What Is a VPN, and Why Do I Need One?

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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!

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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.

Users Accessing Vpn Smartphone Laptop Tablet

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.

Nordvpn Discontinued L2tp 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.

How Vpn Works Schematic

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.

Dns Leak Test

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.

Conclusion

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.

2 comments

  1. This article is overly enthusiastic and does not address the challenges of using a VPN. I subscribe to and use a VPN whenever possible on my laptop, tablets, and phone, but such use is not without headaches and could be confusing for those who are not IT savvy. Many common websites block or delay use when they detect a VPN, requiring the user to disconnect. United.com will not let you log in. Amazon often takes many refreshes of the initial web page to start responding. Many Microsoft sync processes with OneDrive will report they cannot connect when my VPN client is connected, including Excel, OneNote, and Outlook. VPNs are also not a guaranteed solution for accessing Hulu, Netflix, and Prime Video when outside the US. Although it varies by provider and platform, they have added VPN detection to some clients and block use, instructing you to disconnect from the VPN to use their service.

    I can’t say this is true with all VPN services. I currently subscribe to the very popular VPN you picture in your article. Their tech support is open about the fact that some sites block them, and offer options when they can, but you should inform readers that VPN’s are neither transparent to use universally, nor are they a panacea for geo-restricted access or security.

    1. “This article is overly enthusiastic and does not address the challenges of using a VPN.”

      Hi, this is because it’s a “how-to” article. There are still many among us who are curious about VPN never having used it ourselves.

      “Many common websites block or delay use when they detect a VPN.”
      Wikipedia does, I am an editor there. But there are workarounds. For example, I use a Tor browser along with the VPN which totally confuses the Wiki hound bots. You can try out a very unique VPN server.

      “Amazon often takes many refreshes of the initial web page to start responding.”
      I did not experience it myself. But I do get email verification code reminders which can be annoying. Not saying it won’t happen but Amazon’s bots are not that clever at detecting VPN traffic compared to Wikipedia, for example, or United as you said.

      “they have added VPN detection to some clients and block use, instructing you to disconnect from the VPN to use their service.”
      True.

      “I can’t say this is true with all VPN services. I currently subscribe to the very popular VPN you picture in your article.”
      Just an example. Not saying it’s the best VPN.

      One area all VPN providers can work in is making their VPN traffic undetectable to the bots.

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