All You Need To Know About A VPN
It's not simple to improve your digital security, particularly when you're bombarded with acronyms. A VPN is a frequent one you may come across, but what exactly is it? We can answer all these questions and more as VPN specialists, explaining how VPNs can protect you from hackers and other cyber risks.
What Is A Virtual Private Network (VPN)?
A VPN is a virtual private network that encrypts online traffic and IP addresses of devices. VPNs operate as mediators between devices and public networks, using an encrypted tunnel to protect the user's online activities from the network's Internet Service Provider.
What Is The Purpose Of A VPN?
There are various reasons why someone would want a VPN in the first place. Still, according to our VPN use study, the most common reasons are general security and privacy, which account for 49 and 40 percent of VPN users, respectively. Apart from those (very reasonable) worries, VPNs may also provide you access to stuff you wouldn't otherwise be able to read.
People are becoming more worried about privacy due to security breaches, hacking, and spying. More than half of individuals in the United States have opted not to use some goods owing to privacy concerns, mainly if they've been engaged in a data breach. VPNs considerably protect your privacy by encrypting your online activities (as long as they aren't recording it themselves, but more on that later).
While we cannot advise advocating torrenting unauthorized goods, many individuals do it with the use of a VPN to avoid being tracked by authorities. They may even be in a region where torrenting websites like BitTorrent are forbidden, in which case VPNs might help.
VPNs allow you to substitute your IP address with another nation's server, whether in a region where your favourite streaming service is restricted or just want to check out what's new on Netflix Australia. We used a VPN to view the last season of A Good Place on Netflix UK since the US version didn't contain it at the time.
4. Preventing Hacking
If you're using a public Wi-Fi network, you're very vulnerable to hackers. However, if you change your IP address, you've reached a new level of digital safety.
5. Getting Around Government Restrictions
Censorship of the internet is no laughing matter, particularly in nations like China and Russia. These nations impose limits on the websites you may access, but using a VPN bypasses these restrictions, giving you access to free and open internet.
6. Workplace Networks
Working from home has become more feasible thanks to current technology, yet many remote workers may experience issues such as the inability to connect to workplace networks. VPNs with split tunnelling, on the other hand, enable users to be on both their home Wi-Fi and their private office network simultaneously while minimizing bandwidth usage.
How Do Virtual Private Networks Work?
1. What Do VPNs Conceal?
VPNs are primarily used to conceal:
- Browsing history: VPNs should mask all your internet activities from the websites you've visited when you viewed them.
- IP address: In addition to masking the IP addresses of the websites you've visited, the best VPNs also mask the private IP addresses of your devices by substituting your IP address with one of their own.
- Location: Your geo-place will be masked from your ISP by connecting to a server in another location.
2. Methods Of Encryption
Any VPN's bread and butter is encryption. It essentially entails converting your IP addresses into incomprehensible code. The current industry standard, AES-256, is used by most VPNs these days, but there are a few alternative options.
AES (Advanced Encryption Standard): AES is the most prevalent encryption mechanism we encounter with VPNs, and financial organizations and the US military use it. In terms of bits, 256-bit is superior to 128-bit and 64-bit, both obsolete.
Rivest, Shamir, and Adleman are all characters in the film Rivest, Shamir, and Adle SecurID (RSA): RSA is a kind of two-factor or multi-factor authentication ensures the person signing on is who they claim to be.
Elliptic Curve Cryptography (ECC-256k1): An alternative to RSA, ECC-256k1 is the most up-to-date in cryptography, although RSA is still the most widely used.
IP Security (IPSec) is a more secure approach often used in conjunction with other protocols to boost security. One mode of IPSec encrypts just the data packet message, whereas the other encrypts the complete data packet.
Multi-hop isn't an encryption mechanism in and of itself; it simply indicates that the data gets encrypted numerous times via various servers. We like multi-hop VPNs since they make it much harder to figure out what we're doing online (mostly watching TikTok compilations, believe it or not).
SHA2 (Secure Hash Algorithm 2): SHA2 is a cryptographic and authentication algorithm that uses irreversible and unique hashes.
SSH (Secure Shell): SSH is another approach that generates both a tunnel and encryption; it does not encrypt the data itself, just the tunnel through which it passes. SSH2, not SSH1, is the current industry strand.
Many online stores and VPNs employ the Secure Socket Layer and Transport Layer Security (SSL/TLS) handshake mechanism, in which two systems exchange encryption keys to authenticate sessions and establish secure connections.
3. Protocols Used On The Internet
Regarding VPNs, internet protocols dictate how data is sent, and data refers to everything you do online. Of course, we can't list all the protocols utilized, but here are a few of the most popular.
Diffie-Hellman Key Exchange (DH): The Diffie-Hellman Key Exchange (DH) is a method of exchanging cryptographic keys with the same “shared secret.”
GRE (Generic Routing Encapsulation) wraps data packets and only removes the encapsulation when they reach their destination. This technique, however, does not contain encryption. Thus, IPSec is a preferable choice.
IKEv2 (Internet Key Exchange Version 2): Kill switches are possible thanks to IKEv2, the technology that reconnects you to the VPN once you've been unplugged.
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IKEv6 (Internet Protocol Version 6): IKEv6 is the most recent version of IKE since earlier versions have reached the limit of numerical IP addresses.
Layer 2 Tunnelling Protocol (L2TP): Often used in conjunction with IPSec, L2TP creates a secure VPN client by establishing a tunnel while IPSec handles the encryption.
PPTP (Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol): PPTP is another method of establishing a tunnel that encrypts data packets. Of course, for proper security, it must be used in conjunction with an encryption mechanism.
SSTP (Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol): SSTP is designed exclusively for Windows operating systems and helps circumvent firewalls.
User Datagram Protocol (UDP): UDP is in charge of transmitting the data packets, albeit they may not arrive in the correct sequence without the help of other protocols.
Transmission Control Protocol (TCP): TCP breaks data into smaller packets to guarantee that it arrives in the correct location and sequence. Consider a mother who double-checks that her children have everything they need before they depart for school.
PFS (Perfect Forward Secrecy): PFS assures that encryption takes place anytime you connect to the VPN, even if the key changes. PFS will ensure that the encryption is updated every time you refresh a web page.
What Does A VPN Protect You From?
We don't want to alarm you, but there are hazards associated with using the internet. VPNs aren't infallible, but they may help protect you from hackers, identity theft, and other forms of cybercrime and tracking.
If your device's IP address isn't secured, hackers may quickly get into your computer if you're on a public Wi-Fi network. You may successfully evade hackers by substituting your IP address with one of their own, even if you're merely checking your bank account while waiting in line for coffee.
2. Theft Of One's Identity
Hackers will most likely search your device for your credentials, which they may use to steal your identity if they obtain access. In fact, according to our identity theft consumer buying research, more than four billion private data are stolen each year. However, encrypting your online traffic may lessen the possibility of your identity being stolen.
3. Ads That Are Tracked And Targeted
We've all had the unsettling sensation of discussing or emailing about a product, only to have it follow you throughout the internet for days. However, changing your IP address may confuse these cookies and prevent your information from being utilized for targeted advertising. According to digital marketers, the typical individual sees 6,000 to 10,000 advertisements yearly. Thus, we want to keep your mind as clean as your browser.
VPN Advantages And Disadvantages
- More privacy: By encrypting your online traffic, your traffic will be hidden from your Internet Service Provider.
- Access to banned sites: A VPN may be one of the few methods to surf the internet freely, primarily if you reside in a country like Russia, where internet restriction is severe.
- Utilizing VPNs to access streaming services from other countries: Individuals use VPNs to access streaming services from other countries, such as using Prime Video U.K while in Texas. Because various nations have different license deals with streaming services, you may be able to access material that you wouldn't otherwise be able to access.
- Prevents hacking: Nothing can ensure you won't be hacked 100 percent of the time, but masking your online activity and IP addresses is a good start, mainly if you're using a public Wi-Fi network.
- Protects against track/targeted ads: Data privacy has become a significant concern, particularly as the presidential election approaches in 2020. While we won't get compensated for our data until later, we can prevent it from being recorded in the first place by utilizing a VPN.
- There is a cost involved: While there are numerous free VPNs and VPNs with free trials, they usually limit data consumption, servers offered, and simultaneous connections. You'll almost certainly have to pay money to utilize a VPN, which usually ranges from $5 to $10 per month.
- It's possible that streaming services won't work: Many streaming services, such as Netflix, ban VPNs' IP addresses, while a few VPNs are still acceptable. If you wish to stream, check if your chosen VPN is compatible with your service or services.
- Other websites may restrict VPN IP addresses: Unfortunately, streaming providers aren't the only ones that do. Other websites, such as email services, may also abhor shared IP addresses. If this is the case, you may need to pay extra for a dedicated IP address, which ensures that you are the only one using it.
- Slowdowns: When you add more internet protocols and encryption techniques, you will experience some slowness. However, we test each VPN we assess for download speed, upload speed, and latency to find which VPNs have the fewest slowdowns.
- Depending on the nation, it might be illegal: VPNs are not permitted in all countries. Belarus, China, Iran, and other nations have outlawed VPNs, so you might be arrested if you use one while visiting those countries.
VPNs Are Classified Into Many Categories
While the service stays the same regardless of your use, many VPNs include features tailored to your needs at home, at work, or on the road.
While using a VPN for streaming, torrenting, and other anti-tracking purposes isn't required if you're on a home, password-protected network, some individuals may choose to do so for streaming, torrenting, and other anti-tracking reasons.
VPNs for business often support several users and connections at the same time. Split tunnelling, which enables workers to be on their home network and their office's private network simultaneously, will be supported by many. Subscriptions will most certainly be cheap in quantity, similar to how Costco lowers packages of eight deodorant sticks.
Finally, specific VPNs are better suited for travel, whether due to the location of their servers or the (lack of) IP address filtering. The best VPNs for travel vary depending on where you're travelling since some VPNs offer a lot of servers in one region but none in another.
How To Select A VPN
Here's what to look for in a VPN now that you know what it is and a lot more information about it.
- The number of servers and countries: If you travel overseas, you'll want a VPN that follows you and has many servers to pick from.
- IP addresses: While we prefer dynamic IP addresses that vary every time you log in, specific VPNs provide static addresses typically shared by thousands of customers. However, since these addresses are often restricted, some VPNs provide dedicated IP addresses and, in certain circumstances, dedicated servers.
- If your internet connection is lost and your VPN fails, it should contain a kill switch, a failsafe feature that shuts down all internet browsers connected to the VPN. Sure, you'll lose all of your tabs, but at the very least, your ISP won't be able to see them!
- Torrenting: Some VPNs allow torrenting, while others do not; nonetheless, if you're torrenting pirated content, you'll need a VPN.
- Split tunnelling: Split tunnelling allows you to connect to a VPN and a public network simultaneously, conserving data and speeding up your surfing. Split tunnelling is notably advantageous for distant workers, who accounted for over 70% of Americans during COVID-19.
- Streaming access: Streaming services provide a more legally sound way to view entertainment, albeit some may object to watching on a server in another nation rather than your own. Some VPNs, however, have found a way around these limitations by providing server changes for Netflix, Hulu, Prime Video, and other services.
- Multi-hop: More servers equals more encryption, which boosts your privacy even more than a single server.
2. Security And Privacy
Most people use VPNs to improve their online privacy, but what good is it if the VPN collects a lot of your data or shares it with other parties? To establish how private these networks are, we look at various factors.
We prefer VPNs with headquarters in countries that aren't part of the Five Eyes, Nine Eyes, or 14 Eyes. These surveillance alliances might legally compel corporations to provide consumer data to their federal governments, so we'd choose the Cayman Islands over the United States any day (at least when it comes to VPN headquarters).
We also check for VPNs that employ AES-256 encryption and the other safe encryption techniques listed above.
Background and history of the company: We're not only security professionals but also journalists at heart, and we like sifting through a company's history to see what skeletons may be discovered.
While some firms come out relatively unscathed, others have suffered serious data security breaches in the past. While we don't harbour grudges, we must ensure your information is protected. Therefore, we must consider previous breaches.
WebRTC leaks: WebRTC is an umbrella word that refers to the technologies that enable web browsers to interact directly with one another. WebRTC eliminates the intermediary and speeds up high-bandwidth operations like file transfers, video chats, and live streaming.
However, it necessitates the devices to know one another's personal IP addresses, which a VPN user may not like. We use a tool on ExpressVPN's website to check for WebRTC leaks, ensuring that our IP addresses are kept hidden even while utilizing WebRTC.
DNS (Domain Name Server) leaks: DNS (Domain Name Server) is the name of a website that represents an IP address. Of course, you want a VPN so that no one can see what websites you're viewing. Therefore, we use DNSLeakTest.com to check for leaks.
Using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) has many advantages and a few disadvantages. It is essential that you choose the VPN service best for your needs. Be it for a home or a business network or even for travelling.
I trust you enjoyed this article about All You Need To Know About A VPN. Would you please stay tuned for more articles to come? Take care!
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