What is VPN? Everything You Need to Know
VPNs encrypt your internet traffic and disguise your online identity, Also makes it more difficult for third parties to track your activities online and steal data.
If you are inside the world of the internet, you have probably already heard of VPNs, or Virtual Private Networks, applications that expand the possibility of using the internet and, legally allow us to do things that we normally could not do. Here this post explains What exactly is VPN, and how it secures your online activity.
What is a VPN?
VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. It’s a tool that encrypts your Internet traffic and hides your IP address and virtual location. Basically, through a VPN you can create your own private network within the internet, and locate it at your convenience all over the world by masking your IP address and your current location. Or we can say using VPN you can become invisible on the web and locate yourself anywhere in the world.
what is a VPN used for?
Using A virtual private network significantly boosts your online privacy and security. Thanks to its encryption, third parties cannot spy on your online activity, and even your internet service provider cannot see what you do online. A VPN also allows you to overcome internet censorship, All your traffic is routed through a remote server so you can access websites restricted in your country.
There are basically two types of VPNs, Trusted VPNs and Secure VPNs, although a third one has also emerged called Hybrid VPN which is a combination of the first two.
Basically in Trusted VPNs, it is the service manager who decides the data path, thus ensuring the fastest path to guarantee the high quality of the connection, and also takes care of protecting the data from external access. This ensures that the data arrives quickly at its destination, but there is not a great deal of attention to security.
The Secure VPN works differently, placing the focus on data security. To do this, they create direct and private connections between your computer and the VPN server through a technique called tunneling.
The tunneling technique excludes all network nodes from communication except the channel with the server, creating a sort of tunnel between your PC and the server. Basically, it is now a server around the world that transmits and receives your data, which are then transferred via the private tunnel to your computer, making you invisible to the network, because you formally do not send or receive any data packets.
The problem with Secure VPNs is that they don’t guarantee a high connection quality, as they don’t choose the best path for data. This has led to the birth of a new type of VPN, called Hybrid VPN, which combines the security of Secure VPNs with the connection speed of Trusted VPNs.
How a VPN works?
When you connect to VPN network, your network and Internet traffic route through your chosen VPN’s private server rather than your internet service provider (ISP). So when your data is transmitted to the Internet it comes from the VPN rather than your computer.
The VPN acts as an intermediary of sorts as you connect to the internet, thereby hiding your IP address – the string of numbers your ISP assigns your device – and protecting your identity. Furthermore, if your data is somehow intercepted, it will be unreadable until it reaches its final destination.
Why use a VPN?
The reasons for using a Virtual Private Network are many, it can help in many areas. It can be used simply to bypass geo-restrictions, Secure data transfer, Hide IP addresses to Anonymity browse the internet and more.
One of the main reasons to use a VPN is to protect your communications. In fact, especially thanks to Secure-VPN, our data is almost inaccessible and is also encrypted with various protocols that we will see later. In addition, even if someone can access our data, they must first find the server in the world to which we connected and intercept our communications, which is almost impossible.
Avoid tracking and logging of browsing sessions
Since when we use a VPN, thus connecting to a dedicated server, our IP address disappears and remains that of the server, our browsing sessions are not recordable or traceable. In fact, when we are normally connected to the network, we have our own IP address which is activated when we are connected and records our geographical position. Since our IP address is not there and we are connected through that of the VPN server, the possibility that someone can track or record our sessions disappears.
Bypass the blocks of any censored sites or DNS
Another feature of VPNs comes into play here, namely that the server we connect to can be anywhere in the world. This means that if a site or DNS is blocked in the country of origin, for any reason, you can still access that site simply by connecting to the VPN server of a country in which that site is allowed.
Maximum security when using public WiFi
When exchanging data with the network using public WiFi, security is at a minimum, as other devices can access the same network and therefore also the data that is exchanged. So in this case connecting to the network via a VPN exponentially increases security, since the data exchanged via the VPN is encrypted and therefore difficult to access. Unfortunately, there is the limitation of network speeds, one of the cons of VPNs, which as regards public WiFi can affect even more, given the proverbial slowness of the latter.
No more geo-restrictions using streaming services
As we already know, our IP address also includes information concerning our approximate geographical location, so the sites and applications we use know very well that we are in Italy. So when you access a streaming service, for example, Netflix or Amazon Prime Video, you will see the Italian catalog of these services, which may have limitations on the contents present. By accessing a VPN server, for example in the USA, you will have the entire catalog of films and TV series available in the United States, which is much broader and more varied than the Italian one.
Many will know that through the Torrent network you can download many files, from movies to games, even those covered by copyright, which can also lead to serious legal consequences. The use of a VPN essentially makes the download of a torrent untraceable, and therefore no one will be able to trace who downloaded that particular file, even if it is copyrighted. In this way, you are covered from legal consequences through a legal loophole, that of VPNs.
What does a VPN do?
In general, we have already said what a VPN does, it is a sort of protection from the rest of the internet, it is as if we were in a protected bunker where we are invisible, but we can still exchange information with the outside without being tracked.
Encrypt data traveling to and from your device
Since the data on the network travels in packets that anyone can see, most networks and websites now have their own encryption, the most common is the HTTPS protocol, which you will often have seen in the address bar of your browser. This encryption is used to make the data inside each packet unreadable unless you have the reading key. The Virtual Private Networks add a further step of security, in fact in turn the data traveling to the VPN server uses very advanced cryptographic protocols so that it is even more difficult to access the data that depart from our PC, but also those arriving from the network.
It hides your IP address and masks it with the IP address of a VPN server
As we have already said, one of the greatest advantages of the VPN is that it hides our IP address, which will no longer be visible within the internet as long as the connection with the VPN server is present. In fact, all the data we need is transmitted and received via the server’s IP address, making it virtually impossible for anyone to trace us and our network activities. This happens thanks to the tunneling technique explained above, through which our computer is in direct contact only with the VPN server, which then communicates with the world internet network.
How to choose the best VPN?
There are many VPN services on the net, with different prices, but which basically offer the same service, a secure connection with the IP address that we choose at our convenience among the many available in the world. Some services say they have more regard to security, others to the speed of the network, so you will have to choose only the one you like best since the service offered is very similar.
How much does a VPN cost on average?
The VPN services available on the market obviously have a cost, which is not so different from service to service, but obviously, there are cheaper and more expensive VPNs. Usually, the greatest savings are obtained by choosing long-term plans, usually, 2-3 years, with which you pay around 2 to 4 USD per month. For shorter plans obviously, the monthly cost increases, if you are on plans of 1 year or a little less the costs range from 5 to 8 dollars per month, while for monthly plans you will certainly have to spend about 10 dollars or more.
To understand the actual costs, we have selected three of the best VPNs on the market:
ExpressVPN one of the best VPN services offers three standard subscriptions. The monthly subscription costs $ 12.95 per month, the half-yearly subscription costs $ 9.99 per month and finally, the annual subscription costs $ 6.67 per month. All plans are covered by a 100% Money Back Guarantee for the first 30 days of service.
NordVPN has a single subscription package, with different prices depending on the length of the chosen plan. You can opt to pay $11.67 per month but if you subscribe for at least one year the price drops to $ 4.87. For two years the monthly cost drops to € 4.44, while with the three subscriptions you pay only $ 3.20 per month, currently on offer with a 70% discount.
CyberGhost offers a package differentiated by subscription duration: Annual plan from $4.11 / month, two-year from $3.15 / month, three-year from $2.12 / month + 3 extra months free, the plans are all refundable. The longer plans (1, 2 and 3 years) benefit from a 45-day money-back guarantee, the monthly plan of 14-day money back.
Are VPNs legal in your country?
The answer is simple: yes, using a VPN is completely legal. In many countries especially authoritarian ones or those with press freedom restrictions such as China, Russia, Iraq, the United Arab Emirates and many others, the use of VPNs has been banned because they give access to blocked sites In those countries.
Many think that VPNs are illegal due to their bad reputation, as they are often used to carry out illegal activities without being traceable. This, however, is not generalizable behavior, many companies and government bodies use VPNs for the security of their data, and many users legally use VPNs to protect themselves from tracking websites and for the use of public WiFi.
So using a VPN is not illegal, on the contrary, it is the actions that are done using it that could be illegal. Obviously, if you commit crimes using a VPN, you are prosecuted for those crimes, not because you were using a VPN.
How safe is a VPN?
If you care about your safety, using a VPN is certainly better than not using it, as it is generally safe and protects you from prying eyes, especially when you do delicate operations. To check if your VPN is safe, you can use specialized sites that check information on your internet network, such as your IP address. If you do the test while connected to the VPN it should not be able to trace your IP or DNS, since you are connected to the VPN server, if not then your VPN service is not completely secure.
Logging policy: does the VPN keep logs?
All VPN services also keep logs when they are used. There are basically two types of logs: the connection log, which records your connection data such as your IP address, and the usage log , which keeps track of what you did while connected with the VPN. These logs are obviously secret and cannot be accessed, as companies that offer VPN services care about security, which is one of their greatest strengths.
So why do these companies keep records? Basically, giving service without any data on its use and quality is very difficult. In addition, many VPNs have a limit of devices that can be registered or used at the same time, something that would be impossible to prevent without keeping a log of accesses, or still others have limitations on the available bandwidth, this aspect must also be kept under control.
Record keeping varies from service to service, in general everyone says to clear the logs immediately, but usually, they refer to the usage ones, which are in general the most important. In any case, the registers cannot be disseminated publicly and are used exclusively by the company.
Where is the headquarters of a VPN company?
In general, companies that offer VPN services do not disclose their location, partly because it is superfluous since it is a service that is used by many precisely to position you in other countries, and partly because it is not in their interest to do so. Many VPN companies are likely to have offices in places with looser internet service laws or simply in places with preferential tax regimes. On the other hand, they are companies, they must rightly think about profits first of all.
VPN encryption level
We will talk about encryption protocols in more detail later, you need to know that each VPN service secures the data exchanged through a cryptographic key , as we said at the beginning of the article. The most secure protocol used by many VPN services is called AES 256 bit , which is currently the most secure available around. The strength of a cryptographic protocol lies in the key that must be used to read it, the larger the key, the more difficult it is to discover and therefore bypass. The AES protocol uses 256-bit keys, the largest and therefore the most secure, other VPNs use 128-bit keys, which are also very secure.
Absence of malware and tracking
By hiding your IP address behind that of a VPN server, you will also be immune to unpleasant things on the internet, such as malware and tracking. In fact, the internet traffic will start and arrive at the VPN server, which has protection against malware and does not allow you to track you directly, so you will surf more calmly without fear of some unidentified software entering your PC.
What devices does a VPN support?
In addition to battling over prices, VPN services also battle on supported devices, now the list is very long. Obviously, all PCs are supported, both Windows and macOS, but also Linux for the most geeks. There is support for all smartphones, both Android and iOS, but the list doesn’t end there. With the expansion of video streaming services, many need to access larger catalogs, which is why the support also extends to many other devices, usually used for the use of streaming content.
In fact, there is also support for Amazon Fire Stick, one of the most used devices, but also for TV Boxes with Android TV, for consoles, both PlayStation and Xbox, and also for many Smart TVs. In short, if you want to use a VPN on any device, there will probably be a company that supports it.
How fast is the VPN?
The speed is one of the biggest disadvantages of using a VPN. In fact, the connection speed will always get worse from its use, even if you have a very fast internet connection. Obviously, the faster the connection, the more satisfying the experience will be, even if the loss in percentage terms of performance technically increases. Much is due to the location of the server, when you access a VPN service you will be recommended a server to connect to, the fastest one, but if you select a geographically distant server it is physiological that the speeds go down and the ping goes up a lot. This for web consultation is not a big problem, it becomes when you have to download files or watch streaming content.
How big is the VPN server network?
All VPN services offer servers located around the world, with few geographic restrictions, to please all users.
The location of the servers varies from service to service, in general, all VPN companies offer servers located all over the world, since the important thing is not where physically the server is within a state, but that it is within that specific state. In fact, if we want to access a server located in the United States, it does not matter where it is actually located, the important thing is that it is located within the US territory.
Number of servers
The number of servers is closely linked to the number of users that each supplier must manage. Market-leading companies definitely have many more servers for each geographic location simply because they have to handle more traffic. Other smaller companies, with fewer users and less traffic, have fewer servers because they don’t need more.
Does the VPN work with streaming and torrent services?
Of course, one of the most common uses of a VPN is that associated with streaming and torrent services, for different reasons. The streaming services are well established in India, but accessing it only has the Indiaon catalog available, of course. To have a broader and more varied catalog, you need to access the USA one, which is notoriously better supplied. To do this we need a VPN server located in the United States.
For torrents the story is different, in this case, they are used more than anything else because the files downloaded with this service are often covered by copyright and therefore you want to delete your tracks from the network. In any case, VPN services work great with both uses.
What are the most common VPN protocols?
We have already talked about cryptographic protocols in the course of this article, now let’s see the most used and most secure for our data. The most famous and used protocols are:
OpenVPN: it is one of the most used, it is very versatile and offers a great balance between performance, speed and reliability.
IKEv2: It is great for mobile devices as it automatically reconnects in case of connection loss, which is common in mobile networks. Speed is one of its biggest advantages, but it has a more complicated setup procedure.
WireGuard: a simple and easy to implement open-source protocol, very fast and efficient.
L2TP / IPSec: it is an alternative protocol to OpenVPN, it does everything well, but it does not excel in anything, in general, it is appreciated.
SSTP: This is a proprietary protocol from Microsoft, which therefore works and integrates very well with Windows. If you have other operating systems it is almost impossible to integrate, so you will have to turn to something else.
PPTP: an old and no longer updated protocol, with decent speed, but little attention to security, better to avoid VPNs that use this protocol.
Disadvantages of using a VPN
Like everything, VPNs cannot only have advantages, there are also disadvantages to using private networks and in part, we have already mentioned some of them in the previous paragraphs, but now let’s analyze them in more detail.
Slower connection speeds
It is undeniable that the biggest limitation of VPNs is the connection speed. Although this disadvantage has decreased over the years, thanks to new faster protocols, it still remains an important limitation, especially for those who already have slow connections. Even those with fast connections will notice a big loss in performance, which is normal, especially if you are using VPN servers in other states. The farther the server is, the more the ping will rise, the response time of the server, being physically located very far from us.
You are not completely anonymous
The fact that they are not anonymous is strange to say, as they are used mostly for this purpose. The problem is that users don’t have much control over the VPN services they use, and they don’t know for sure which cryptographic protocol is used in most cases. In addition, users’ browsing data is very valuable and companies could record and resell it to make a profit, The conditional is a must because until now there is no evidence on this fact.
Some websites block VPNs
Many use VPNs to get around paying subscriptions or to have broader catalogs of streaming services, which is why many services struggle with these services, albeit many times without success. Services like Netflix or Hulu try to fight against VPNs, although their struggles aren’t always effective, as they can still be used to browse Netflix’s overseas catalog.
Your online accounts may be temporarily suspended
Using a VPN with services that don’t allow it can lead to repercussions, not serious of course, but it can happen that your account is suspended for certain periods of time, as a punishment for the misuse of that service. Obviously, these are only possible repercussions and are not always applied.