A Virtual Private Network (VPN) refers to a method of connecting machines in both private and public networks such as Wi-Fi hotspots to boost security and privacy. Ideally, the product is appropriate for corporations that deal in sensitive data. However, with the changing times and the utter lack of privacy on the internet, a lot many people are turning to personal VPNs to secure their communication channels over the internet.
How Does a Virtual Private Network Work?
To understand how a VPN works, it is important to explain its architecture a little more. Now, consider a series of connections that are routed over the internet and whose purpose is to encrypt the data you send or receive.
Note that as the data travels back and forth between your client and the various web resources that you are visiting, you get the data encrypted at least once since the various protocols such as HTTPS, LDAPS, and SSH, and the various servers they use have some in-built encryption features.
Using a VPN, as such, means that your data is encrypted an additional time.
The Actual Workings of a VPN
The data transmitted from your client machine to the internet gets to a point in the VPN where it is encrypted before it is sent out. Further down the VPN, the same data is decrypted before it is transmitted to the rightful recipient; which could be an email server, a web server, or the intranet of your company.
The relay of information back to your client computer follows the same process.
Is a VPN Secure?
This is a concern that many users have. Firstly, because privacy is now a serious concern to many internet prowlers. And secondly, because everyone wants the best value their money can buy. When you are subscribing to a VPN plan, for instance, you may want to know if it will offer you whole anonymity.
To answer the question, it is important to understand that different VPNs apply different technologies and encryption standards.
PPTP or Point-to-Point Tunnelling Protocol – This protocol has been around since around 1995 and is still popular among service providers. It works in combination with the GRE Protocol, also called Generic Routing Encapsulation Protocol. PPTP in itself does not encrypt data; rather, it carries it to the GRE Protocol, which encapsulates the data before sending it out.
Layer 2 Tunnelling Protocol – Note that this protocol only helps make VPN operations possible but does not entirely encrypt data. As such, it is advisable to use it in combination with other more stringent and security strict protocols such as Internet Protocol Security (IPsec).
IPsec – This technology is emerging as the best option for VPN encryption. It combines a host of other technologies. Encapsulating Security Payload (ESP) Protocol, for instance, does data packet encapsulation while encryption is done by any of the various available options that include ciphers such as AES-CBC, HMAC-SHA1/SHA2, 3DES-CBC, and AES-CBC.
Secure Shell (SSH) – Does both tunnelling as well as encryption within the VPN network.
You now have an idea and can choose a Virtual Private Network product based on the protocols highlighted above. However, do note that other inherent factors are just as important. These are:
Physical Location of the Service Provider
If you want to access a blocked site, for instance, it is advisable that you choose a VPN that is domiciled in the country whose IP address you seek to use.
VPNs that use anti-malware software are a plus. A VPN service that scans incoming data for malware gives you an added layer of protection.
Consider the Devices You Need to Connect
The devices that you want to connect to the VPN service matter a lot. Do you want a service that comes as a dedicated mobile app? Does the OS you use, matter, and will you use the VPN on PC alone?
These questions will help you choose the appropriate service.
Which is the Best Between a Free VPN and a Paid Service?
This question is important but its answer lies within these factors highlighted here above. A paid service will most likely offer a more comprehensive service than a free VPN would. Also, free VPNs are loaded with ads, which makes the service less reliable.
When Is It Appropriate to Use a Virtual Private Network?
The five major applications of a VPN are:
To change an IP address
Encrypting the data that you transfer over a public network.
Masking your location, especially if you want to visit a website with geo-limitations.
To access websites that are blocked for whatever reason.
Hiding your IP address.
A Virtual Private Network is an essential service in computing in this era. The various reasons why you need one and how to choose the appropriate service are highlighted here above. Hopefully, you get to end up with the right subscription.