In the last couple of years, virtual private networks (VPNs) have exploded in popularity. The ease of use and nearly effortless setup of these services has made them incredibly popular, as evidenced by the fact that there are now hundreds of VPN providers. If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you’re either a VPN user yourself or someone who knows one. So let’s dive into what is a VPN and what does it do.
Short History of VPNs
VPNs are a great way to secure your personal devices and the data they contain from cyberattacks and data theft. Because they’re such a popular and useful tool, VPNs have been around for a very short time, only having existed since the 2000s. However, the idea of VPNs goes way back, as they were first invented in the 1980s to allow users to connect remotely to external networks (like the Internet) while maintaining the privacy of their local network activities (like browsing the web or sending emails).
Popular Use Cases for VPNs
The most popular use case for VPNs is to allow users to securely connect to public networks (like the Internet) while avoiding any connection problems or possible data breaches.
For example, if you live in a country where your ISP (Internet Service Provider) does not offer VPN services, you’d need to manually configure each device you use to connect to the Internet on a public location (like a Starbucks, for example). Alternatively, you could connect to a VPN server near you and gain access to all the content and services you need through a simple to use and secure interface.
VPNs are also popular with companies that need to securely connect to other companies’ networks or to the public networks (like the Internet) to carry out their business. Enterprises use VPNs for all sorts of purposes, including to remotely access internal networks, to securely send and receive data, and to simply mask their IP addresses to stop hackers from knowing their true locations.
Types of VPNs
There are actually several different types of VPNs, each with their own unique features and purposes. Let’s run down the most common ones.
VPN TCP/IP: VPN IP (T)P(/IP)/ VPN IP(/T)P
This type of VPN is usually the one you’ll see advertised most often. It relies on the security and stability of the underlying TCP/IP network to ensure that your online activities remain private and that your data is not compromised during transit.
However, VPNs utilizing this protocol were originally designed to be manually configured on a per-device basis. As a result, many users experience a steep learning curve and often times even experienced support issues due to a lack of expertise with the technology.
L2TP/IPSec: VPN IP (T)P(/IP)/ VPN IP(/T)P
L2TP is an older VPN protocol, first released in the 1990s. Like its TCP/IP counterpart, it also relies on the security and stability of the underlying network to ensure that your online activities remain private and that your data is not compromised during transit. In addition, it allows for encrypted connections over standard (unencrypted) TCP/IP networks, making it an ideal choice for enterprises, who need to securely connect to other companies’ networks or to the public networks (like the Internet) to carry out their business.
However, while L2TP can be configured to work on a per-device basis, it requires more expertise and advanced knowledge of TCP/IP to do so effectively. Plus, like its TCP/IP counterpart, L2TP is far more popular with businesses than individuals, as businesses can more easily allocate the resources necessary to configure and maintain successful L2TP networks.
PPTP: VPN IP (T)P(/IP)/ VPN IP(/T)P
PPTP, or Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol, was developed and deployed by Microsoft in the early 2000s. It’s popularity quickly grew as Microsoft made it easy for anyone to set up and use. In addition, since it’s a symmetrical (i.e., unencrypted) tunneling protocol, it doesn’t require advanced knowledge of TCP/IP to configure.
However, like its predecessors, VPNs using this protocol were originally designed to be manually configured on a per-device basis. As a result, many users experience a steep learning curve and often times even experienced problems due to a lack of expertise with the technology.
For these reasons, PPTP is probably the least popular of the commonly used VPN protocols. However, if a business decides to go with this protocol, it can achieve extremely high speeds (up to hundreds of Mbps) due to the fact that it doesn’t require much overhead. So if you’re looking for a quick and easy way to get up and running, consider using PPTP.
Depending on your preference, you might want to consider one of the many VPN companies whose entire business model revolves around security. These companies, called security/VPNs or S/VPNs, create and manage secure networks using various methods, including hardware appliances and specialized software. Since a large portion of their business depends on keeping your personal data secure, they take a very serious approach to protecting your privacy. Therefore, most S/VPNs offer a very reliable and robust service, making them a great choice for businesses or governments that need a trusted and secure connection to external networks (like the Internet) for official purposes.
To learn more, check out this article from PCWorld, which provides an in-depth overview of the most popular and effective VPNs.