers don’t store usage logs, but free VPNs may do so.
Connection logs include time, data connection, data and IP address. The collected data is used by VPN providers to improve their networks.
They can also be used to find working solutions to potential issues encountered by users.
When you search online, you will find many “no logs” VPNs. However, not all of them are actually No Logs VPNs. To be on the safe side, make sure that you only use no logs VPN services.
Can You Use VPN for Video Streaming?
Yes! In addition to providing security and privacy while surfing the web, you can use Virtual Private Network for streaming.
A VPN will help you to bypass restricted content and access any VPN server around the world. This makes it the perfect tool for streaming videos.
You can use a VPN to stream Netflix and Kodi media. Netflix, in particular, has a large media library. Therefore, you will have more than enough content to explore courtesy of Virtual Private Network.
VPN can also be a useful tool for people who live overseas and would like to access restricted TV channels, websites, and videos in their native countries.
Can You Use VPN for Torrenting?
Yes! A Virtual Private Network can help you to hide your real geographical location and IP address while Torrenting.
As you may already know, Torrenting and P2P file sharing are illegal as it is copyright infringement.
Many nations don’t allow torrenting, and have put several measures in place to restrict the practice.
Keep in mind that we don’t support torrenting. However, torrenting without a Virtual Private Network is a risky venture that could see you arraigned in court.
Can You Use VPNs with Android and iOS Devices?
Yes, you can use VPNs with Android and iOS devices.
Here are various ways you can use a VPN with the two mobile platforms:
By using apps provided VPN providers for Android and iOS. These apps are usually stable and fast, and offer a wide range of features.
Using third-party VPN applications, which are typically free and open-source
VPNs for mobile devices could be using advanced technologies, but they are not as efficient as PC versions.
This is because there are many things that happen behind the scenes when using a Virtual Private Network. The complex processes include connecting to VPN servers and encrypting and decrypting data.
A mobile device may not be able to handle these processes considering that mobile devices tend to lose connectivity easily.
Tips for Choosing the Right VPN Provider
There are many VPNs from different providers out there. However, not all of them provide the best privacy and security.
There are a few things you need to keep in mind when choosing a VPN virtual private network provider. Generally, the best VPN provider has to be secure and easy to use. But, of course, security should be their top priority.
Availability and location of servers
A good provider should have several VPN connection options, and preferably have servers in several countries
A provider that has many connections is able to provide enhanced security and better performance. The results are high-speed private connections.
The number of connections you are able to make simultaneously is a critical factor to consider.
For a business or household that has several people using a VPN connection at the same time, extra high-speed connections are essential.
It is also important to choose a VPN provider that offers OpenVPN protocol. This is because the encryption protocol delivers better security and performance.
However, OpenVPN is only available for PC. Mobile users have to be content with L2TP/IPSec.
No bandwidth throttling
Choose a provider that will not throttle your bandwidth. There are many things you can do online that require a lot of bandwidth. This includes teleconferencing and video streaming.
So you don’t want to pick a provider that will throttle your bandwidth. Most importantly, the provider should permit torrenting and P2P file sharing as well as downloading.
Should not store logs
Most providers promise not to store logs, but they actually do. A good VPN provider that has the best interest of its users will not store logs.
A provider that doesn’t store logs is a better option in the sense that if someone approaches them for your logs, they won’t give them out because they don’t have them in the first place.
To maintain total anonymity, you need to choose a VPN provider that has a kill switch on their VPN software app.
The role of the kill switch is to automatically shut down/kill the VPN connection in the event of a connection failure. This is very important as it prevents third parties from accessing your IP address.
Anonymous Payment Methods
Most VPN providers accept Credit & Debit cards, PayPal, and other payment solutions. However, if you are looking to maintain total anonymity, you may want to use another payment option other than Credit & Debit cards or PayPal. This is because they will leave a trail that spies can use to know your identity.
The good news is that most VPN providers today accept cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin. This encrypted digital currency will prevent government surveillance agencies and other spies from figuring out your identity.
Another anonymous payment option you can use is retail gift cards. Although not all, some VPN service providers allow you to purchase VPN subscriptions using unused gift card balances from the largest retailers such as Walmart and Target.
How to Bypass VPN Blocks
VPN blocks are great for bypassing content restrictions, but they are often blocked as well. Instances where you may find VPN blocks include:
Some countries, especially those in the Middle East, including UAE, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and even China, have VPN blocks. These blocks are meant to prevent people living in those countries from using VPNs to access restricted content.
Schools use VPN blocks for two reasons. Firstly, they want to monitor their students’ online activities. Secondly, they want to prevent torrenting, streaming, and other activities that require a lot of bandwidth.
Office and workplace networks
Offices and workplaces block VPN connection for the same reason as schools-monitoring and controlling the activities of the employees.
The best way to bypass a VPN is by using VPN obfuscation. This technology will make the VPN traffic mimic the standard HTTPS encryption.
Many VPN providers today feature obfuscation technology in their software applications.
What Is the Future Of VPNs?
The future of VPNs looks good.
The usage of VPN connection will increase in the future due to the increase in censorship, tracking, and surveillance by agencies.
The collaboration of the government and private sector in engaging in surveillance activities is a growing trend that has got many people worried.
The two bodies have taken their surveillance measures a level higher and many users who are often connected to the web are concerned that they may not be living a private life anymore.
It is important to use a good VPN service provider. A VPN adds an extra layer of security to Security Socket Layer (SSL) protocol on sites to ensure you have a safe and secure browsing experience.
You should also avoid downloading software from suspicious software and sharing your personal details on social media networks. Most importantly, use a reliable Antivirus software program on your computer.
Petr is a serial tech entrepreneur and the CEO of Apro Software, a machine learning company. Whenever he’s not blogging about technology for itechgyan.com or softwarebattle.com, Petr enjoys playing sports and going to the movies. He’s also deeply interested about mediation, Buddhism and biohacking.