You might have heard of VPN, seen your friends use and recommend them, or even used one yourself. But, do you know what VPN software really is and how it works internally to keep your connection private? If not, you have come to the right place. We are going to discuss what is a VPN and why you should use a VPN. However, before we jump into VPNs, we will need to back-paddle a little and understand what the Internet is.
What is the Internet?
The Internet is a massive global network of electronic devices like computers, smartphones and tablets. At a very basic level, this network is just a massive hotchpotch of cables running for thousands of miles under the sea. These cables form the backbone of this global Internet network. Even when you are connecting via Wireless networks like WiFi or 4G, you will eventually connect to this backbone network at some point. In the traditional sense, your ISP (Internet Service Provider) lets you join this backbone when you get online.
When you use the Internet, whether you are surfing websites, watching videos or downloading torrents, you simply connect to other computers (or electronic devices) on this network and interchange (send or receive) data with them through your browser. That is why, we sometimes call this activity web-surfing or web-browsing.
What is a VPN?
VPN (read as Vee-Pee-En) stands for Virtual Private Network. A VPN acts as an intermediary between you and the Internet to create a virtual network, where your activities are private. This is made possible by two things:
- A client software that will be installed on your device (computer or smartphone)
- A virtual Private Network to which the client will connect with the client software
When you get online through a VPN (Virtual Private Network), the client software encrypts all the data traveling out from your device using a security protocol. It then leverages the Internet connectivity provided by your ISP and connects to the servers of the VPN network. This VPN will then decrypt the data received from your computer and exchange the data that you requested with the Internet. This data will once again be encrypted and sent to you via your ISP completing the route to your computer. At your computer, the client software will then decrypt the information and display it to you.
In other words, when you use a VPN, you first communicate in a secure manner with the private network. It then connects to the internet on your behalf and passes on the received data back to you. Hence, in this case, we can consider that the ISP is a middle man simply forwarding and receiving your traffic to and from the VPN network. This traffic between your computer and the VPN server is a protected package. Your ISP is neither aware of the contents of the package nor has any provisions to do so.
What Are the Types of VPN?
VPNs are generally of two types:
- Corporate VPN- VPN technology developed for companies wanting to provide their employees with a secure way to work remotely. It is a medium to enable employees to securely connect to the private corporate network (intranet) while being physically away from that network. Cisco is big in this space and provides popular corporate VPN solutions.
- Commercial VPN- Online Privacy and Security concerns over the past decade have given rise to the popularity of commercial or private VPN. Here, individual users on the Internet leverage commercially available virtual private networks to hide their online activities and ensure privacy. If you have arrived here at Tom’s VPN, this is what you’re probably looking for. There are a number of players in this field like VyprVPN, CyberGhost, ExpressVPN, PureVPN and many new ones are coming up every day.
Why You Should Use a VPN?
VPNs initially became popular because of companies that allowed access to their network on the Internet only through VPNs. However, that was back in the late 1900s. Today, even if you go online to simply explore the Internet, there is a myriad of legitimate reasons why you might want to use a commercial VPN intended for the public. Here are some reasons why you might want to use a VPN.
Whenever you get online, you share a bunch of private information without realizing it. This includes your IP address, operating system, browser version, screen size and system information. This information goes straight to the websites you visit, and your ISP knows exactly which website you visited and at what time. As you can see, your computer leaks personal information throughout the connection. It is extremely trivial for law enforcement (and sometimes even private individuals) to uniquely identify to be able to charge you and this information comes in very handy to do exactly that.
A VPN can encrypt all traffic between you and your ISP, thus hiding your activities from your ISP (Internet Service Provider). It also masks your true IP address and system details making them difficult to read and ensuring your privacy.
When you browse the web or use an app, you are at the mercy of the website and the app developers for your security. They may or may not chose to encrypt the communication between your browser and the Internet. Additionally, many public WiFi hotspots are unencrypted or have poor encryption. All of this opens up the possibility for someone else to snoop on the data that is being sent and received from your system. If they succeed, they end up gaining access to private information including but not limited to your browsing history and login credentials.
A VPN can protect you from such security risks by encrypting all the data sent or received from your system. Even if someone is able to monitor your data, it will be encrypted and make no sense to them.
Geo-Spoofing or Geographical Spoofing means faking your actual geographic location. Many content distributors like YouTube, HBO and Netflix restrict their content to certain geographies (example: this video is only accessible inside the USA). VPN software can help you spoof your geographic location by connecting to a server in the VPN network located in a country of your choice. This will make it look like you reside there and are connecting to the Internet from that country.
Many ISPs throttle or adjust your Internet speed based on what kind of data you are using. Internet service providers often throttle high bandwidth applications like streaming video (Netflix or YouTube) and torrents to maintain their networks congestion free. VPNs can help you bypass throttling by encrypting your connection from your ISP and hiding its true nature.
In this article you got an overview of what is a VPN and the benefits of using the same. Clearly, VPNs are not used only by corporate companies but individuals can use them too for so many reasons that we have discussed above. However ideal the reasons that we have cited sound, not all of them are applicable everywhere in the world. Before you start using a VPN right away, you should first check whether Using a VPN is legal in your country.