We live in an era where there is an unprecedented increase in cyberattacks. Day by day, the number of hackers and the rate of cyberattacks keep growing. In this scenario, who isn't cautious while browsing the internet privately and anonymously without revealing their identity?
If you wish to browse privately and securely while staying anonymous online, a VPN is a solution.. It helps you establish a secure internet connection while using a public network. You connect to public networks when you go to restaurants, cafes, railway stations, or airports, as they provide a better internet speed than your mobile network. However, it is not enough to think about the internet speed. What is more important is your privacy and security. Numerous hackers target public networks; in such a case, your data may fall into the wrong hands.
When you use a VPN, it hides your IP address and encrypts your connection, allowing you to surf the internet securely and privately. All your internet activities stay safe, and no one can spy on them. This way, you can keep hackers away from you.
If you have never used a virtual private network before, it’s important to know how it works and its benefits. We shall walk you through all the aspects you need to know before using a VPN.
What is VPN? [Definition]
A VPN is an acronym for Virtual Private Network, a service that allows you to browse the internet privately. It establishes a secure network connection when connected to a public network. It does this by encrypting the internet connection and disguising your online identity.
In other words, a virtual private network protects your online identity by creating an encrypted tunnel for your data and hiding your IP address. This way, you can connect to public WiFis without any worries about being hacked or tracked by third parties.
Besides protecting your online privacy and security, it comes in handy when accessing restricted content.
Generally, when you access any website in your browser, your internet service provider (ISP) accepts your request and redirects you to the desired page. When you use a virtual private network, it redirects your traffic to a VPN server first before transmitting it to the destination.
How Does a VPN Work?
Understanding how a virtual private network works in real time is always helpful. There are a lot of VPN providers available out there. Select one among all, subscribe to its plan, and install and download the software.
So what does a virtual private network do to make a secure network? Here is everything that happens behind the scenes:
- You have downloaded the VPN software and are connected to the services. It authenticates you as a client with the server.
- The server then implements an encryption protocol for incoming and outgoing data.
- The VPN creates an encrypted tunnel through which all your data transmits between you and the destination.
- It then wraps your data in the encrypted outer tunnel through encapsulation.
- Upon receiving data, the server removes the outer packet through decryption.
This way, even your internet service provider (ISP) and other third parties will not know what data you send and receive online.
Why Should You Always Use a VPN Service?
The primary reason why companies and individuals use virtual private networks is to ensure the safety of their data and digital assets.
When you do not use it, your internet service provider, who sets up your internet connection, can track your internet activities using your IP address. Also, your network’s traffic is routed through the ISP’s servers, which record your every internet activity.
Even though you trust your ISP, they usually share your browsing activities with advertisers. And not only advertisers, the police and the government are also on the list. Even if this is not the case, there are many other issues. For instance, if your ISP falls into the hands of cybercriminals, they can easily get your data.
This is the reason why people use a virtual private network. It hides your IP address , keeping you safe when connected to public WiFi networks.
History of Virtual Private Networks
Even since the start of the internet, users have been worrying about the privacy and safety of their internet activities. In the 1960s, the US Department of Defense started working on a project that would help to encrypt internet data communications. That project is what we know as the humble beginnings of a virtual private network.
First, they created an ARPANET, which is a packet-switching network. This further led to the creation of TCP/IP . The transmission control protocol consists of four layers: link, internet, transport, and application. It follows a client-server model : one device is the client (receiver), and the other is the server (sender).
swIPe, IPSec, and ergo
In 1993, Columbia University students created the first version of virtual private networks, swIPe . It was an acronym for Software IP Encryption Protocol. In 1994, the IPSec network was invented. This is an internet security protocol that encrypts as well as authenticates the data packets transmitted over the internet.
Later, the year 1996 witnessed the creation of the first VPN protocol, Peer-to-Peer Tunneling Protocol (PPTP) . In the late 90s, the internet gained popularity exponentially, and everyone wanted assurance of proper security while using the internet.
During this time, people already used antivirus security software to prevent malware and spyware from infecting their devices. Since antivirus software alone couldn’t provide proper data security over the web, there was a need to integrate PPTP into another software.
The software into which PPTP was integrated as virtual private networks. So, the year 2000 saw the invention of VPNs. Only big companies used them during their initial days to avail of their benefits. But, a security breach that took place in 2010 forced the whole world to make use of virtual private networks.
VPNs in The Current Era
The number of VPN users has increased rapidly since 2010. However, virtual private networks have gained significant popularity in the market since 2016. Countries like China, Thailand, and Indonesia have more VPN users than any other country because their internet activities are restricted.
On the other hand, the USA, the UK, and Germany have fewer users. Nonetheless, these countries are slowly growing regarding the total number of VPN users. Some countries use virtual private networks more than others because of the growing geographical restrictions regarding content delivery ( geoblocking ).
For example, suppose a particular show is not available on Netflix India but on Netflix UK. In that case, Indian users can change their location to the UK using a virtual private network and enjoy watching it.
Modern VPNs allow you to change your IP address to easily access geo-restricted content.
Types of Virtual Private Networks (VPNs)
Virtual private networks use different protocols to secure your data, and it’s important to know about the most popular ones. Three main types of virtual private networks include SSL, site-to-site, and client-to-server.
1. SSL VPN
Since 2020, most of us have been working from home on our laptops or desktops. But the problem is that in the pre-corona world, companies used to keep client-to-server VPN setups on their laptops for their employees to work safely on the internet. Post-pandemic, however, has changed the norm.
Now, organizations prefer using the SSL VPN solution, which comes in a hardware box. This virtual private network is integrated with an HTML-5-capable browser to build the company’s login page. The login requires a username and password that will allow you to access the VPN connection and work from your home on your laptop. HTML-5-capable browsers are available on all types of operating systems .
2. Site-to-Site VPN
It hides private intranets and lets the users access each other's resources privately and safely. It is useful for companies with a presence at different physical locations across the globe. Each location will have its local area network ( LAN ) connected to the wide network area ( WAN ).
However, it is important to note that this type of virtual private network is not flexible compared to the above one. But, it is the most effective way to secure communication between and within the departments of a company.
3. Client-to-Server VPN
It connects your computer to your company’s network using an external cable. A cable is virtual private network software that connects your PC with the company’s network. The connection will be secure and safe, just like any virtual private network. However, you must install and configure the VPN client on your PC first to enjoy an uninterrupted connection.
Client-to-server VPNs are the most common type and are particularly helpful for companies and individuals who want to prevent third-party access to the network and data transactions.
Everything above we discussed the working of a virtual private network was in the context of the client-to-server type.
What is a Good VPN?
It generally provides the following features:
Encrypts Your IP Address
The foremost feature a virtual private network should provide is the encryption of the IP addresses, which helps hide them from ISPs and other third parties. Also, it should encrypt your cookies and internet history so that third parties can’t access your private information and other significant data.
Such encryption of IP addresses helps you ensure that the data you send and receive over the network is visible to only you, the VPN provider, and no one else.
The interruption of your VPN connection could affect your security as well. If the virtual private network you are using is good, it can detect downtime in real-time and terminate all programs in use. It eliminates the risk of data being compromised. This feature is called a kill switch.
It should use the two-factor authentication system to recheck everyone who tries to log in to the connection. For instance, even after you enter a password, it might ask you for a security code you receive either via Gmail or SMS. So, no one can log in to the secure connection without the security code.
Encryption of Cookies
Another feature of a good virtual private network is that it should allow you to leave no traces behind when you browse the web. This means there should be no traces of browser history and cookies left behind. To achieve this, a VPN encrypts your browser cookies, preventing third parties and hackers from accessing your confidential data, such as passwords of different websites, financial information, etc.
Benefits of Using a Virtual Private Network
One must have an encryption key to access or read the encrypted data online. If there is no encryption key available, no one can decipher the code, especially in a cyberattack. Whether you use a public network or not, your online activities will stay hidden when you use a virtual private network.
Masks Your IP Address
VPN servers are like proxy servers. They mask your original IP address, i.e., your location, and assign a new one.
They help you access restricted content in your location. Many websites prevent users of different countries from accessing their content. This is mostly the case with streaming services. However, VPNs make it easier for you to access any geo-restricted content.
Most reliable VPNs don’t store your internet logs; some service providers store them and sell them to third parties. We advise you to carefully read the terms and conditions before using a virtual provider network.
Access to Geoblocked Content
Geographically-blocked content is not accessible from anywhere. For example, if the content is available in India, it might only be available in India. If UK users want to access that data, they must switch locations. In the VPN terminology, it is called location spoofing, which helps you switch a server to another country and change your location virtually.
Secured Data Connection
If you want to access a remote server securely, you can use a virtual private network. For example, you are working from home with your laptop and need to access your company’s data resources, which are a city away. You can securely log in to that data center using a virtual private network and continue your work.
How to Browse the Internet Securely With a VPN?
A virtual private network encrypts your browsing activity in a way that cannot be decoded without a key. This key is only known to your device and the VPN provider. Even though virtual private networks use different encryption processes, they mostly function the same.
The following steps explain the process:
- Start the VPN on your computer and go online. You can also do it the other way around.
- The virtual private network will work as a secure tunnel between your device and the internet network. This tunnel is undetectable by your ISP or any government authorities.
- Your device is using the local network of the VPN, and you can replace your IP address with the IP address provided by the VPN server.
- You can browse the internet with the new IP address, and the virtual private network will protect all your data.
No matter where you use it, a virtual private network is secure. However, they do not behave like comprehensive firewall software programs like Windows Firewall. Even though a virtual private network can protect you from prying eyes, it doesn’t protect you against malware or outside intrusion.
If you want to avoid viruses, which you do, you need to install antivirus software. So, antivirus software programs like McAfee and Avira protect your devices against trojans, malware, spyware, etc. No matter how superior your VPN connection is, try not to use a device without a proper antivirus. This is because the two are completely unrelated and complement each other.
Furthermore, just as you would not choose an untrustworthy VPN provider, we do not recommend using untrustworthy antivirus software. An unsuitable antivirus can harm your PC and mess with your private data.
VPN Installation Methods
When you find a virtual private network, it’s important to know how to install it on your device properly. The following are different methods to install a virtual private network:
Installing a VPN Client
VPN clients are software you can install and configure later on your computer. The configuration depends on meeting different requirements, such as which location to connect. You will have to set up an endpoint for the virtual network provider, and during that time, one endpoint will connect to another endpoint that will create a connection tunnel.
When organizations do this, they use a password that is required during the installation. A password verifies the authentication of the VPN connection, and if the employees have access to the password, they will be authorized as verified users.
Browser Extension VPN
Some service providers allow you to add a virtual private network as an extension to your browser. All popular web browsers , like Google Chrome and Firefox, support these extensions. Browsers like Opera, however, have their VPN extension that comes integrated within the browser.
If a browser comes with a VPN extension, it helps users quickly turn it on while browsing the internet. However, it is important to note that the browser extension of a virtual private network is responsible only for protecting your activities within the browser and not outside it.
For example, if your Opera browser VPN is turned on and you browse the web using Chrome, the virtual private network won’t work.
Even though these VPN types are inappropriate for every scenario, they still mask your internet browsing activities. They are easy to use, though. However, you still have to ensure its reliability.
It is a modern-day solution to protect multiple devices simultaneously. It becomes essential to connect all devices to the same router. This eliminates your toil of installing a virtual private network on each device.
It is especially useful when you want to use a virtual private connection on a device that is not easily configurable, such as a smart TV. If your router has an integrated virtual private network, you can easily access geo-blocked content on your smart TV.
Router VPNs are also straightforward to install, and they will provide you with additional security and privacy. Even if there is a login from an unsecured device, it does not compromise the network. However, the router should have an integrated VPN-compatible interface available so that you can create a secure connection.
It is primarily used in large-scale organizations, requiring advanced personalized technical setups based on the company’s requirements. The company gets help from its IT team to create a virtual private network that best suits employees' requirements.
But since you will be just a user, you won’t have any administrative privileges over the network. Also, you won’t be able to control the data it shares over the network.
Since the company takes care of the data communication , it gives extra security when minimizing the risk of data leakage. The most important advantage of a company's virtual private network is that it provides a secure connection between its server and the user’s intranet. The VPN is equally beneficial for users outside the company’s network coverage.
A VPN connection is not mandatory but highly recommended to establish a healthy and secure connection between your device and the internet. As it routes your network traffic through an encrypted tunnel and masks your IP address, no one can locate you, allowing you to stay safe and enjoy the freedom of the internet.
We hope you found this article interesting and provided everything you need to know before using a virtual private network. If you have any questions, feel free to leave your comments below.
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