What is a VPN and why should you use it?

by: - Last updated on: September 24th, 2018

Most of us use the Internet on a daily basis for things like work, entertainment, information, social media etc. But little do we care to understand the different intricacies of Internet security. Especially in today’s day and age when data is the most valuable asset, the vulnerabilities that come along with the different services is really fretful. And therefore require the use of services like VPN to keep the data secure and private.

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What is a VPN and how does it work?

A VPN or Virtual Private Network is a service that allows you to access the Internet securely and anonymously as if you were connected to a private network. It was primarily developed for corporate use where companies required getting their sensitive data in-and-out of their servers on a public network using remote-access. However, as more people are starting to take Internet privacy and security seriously, the use of VPN is increasing noticeably.

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A VPN works by establishing a tunneled and encrypted connection between you and the destination server. For this, it first authenticates your device with the VPN provider and then creates a tunnel between this device and the destination server. After that’s done it encrypts all the communications in order to keep it safe from the prying eyes of hackers using different sets of protocols like IPsec, PPTP, SSTP, OpenVPN etc. It also provides anonymity, for which it assigns an IP address of the server located in the same geographic location as the destination server. By doing so, it tricks the server into believing that the request is coming from a device that is either present in the same geographic area or connected directly to the network.

To understand the security mechanism of a VPN, let’s consider a scenario where a hacker tries to penetrate a particular node on the network to obtain information. When this happens, the VPN tries to change the route that it previously took with a new route that no longer requires that particular node, making it tough for the hacker to break-in. However, if the node somehow gets compromised, the information present on the network would still be secure since it is present in an encrypted form.

When should you use a VPN?

There are a lot of use cases for VPN, ranging from secure remote-access, secure browsing, file downloads from untrusted sites, access to geo-blocked sites etc. But without going into much details of every use case, let’s consider the most common ones –

  • A lot of the times, there are services or websites that a country doesn’t want its people to access or the service isn’t available in that location. In such a scenario, a VPN can turn out to be a game changer. All you need to do is find a country that the service supports and connect to one of the servers available on the VPN app.
  • For the next use case, let’s say you work for an organization that has servers located in different regions all over the world, and there arises a situation when you have to access information present on one of its servers on a private network. You cannot afford to compromise on security in this situation and thus require a VPN.
  • Similar to the above scenario, there can be a situation when you have to access some data on a NAS (Network Attached Storage) back at home. A better way to do that would be to use a VPN to remote access the NAS.
  • A lot of us hop on to a free Wi-Fi as soon as we see one and start using it for various services. However, you should avoid connecting to such networks in the first place unless it’s an emergency. This is because a lot of websites on the Internet are still using HTTP instead of HTTPS which leads to a less secure connection between you and the server. Thus leaving it vulnerable to various online attacks. The only way to protect yourself in such a situation is to use a VPN which will keep you secure even on sites that don’t use HTTPS.

Which VPN should you use?

When choosing a VPN, there are a plethora of options to choose from, some offering VPN services for free while some requiring you to purchase a plan. However, in the early days, the only way to use a VPN was to set up the built-in function on the device. This option is still present on most of the devices but requires a series of steps to configure. A fail-proof way is to use a VPN client, for which all you to do is download a standalone VPN app for the specific device. If you’re on PC, you can also download a browser extension for the same.

In case you decide on using a VPN client, here are some key points you need to keep in mind before choosing one-

  • Speed – One of the most common problems with a VPN is that as soon as you connect to a server, there is a noticeable deterioration in the Internet speed. So when making a decision, higher speed should always be given preference.
  • Reach – Simply put, the more geographical reach a provider has, the more you can get out of it.
  • Bandwidth – Always choose a service that provides higher bandwidth as that would prevent any logging at the provider end.
  • Protocol – There are several protocols that the VPN providers use like IPsec/L2TP, PPTP, SSTP, Open VPN, etc. However, OpenVPN is the best in terms of privacy and security.
  • Pricing – This should not be the key deterrent when it comes to choosing a VPN. Sometimes, you can get the most out of the free services as well.

So the next time you exchange any confidential information on the Internet make sure you use a VPN.

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