A virtual private network (VPN) enables you to have a secure connection between your local device and an external server. It creates a private network out of a public Internet connection by hiding your Internet Protocol (IP) address. With a VPN, all your browsing data is routed through a safe encrypted passage protecting you from snooping eyes.
Though not a magic bullet, a VPN is currently the best way to protect your device from hacking, DNS/IP address leaks and ISP surveillance. Indeed, a few governments frown upon VPN use, but if you purchase a high quality VPN service with traffic encryption and zero knowledge DNS, you’ll be ahead of them!
History of VPN
The first mention of VPN was in 1996 when a Microsoft employee, Gurdeep Singh-Pall, used PPTP (Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol) to connect to a remote server. PPTP is the most basic VPN protocol, uses 128-bit encryption and is easily available with all VPN providers. For some reason, Microsoft chose not to patent this technology.
In the early and mid-aughts, VPN was initially used by corporations to securely connect with their remote offices. After the WikiLeaks scandal, there is now growing consumer interest in personal VPN services. Whether you are on a computer, tablet or smartphone, with a VPN you will enjoy greater privacy than possible before.
Over the years several new VPN protocols, including L2TP/IPSec, S2TP and OpenVPN, were developed. Out of these, OpenVPN and S2TP provide more security and speed than the others. In fact, the most successful VPN providers have started to discontinue L2TP and PPTP.
As of 2019, a new VPN protocol, WireGuard, is winning rave reviews for its state-of-the-art cryptography. It might become available with all leading VPN providers by the end of this year.
How VPN Works
A VPN follows a client-server architecture, except the client’s identity is undecipherable. Imagine the Internet as a cloud. When you log in from a computer, the VPN creates a secure tunnel to the cloud, and one of its global servers replaces your device. Other people and your ISP cannot keep track of what you are up to, as the data appears perfectly normal to them.
If you’re connecting with a smartphone, your VPN service will provide you with an Android or iOS app. Most good VPNs come with a “kill switch” which allows you to disconnect without revealing your IP address.
As a VPN consumer, you need not bother about technical details. Still, it’s good to know that a 256-bit encryption is better than a 128-bit, and there should be no DNS leaks. One good way to test your VPN for DNS leaks is to visit this link and opt for an “extended test.” If your actual server and IP address are found at any point in the trace, it means your VPN is not doing a good job in protecting your identity.
Why Use a VPN
For privacy-lovers, a VPN is the best shield from government and ISP surveillance programs. Further, you may want to use a Tor browser and virtual machines for additional security. One of the applications of VPN is using it to access the deep and dark web.
If you’re living in another country, a VPN is the fastest way to unlock geo-restricted content on Netflix, Hulu and other video services. While traveling, you may face restrictions in trying to access banking and credit card services in your home location. In such a situation, a VPN can prove real handy, as you only have to choose an appropriate server. No matter where you are, you can install a VPN client on any device, say in a cyber cafe, and uninstall it later. A good VPN allows at least three simultaneous connections.
If you use a VPN while also deleting your browser history, you can stay assured that no one will ever know anything about what you did online. Once you start using a VPN service, you will never want to browse the Internet without it.
Do you feel safer while using a VPN? Please share your personal experience in the comments below.