What is VPN? Types of VPN & How It Works
VPN is an acronym for Virtual Private Network. As the name suggests, it is all about “privacy”. It ensures that every activity done on the internet is kept private and secured.
It would be unthinkable to imagine the implication if the various influx of online businesses which take place every second, such as online shopping, payment of bills, online banking, which involve the use of credit cards, social security numbers, and other private details are exposed to the public.
The primary aim of VPN is to keep private information private. Its function is to enable the user to connect to a private network through the internet in a private and secured manner. If you do not use VPN, it means you are exposing your personal information to the general public.
There are many servers that operate on the internet. These servers accommodate the various websites and communicate with one another every second in order to have access to data as one browses the internet. Through this process, sensitive data such as personal details can be exposed.
As we browse the internet, we notice the prefix “HTTPS” before the name of the website. This prefix has made some people erroneously believe that the information is secured. “HTTPS” which is usually shown by a padlock icon usually secures information between the web browser and the website.
Albeit, to an extent, it may provide some form of security while browsing the web, but this is not exhaustive as data will still be susceptible to being exposed, especially if one is using public Wi-Fi. The stark reality is that, without a VPN, whether one is browsing at home or in the public domain, the person’s personal information is liable to be exposed.
For instance, when we browse at home, our internet service provider(ISP) sees everything we do on the internet and may even log it. The most vulnerable places are public places such as airports, public libraries, hospitals, Wi-Fi hotspots, etc. Hackers and cybercriminals may cash in on these settings and install fake hotspots.
This is the essence of using a VPN. When VPN is applied, it will not be possible to track or log online activities by ISPs or hackers. This way, no secret information will be leaked. In some cases, it may be possible to intercept data. Even if this happens, there is no cause to worry.
This is because data is encrypted and therefore rendered useless to anyone with a decryption key.
The terms “encryption” and “decryption” will be defined in the course of this article. Therefore, in summary, the primary reasons for using VPN are:
1. To prevent anyone including our internet service providers(ISPs)and public Wi-Fi hotspots from tracking what we do online.
2. VPN also comes in handy whenever there is a need to have access to region-restricted content and to defy certain jurisdictions.
3. Put succinctly, we use VPN primarily to ensure enhanced anonymity online.
As mentioned before, the use of VPN guarantees that private information is kept private, and this is most pertinent.
Types of VPN
Getting the most desired result from VPN depends on the type of VPN software that we choose.
Here, we shall discuss the most popular types of VPNs and their workability. Before we proceed, it is important to understand that many VPN software usually works directly with the settings of an operating system such as Windows, iOS, or Android in such a way that every App that connects to the Internet is protected.
Now let us look at some types of VPN services:
1. Remote Access VPN
Remote Access VPN enables the user to connect to a private network and access all its services and resources remotely. The connection between the user and the private network takes place through the internet and the connection is quite secure and private. Remote Access VPN is useful for both business and home users.
For instance, an employee of a company who traveled out of the station can use Remote Access VPN to connect to his or her private network and have access to files and resources on the company’s private network remotely. This is also known as Corporate VPN. In the case of private users, VPN services can be used to break regional restrictions on the internet and can also make it possible to access blocked websites.
2. Site-to-Site VPN
This is also known as Router-to-Router VPN. It is commonly used in large companies.
It is ideal when there are several devices that need to be protected as it can protect every device connected to the router. Companies that have offices at different locations can use Site-to-Site VPN to connect the network of one office to the network of offices located at a different place.
When several offices of the same company are connected using a Site-to-Site VPN, it is called, Intranet Based VPN. Conversely, when companies use Site-to-Site VPN to connect to the office of another company, it is known as Extranet Based VPN.
Site-to-Site VPN creates a kind of invisible bridge between offices situated at different locations and connects them through the internet and at the same time enables secure and private communication among various networks.
3. Standalone VPN
Standalone VPN is commonly used by homes and small businesses. It makes use of an application that creates an encrypted connection to the private network which can then be utilized to connect to the larger internet.
4. Browser Extensions VPN
Some VPNs function as browser extensions or add-on. This can be described as ad-on to the browsers such as Google Chrome or Firefox. Opera App comes with an in-built VPN. But the shortfall of this is that data can only be protected when one is using that particular browser. This means that other Apps will not be protected.
How VPN Works
VPN works by routing a device’s internet connection through a chosen VPN’s private server instead of the server of the internet service provider(ISP). This implies that when data is transmitted to the internet, it comes from the internet rather than the computer.
When one connects to the internet, the VPN acts as an intermediary by concealing the IP address. The IP address is the chain of numbers the ISP assigns to a device, in a bid to protect its identity. If data is intercepted in any way, it will not be possible to read it until it reaches its destination.
VPN creates a private “tunnel” from the device to the internet and hides all the data through what is popularly referred to as encryption. Encryption is parlance used to describe how data is kept private when using a VPN.
Encryption hides information in a way that it cannot be read without a very strong password which is known as the key. The function of this key is to break the complicated code which data has been turned into. The key is only recognized by the computer and the VPN server.
Decryption, on the other hand, is the process of decoding data by computer and the VPN server. It is the process of making the encrypted information readable again through the application of the key. Different types of VPN use different kinds of encryption methods.
But, the VPN encryption process can be aptly illustrated as follows: When you connect to a VPN, you do so through a secure tunnel where your data is coded. This means that your data has been transformed into a code that cannot be interpreted as it passes between your computer and the VPN’s server.
Your device begins to operate on the same local network as your VPN. Therefore, your IP address becomes the IP address of your VPN provider’s servers.
Consequently, you can browse the internet anyhow you wish, knowing fully well that you are safe, and being rest assured that the VPN serves as a barrier that protects personal information.
Therefore, the extent to which your data is protected depends on the protocols of the VPN provider’s encryption mechanism.
What is a VPN Protocol?
The VPN protocol is simply the type of technology the VPN service uses to ensure that the fastest and safest VPN connection to the internet is achieved. When encryption standards and transmission protocols are combined, the VPN protocol then determines how data is transmitted between the device and the VPN server.
The most popular VPN protocols being used are:
1. Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol (PPTPC)
This was created by Microsoft and it happens to be the oldest protocol being used today. Although it is fast and easy to apply, it becomes useful only when you are using an older Windows operating system. These features make it more limited.
2. Layer2Tunneling Protocol(L2TIPSec)
This is a combination of PPTP and L2F protocol founded by CISCO hardware networking company. However, it provides a more secure data tunnel than PPTP but is deficient in privacy and encryption capabilities. Consequently, it is always attached to IPSec which is a security protocol.
3. Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol (SSTP)
This is another protocol created by Microsoft. It is the VPN equivalent of the protocols used by websites for the purpose of encryption. SSTP is very secure and it is only the two people involved in data transmission that can decode it.
4. Internet Key Exchange Protocol(IKEv2)
It is an upgraded and new version of L2TP. It is a product of collaboration between Microsoft and CISCO. Like its predecessor, it is always bundled with IPSec and is especially effective on mobile devices.
5. Open VPN
This is an open-source VPN technology and is regarded as the best so far. It is “open” in the sense that it is available to a lot of developers who are constantly boosting the technology and it is open to anyone who wishes to use and modify it to suit their need, whether individuals or corporate bodies. Open VPN is considered to be the most secure type of VPN protocol. It offers the same protection as the ones mentioned before, albeit at a higher level.
The Law and VPNs
The security and use of VPNs to a large extent depend on the law prevailing in the host country and by extension, the laws that govern the country where the VPN server and company headquarters are located.
This is because the laws of a particular country can affect how VPN technology can be used by different organizations. Since the laws that regulate the use of VPN are still evolving, it is still relative and can be interpreted in many ways.
For instance, in North America and Western Europe, the use of VPN is legalized. In other countries, the use of VPN may not be totally illegal, but it may be strictly regulated and censored. In China, no business can use a VPN without obtaining a license.
In Russia, only government-approved VPNs are allowed. In some other countries, there is a complete prescription on the use of VPN. Countries such as North Korea and Belarus fall into this category. The laws of the country may also require VPN providers to keep logs of internet usage of the companies using VPN.
This implies that the data of VPN users may be stored and could even be used for purposes not approved by the user. It, therefore, becomes imperative that a prospective VPN user should endeavor to read and understand the terms of service of any VPN provider.
It is also advised that a VPN user should opt for a paid VPN instead of a free one. This is because many free VPNs may change one’s geolocation, some may not even offer proper data encryption and in most cases, data logging is quite common.
In extreme cases, some companies may sell the user’s data to third parties.
What to Consider Before Choosing a VPN
Before choosing the type of VPN to use, there are key factors to consider. It is necessary to check whether it is free or paid. If the aim is to get a secure and speedy VPN service, it is better to pay for a VPN. Free VPNs have fewer server locations and can easily be tracked and sold to third-party businesses.
Conversely, paid VPNs have more powerful security protocols than free VPNs.
A good paid VPN has more server locations and more bandwidth with more efficient service. The number of servers and amount of bandwidth a VPN has to determine the effectiveness of web exploration..