VPNConnected Blog

21Jun, 2014

what is a virtual private network and how it works

In simple terms, VPN is the abbreviated form of Virtual Private Networks representing a cluster of computers or discrete networks functioning via a public network i.e., the internet. While businesses use a VPN to establish connectivity to remotely located datacenters, individuals have the option of using a VPN to access websites and other resources provided by the internet when they are physically away from the same local area network or LAN. VPN is also helpful in encrypting communication via public networks that are not trustworthy.


Connecting through a VPN

When you establish connection through a VPN, usually a VPN client is launched on your computer or you will click a designated link and login using your credentials. Your computer then exchanges trusted code with a distant server. When both computers have established authenticity, all communication made by you is encrypted and you are secure from eavesdropping.


The Purpose of A VPN

Within the digital highway, there are several spamsters/fraudsters employing a slew of codes or programs to pry on your communication, cull our vital data and then use them for a variety of marketing objectives and/or even fraudulent transactions. By using a VPN your communication via the internet remains safe from the eagle eyes of the fraudsters.

VPN users can be classified into a few distinct groups though the common and wider use is to enhance the security level of your communication.


Students/workers

Under this category, the workers/students have access to their own VPN network provided by the employer/school and access the required resources irrespective of where they are. For this category security of data is not a major concern since they are already using a VPN provided to them and any feeble threat can be addressed by switching to Wi-Fi connectivity available at airports or cafes.


Downloaders

When you regularly download data from the internet using a public network, you are exposing the data itself and your computer to several malware programs floating around the web world. At times, this can seriously hamper your work/study and even render your computer seriously crippled. Apart from this, without a VPN, internet/computer users can also be subjected to legal consequences arising out of actions they have no knowledge of.


Privacy/Security Minded

For yet another class of people, they are very conscious of the safety and security of data they exchange with their employers/friends/financial institutions and more. Public networks such as the internet offers little or no guarantee that you will remain protected from fraudsters prowling around the digital highway. This class of users seeks absolute privacy on whatever they communicate via their computers.


Always On the Move

These are people who jet across from one continent to other frequently and prefer to watch international events like a favorite football game or the Olympic live without the aid of their none too dependable local network or be limited by geographically limited networks.


A Combination of All or Some of the Above

Depending on individual occupations, most people fit into one or more of the classes defined above. A VPN is therefore an ideal choice irrespective of the sensitivity attached to your communication.


How Does the VPN Work

To understand the working of a VPN, we use the example of an ocean and various islands on it. Consider each island to be a LAN or Local Area Network. You can use a ferry to travel between the islands, but you are deprived of privacy. The ferry represents the internet and you have no control over how the ferry is made up and who else can use it simultaneously.


Bridging the Islands

To enhance the security and privacy and security, we now build a bridge connecting two islands. Even when they are close to each other, building a bridge to connect the islands is an expensive proposition. The cost of building bridges to farther islands thus becomes prohibitive. The bridged represent leased lines and are independent of the ocean (The internet) itself. Thus when the need to connect work places in remote locations arises, and security of data transmitted is a prime concern, VPN (the leased line) with a network of bridges comes to your aid.


Bridges are Still Visible to Naked Eyes?

Fortunately, unlike in the physical world, leased lines or bridges in the digital world are not visible to naked eyes and work similar to submarines in the ocean. Having equated the leased lines (VPN) to submarines, let us consider the amazing attributes of the submarine (VPN).


Phenomenal speed
Easy portability
Completely hidden from other traffic (in the ocean/digital world)
High level of dependability
After the initial acquisition of 1 submarine (VPN) additions to the fleet can be achieved at nominal cost
Your fleet can be enlarged to meet increasing demands in a short space of time
No geographical limitations

Benefits of a VPN

As we have seen, the purpose of a VPN is providing reliable and secure private connection between computers and networks over existing public network which is generally the internet. Before addressing the technical nitty gritties of the VPN, let us consider the wide range of benefits that it brings across to different classes of users.


Connectivity across geographic locations without deploying a leased line
Improved security for data exchanged
Flexibility for remote users to use a business intranet over the internet as though they are virtually connected to the network.
Savings in time and cost for employees operating from virtual work places since they avoid commutation
Improved productivity from employees using virtual workplaces

Even when a business/user does not need all the above features; the following benefits must be part of a VPN's essential features.


Security - There can be no compromise on the security features of a VPN and if intruders sneak in to access data, they should not be able to use or read the data.
Reliability - Remote offices and employees should be able to gain trouble free access at all times (except when specified otherwise) and the connection quality should be optimal even at peak load conditions.
Scalability - As organizations grow, their needs also multiply. Therefore, scalability is an important feature to look for in any VPN service.

Protocols

The following are among the most common VPN protocols and the choice of a specific protocol will depend on the user and the ability of the service provider to offer the desired protocol.


OpenVPN Protocol

OS - Windows, Linux, and Mac osX,

Compatibility - PCs and most laptops and workstations

Encryption level - 160 or 256 bits at user option

Security level - Peak level of security with zero visible weakness.

Digital certification essential to authenticate both sides

Installation difficulty - easy to install

Solidity - Stable protocol provided

Speed - Quickest among VPNs

Ports compatibility - Compatible with all ports


PPTP Protocol

Compatibility - Compatible with a wide range of devices like laptops, workstations, Android devices, tablets, mobile phones and more

OS - iOS, Windows, MacOS, Android, Linux, DD-WRT

Encryption level - 128 bit

Solidity - Work with a range of public Wi-Fi, and university networks with high stability

Difficulty in installation - Easy to install, particularly since the protocol is integral to most systems

Speed - Low encryption making it faster

Ports - Limited


SSTP Protocol

Compatibility - compatible with most computers, laptops, and workstations

OS - Windows, Mac. OsX

Encryption - 256 bits

Security - high level with no weakness known

Solidity - Very stable

Installation - Easy

Speed - Quick

Ports - Compatible with multiple ports and difficult to lend


L2TP/ IPSec Protocol

Compatibility - Compatible with a wide range of devices like laptops, workstations, Android devices, tablets, mobile phones and more

OS - Windows, Linux, Mac osX, ioS, Android

Encryption - 256 bit

Security - Advanced level of encryption with capabilities for double encapsulation

Solidity - High stability for NAT supported networks

Installation - Advanced configuration essential

Speed - Slower encryption

Ports - Offers more options compared to PPTP


User Agreement

Now that you have gained a good overview of what a VPN is, it is time to turn to the user agreement. Look through this with a fine tooth comb to ensure that the privacy policy answers your needs perfectly. You should also know the difference between free and paid services. With the free services, chances are that the service provider is logging your activity to serve contextual ads and tailor future ads according to your usage habits. The features offered are often great looking, but commitments to privacy, potentially weak. But, when you are on a budget and just need quick and painless security while on travel, the free services rank well among your options.


With paid services, your security tends to get more serious and the ads usually do not pop up irrespective of whether they are logging your data or not. They may also offer free trials so you have a hands on experience of what can be expected. Even when you opt for a paid service, adequate homework will help you choose a VPN service that best answers your needs.


Conclusion

While VPNs do protect the data you handle from being accessed by unauthorized people for fraudulent use, you should still exercise caution to protect your device from malware. Most often reliable anti malware scanners are the best means of ensuring the security of your device. The best VPN should offer you features that are optimally balanced, connectivity protocols, server locations and price. Some are ideal for circumventing location restrictions found on certain services and apps while some others are targeted for users looking for heavy downloads and look for some privacy whilst at it.

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