A Virtual Private Network (VPN) is a type of network that provides security for data transmission by creating a secured link between two or more devices, such as a laptop and a mobile phone, that would typically be connected to the internet via a public network. A VPN can be configured to encrypt all transmitted information, which inhibits any hackers or third parties from accessing proprietary or sensitive information that may be contained in the transmission.
This kind of network provides users with the ability to browse the web privately, access blocked content, and make secure connections, all without having to worry about the security of their data while on the move.
The following paragraphs will shed some light on the intricacies of this network type and how it works.
How Does A VPN Work?
A VPN is actually a combination of two different technologies that function in tandem to provide users with increased security and privacy when online. The first is a tunneling protocol, which allows for the creation of a secure connection between two or more devices, such as a laptop and a mobile phone. The second is private networking, which allows individuals to setup a secure connection with other entities (usually within their own company), thereby creating a secured link between the two. These technologies effectively create a secured “tunnel” between the devices, which is traversed by all internet traffic, ensuring that no third party can eavesdrop or tamper with the information being transmitted. All internet traffic is therefore secured by default, even if the user does not activate the VPN service.
The combination of these two technologies creates what is known as a VPN server, which is a software-based solution that implements the VPN protocol. VPN servers come in several different forms, ranging from dedicated hardware appliances to virtual machines that can be hosted on a remote server.
In a nutshell, VPNs can be used to secure all types of data transfer within a company, including:
- File transfer (e.g., between employees as part of their daily workflow)
- Network security (e.g., between multiple offices),
- Remote access (e.g., for vendors or contractors to securely access an office network from a remote location)
- Web browsing (e.g., via a virtual private browser instance on a mobile phone or laptop)
- Email (e.g., using encrypted email services such as Mailbox or Protonmail)
- Instant messaging (e.g., via Signal or WhatsApp)
Additionally, VPNs can be used to secure all internet traffic between two or more devices, even if they don’t reside on the same network. For instance, you could connect your laptop to the internet via a home wifi network, and then manually configure your phone to connect via a VPN when you are on the move (at work or school, for example). In this way, all internet traffic is encrypted, ensuring that no third party can eavesdrop or tamper with your communications while they are being transmitted.
This is particularly useful if you are traveling and want to ensure that your hotel staff cannot monitor your internet usage or sell your personal data to the highest bidder. You can use a VPN to secure your privacy and prevent unwanted eavesdropping when browsing the web, sending emails, or doing business online, all without having to worry about the safety of your personal information. Of course, you can manually switch networks when you are connecting to a different one, but this can be cumbersome.
Different Types Of VPNs
There are several different types of VPNs, ranging from free to paid tiers, which provide enhanced levels of security and privacy, as well as different features and functionalities. Larger companies with offices worldwide often favor dedicated VPN appliances, which are hardware/software-based solutions that provide an easy-to-use interface for setting up and configuring VPN connections.
However, in smaller offices or homes, people may need something a little more flexible. Hybrid VPNs provide this with the ability to work with third-party VPN software on a single platform, which can be hosted either locally or remotely. This kind of VPN is usually cheaper and more accessible than dedicated appliances, due to its open-source nature. Additionally, hybrid VPNs are easily scalable, as more or less capacity can be added, depending on the user’s needs.
Features Of A VPN
The following is a short list of some of the features that differentiate a VPN from a traditional, unprotected internet connection:
- Security – all internet traffic is secured by default, thanks to the combination of tunneling and private networking technologies that make up a VPN. This ensures the privacy and security of the data that is being transmitted, as the connection is protected by default even if the user does not activate the service.
- Encryption – all internet traffic is encrypted while it is being transmitted, ensuring that nobody, not even the people you are communicating with, can read your messages. This encryption is usually handled by the VPN software or hardware itself (either end-to-end or with public key infrastructure (PKI)), ensuring that your communications are private.
- Traversal – when you are connecting to the internet via a VPN, all of your traffic is routed through the protected network, ensuring that nobody can interfere with or intercept your communications while they are being transmitted. Your data is therefore protected against eavesdropping by default, even if you do not use a VPN.
- Diversification – thanks to the usage of public key infrastructure (PKI), any devices that you connect to the VPN can verify and establish the identity of the other end. This ensures that, even if one of the devices is compromised, your information is still protected.
- Interconnection – VPNs allow for the creation of a secured connection between two or more devices, both within a company and across organizational boundaries, ensuring that all internet traffic is protected and remains private. In addition, VPNs can be configured to provide secure connections between different locations, ensuring that all locations, including those that are remotely located, are protected and therefore easier to manage and collaborate on projects and activities.
- Scalability – as the name would suggest, VPNs are designed to be scalable, allowing users to add more devices with the click of a button and therefore increase the amount of network traffic that is handled by the service. This can be done via a variety of methods, ranging from additional hardware to additional virtual machines.
- Mobility – VPNs allow users to securely access the internet from anywhere, provided they have an internet connection and a device that is configured to work with the service. This kind of flexibility has made VPNs popular in remote offices and with travelers, as it prevents them from having to be tethered to a desk or notebook computer to perform their job functions. Instead, they can use their mobile phone or other portable device, which can be more convenient and flexible when traveling or working remotely.
- Application – thanks to the usage of virtual private networks as well as the usage of dedicated devices, people can easily use their smartphones and other mobile devices to access the VPN, ensuring that all of their data, including web browsing, email, and file transfers, are secured and private. This is useful for when people are traveling or when using public Wi-Fi at venues such as coffee shops or airport terminals, as the security of all internet traffic is handled by the VPN, shielding users from eavesdropping or other security risks.
Even if you are not working remotely or are not particularly tech-savvy, a VPN can still be useful in securing your personal data, preventing eavesdropping, and allowing you to browse the web privately, as those mentioned above.
Who Is The Typical User Of A VPN?
As we mentioned above, VPNs are mainly used by travelers and individuals that work remotely, for whom connectivity and security are a serious concern. Due to their inherent flexibility and mobility, VPNs are commonly used within the technology industry as well, particularly by engineers that work on projects and software that require a lot of connectivity and activity online. The need for secure remote access and the desire to prevent unwanted eavesdropping are also popular within the education sector, as schools and universities are always looking for ways to protect the security of their students’ and teachers’ data while also allowing for open, collaborative learning opportunities.
As a result, the typical user of a VPN is often young, educated, and busy, with more than one device and a need for greater flexibility while working remotely or traveling.