The VPN meaning is often confused and misunderstanding of what a VPN is can lead to lost application opportunities.
A VPN can have utility if you know how to use it.
Have you fallen victim to a phishing scam, and wondered how attackers learned enough about you to create messages or web pages to capture your attention?
Or maybe you’ve traveled abroad and logged onto Netflix, only to find a tiny fraction of the content you love to watch? If so (and for plenty of other reasons), you probably need to install a Virtual Private Network or VPN.
VPNs are used by approximately 17% of American internet users, which is actually lower than the global average (25%). That’s a worrying statistic, as these easy to use tools have serious security benefits, not to mention advantages for streaming and general privacy.
In this article, we’ll unpack what VPNs do, and we’ll run through some of the reasons why they are becoming essential tools for every internet user.
What does VPN stand for?
Before we move onto more in-depth technical issues, let’s get a few introductory issues out of the way immediately. For those who aren’t aware already, the acronym VPN stands for “Virtual Private Network”.
The “Virtual” and “Private” elements denote that VPNs are intended to encrypt data and protect it from external observers.
And they do so by creating “virtual” systems that effectively turn the exposed internet into a kind of private domain. They also enable users to create virtual identities, via IP reassignment – enhancing their privacy and anonymity.
The “Network” signifies that VPNs create networks that are separated from the conventional internet. They still route traffic from users to websites, and vice versa. But they add an extra layer of routing on top of standard setups.
When you add the components together, they comprise a set of technologies that facilitate a dramatically greater level of privacy when using the web.
In an age of escalating cybersecurity concerns, where surveillance is endemic, and where corporations are increasingly seeking to regulate access to content via IP address filtering, VPNs are rapidly becoming indispensable for web users across the globe.
How do VPNs work?
VPNs work via a set of interconnected technologies, which – when used together – add up to a lot more than the sum of their parts.
We’ll run through the key concepts here, but for ongoing updates head here for insights by VPNpro. The world of VPNs changes constantly – although there remain core elements that won’t be shifting any time soon.
Firstly, VPNs use encryption to compress data packets, rendering them almost impossible to inspect or unpack as they are transmitted across the web.
Technologies like AES-256 encryption are routinely used by the best VPN providers. They tend to be rated as “military-grade”, meaning that they are effective enough to pass muster with the US Military.
Secondly, VPNs use tunneling protocols like IKEv2, PPTP, or (more commonly nowadays) OpenVPN. This adds another layer of encryption on top of AES-256, or whatever encryption system VPNs choose to use. It also packages data into “packets” that can be transmitted to servers, authenticated, re-routed, delivered, and decrypted.
As you’ll probably have noticed, servers represent the third key aspect of a Virtual Private Network.
Almost all VPNs use server banks located across the world. The location of the server determines the kind of identity that will be assigned to VPN users, so a general rule is that the more servers, the better.
Server speeds and security are both important factors governing how well VPNs perform, but all function in roughly the same way – routing traffic from users to target websites, and back again.
Finally, VPNs require some form of installation or front end on the customer side. This could take the form of a “client” – a piece of software that users employ to choose servers and connect to the VPN.
Or it could involve installing VPNs to routers or other devices, so that protection kicks in automatically. Either way, some form of software installation will be required.
When the VPN is installed and up and running, it usually results in some degree of speed reduction. That’s almost inevitable, given that data is being routed through third party servers in distant locations. But if servers are well maintained and the latest protocols are used, these reductions won’t be too severe.
Good VPNs will also include features to guard against issues that can arise when protection is engaged. For example, server connections can drop, potentially leaving users unprotected. Because of this, “kill switches” are usually included, cutting off internet access when VPN coverage drops.
VPNs should also include measures to prevent DNS leaks. DNS (Domain Name Service) is like the roadmap of the web. When they look up websites, devices need to make DNS queries, which turn website names into IP addresses.
If these queries leak, eavesdroppers can get a good idea of what sites you are visiting – regardless of whether other data is encrypted or your own IP address is anonymized. So good VPNs have to have specific systems in place that minimize DNS leaks and detect them as soon as they appear.
Some providers also couple standard VPN implementations with something called “Double VPN” (NordVPN is a good example of this). This basically routes traffic through two servers, instead of one.
As a result, data is doubly hard to decrypt, and there is a separation between the original source of data and its end destination. It’s a premium feature, but one that takes privacy to a much higher level.
What does a VPNs actually do?
Until quite recently, VPNs were a niche product, but one with extremely important applications.
They were developed to allow businesses and public organizations to implement protective shields around their private networks, enabling staff or customers to access secure databases from remote locations and to ward off cyber-attackers and spies. And they still play those roles for companies located across the world.
However, the advent of streaming, P2P downloading, mass malware attacks, phishing, and the NSA surveillance revelations leaked by Edward Snowden have made VPNs much more popular – and their functions have expanded enormously.
Security still matters. VPNs are a good way to conceal your information when making payments, accessing cloud-based resources, logging into social media, and sending emails to friends and businesses.
They also help to evade phishing attacks by neutralizing malware designed to track your internet usage – making it tough to build profiles of potential phishing targets.
But security isn’t the only reason to embrace VPN technology. For example, VPNs can be used to access restricted content. Streaming platforms like Netflix employ content models that impose blocks on users, depending on their geographical location.
So, users in France may not be able to access the full range of American Netflix shows – limiting their enjoyment. That’s also a major issue for travelers from the USA who want to maximize their viewing options abroad. VPNs can solve that issue, by allowing users to masquerade as people in different locations.
VPNs are also becoming a vital tool in the P2P downloading and streaming communities. Users of services like Kodi routinely add a VPN over the top of their streaming boxes and apps, keeping their viewing habits private. The same applies to torrenters, who fear the attention of copyright holders.
Then there are commercial applications of VPN technology. For instance, marketers use VPNs to carry out research in foreign countries. Nowadays, Google results vary for the same search terms in Canada, the UK, Australia, or the USA. With a VPN, companies can determine how their content is performing in these jurisdictions and fine-tune their strategies.
Marketers may also seek to keep their activities private from Google, or from their competitors (who might deliver tracking cookies to see how their rivals are operating). Defeating this kind of surveillance is an important component of keeping digital research confidential – and allowing marketers to make full use of the data they collect.
There are also eCommerce advantages of installing a VPN. Many products vary in price when ordered online, due to dynamic marketing strategies. Airline tickets are a good example, where the price of a Manila to Los Angeles flight could be dramatically lower from the same vendor if it is purchased in the US or the Philippines.
But there are numerous other markets where this applies, including car rental, video game purchases, and accommodation. Savvy purchasers are becoming adept at using VPNs to find the lowest prices for whatever they need to buy.
VPNs even have a role to play for gamers. Multiplayer networks have long been afflicted by Distributed Denial of Service attacks (DDoS), which can take specific players offline, or disrupt their connections. That’s a huge issue when playing competitive eSports when every millisecond of lag counts.
VPNs make such attacks much harder to carry out. Even if there is a tiny drop in speed due to using a VPN, many gamers prefer the security of stable speeds, with no risk of DDoS disrupting their play.
VPNs also have major upsides for smartphone users. Recent years have seen serious security concerns raised about unsecured public WiFi networks, which are common in libraries, cafes, and public transportation facilities.
These networks can be faked via “honeypot” hotspots, while unencrypted data can be intercepted fairly easily, even on legitimate networks. virtual private networks provide the kind of encryption that makes interception pointless, allowing users to access email or social media without anxieties.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, VPNs are a vital tool for citizens in repressive countries – or for anyone who fears surveillance by governments, companies, organized crime, or malicious individuals.
The best VPNs work in China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, or Uganda – all nations that have cracked down on VPN usage in the past. With them in place, users can read news from around the world, send private messages, and organize without fearing official reprisals.
How easy is it to set up a virtual private network?
We’ve seen that VPNs have a vital dual role in encrypting and anonymizing internet connections. And we’ve also seen that these properties have a huge range of real-world applications, for businesses, activists, entertainment lovers, and gamers. But how simple are VPNs, and can they be implemented by anyone on their personal devices?
Generally speaking, VPNs are now accessible to all. This wasn’t always the case, but a wide variety of providers now offer dependable services, easy to use clients, and payment packages that are affordable to almost everybody.
A typical VPN setup will take minutes. Customers usually head to the VPN’s web site or a smartphone app library like Google Play. They may be able to download a “free trial” version of the VP, but if you have pinpointed a provider as the one to choose, it’s easy to head straight to payment.
Customers generally pay on a monthly, six-monthly, annual, or multi-year basis, with per-month rates declining as contract lengths rise. Anonymous payment methods such as cryptocurrency or gift cards may be available, but it’s more common to pay via standard credit cards.
There may also be various payment tiers to think about. The most important benefit of more expensive tiers tends to be the ability to connect extra devices, although download limits and speeds may also vary. So check each package to ensure that it delivers what you need.
When payment has been finalized, customers can download the VPN app for their chosen platform, install the software, and fire it up. There’s no need for additional configuration, and encryption can be applied immediately.
However, this isn’t the only way to add a VPN to your digital life. VPNs can also be installed on routers, which takes a little longer. In those cases, users will need to log into their router, and manually direct it to the VPN’s servers. When this is complete, all devices connected to the router will enjoy VPN protection, from Roku sticks to PlayStations.
Amazon FireSticks, Kodi boxes, and Android-based Smart TVs all have in-built VPN functionality. In those cases, you could apply for router-based protection, or use the app stores connected to those devices to download the right software.
VPNs can also be installed onto iPhones and Android-based smartphones. Again, this is done via standard app libraries, and payment takes place via those portals.
Refunds are also processed via those services, which is worth bearing in mind. When adding a smartphone VPN, users should also take care to monitor any permission requests, as VPNs have been known to overreach in the past, seeking information that privacy-conscious users may rather keep confidential.
Finally, there may be the option of installing VPNs directly into browsers. Providers like ExpressVPN or NordVPN enable customers to download Chrome and Firefox extensions, which kick in when the browser loads.
This is a quick and easy alternative to manually engaging stand-alone clients, and for avoiding speed reductions when using online services that aren’t browser-based.
Install a high-quality virtual private network for enhanced privacy, security, and entertainment options
Hopefully, you’ll emerge with a few valuable takeaways from this article. Firstly, the knowledge about how VPNs work, and their core functions.
Secondly, it should be clear that good VPNs are extremely useful, whether you are a small business owner relying on cloud databases, or a traveler seeking cheap fares. And there’s no need to worry about installation and usage. VPNs are off-the-shelf tools that anyone can use.
However, it’s important to conclude with a warning. Try to avoid free or suspiciously cheap providers and check-in with expert VPN sites on a regular basis. Go for respected companies with solid privacy records, and set aside some money for a service that can be relied upon. With all of the advantages VPNs provide, the investment is a no-brainer.
Wrap-up about Virtual Private Network
Almost every week, there is a news story about a significant business getting hacked. Privacy and security should be top of mind. If you do not like the way Google, Amazon, Facebook, and others track your every move online, then you should be using a virtual private network.
The benefits of using a VPN should be clear by Now I hear five benefits for using a virtual private network (VPN):
- Improved Security. VPN has a lot of advantages to increase our online safety and privacy when surfing the internet not just from hackers, government and telephony operator per DNS Leakage.
- Remote Access.
You might run into VPN marketing or VPN affiliate marketing programs. Use your new knowledge about VPN’s to your advantage.
Have something to say about your thoughts on VPN (virtual private network)?
Olivia Scott is a cybersecurity enthusiast at VPNpro.com. Her key competencies include data safety, privacy tools testing, and WordPress vulnerabilities.
Before we move onto more in-depth technical issues, let’s get a few first issues out of the way immediately. For those who aren’t aware already, the acronym VPN stands for “Virtual Private Network.” The “Virtual” and “Private” elements denote that VPNs are intended to encrypt data and protect it from external observers. And they do so by creating “virtual” systems that effectively turn the exposed internet into a kind of private domain.
Why are VPNs used?
They also enable users to create virtual identities, via IP reassignment – enhancing their privacy and anonymity. The “Network” signifies that VPNs create networks that are separated from the conventional internet. They still route traffic from users to websites, and vice versa. But they add an extra layer of routing on top of standard setups.
How do VPNs work?
VPNs work via a set of interconnected technologies, which – when used together – add up to a lot more than the sum of their parts. When you connect your computer (or another device, such as a smartphone or tablet) to a VPN, the computer acts as if it’s on the same local network as the VPN. All your network traffic is sent over a secure connection to the VPN. Because your computer behaves as if it’s on the web, this allows you to securely access local network resources even when you’re on the other side of the world.