VPN (Virtual Private Network)

Today’s communication’s providers, and network consumers are still debating about how exactly a VPN should be defined, or explained. If, however, we first looked back, at the literal definition of the words themselves, perhaps it might only help to realise what is not, and what a Virtual Private Network truly is.

VPN Explained - Defining VPN Using Webster’s Dictionary Looking at it from a Webster’s dictionary perspective, the definition of the component words, a virtual private network (VPN) should contain these attributes.

V - Virtual According to Webster’s dictionary, the term, virtual, is defined as, “being practical, or in effect, but not in authentic fact or name.” So, here’s our first part of the answer to the original question, “what is a VPN?”. This is something that somehow acts as a physical-wired network—only it is not typically hard-wired.

P - Private Like the name implies, private, according to Webster’s dictionary, is defined as, “of someone, or, belongs to, or, concerning a specific group or individual. But not ordinary or general.” Hence, a VPN should be that which a net consumer “you” has exclusive exposure, and use of the network links.

A point to keep in mind: This is very different from a Secure Network, which as a result, may be a public, or a private network. Keep going.

N - Network This final part is defined as, “a system whereby computers are interconnected by telephone wires, or any other means, with the intention of sharing information.” Again, this is typically the goal of a Virtual Private Network, or any other kind of network, out there.

Accordingly, the Virtual Private Network (VPN) explained in this form, is a net technology that gives you the possibility of sharing info with others through a private, special link which is formed in a completely different method other than physical-wires or leased lines—typically through cyberspace. It is the safest way you can protect your web traffic in the current tech-world, and secure your online identity.

Moreover, way back, before the internet age, computers in different places, or offices—or even cities, could only connect to each other through telephone lines. However, as the needs for this kind of communication increased, the telephone lines were changed with higher volume cables, or wires such as the T3 circuits—only the main concept didn’t change.

Furthermore, for, let’s say, computer A to communicate with computer Z, there had to be a hard-wired connection between the two computers.

For certain security concerns, however, a person would only want to ensure that two computers used that line, and therefore, you would only contract with a merchant to lease that circuit. But this kind of network was hard to expand. Also, it was hard for a client to gain control over it.

With the dawn of the internet, and advancement of technology—physically wired connections are almost history. Provided your computer can access the internet, info or data sharing can pass through what is termed as local ISP circuits. The info can easily travel through this channel across the internet to their intended destinations in a much similar fashion like the physical-wire connection age.

What Does a VPN Do?

Concerns about online privacy have increased in recent years. Such concerns include government eavesdropping, and social media data leaks—not to mention the upsurge of laws which are now controlling data mining. For many people, a VPN is only seen as a security tool to safeguard against, or prevent cyber snooping.

This program, however, can also come in handy if, let’s say, you want to mask your location or online ID, or if you want to access a blocked website page. Also, with the end of the network neutrality, ISP providers can track someone’s IP address to monitor their internet activities, and sell their browsing history.

What does a VPN do? With a VPN service, you are sure to surf the web, anonymously, without limitations of which pages you should, and should not visit, or even have concerns about privacy breaching with ISPs, or cybercriminals.

How Does a VPN Work?

For your best knowledge of how Virtual Private Network(s) work, it is critical that you first know how your online connection works without it, in the first place.

How Your Net Connection Works Without VPN

Whenever you are accessing a web page without a VPN service, you get connected to that particular page via an ISP, or in other words, your Internet Service Provider. Your ISP will often assign you a special IP address which can always be used to identify you to the site.

Also, since your internet service provider (the ISP) will be the one to handle, and direct all your web traffic, they can clearly see the sites you are visiting. Again, your browsing activities can be linked back to you with that same special IP address.

How Your Net Connection Works With a VPN

When you use a Virtual Private Network to connect to the internet, the VPN program on your device, also known as VPN client, will create a safe online connection with a VPN server. And while your internet traffic will still go through your ISP, they can no longer know what it contains, or even see the final destination of your data, or other online activities.

Similarly, the sites in which you are visiting can also no longer see your initial IP address. Instead, they will only see an IP address that is created by your VPN server—and this is often shared by many other users, and is also often regularly replaced with a different one.

Below are some key concepts that are related to Virtual Private Network(s) which can help you to further understand how the service works, and the benefits it offers.

Proxying

A Virtual Private Network server acts as a proxy for your internet activities. As such, instead of seeing your real location, or IP address, the web pages you are visiting will only see an IP address of the VPN server, which often changes, and is used to mask your identity. This is how you become completely enormous when you are online.

Authentication

To create a safe connection is often only a tricky issue. It takes a clever calculation in a process known as authentication, to solve the matter. Further, once the authentication process is complete, both VPN server and VPN client can be sure that they are only connected to each other without anyone else snooping around.

Tunnelling

Virtual Private Network(s) can also protect the client to server connections through encryption, and tunnelling. Let me explain. Tunnelling is the process whereby every data packet is encapsulated inside another data packet. This is what makes your data harder, or impossible to read during a transit.

Encryption

The data that is inside the “tunnel” is again encrypted in a way, only the original intended recipients themselves are able to decrypt the data. This is how the contents of your web traffic is kept completely private, and not even your ISP provider can see, or predict these activities.

What Kind of VPNs are There?

VPN(s) do vary in types. And there are a dozen of them at the online marketplace. The 4 main types, however, are:

  • personal VPNs
  • remote access VPNs
  • mobile VPNs
  • site-to-site VPNs

Further, most VPN review sites are often discussing the personal VPN. Such VPN(s) are used to create private, and safe browsing connections to the open web. But they are also used for bypassing geographical restrictions, and avoiding firewalls.

By comparison, however, most companies are using the remote access VPN. Because it offers their staff the possibility of accessing a company’s secure network remotely. But if, let’s say a staff member doesn’t have a stable net connection, a mobile VPN is the next best preferred for such situations.

Similarly, whenever there are several websites, or several businesses that are trying to connect to a single private network (in this case, not only one staff member), these businesses, or websites will need to use the site-to-site VPN, instead.

Nevertheless, it also helps to understand that Virtual Private Network(s) use different kinds of VPN protocols to encrypt internet connections, and make them secure, and private.

What is VPN Protocol?

In a nutshell, a VPN protocol is simply the thing that determines how exactly data is routed through a connection. Also, these protocols have distinct specifications that are based on the rewards, and desired circumstances. Let me explain.

While some other VPN protocols almost only focus on encrypting, or masking data packets, for security and privacy, some others prioritise data throughout speed. Also, it helps to know that there are 2 primary approaches to VPN functionality.

  1. 2 VPN protocols are used. One protocol for carrying the data through the tunnel while the other secures that traffic.
  2. 1 VPN protocol Is used. This single protocol is used for data transfer, and security of that data (data security), at the same time.

Types of VPN Protocols

Here are the five popular types of VPN protocols, and their major benefits.

  1. OpenVPN. This is an open source that provides the developer with access to its underlying codes. The OpenVPN has become very popular—thanks to its use of virtually unbreakable AES-256 bit key encryption with 2048-bit RSA authentication, and a 160-bit SHA1 hash algorithm.

TL;DR: Strong encryption, slow speed, open source.

  1. PPTP. Point-to-Point Tunnelling Protocol (PPTP) is among the old VPN protocols that exists. Microsoft designed this protocol in the mid-90s, and integrated it into Windows 95. PPTP was created specifically for dial-up connections.

As the technology advanced, though, PPTP’s basic encryption quickly got cracked. This act compromised its underlying security but still, because this protocol is lacking many security features found in the current age protocols, it delivers the best connection speeds for those who don’t require big encryption.

Regardless, while this protocol is still being used in some applications, however, most VPN providers have so far upgraded to faster, and the most reliable VPN protocols. TL;DR: Fast data speeds, broad support, vast security problems.

  1. SSTP. This SSTP protocol is especially popular because of its integration with any Microsoft OS. Also known as the Secure Socket Tunnelling Protocol, this VPN protocol uses 256-bit ASK keys for encryption, and 2048-bit SSL/TIS certificates for authentication.

The major drawback for this protocol, however, is that it is a Microsoft-developed proprietary VPN protocol, and developers have no access to its underlying codes. TL;DR: Hard to detect and block, good security, great support for native, or third party clients.

  1. IKEv2. This one here is certainly a very common VPN tunnelling protocol. For encryption and authentication purposes, IKEv2, or rather, Internet Key Exchange version 2 is usually paired with IPSec (Internet Protocol Security). IKEv2 is best at re-establishing the link after a temporary disconnection.

Additionally, it also excels at switching connections across networks, i.e., it can easily switch from WiFi to cellular data and vice versa. TL;DR: Mobile friendly, fast, network switching capability, great support for native and third party clients, open source choices.

  1. L2TP/IPSec. Also known as Layer 2 Tunnel Protocol: This VPN protocol is only a replacement of the__ Point-to-Point Tunnelling Protocol__ (PPTP). It doesn’t offer privacy, or encryption out-of-the-box, and is often paired with the security protocol IPSec. Once implemented, this protocol is extremely secure, and has no recognised, or known vulnerabilities.

TL;DR: Used broadly, good speed, easily blocked because of reliance of UDP on a single port.

How Do I Install a VPN on My Computer?

Many Virtual Private Network(s) today support the OpenVPN protocol. This makes it a total breeze to set it up as it permits the VPN application to access, and configure the settings on your behalf. To install a free VPN on your computer, be sure to use the following instructions depending on your operating system.

Setting Up Free VPN On Windows

To install a VPN on Windows, tap the windows button, and go to settings > Network and Internet > VPN, then choose, Add a VPN connection.

Next, on the page, choose Windows (build-in) for your VPN provider, and provide a name under the Connection name section. Enter the name of the server or address, type of VPN, as well as the type of sign-up information.

While it is only optional, it is still recommended that you add a username and password for an extra layer of security, and privacy. Click save to store your new changes. further, if you want to connect to your configured VPN, go to settings again, and choose Network and Internet > VPN > select your VPN name.

Setting Up Free VPN On Mac

To set up or install free VPN on Mac, tap the Apple icon and choose System Preferences > Network, then click the (+) plus button to create a new network connection. Afterwards, from the Interface dropdown menu, select VPN. Equally, at the Service Name dropdown menu, select L2P2 over IPSec, and write your preferred name in the Service Name field, then click Create.

Next, input the Account Name and Server Address (this is sometimes called the username by VPN provider) then choose, Authentication Settings. Enter password, and shared secret, and tap the OK button then choose Apply, and Connect.

Is a VPN Really Secure?

Whether you are surfing the web just for fun, or you are running an online business—you are definitely aware that browsing the internet also exposes you, or the business, to all sorts of risks.

Besides, by connecting to the web, alone, you are also exposing yourself, or your company to potential hackers, and other cybercriminals who can steal anything from your personal data (your online identity) and browsing history, to your payment details.

Therefore, whenever it comes to protecting yourself and your browsing activities, you might have heard of, or even tried some ways for browsing privately. Example, you might have already come across browser security tools such as Guardio, for instance that provides maximum browser protection.

Equally, you might have also previously checked the private browsing features which are often offered by the world’s leading browsers. As such, you may have already tried Google’s Incognito mode, Microsoft Edge’s InPrivate Browsing, or Mozilla Firefox’s Private Browsing.

Accordingly, while many people are only thinking that Private Browsing, like using Google’s Incognito mode, for instance, keeps them safe from malware, or other cybersecurity problems because no data, or their browsing history is stored during Private Browsing—this is certainly not the case. Let me explain.

You see, since Private Browsing, or however you can call it, is relying on an IP address (internet protocol) that is often provided by your ISP, it is still much possible for others to detect your browsing sessions, and exploit the flaws.

Lastly, programs or software bugs, and HTML5 APIs, for example, have previously been the source of various accidental leaks, and have permitted third-parties’ access to the search, and internet history via the so-called Private Browsing. With that said, the only best way you can totally protect your privacy, aside from only using the most advanced browser security tools, is by using a VPN service.

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