VPN, What Is It and What Is It Used For
VPN stands for Virtual Private Network, and it is an essential tool for secure internet browsing. A VPN allows you to establish a secure connection between a device and the internet through a private communication channel, often referred to as a “VPN tunnel.”
Initially, VPNs were created by companies to protect their communications from industrial espionage. Later, this technology was applied to the internet to enable users to browse securely without the risk of cyberattacks from hackers and cybercriminals. A VPN is a network service used to encrypt internet traffic and protect your online identity.
How Does a VPN Work?
A VPN provides an encrypted connection, which means that once you connect to the internet, it can mask your IP address through a process called tunneling. This enhances your anonymity and makes your online browsing more secure. Before accessing various websites, a VPN reroutes the connection through a remote server managed by a VPN provider, acting as a filter to ensure a secure launching platform.
What Is a VPN Used For?
As mentioned above, a VPN offers increased online security, enhances privacy, and allows you to browse the internet with more freedom by hiding your IP address and encrypting all data sent or received through an encrypted tunnel. This means that even if a cybercriminal were to intercept the data, they wouldn’t be able to decipher it because it would appear as meaningless symbols. It is clear that without a VPN, your connection is completely exposed and vulnerable to anyone.
But how does a VPN work technically? The VPN software on your device (e.g., computer) encrypts data traffic and sends it to the VPN server through an encrypted connection. The encrypted data is decrypted by the VPN server, which then sends the data to the internet and receives a response intended for the user. The data traffic is then encrypted again by the VPN server and sent back to the user. Finally, the VPN software on the device decrypts the data to make it understandable.
VPN uses various encryption protocols, with the main ones being:
- PPTP (Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol): It is based on the PPP protocol and is typically used in combination with the Layer 3 GRE protocol.
- L2TP (Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol): It is a Layer 2 protocol that allows the creation of a virtual tunnel.
- IPSEC (Internet Protocol Security): It is a Layer 3 protocol that ensures the confidentiality, integrity, and authenticity of data traffic through encryption and authentication mechanisms.
- HTTPS (Hyper Text Transfer Protocol Secure): It is a secure hypertext transfer protocol that relies on the SSL transport protocol.
When to Use VPNs
VPNs are primarily used in corporate settings and by public administrations. They allow organizations to leverage the public network infrastructure, reducing the costs of building a private secure network. Additionally, they enable employees to work from anywhere without the need to be physically present in the office (e.g., remote work or business trips).
VPNs can also be useful in another scenario: when using public Wi-Fi networks (e.g., at an airport). Using public hotspots can be very risky. When the connection is unsecured, hackers can intercept internet traffic and steal sensitive data, such as passwords, bank account information, photos, social media passwords, etc.