What is a VPN?
What is a VPN? VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. A VPN gives you the possibility to secure your network connection when using a public network for example the internet or Wi-Fi in a hotel. VPN’s secure your connection by encrypting your data traffic and setting up a secure VPN tunnel between your client and a VPN server. This makes it more difficult if not impossible for third parties like your Internet Service Provider (ISP) or goverment to track your activities or steal your data. It is important to make a difference between:
- Customer VPN services
- Corporate solutions
Customer VPN services are fairly easy to use in comparision to corporate VPN solutions. A customer installs software on an endpoint for example a laptop, mobile phone, tablet or will use a browser pluging. The software makes a secure (encrypted) connection with a VPN server. All traffic goes over this secure connection and will be handled by the VPN server. There are several advantages of using a VPN service:
- Secure connection – because the VPN tunnel uses encryption to protect your data, data is safely transfert over the internet. Encryption is a very complex process which is handled in the background of the application. To encrypt and decrypt the data you need the encryption key. The encryption key is safely calculated between an endpoint and a VPN server and will change over time. The better the encryption protocol the harder it is to decipher the traffic. In the event you got hit by a Man In The Middle (MITM) attack it will be very difficult to decipher your traffic and can take up to millions of years.
- Be anonymous online – VPN servers act as a proxy server on the internet. Because you can select a server in a different geographic location, your data will be locally broke out of that geographic location. This way your actual location cannot be determined. Extra plus is that almost all commercial VPN service do not store log activities. Your Internet Service Provider (ISP) i.e. will track your whereabouts and log everything you do. So this could also be a reason to start using VPN services.
- Access to regionally content – Some services and websites contain content that can only be accessed from certain parts of the world. Because you can make use of different geographic locations around the world it is possible to change your location and access that content.
This is an overview of how a VPN works. The VPN software connects with a secure VPN tunnel to the VPN server. The VPN server forwards the traffic to the internet. The VPN server can be in different locations around the world.
Customer VPN - features
VPN services come with lots of different features. In the article Top 5 features a VPN must have you can find more information about features a VPN must have. Here are some other options explained:
- Private DNS. DNS stands for Domain Name System. DNS translates domain names into IP addresses. For example URL buyvpnsoftware.com = IP address 188.8.131.52. This translation service makes using the internet much more user friendly. However if you analyse which domainnames are requested, you still can figure out what someone is doing. So if a VPN services has private DNS that is a big plus to make sure you have maximum security and privacy.
- A feature to block advertisments and anti spyware. This is mostly done by blocking the DNS request or URL so (a part of) the page cannot be loaded.
- The split tunnel feature is a feature where you can device which traffic should go over the VPN tunnel to your VPN provider and which traffic should follow your normal network path. It depends per vendor how easy this is to setup, but it can be a little bit more difficult.
Customer VPN - Getting started
In general you have to sign up with a VPN provider and make an account. Once you have activated your account you can download the application on your devices for example laptop, phone and tablet. Login into the VPN application with your account and you are ready to start. You now can connect to one of the VPN servers somewhere arround the world.
Is a customer VPN legal?
A few countries in the world are fighting a war against freedom of speech and restricting internet liberty. Will India ban VPNs? Some countries already have passed prohibition laws against VPNs. These countries are China, Turkey, Iraq, Russia, Belarus, Oman and North Korea. There are also countries a few countries that regulate the VPN market like the United Arab Emirates and Iran, where you are only allowed to use a government based VPN.
VPNs help anonymize your digital activities. Because of this Internet Service Providers and governments find it hard to control and monitor the activities of VPN users. This is why VPNs can be misused by hackers, illegal peer to peer downloaders or other legal violations like copyright infringements. If something is already illegal without a VPN, this will stay illegal when a VPN is used, so please act accordingly.
Corporate solutions exists in general of two VPN solutions:
- Remote Access – TLS VPN’s are used for remote workers to connect to the datacenter and access corporate resources.
- Site-to-Site – IPsec VPN’s are often used to connect offices. Site-to-Site VPN’s are considered in general when it is more cost effect than a fixed data line.
There is alot to tell about corporate VPN solution but this site focusses on the customer services VPN’s. If you are interested to find out more about these solutions please check the sites of Palo Alto Networks, Cisco or Check Point.