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What is a VPN? How Does a VPN Work?

With the current work- and study-from-home trend due to the global events, VPNs have become a near necessity for many workplaces and educational institutions to stay up and running. Today we will explain what a VPN is and how does a VPN works, as well as, how many types of VPNs are out there and how they differ, Read on to find out.

28 Sep, 21 by Antoniy Yushkevych 21 min Read

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VPN stands for Virtual Private Network, a technology built to protect your internet safety and private data. Now, VPNs have been on the internet for decades because they work and continuously improve. There are several things that a VPN can do, and all of them are important to protect your internet privacy. This post will talk about VPN—what it is, how it works, and how many types of VPNs are there. So, keep reading this post to find out the general and deeper information about VPNs.

 

VPN is an encrypted connection on the internet that connects your device to the server. It creates a secret private tunnel where your computer links to the server. Simultaneously, it masks your IP address so that you enjoy total anonymity on the internet. When using a VPN and your IP address is hidden, your internet activities are untraceable by the Internet Service Provider or government authorities. Even the sites you are visiting can't tell your exact location. 

Therefore, hackers or other malicious attacks on the internet can be prevented by using a VPN. The VPN encryption takes place in real-time to prevent unauthorized traffic from entering your server. And since it can change your device location, you can unblock GEO-based content by connecting your VPN server to a particular country. For example, if you are in India and you wish to access a website that only China does, you can change your location to China using a VPN and enter into their server to access that website.

Several crucial benefits of VPNs make it essential for people who use internet connections in their daily lives. Let's find out what those benefits are.

 

A good VPN connection will hide your IP address and prevent external and intruding access on your computer while browsing the internet. The VPN will encrypt your online traffic and disguise it so that no one can know what you are doing online. Your unencrypted traffic is always easily accessible by hackers and anyone on the internet. But a VPN won't allow that when you turn that on in your device. Here are the most significant benefits of using a VPN connection to protect your PC.

Provides Secure Data Encryption

To allow your device to read the data of a server, it will request the data from the website that you are visiting. When the data is transferred to your device, you can browse the content of that website. During this data transfer, your device uses the IP address that your ISP has already provided. But this IP address is used to know a lot of data regarding you, like your location and browsing histories. But with the help of a VPN service, you can hide this IP address or change it to something unique. And when the hackers try to attack you, they will land on the wrong surfaces.

Secure Files Transfer 

When you work from home, you spend a lot of time in front of your computer, trying to access information off the internet. Now, if you want to access your company's data files, you will need a secure connection. Not using a data encryption technology can risk data leaks over the network. And then, your company will have serious credibility issues. But if you are using a VPN, it will secure your connection and prevent possible data leakage over the network.

Unblock Regional Content

Sometimes some information is only available in certain countries or locations, and they are not accessible outside of that locality. But using a VPN can change your IP address to another country or that particular country you are trying to access your data from. Most Netflix users and online gamers use VPN connections because they help in unlocking geo-based content. For example, if a movie is not available in your country, you can change your location with a VPN and access the film from where it is available.

To Hide Your Whereabouts

VPN servers are a type of proxy server, and they allow you to use another geographic location to access the data from. Since your device is connected to another device, no one can notice your internet activities and guess your IP address. Moreover, good VPN services don't store your internet activities' logs and sell your data to third parties. However, keep in mind that some VPNs keep your logs but don't sell them to a third-party service. 

If you utilize a VPN, you are applying it because you want all these benefits. VPNs work with certain protocols to keep you safe online. There are several things that your VPN hides from the internet apart from your IP address to keep you safe.

 

A VPN can hide so much private information that it can put you at privacy risks if compromised. Here are some of those types of information that we are talking about.

Your Browsing History 

You already know that when you search for something on the internet, it's not only your browser that keeps that history. But your Internet Service Provider does too. If you browse torrents, your ISP will know, does not matter if you are searching from an incognito window. The websites you visit every day also keep your internet history known as cookies to improve your experience on their site. 

However, that's not the only motive as to why keeping your browsing history safe is essential. Third-party advertisers these days look into your internet browsing histories and show you targeted ads. For example, if you search for The Walking Dead on Google, you will receive The Walking Dead memes on your Facebook newsfeed the next day. Not only is this a severe privacy issue, but also very annoying. Using VPNs can keep these browsing histories safe, and no one will know what you are doing.

Your IP Address and Device Location

Whoever has your device's IP address can access whatever you are searching and doing on the internet. And the websites can also locate your device's location when you enter that site but hiding your IP can save you from a lot of trouble. A VPN still uses an IP address to access information over the internet; it's just not your IP. But the VPN will replace your IP address with another IP address so that your device can request data from a certain website, and you can access that site on your device. 

But since the IP address is not your own, you are getting privacy protection and anonymity on the web. No one can view or sell your internet search histories if you are using a VPN. But suppose you are using a public computer where there is no VPN. In that case, your internet histories will be accessible by ISP and government authorities, and so on because your IP is unprotected.

Changes your location

When you travel outside of your country, certain content might not be available to you. For example, if Sony Sports were only for Indian users and were about to visit the USA, you wouldn't be able to view the latest cricket match on the channel. But turning on a VPN can bypass geo-restricted regulations and allow you to access your preferred content. 

Protect Your Devices

A VPN connection can protect your devices no matter what device it is. VPNs work in different types of devices such as smartphones, computers, gaming consoles, and more. But since your devices are the center of the target for criminals, protecting them with a VPN is the best idea. Your devices have much personal information that hackers can target, especially when using a public Wi-Fi network. VPNs won't allow malicious people to get into your computer or any device to take your private information.

VPNs Allow Internet Freedom

VPNs provide you with complete anonymity on the internet. If your VPN provider does not keep a record of your internet logs, no one will know what you are doing online. So, you have absolute freedom and anonymity online.

Not all VPNs are good. When we repeatedly say "good VPNs", we mean the certain ones that care about your privacy. Let's dig for some features of a good VPN.

 

Usually, your ISP sets up your connection when you connect your device to the internet and tracks your activities through your IP address. Your network traffic goes through the ISP's server, and they keep the log of everything you do online. Even though you trust your ISP since they share bandwidth with you, they can sell your information to the advertisers, third parties, and government or police in some cases. Even if they don't share your information deliberately with others, your logs will land in the hands of hackers if their database is hacked. And in that case, your sensitive details can be compromised.

But a good VPN performs several tasks that set it apart from other ordinary VPNs. Apart from hiding your IP address and protecting your information with encryption protocol, it comes with a two-factor verification system and the kill switch feature. 

Kill switch is when your VPN connection drops suddenly due to the change of network (i.g when you are switching from Wi-Fi to cellular data), your VPN can smoothly restore the connection without interruption. 

Two-factor verification allows the VPN to protect your online presence with a more robust security protocol. For instance, you should provide a password to log in to the VPN. But after you put in your password, the VPN will send you another verification code on your email ID or mobile number. This is called two-factor verification, where it is hard for a third party to access your connection. 

The last two features—kill switch and two-factor verifications are not crucial for VPN services. But if your VPN comes with them, you better feel lucky. Additionally, there are some must-have things in a VPN that you need to consider when you are buying a VPN service for the first time,

 

If you access a public Wi-Fi connection often, you need a VPN to stay protected. But when you are choosing a VPN, there are some questions you should ask yourself.

Does the VPN protect your privacy? 

The first reason why we use a VPN is to protect our privacy. The VPN you are choosing should not keep a record of your internet logs. Check out their website and find a no-log policy that doesn't track or keep your browsing records.

Does the VPN come with an updated protocol? 

Some VPN protocols determine how the VPN client and server would work. The most common VPN protocols are PPTP, L2TP/IPSec, OpenVPN, SSTP, and IKEv2. Among these protocols, PPTP is the oldest one and does not provide that many security features. And due to that, most VPNs use the latest L2TP/IPSec, SSTP, IKEv2, etc., protocols that are updated and practical to keep threats away from your system.

Does your VPN have a data limit?

Most free VPNs come with limited bandwidth usage. This means, for example, you cannot use the VPN if the bandwidth exceeds 1500MB in a month. You will have to either upgrade to a subscription plan or find another VPN or access the internet without a VPN connection. However, paid VPN services usually don't have this restriction.

Where are the servers from?

If you want to access content from a particular country, you will need the VPN to provide servers from that country. So, when you are choosing a VPN, do check if their servers are located in your preferred country or region. 

Are you willing to access the VPN from multiple devices?

If you use multiple devices such as two smartphones and one computer, you are most likely willing to use a VPN on all of those devices. Make sure you can use the service on all devices with one account and one subscription. Otherwise, you will have to create another VPN account for other devices, which is somewhat hectic.

How much does it cost? 

Before you subscribe to a paid VPN service, you should definitely check if it fits your budget. There are some free VPN providers, but they don't come with premium features. If you want to enjoy the premium services of a good VPN, you might have to invest some money in it. Here are some notable differences between a paid and free VPN service:

  • Most of the free VPNs don't offer the latest VPN protocols
  • The bandwidth and connection speed of free VPNs are not negotiable
  • Free VPNs mostly contain a higher disconnection rate 
  • They don't have as many servers from as many countries that a paid VPN provide
  • Free VPNs don't offer customer support

There are some essential things to remember when you are choosing a VPN. We suggest you do some research before getting a VPN connection. Although you can switch from one VPN to another VPN anytime, it's wise not to waste your money and time on a poor VPN connection. Also, make sure that the type of VPN you are paying for meets your browsing requirements.

 

There are quite many types of VPNs, but only a few that's more important. Before you choose a VPN, you need to consider their types and whether or not they will benefit your online life. Have a look at the most popular types of VPNs from this section:

SSL VPN

The full form of SSL is Secure Sockets Layer (SSL), a protocol built into a VPN. The SSL VPN will allow your internet-connected device to create a secure connection with your internet browser. It will use end-to-end encryption to secure the data you send from your device to a server. Enterprises use SSL VPN connections to allow their employees to access their organization's information remotely. And the VPN encrypts the data transfer using a secret protocol that keeps hackers and any kind of data leaks away from the users. The internet browser you should use for building an SSL VPN connection should be HTML-5 capable. A username and password usually protect access to this browser. 

Site to Site VPN

A Site-to-site VPN VPN connection is a VPN connection between multiple networks that can be corporate networks or office networks. Some organizations don't use private MPLS circuits, but they use the site-to-site VPN. The site-to-site VPN hides private intranets but still lets users access the networks securely. Site-to-site VPNs are convenient when you have different physical locations of your organizations, and you need to inter-transfer data for work. For example, your organization's name is Kiwi, and it is based in different locations such as China, Dubai, Mexico, etc. You are in China, and you have to access the data for Kiwi Dubai, and for that, you can use the site-to-site VPN. You can transfer files between two intranets and keep the communication going. Site-to-site VPNs are much more complicated than SSL VPNs but are more effective as well.

Client-Server VPN

Client-server VPN requires software that works as a client and is installed on your PC, and it will help your device build a secure connection with the server. Client-server VPN does not involve connecting your computer to the internet through your ISP, but the process involves building a direct and secure connection to the VPN server. Most free and paid VPN client software comes with this type of client-server VPN connection only. It will encrypt the data before passing it through the network and landing it on your device. Many individuals use the client-server VPN to carry on with their internet activities such as gaming and streaming content online.

These are the most popular types of VPNs, and based on your requirements, you can choose one to protect your online privacy. However, to install a VPN, you should familiarize yourself with the different methods of installing it. 

 

VPN client and site-to-site VPNs have different methods of installation. So, based on what kind of VPN you are willing to use, you need to look into their different method strategies.

VPN Client 

VPN clients come in a software form that you need to install on your device to use the VPN service. Then you can configure the software to make it compatible with your usage. You can pick a server that you need to connect to and access information through that secure panel only. These VPN clients use passwords and usernames to protect your account. An account is generally created with your email address, and you can use the VPN client most of the time on different devices from the same account. Make sure to keep your user credentials safe because you don't want to compromise your data.

Browser Extension VPNs

VPN extensions are available for web browsers like Chrome, Microsoft Edge, Firefox, etc. You can install these plugins on your browser only, and they will work when you visit a website from that browser. Since you install browser VPNs on your device, they won't work if you use another browser that doesn't have the VPN installed. For example, you have installed a VPN named 6Y on your Chrome browser; it will work when you browse a site from that browser but not when using Firefox.

Router VPN

If your company or home uses the same router connection to connect to the internet, it will be great if you use the router to build a VPN connection. In that case, you won't have to install a separate VPN for every device you use. For example, your home has a Wi-Fi router, and you use its internet connection on your smartphones, laptops, and smart TVs. If the router has a VPN service equipped, you won't need to go through the hassle of installing a VPN on each of your devices. However, you should ensure that your router supports the VPN connection.

Your Company's VPN

Your organizational VPNs are customized VPN solutions that are more complex than the rest of VPN installation methods. To install a company VPN, you will need technical support, and once the VPN is built, your company's staff and users can only use the solution. If you are only a user, you won't have any administrative rights over your company's VPN network. The company will monitor the data of their staff and keep the logs if they want. This type of VPN installation is also known as a corporate VPN connection, where data leakage is rare since every internet activity of the organization is done through a customized secure panel.

So, if you want to buy VPN clients (because that's the most popular and easy choice for individual users), you can find some recommendations from our list. We have also added some solutions for browser VPN for your convenience. 

 

When you choose a VPN provider, these things you must consider:

  1. Price
  2. Number of servers and their countries
  3. Operating systems support
  4. How many devices does your VPN allow to connect with one account?

Based on these concepts, we have researched the top 3 VPNs that are popular and secure. 

No. 1: Express VPN

Express VPN is one of the most trusted VPNs that are available worldwide. It provides 94 countries and 160 servers from those countries. Express VPN comes with advanced security features and great speed. They don't even keep the logs of your internet activities, and they are cross-platform compatible. But the one downside of Express VPN is it's expensive and not that convenient for beginner users. You can check out our Expressvpn review to know more about the VPN client.

No. 2: Norton Secure VPN

Norton VPN is the second most common VPN in the market. It offers 500+ Servers, and with one subscription, you can run it on up to 10 different devices simultaneously. The price of Norton depends on how many devices you want the connection to run. Moreover, Norton VPN is compatible with most famous operating systems, including Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android. But it has one downside compared to Express VPN, which is it offers servers from 30 countries and 79 locations, where Expressvpn offers servers from 94 countries.

No 3: CyberGhost 

CyberGhost offers subscriptions starting from $12.99 per month and is compatible with Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, Amazon Fire Stick, Android TV, etc. CyberGhost is a little better than Norton and somewhat like Express VPN in the server offering department. CyberGhost offers 7,000 servers across 91 countries and protects your privacy effectively.

 

VPNs that use WireGuard, IKEv2, and any other latest protocols will always be users' favorites. The updated the VPN protocols are, the safer and more secure the connection tends to be. However, we have not talked about the VPN protocols in detail in this post. You can find our other articles where we have discussed VPN protocols in detail. 

See, VPN is a large topic, and it has much other information that you need to know. Still, as a beginner, this post will help you find the most information you need to learn what a VPN is. Since you have learned about the advantages of using a VPN and how many types of VPNs are there, you can easily find one that you need for your internet safety. If you need further assistance in finding a secure VPN connection, let us know in the comment box below. 

 

Antoniy Yushkevych

Master of word when it comes to technology, internet and privacy. I'm also your usual guy that always aims for the best result and takes a skateboard to work. If you need me, you will find me at the office's Counter-Strike championships on Fridays or at a.yushkevych@monovm.com