Imagine you’re on holiday in a foreign country. You open your front door to find a package waiting for you. Inside is a stylish gift-wrapped box, a bottle of local wine, and a beautifully penned note from your friend in Hong Kong. It would be such a shame to disappoint your friend, so you quickly pop the neck on the bottle and pour yourself a drink. A few minutes later, you’re sat on the terrace of your hotel with the gentle whirring of seaplanes providing perfect seclusion while you savour your cocktail.
That’s quite an image, right? Well, it could become a reality because of what a VPN does. A VPN allows you to access resources and functions on the internet that are not available to you, the user. For example, if you’re in China and you try to access a website containing content that’s against the country’s censorship rules, you’ll automatically be blocked. A VPN handles all of that for you.
A VPN’s main function is to connect you to resources while you’re online. It does this by creating a secure connection between your device and a remote server. This, in turn, allows you to access content that’s otherwise restricted to certain areas or countries. Because your connection is secure, you can be sure that your personal information won’t be compromised.
Why do I need a VPN?
Even if you trust your friends and colleagues, you may still need to secure your personal data when traveling or accessing public Wi-Fi in foreign countries. The internet hasn’t become as unsafe as it is because people are generally nice, but rather because of the easy access that digital platforms provide for cybercriminals. This is why you need a VPN to protect yourself whenever and wherever you use the internet.
There are plenty of reasons why you might choose to hide your identity online. Maybe you’re looking for a new job and need to research some companies to see which one suits you best. Or perhaps you just want to keep your personal life private and don’t want to leave a digital trail when you browse the internet. Whatever your reasons, they don’t matter because a VPN will still protect you.
What exactly does a VPN do?
As we’ve established, a VPN allows you to access content that’s restricted in your area. You might think of a VPN as an extension of your home network, which it functionally is. The major difference is that your home network has all of the equipment and connections necessary to access resources throughout the internet, whereas a VPN relies on a server to provide that access. A VPN client, or simply VPN, is what will allow you to connect to a server and gain access to restricted content. You’ll need to download and install the app before you can use it. Some VPNs are free, but you’ll need to pay for certain services like VPN Plus or VIP, which give you faster speeds and more data.
Types of VPNs
There are three main types of VPNs – IP, DNS, and TLS – and each serves a unique purpose. Let’s take a quick look at what they are and what they do:
An IP VPN establishes a secured connection to a remote server based on the IP address of the device that you’re connected to. The IP address describes the location of your computer or mobile phone, which is then mapped to another location, typically in the UK, to provide you with some privacy when you’re online. For example, if you’re in China and you try to access a website containing content that’s against the country’s censorship rules, the DNS will prevent the site from being indexed by Chinese search engines. Hence, you’ll be blocked by default without ever clicking on a link or downloading any content.
IP VPNs are the most common type of VPN and, as the name suggests, they use the internet protocol (IP) to secure the connection between your device and the VPN server. This, in turn, allows you to access resources and content that’s otherwise restricted to specific regions or countries. If you try to access a website that’s against the country’s censorship rules from an IP VPN connection in China, you’ll be presented with a security warning that you must accept before you can access the content. If you don’t accept the warning, you’ll be blocked without any possibility of unblocking youself (unless you break the rules).
Since IP VPNs rely on the internet protocol to establish a secure connection, they are inherently limited by the infrastructure of the internet itself. This is why you’ll need a residential or dedicated IP address to use one.
DNS VPNs operate similarly to IP VPNs, however, instead of using the IP address to secure the connection, a DNS VPN establishes a secured connection to a remote server based on the domain name of the website that you’re trying to access. The domain name, also known as a TLD (Top Level Domain) can be used to identify and locate websites, much like a phone number can be used to find a business or a person. So, when you try to access mybank.com from China, you’ll see the following security warning because mybank.com doesn’t have a functional presence in China:
- This resource is prohibited in China.
- The website you are trying to access is dangerous.
- Your connection is not private.
- Your computer’s security is at risk.
As you can probably guess, DNS VPNs are limited by the domains that are registered and available for use in the country that you’re in. This is why you need a dedicated IP address to use a DNS VPN. If you want to access a different domain, you’ll have to install a new app because the existing one won’t have the necessary authorizations to connect you to that website.
TLS VPNs, or transport layer VPNs, are designed to provide a higher level of security than the standard VPNs we’ve discussed so far. To start with, the encryption of a TLS VPN is end-to-end, meaning that the data is encrypted from the point of origin to the point of delivery. This means that any entity, ranging from your internet service provider to a cyber criminal, eavesdropping on your communication cannot decrypt it. It also means that a dedicated port is required on both the client and the server so that the data can be securely exchanged over a secured connection.
TLS VPNs also use perfect forward secrecy (PFS) to protect your private information. PFS means that even if an attacker manages to break the encryption on a TLS VPN, they still won’t be able to decrypt previous communications. This provides a layer of security that’s not afforded to devices that use weaker types of encryption.
Finally, TLS VPNs use a remote server, rather than a local device, for all of the security operations. This allows for more flexibility in terms of where the service can be installed, which makes it easier to use for users that travel. This is probably why so many VPNs have shifted to the cloud, allowing them to offer secure online storage and access to resources even when you’re away from home.
All of this might seem quite overwhelming, especially since there are so many different types of VPNs out there. To make things easier to understand, let’s break it down into a quick FAQ.
How do I choose the right VPN for my needs?
Choosing the right VPN is all about finding one that suits your needs. There are plenty of trustworthy VPNs available, whether you’re on social media or not. You just have to do a little bit of research to find the one that suits you best. Keep in mind that not all VPNs are created equal, so to speak, and you want to make sure that you’re getting the best possible service for your buck. Fortunately, the internet is full of helpful resources to guide you through the process of choosing a VPN and, as a result, you’ll have an easy time determining which one to use.
For example, did you know that you can check out a VPN’s certification documentation to verify that they’re trustworthy? Or that you can find customer reviews on websites like Google or Twitter? It’s a great place to start your research.
Once you’ve found a few trustworthy VPNs that suit your fancy, it’s time to install them on your devices and get them set up. Remember, it’s always better to be safe than sorry when it comes to your personal data, so ensure that you’ve configured each one correctly before you use them.