What Is a VPN and What Is It Used For?

A VPN (Virtual Private Network) provides users with the privacy and security they need to conduct business online. The use of a VPN increases productivity by enabling employees to do their jobs from wherever they choose while reducing the amount of time spent on unnecessary travel to and from the office. In addition, employers gain the advantage of increased workforce mobility, enabling them to attract and retain top talent. Finally, customers benefit from more convenient and affordable access to content, expanding the potential market for a given product or service.

What Is a VPN?

A VPN is a network of networks, often referred to as a ‘multi-protocol’ network, that allows users to create secure connections to other networks, servers, or devices.

A VPN user initiates a secure connection with a VPN service by providing details of a network, an appliance, or a computer and the desired security level. In return, the service provides the user with a security key, which they can use with all their supported appliances, devices, and networks to maintain the desired level of security.

A VPN is generally considered to be the successor to the dial-up VPN, or ‘Virtual Perishing Ring’, where users had to manually configure a connection and could only use it to access one site at a time.

Why Use A VPN?

Whether you’re a business or an individual, your interaction with the internet affects your privacy. As companies learn to mine our personal data for profit, it’s more important than ever to protect your identity and sensitive information when surfing the web.

Whether you’re shopping, banking, or playing online games, your personal data is at risk. Using a VPN app or service creates a secure connection that acts as a ‘protective blanket’ for all your activities while online, encrypting your traffic and securing any transactions that take place.

With a VPN, all your internet traffic is encrypted, so anyone listening in on your network connection cannot read your traffic. In addition, all your internet activity, including the sites you visit and the files you download, are hidden by encryption. This is particularly beneficial if you are accessing a blocked site or content in a foreign country. If you are visiting a website that is hosted in Europe but you are located in the United States, for example, your activity is still largely hidden from prying eyes and you increase your privacy and security while browsing the web.

VPNs also come in handy if you’re trying to bypass geographical restrictions, such as when accessing Netflix or Hulu in regions where these services are not available. Similarly, you can use a VPN to access content that is only available in regions where you have granted permission to access it. For example, Netflix is available everywhere, but in regions where geo-blocking is enforced, individuals cannot access content unless they are located in one of these areas. Similarly, YouTube videos are often restricted to certain regions by the content creator, and they require you to have a VPN to watch videos outside of your country of residence.

Whether you’re in the office, on the road, or at home, connecting to a VPN quickly and easily provides the security and privacy you need to do your job safely and effectively. When you’re traveling, connecting to a VPN allows you to access local networks and sites that you would normally be unable to reach due to geoblocking.

What Are The Main Types Of VPNs?

There are two types of VPNs: Layer-Two Tunneling Protocol (L2TP) and OpenVPN. L2TP only supports point-to-point connections and does not provide any NAT traversal or broad network access. In addition, L2TP uses a shared secret to establish the secure connection and is more prone to security breaches. These types of VPNs are generally used inside a single organization.

OpenVPN is probably the most commonly used VPN in the world and is supported by most large VPN service providers. OpenVPN is a protocol developed by OpenVPN, Inc that provides very broad network access, as well as the ability to create ‘virtual tunnels’ between devices. OpenVPN’s virtual tunneling feature makes it possible for one device to act as a router for others, enabling them to connect to a protected network or server. In addition, OpenVPN provides users with the ability to create ‘secret shares’ between multiple devices, which provide a level of protection not available within a traditional VPN.

Other types of VPNs include:

  • IPsec
  • S/MIME
  • L2TP/IPv6
  • IKEv2
  • ZRTP
  • Chamilo
  • Handshake
  • PPTP
  • L2FP
  • Microsoft Point-to-Point Encryption (MPPE)

What Is The Difference Between A VPN And An SSL/TLS VPN?

An SSL/TLS VPN (Secure Sockets Layer/Transport Layer Security VPN) provides users with the security and privacy they need to conduct transactions over the internet, with the added bonus of allowing them to access blocked sites.

SSL/TLS VPNs are essentially the same as VPNs, but instead of encrypting data in transit, SSL/TLS VPNs encrypt data at rest. Data in transit is the information passing between your computer and the website you are visiting, whereas data at rest is the information stored on the device you are using to access the internet. For example, when you visit a bank’s website, the information you provide (such as your username and password) is in transit while the transactions are in rest. With an SSL/TLS VPN, all your internet traffic is encrypted, so anyone listening in on your network connection cannot read your traffic or perform any kind of analysis on it. In addition, all your internet activity, including the sites you visit and the files you download, are still hidden by encryption, but now the security and privacy you get from a VPN are present in the transaction, as well.

While both VPNs and SSL/TLS VPNs provide the protection and privacy users need and want online, they are extremely different in practice. SSL/TLS VPNs are better suited for small businesses and individuals who need to conduct fairly short-lived transactions over a VPN. In addition, since SSL/TLS VPNs encrypt the data at rest, they also provide a greater degree of security than most individuals would consider acceptable for online transactions, especially since many VPNs do not offer truly end-to-end encryption. Finally, the shared secret that is used to establish an SSL/TLS VPN connection is often considered less secure than a VPN’s single symmetric key, causing many businesses and organizations to avoid using them altogether.

How Do VPNs Work?

A VPN user connects to the internet through one or more ‘client’ devices, such as laptops or mobile phones. Incoming data (packets of data) from the internet are sent to the VPN server, which then passes the traffic along to the user’s device, where it is either delivered to the end user or discarded.

Each packet of data that is sent between the user’s computer and a website or service the user is accessing, including all the content the user is downloading, is encrypted. In addition to encryption, packets are also typically tagged with a ‘signature’ containing the IP address of the sender. This signature is used by the receiver to verify the identity of the sender. Verify that the sender is who they claim to be, and the receiver is not being tricked by an imposter. For example, when you visit a secure website, such as a bank’s or an e-commerce website, you can be sure that all the information you provide is protected and cannot be read by anyone else. In addition, since your computer is connecting to the VPN directly instead of going through a third party (such as a public Wi-Fi hotspot), there is less of a chance that your personal data will fall into the wrong hands.

To keep things simple, let’s assume that you are using a desktop computer to connect to a VPN. First, you open your VPN software and select the ‘openVPN’ option. Then, you click the ‘Connect’ button, enter your VPN configuration details, and click the ‘Start’ button. Once the VPN service starts, you can click the ‘Options’ button to access the ‘Advanced Options’, where you can select a ‘Customization’ button. Finally, you can click the ‘Save Settings’ button to save the VPN connection settings for future use.

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