Simple questions: What is VPN? What does it do?

You have probably heard about VPN's, but there is a high possibility you have not used this type of services until now . Well, we have to tell that you should and as soon as possible. You will not see its true value now, but over time, you will most probably find VPN's as important as your Internet connection. This article aims to explain what is a VPN, how it works and what it can be used for. Read this article to easily understand why it is so important for you to use a VPN service in today's modern Internet:

What is a VPN?

In a nutshell, a VPN or Virtual Private Network is defined as a local area network interconnection that is using a secure tunnel, usually through the Internet. This means that a VPN extends a private network across a public network (in our case, the Internet), which enables users to send and receive sensitive data as if their computers were directly connected to the same private LAN (Local Area Network), even though, physically, they are not in the same network.

This information might be easier to swallow if we showed you a real life situation. Let's say that you need to exchange a high quantity of information with a colleague/friend and the program you have to use for this data transfer requires that both of your computers are on the same network. Unfortunately though, your friend/colleague is out of town and not at his/her computer. The simplest solution is for you to configure VPN access to your network so that your friend/colleague connects to your network via VPN. In doing so, it would seem as if you are both on the same local network and the information exchange can be completed quite easily. In other words, the VPN helps you pretend that you are on a local network even if you are both only connected to the Internet.

How does a VPN work?

To go further into the characteristics of VPN, lets talk a bit about Internet traffic. When you use your local network to access various services from the Internet, the source of your network requests is your own local area network (LAN). However, if you are connected to a VPN and all of your traffic goes through there, then the outside world will see you as part of the VPN local network. Therefore, the source query is no longer your network, but the one to which you are connected via VPN. This means that the websites and other networks with which you communicate will no longer see the IP address of your computer as the source of requests, but that of the VPN you are using.

Furthermore, your ISP (Internet Service Provider) will only see a single connection: the one set up between you and the VPN service you are using, which is, of course, fully encrypted. As such, your ISP will not be able to see what you do inside your VPN connection, even if it works over the Internet and, therefore, it cannot monitor you. Still, there is a catch: if you use a VPN whose server is located in your country, that also uses the same ISP, then it is quite possible that this Internet service provider will be able to see your network traffic. However, it will not be able to deduce it is yours, since the origin of this traffic is the VPN server and not your computer.

In some ways, a VPN works similarly to a proxy because your ISP only sees the connection to the proxy and the proxy website will be the source of your requests. The main difference being that your ISP can easily see the request made to your proxy since they are not encrypted. In other words, at a simple search, everything is still visible.

To make you understand more easily what we have explained above, we also offer you these two diagrams. First, here is how online navigation works without VPN:

And now, here is how it works with VPN:

In the above diagrams we have added a firewall, which may or may not be present. Still, it was necessary for us to illustrate another possible problem some of you might have: what happens when your ISP, university, company or government has a firewall or proxy that prevents you from accessing certain websites. This problem is easily solvable with the help of a VPN service, which will allow you to access any online service and access all websites, regardless of the network you are connected to. T he firewall/proxy will see the connection between your computer and your VPN, but, since this connection is encrypted, it will not be able to read the information you exchange. Therefore, as long as you remain connected to the VPN server, you will not be blocked by this firewall/proxy and you are totally free to access what you want on the Internet.

How to connect to a VPN?

You will be able to connect to a VPN in several possible ways, but the general idea is that you have to certify your identity. The simplest way to establish this secure connection is by logging in directly to the server with a username and password. If you want to connect to a VPN in Windows 10, using this particular method, we recommend you read the following tutorial: How to create, configure and use a VPN connection in Windows 10.

You also have the possibility of installing a specific software that will enable you to create the secure tunnel. This program will handle the encryption and decryption of data. Similarly to the above method, it will usually require a username and password to confirm your identity. Still, you have the possibility of using other forms of authentication, such as tokens or smart cards.

The advantage of using a token is the fact that it is very difficult to be hacked and, as such, it is almost impossible to steal your password. Also, each token is unique, which means that the server will instantly recognize its user.

The advantages of using a VPN

Below you will find a short list that summarizes all the information we have just offered you, in an attempt to share the benefits of using Virtual Private Networks:

  • All traffic between you and the VPN service you use is encrypted, so it is impossible for someone to see what you do on the Internet.
  • As long as you are connected to your VPN, you will have access to the whole Internet without censorship that might affect you otherwise.
  • You can access services and geographically restricted websites if you will use a VPN server that is located in a region where those services or websites are available.
  • The servers that you connect to will not see your own IP address, but that of the VPN server.
  • You can surf the web, check your emails or send important information on public networks without the risk of someone spying on you.

Conclusion

VPN's (Virtual Private Networks) have become a necessity in this age of online tracking, especially if you want to protect your privacy and secure your connections. It creates a private tunnel, a closed connection that cannot be decrypted by other agents, such as your Internet service provider (ISP) or, in general, websites. This means that the information you send can no longer be intercepted and/or pirated. We hope that this article will help you gain a better understanding of what VPN is and how it works. If you have any questions don't hesitate to ask us in the comments form below. We'll do our best to help you.