VPNs are essential to your phone or computer’s security with regard to the internet. It would go a long way if you know what VPNs are, and how they work. If you intend to know, then read through this guide. We have simplified this guide for easy understanding.
What Is a Virtual Private Network (VPN)?
A virtual private network (VPN) is a computer network that provides online privacy by creating an encrypted connection on the Internet. The security of personal data and activities while using the Internet has always been a matter of concern. It is precisely to address this pain point that the concept of virtual private networks came about. The ambit of technology gradually grew to accommodate the needs of businesses and corporates of varying sizes.
A virtual private network is a computer network that gives online privacy to a user by creating an encrypted connection from a device to a network. It uses tunneling protocols to encrypt sensitive data from a sender, transmit it, and then decrypt it at the receiver’s end. Because the user’s internet protocol (IP) address is masked and untraceable during this process, it provides a high level of privacy.
The most common use of VPN technology is keeping all online recreational activities of an individual untraceable, even when accessed on a private Wi-Fi network. When used for businesses, a VPN only allows authorized personnel to access data of the organization through the Internet.
With the help of a VPN, an organization with multiple offices globally can share its data with its employees, irrespective of location. This can be safely done because their IP addresses are masked, even while accessing public Wi-Fi networks. VPN significantly reduces the threat of cyber-attacks and security breaches.
Types of VPN security protocols
VPNs use a variety of different protocols. Older protocols, such as PPP and PPTP, are considered less secure. Here are some of the types of security protocols.
- IP Security (IP Sec). Internet Protocol Security is a popular protocol that protects data through either a transport mode or a tunnel mode. Both provide encryption. It’s considered highly secure and is useful for securing inbound and outbound traffic. But it can require a lot of processing power, and that can affect device performance. Also, some of the security algorithms used in IPSec in the past have been hacked by cybercriminals. Newer versions of IPSec use stronger, more complex algorithms.
- Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol (L2TP)/IPSec. L2TP is a VPN protocol that doesn’t encrypt data by itself. That’s why it’s paired with IPSec encryption. One of its primary advantages? It’s available on most devices and operating systems and provides a high level of security. The downside? It can result in slower connections. That’s because it uses the double encapsulation process.
- Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) and Transport Layer Security (TLS). SSL was the encryption protocol VPNs generally used before 2015. It has evolved into TLS for the encryption of data traveling to an SSL VPN server. One of the reasons that SSL has been largely replaced in VPNs is due to the large number of vulnerabilities discovered in the protocol.
- Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol (PPTP). PPTP was the earliest of security protocols and was first released in Windows 95. It’s fast, but that’s because the protocol provides a low level of encryption.
- Secure Shell (SSH). The SSH protocol isn’t considered especially user-friendly and doesn’t automatically encrypt all of your data. It’s more difficult for users to configure. Plus, fewer providers use this protocol, which limits your choices.
- Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol (SSTP). This Microsoft-developed protocol is considered highly secure and easy to use, but it doesn’t work as well on platforms other than Windows.
- Internet Key Exchange, Version 2 (IKEv2). This protocol is based on IPSec. It’s considered quite secure and fast. One downside? It can be blocked by firewalls.
- Open VPN. This is perhaps the most popular VPN protocol. It combines high security and speed. Because it’s open source, numerous third parties maintain and update the technology.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Using a VPN
Let’s look at the advantages of a VPN.
- Enhanced security: The fundamental functioning of a VPN strengthens the security of network traffic. It keeps all communication between remotely-located employees safe from cybercriminals, without disturbing the flow of work. A VPN uses a range of encryption technologies like IP security (IPSec), layer 2 tunneling protocol (L2TP)/IPSec, as well as secure sockets layer (SSL) and transport layer security (TLS). All of these come together to create the tunnel through which encrypted data is passed from origin to destination points via a server.
- Bypass geo-restrictions: Particularly in the case of personal use of a VPN, geo-restrictions can be bypassed to gain access to sites. The case in point is the scramble to access Netflix from other regions. VPN also helps to bypass censorship impositions in case of restricted sites while traveling. However, this access can be blocked if the need arises.
- Anonymous downloads: Torrents, while usually associated with piracy, have several legitimate uses as well. Despite this, accessing Torrents can put you in trouble. VPNs can be used for access in such cases, provided they are for legitimate causes. There are still chances of your IP address being revealed by dubious service providers.
- Easy file sharing: VPNs pave the way for large networks to provide easy access to information within a private network. It makes the management of multiple remote locations and employees easier, with access that is similar to a local intra-network. This process needs a large bandwidth. However, internet service providers (ISPs) often resort to bandwidth and data throttling to boost the Internet speed of other customers; that is, they place a cap on the amount of data and bandwidth used. VPN helps bypass these caps.
Now, let’s look at some disadvantages of using a VPN.
- Speed issues: The stronger the encryption for a VPN, the slower it becomes. This especially holds true for free VPN providers (which come with several other negative points). However, paid services can deliver good levels of encryption at decent speeds. There are several ways to boost speed, for instance, by reducing the distance between the device and the VPN server location. Also, upgrading to the necessary number of servers that can take the load of a large number of people using it makes a huge difference.
- Increased network complexity: If you require a high-quality VPN, the network that needs to be set up will be more complex. This comprises several network topologies, protocols as well as hardware devices. The complexity can take a while for users to understand.
- Security issues: Businesses use VPNs for the primary reason of giving data access to employees working remotely. The security of the company’s network is then based on the number of users, their devices, and their access points, which reduces control of the VPN.
Here’s how to surf securely with a VPN
A VPN encrypts your surfing behavior, which can only be decoded with the help of a key. Only your computer and the VPN know this key, so your ISP cannot recognize where you are surfing. Different VPNs use different encryption processes, but generally function in three steps:
- Once you are online, start your VPN. The VPN acts as a secure tunnel between you and the internet. Your ISP and other third parties cannot detect this tunnel.
- Your device is now on the local network of the VPN, and your IP address can be changed to an IP address provided by the VPN server.
- You can now surf the internet at will, as the VPN protects all your personal data.
How to choose the best VPN
Finding the right VPN starts by focusing on your main needs. Will you be streaming content? Keep yourself safe online? Doing some gaming?
Choosing a provider with many locations as well as apps for every platform is a good start, but all that really matters at the end of the day is if it covers the locations and platforms you’ll actually be using.
If streaming movies or TV is a top priority for you, look for a VPN that unblocks your favorite services like Netflix or iPlayer. Torrent users will obviously want P2P support on as many servers as possible, in addition to an effective kill switch to keep their identity secret, and an audited no-log policy to make sure all of your online activities stay private.
Many VPNs also limit you from connecting a specific number of devices at the same time. If you have multiple mobile devices, laptops, smart TVs, or other hardware to protect, you will absolutely want to go for a provider that supports more simultaneous connections — or maybe has no limits at all.
One of the best ways to spot a good (or bad) VPN is to check its support site. Look for lots of detailed and well-written content that you feel would help you in whatever tricky situations you may find yourself in. Live chat support is welcome, too, though not essential. Email support can be surprisingly speedy, with some providers responding in minutes.
And of course, there’s a price to consider, too, though we’d suggest concentrating on functionality, first. If price is your only concern, take a look at our list of the best cheap VPNs!
How do I install a VPN on my computer?
Before installing a VPN, it is important to be familiar with the different implementation methods:
- VPN client
Software must be installed for standalone VPN clients. This software is configured to meet the requirements of the endpoint. When setting up the VPN, the endpoint executes the VPN link and connects to the other endpoint, creating the encryption tunnel. In companies, this step usually requires the entry of a password issued by the company or the installation of an appropriate certificate. By using a password or certificate, the firewall can recognize that this is an authorized connection. The employee then identifies him/herself by means of credentials known to him/her.
- Browser Extensions
VPN extensions can be added to most web browsers such as Google Chrome and Firefox. Some browsers, including Opera, even have their own integrated VPN extensions. Extensions make it easier for users to quickly switch and configure their VPN while surfing the internet. However, the VPN connection is only valid for information that is shared in this browser. Using other browsers and other internet uses outside the browser (e.g. online games) cannot be encrypted by the VPN.
While browser extensions are not quite as comprehensive as VPN clients, they may be an appropriate option for occasional internet users who want an extra layer of internet security. However, they have proven to be more susceptible to breaches.
Users are also advised to choose a reputable extension, as data harvesters may attempt to use fake VPN extensions. Data harvesting is the collection of personal data, such as what marketing strategists do to create a personal profile of you. Advertising content is then personally tailored to you.
- Router VPN
If multiple devices are connected to the same internet connection, it may be easier to implement the VPN directly on the router than to install a separate VPN on each device. A router VPN is especially useful if you want to protect devices with an internet connection that are not easy to configure, such as smart TVs. They can even help you access geographically restricted content through your home entertainment systems.
A router VPN is easy to install, always provides security and privacy, and prevents your network from being compromised when insecure devices log on. However, it may be more difficult to manage if your router does not have its own user interface. This can lead to incoming connections being blocked.
- Company VPN
A company VPN is a custom solution that requires personalized setup and technical support. The VPN is usually created for you by the company’s IT team. As a user, you have no administrative influence from the VPN itself, and your activities and data transfers are logged by your company.
This allows the company to minimize the potential risk of data leakage. The main advantage of a corporate VPN is a fully secure connection to the company’s intranet and server, even for employees who work outside the company using their own internet connection.
In conclusion, look for a VPN with everything you want to actually do. That doesn’t have to be expensive — there are some great value deals on this list — and you can always use price later to prune your shortlist down to a final choice.