What is a VPN?
In this day and age, we have the possibility to easily connect to people all over the world and share information. With a click of a button we can access information from any part of the globe which was made possible by the internet. Anyone can use the internet freely but due to the sudden burst in usage, the internet which once was a free place has become a monitored space. As the digital world evolves we want our digital freedom and that our personal information remains private from prying eyes. Government, corporations and cybercriminals are always online spying on the users and to be safe from them, the VPN (Virtual Private Network) comes to play. A VPN is a method of connecting to the internet (or private network) which provides security and privacy. Normally VPNs are used by corporations to protect their sensitive data and now due to people’s privacy, it’s getting extremely popular to use personal VPN as most of the face-to-face activities are done online. When using a virtual Private Network your IP address will be replaced with an IP address of the VPN service provider. Once you get a VPN you have the opportunity to choose the country (or city) from where you will have access to the internet. For example you may live in Mexico, but you will access the internet from Germany. In this article we will go through all the information needed to know about what a VPN and there uses.
How does a VPN work?
A VPN is a connection method which grants you the privacy, protection and access to the free uncensored world of the internet. The internet is a vast place and there are many restrictions when accessing the internet. Some countries put up restrictions, some companies put up restrictions and even some ISPs put up restrictions over the internet. All these censorships and restrictions can be avoided with the use of a VPN. VPN usually consists of a network of multiple servers located all around the world where the user sends the data from the host device which passes through the server to the destination. Similarly the return trip from the destination back to the host is passed through the VPN server. Due to this process, your location will not be exposed as the destination can see the traffic coming from the VPN server by masking your true location with the use of the IP from the VPN server.
VPNs also come with encryption. If you’re looking for the best online anonymity look no further because with the VPN it not only hides your location but also grants you the security to surf the internet with absolute freedom. On another plus side this also protects you from receiving targeted ads. Organizations target audiences with advertisements depending on the geographical location of the user and by analyzing the browsing activities. Since a VPN masks your true location with combination of the security provided by the VPN, all the ads will no longer annoy your daily tasks.
But wait, how does the encryption work?
Encryption is an essential part of a VPN as it jumbles up your data which turns a meaningful message into an unreadable format which makes hackers, companies and governments from making sense of the data if intercepted in between transmission without having the specific decryption key. AES stands for Advanced Encryption Standard and is the standard for encryptions all over the world.
To secure the information coming to and from the VPN servers, VPN providers use the AES encryption standard. VPNs use military grade encryption techniques to securely send your information to and from the VPN servers. However there is no guarantee of a 100% perfect encryption but the 256-bit AES encryption is nearly impossible to crack. Theoretically if a message is intercepted, it’s possible to brute force your way inside the message but it will take more than 50 super computers checking 1015 AES keys each second for more than 3*1050 years to crack a single piece of encrypted data which is an impossible piece of work for our time. To see how strong the 256 bit encryption, check the following example. We encrypted the phrase “VPN.Surf” which turned out to be “Ae9jORm0cSGAbZKMuSCSYg==” after encryption which doesn’t make sense to the initial phrase.
This kind of security is what keeps people safe sometimes even from life threatening situations. VPNs are the key to be anonymous and secure when surfing the open waters of the internet.
Virtual Private Network Protocols
There are many VPN protocols in use today. I’ll go through some of the main Protocols that are being widely used today.
OpenVPN – OpenVPN is a SSL based VPN which makes it one of the most secure VPN protocols in use. This is an open source protocol which is freely available for the general public and it uses AES 256-bit encryption (also others), with 2048-bit RSA authentication and uses a 160-bit SHA1 hash algorithm which makes this protocol a very secure one and also its available in almost every platform like Windows, Linux, Android, macOS, iOS, routers and many more. This protocol is considered a bit slow as there is a lot of security and privacy involved.
PPTP – Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol is one of the oldest VPN protocols which was integrated with Windows 95 which was designed to work with dial-up connections. PPTP protocol can be set up on every major OS but it’s no longer widely being used as it has low security measures compared to the technologies in used today. But due to the lower amount of security features this protocol is considered as one of the faster VPN protocols.
L2TP/IPsec – Layer 2 Tunnel Protocol (L2TP over IPsec) is the successor of the PPTP protocol which offers more features. L2TP/IPsec is a combination of two protocols to get the best out of the two. L2TP alone does not provide any encryption or security but it creates the tunnel while the IPsec protocol provides the security to the channel. This uses AES 256-bit encryption providing great security and this protocol has no known vulnerabilities making it a very strong package.
IKEv2 – Internet Key Exchange version 2 or IKEv2 was developed by Microsoft and Cisco which alone is just a tunneling protocol but it’s frequently combined with the IPsec for encryptions. This protocol is widely used in mobile VPN solutions because it’s adapted to reconnect during temporary connection losses and during switching of networks (Wi-Fi to mobile data for example). This comes with a native support for Windows, iOS and Blackberry while there are open source implementations for Linux and Android.
What could be the advantages of using a VPN?
Using a VPN has many advantages when connecting to the internet.
Full encryption: All the traffic that is going from your computer is encrypted passing through the VPN server. This encryption prevents any interception of the message to be meaningless which prevents hackers, ISPs (Internet Service Providers) or Government organizations from keeping track or stealing your online activities.
Speed: While using a VPN, the data passes through the VPN server while doing the encryptions which result in a slightly slower connection. However this decrease in speed in barely noticeable. Note that if you’re suffering from ISP throttling or network congestions, using a VPN will actually speed up your connection.
Compatible with most devices: Everybody wants to be secure and anonymous online without prying eyes. The best VPN providers will provide VPNs for the most common systems. If you have a Windows or Linux or Mac or Android or iOS operating system, there’s a VPN for you. There are also VPN software that you can install in your routers.
Ease of use: When it comes to the inner workings of a VPN is a bit technical and complicated but to use a VPN is super easy. First you will need to register to a VPN provider > Download the VPN software > select the country you would like to connect to. That’s it! Simple as that which doesn’t require any technical skills or previous knowledge.
Bypassing censorships: When accessing the internet through a VPN, you will appear as you are appearing from the country that you chose. Your original IP will be masked with the new locations server IP address giving you restriction free access to sites and streaming services like social media and Netflix.
Disadvantages of a VPN
Now let’s get down to the drawbacks of using a VPN. Even though VPNs provide security, there can be situations where your privacy can be compromised.
Software Failure: For the VPN to protect your data and provide the anonymity, the client software should function. However if the software fails, then the data from your device will no longer be secure and you won’t be anonymous. This will lead to your ISP or hackers to have access to spy on your activities. However some VPN software come with a kill switch which shuts down the internet connection if the software malfunctions.
You have to pay: There are a lot of VPNs which are free but the free VPNs don’t come with the full benefits of having a VPN and to get the complete package, usually there us a subscription fee even though they are usually affordable.
Weak encryptions: Most of the top tier VPN providers use a 256 bit encryption which is almost impossible to break. With this military grade encryption technique it is possible to keep the data encrypted and safe. However in some VPN providers, use weaker encryption techniques which doesn’t guarantee complete security.
Logs kept by the VPN provider: The whole point of using a VPN Is to be anonymous when surfing the internet and this includes the VPN providers also. When choosing a VPN provider, you have to trust them since you will be using theirs software and servers. Most VPN companies keep logs of their users which are used for their own use or they are forced by their governments. These logs are categorized under
- Logs relating to the usage: This type of logs can include where you were online and what you were doing while using the VPN. The amount of logs kept depends on the VPN provider where some keeps complete logs while others keep logs in such a way that it’s impossible to identify the individual users.
- Logs related to the connectivity: These type of logs include the times you were using the VPN which includes your IP address.
A VPN provider has the power to keep logs of its users and the level of keeping logs depends on the VPN provider. While one company deletes the logs immediately another one might keep the data for months. You need to be careful and choose wisely before picking a VPN provider if you need no one to keep any logs of your online activities.
Why do you need to use a VPN?
In conclusion these are the things I think are the reasons to have and use a VPN.
- If you’re worried about your private information being used by third parties like your bank details, then a VPN is the choice.
- When using public Wi-Fi you want to be safe from prying eyes and keep your data secured, then it’s time for a VPN.
- You believe that you need to have the complete freedom online without anyone snooping in and spying on you, VPN is the answer.
- When surfing online, if you want to be completely anonymous without anyone knowing what you do, get a VPN.
- If the country you’re living in has a lot of online restrictions or is censored and you would like to have complete access without any surveillance, choose VPN.
- If you had to access a company network while you’re travelling, then get yourself a VPN.
- If you are looking to bypass network firewalls or prevent network admins from keeping track of your browsing activities, choose a reliable a VPN.
- If you don’t want to see advertisements based on your location or browsing habits, then it’s better to get yourself a VPN.
- If you want to access the full contents of streaming services like HBO or Netflix, simply get a VPN and enjoy your favorite shows.
Do you value your privacy online?
Use VPN Surf and surf safely and securely in the open waters of the internet.