Virtual Private Network (VPN)

The Internet is like a digital pool with endless information and entertainment. And much like lifeguards offer protection at public pools, a VPN protects your online privacy.

Do you want to connect your remote workers to a shared company network? Perhaps you're just tired of your online activities being tracked by advertisers. Regardless of your situation, a VPN is the solution.

Ready to explore the world of VPNs? Keep reading as we examine VPNs, how they work, and factors to consider when choosing your VPN provider.

Let's go.

What Is a VPN?

A virtual private network (VPN) establishes a virtual connection between your device and a VPN provider's remote server.

It creates a point-to-point tunnel that masks your IP address, encrypts your personal data, and allows you to sidestep firewalls and website blocks. This ensures your Internet activities are protected, private, and secure.

Let's break down these words, "virtual," "private," and "network," to help you understand more about what a VPN entails.

  • Virtual: A VPN is virtual because it's a digital service. That means you don't need a physical cable or hardware to connect.
  • Private: A VPN is private because it encrypts your connection and lets you browse the Internet without onlookers snooping on you, including governments, Internet service providers, and cybercriminals.
  • Network: A VPN is a network because it builds a secure connection between the VPN server, your computer, and the Internet.

What Does a VPN Do?

Here are several things a VPN can do:

1. Hide Your Internet Activity

Did you know that your ISP and search engines monitor what you search for on the Internet? They usually do this to provide a localized experience, deliver personalized ads, and sell your data. And that's where a VPN comes in.

It allows you to use a different IP address to browse. That way, search engines won't target you because your data is tied to your VPN rather than you.

But, if you're still logged in to Google, Facebook, or such services, they'll track all your browsing activities. You can only prevent this by blocking advertising trackers. That leads us to the next point.

2. Block Malware & Trackers

Cybercriminals often exploit public WiFi networks to corrupt people's devices with malware and tracking devices such as keyloggers. Specifically, they intercept traffic flow across public servers and utilize this data to attack people.

Once you connect to a VPN app, the provider encrypts your device's communication with the destination server. The end-to-end encryption stops hackers and cybercriminals from accessing your data.

3. Encrypt Your Data

As aforementioned, a VPN service encrypts any information you send during your web activity. Such data encryption stops corporate spies and governments from accessing sensitive data you want to share.

Types of VPN Connections

A wide range of VPNs for computers and mobile (free and premium) are available for personal and professional use. Here's a breakdown of 4 different types of VPNs:

1. Remote Access

These VPNs enable users to connect their computers to the network outside the company's office. Also known as client-to-site VPN, this type of VPN adopts the device-to-network approach. Users can connect to a private network or third-party server via TSL/ SSL.

Advanced VPN technology also conducts security checks to ensure that your computer is secure before it can connect.

Remote access VPN is perfect for browsing the public Internet via an encrypted connection. It's also an ideal option for remote employees accessing company files over an encrypted connection.

2. Site-to-Site

Typically, most companies use site-to-site VPN to connect multiple offices to one central office. Therefore, this type of encryption is essential for organizations with many offices in different locations.

This VPN lets you share valuable network resources like data storage features and email servers across many areas. It also allows you to reach all users like the server was in a physical place.

There are two types of site-to-site VPNs:

  • Intranet VPN: An internal VPN enables large businesses with many remote locations to communicate with one another quickly and securely. A single wide-area network (WAN) usually connects to each local area network (LAN).
  • VPN Extranet: Companies working with other businesses can configure remote VPNs to help them connect to their LANs. That way, all parties can participate in a shared network environment while restricting access to their internal network.

3. Client-Based

These VPN types connect you to remote networks via clients/ applications that handle VPN formation and connection processes.

You'll have to run the application and validate with your VPN username and password to access the secure connection. This lets you establish an encrypted link between the remote network and your computer to exchange data securely.

4. Peer-to-Peer (P2P)

This type of VPN operates with a peer-to-peer network. So, when searching for a file on a P2P network, this service searches for copies of that file and then connects to sources that partially or fully contain the requested file's data.

P2P usually accelerates the file-sharing process. You receive information from multiple nodes carrying little pieces of the same material. The data is also automatically uploaded to other users searching for it while downloading the file.

Benefits vs. Limitations

VPNs have many potential benefits and drawbacks, depending on the service provider.

Benefits

Let's delve into the most common benefits of VPNs.

  • Securing a Shared Network: Your business communications can be more secure when you use a VPN service across your shared network. VPNs will also minimize your business' vulnerability to cyberattacks.
  • Working from Home: A VPN service allows remote workers to securely connect to the organization's shared network while safeguarding projects and files.
  • Browsing on Any Device Safely: A VPN lets you connect to your company's cloud regardless of your device.
  • Managing Access Control VPNs also feature access control measures restricting access to confidential information. Users must log in and authenticate their authorization before gaining access.
  • Bypassing Geo-Restrictions: As you travel for business, you might come across locations that censor or ban certain parts of the Internet. It can be a huge inconvenience, particularly if you can't access work-related sites. Fortunately, using a VPN lets you access any prohibited content.
  • Protecting Your Financial Transactions: Since VPNs encrypt your connection and hide your outbound traffic, this prevents illegal tracking of your business transactions. A VPN gives you peace of mind when shopping online by protecting your sensitive information. This lessens the risk of identity theft or fraud.
  • Watching Movies & Shows: You can also use a VPN service to access streaming services, such as Hulu or Netflix, from different places by connecting to a server in a particular area to bypass regional content restrictions.
  • Maintaining Account Access: Prevent account freeze because of suspicious activity by connecting to a VPN that suggests you're still at your usual address.
  • Avoiding Social Media Blocks: Living in a region that restricts social media channels can be frustrating. But, if you want to stay connected, use a VPN to get past these restrictions.

Limitations

Although VPNs offer many benefits, you should also consider the potential limitations. Here are the most common.

  • Quality VPNs aren't Free: Although you can find free VPNs, you'll gain the most from a paid solution. High-quality VPNs come at a cost because the providers must acquire the proper server hardware, maintain servers in many regions, and ensure those servers run securely.
  • Slower Internet Speed: Since you're routing your web traffic through several steps, there's usually a slowdown in real-world Internet speed. Busy VPN servers also cause slower speeds because they handle thousands of connections globally.
  • Not all VPNs are Secure: Some VPNs have been known to log and sell user data. As such, looking into a VPN's third-party security testing and no-logs policy is crucial before integrating a VPN into your business.

Choosing a VPN Service

Choosing a service that fulfills your needs can be challenging, specifically if you've never used a VPN. But here's everything you should consider when selecting the right VPN.

1. List Potential Options

For starters, you should outline several options that you can compare.

According to the report from Statista, the global VPN market was worth billion and was predicted to reach 0 billion by 2032. [1] Therefore, there's indeed an expanding list of VPN options available for you to choose from.

It's worth noting that before shopping, consider separating individual VPN providers from commercial ones. Commercial providers usually work with large companies, organizations, and educational institutions. On the other hand, individual providers target people seeking a VPN for personal use.

2. Evaluate the Features of Each Provider

Research each VPN provider to identify what features it offers. Here are some features to look out for:

  • A No-Log Policy: It restricts the provider from collecting, tracking, or logging your data. VPN providers with this policy will only keep your login details and customer data, i.e., name, phone number, email address, etc., and not your browsing activity.
  • An Adblocker: It prevents you from seeing ads from websites, search engines, and pop-ups as you browse. Adblocking is crucial because cybercriminals could use ads to persuade you to download malware, click on compromised websites, or contact someone exploiting social engineering to scam you. Adblockers also block tracking scripts and speed up your browsing experience.
  • A Kill Switch: This feature automatically cuts your Internet connection once your VPN connection breaks. It prevents your data from becoming visible to anyone with harmful intent until your VPN reconnects.
  • Shared IP Addresses: The feature enables multiple users to use only one IP address. While browsing through shared IP addresses, the users you're sharing with won't see your location, and you won't see theirs. Your VPN connection is encrypted to protect you from external parties and other VPN users.

3. Evaluate the Suitability of Each Option Based On Your Needs

Since everyone has different needs and preferences, you might need a different VPN service than others. The questions below will help you research your options carefully and find the right one.

  • Does the VPN Connect to Multiple Devices? In the U.S., the average household has 10.37 devices that might need VPN protection. [2] Countries like the U.K. have 9.16, Norway has 8.82, and Sweden has 8.51. Consider all your devices when choosing your VPN. Some VPN providers offer basic plans with restrictions on how many devices you can connect. In this case, compare each provider's pricing and determine the best deal.
  • Are There Data Limits? As previously stated, VPNs use a lot of money to maintain servers. As such, some providers restrict your Internet access through bandwidth throttling. So, confirm whether your potential VPN providers can handle your high bandwidth usage.
  • Where Are the Servers Located? Perhaps you want to use a VPN to surf the Internet in a particular country, e.g., for video streaming. That means your potential providers should have servers in that location.
  • Does It Work on Mobile? As of mid-2023, almost 96% of the digital population worldwide used mobile devices to connect to the Internet. [3] While it's easy to get carried away when choosing a VPN provider for your computer, remember to protect your phone. So, confirm whether your VPN works on your smartphone before you subscribe.
  • What Operating Systems (OS) Does It Support? Check what OS your potential VPN clients can support. Your provider should support your specific OS to enable the connection.
  • What Is the Speed? Your provider's VPN servers' speed and reliability significantly affect your browsing experience. Although VPN providers usually advertise their average speeds, you should check out third-party tests for particular regions.

4. Rank Options

Lastly, compare and contrast your research on each platform and choose one that best matches your needs.

VPN Pricing

Here are a few factors that determine the cost of a VPN.

1. Security & Encryption

First and foremost, a VPN is a security product. Therefore, the level of security it offers the end-user is one of the primary factors that affect its cost. Proven security tunneling protocols like IKEv2, WireGuard, and OpenVPN are typically provided in costlier VPN services.

2. Server Network

The more servers a VPN service has, the costlier it is to run. It's because having servers in many regions worldwide costs money to maintain.

The quality of these servers also affects the cost because access to faster and more secure servers can be costlier.

3. Features

Additional features also affect a VPN's cost. Besides providing an encrypted connection, a VPN can include specialized features like ad blockers and data breach monitors.

VPN providers may also offer their VPN on numerous platforms like iOS, Android, macOS, Windows, smart TVs, and browsers – all of which the VPN provider has to incur.

4. Plan Duration & Length

VPN providers generally offer at least a one-month subscription. Monthly subscriptions are often costlier than long-term plans, which last one to three years.

You'll need to go for these more extended plans to reduce costs. However, you'll need to pay the entire subscription upfront.

Conclusion

It's easy to understand why 41% of U.S. adults use a VPN for work or leisure. [4] This tool hides your IP address and protects your data as you browse the Internet. You can also use it for streaming services and unblocking websites.

VPN usage is generally safe and legal, provided you stay away from sketchy and untested VPNs. So, be extra careful when selecting your VPN since there are services that can harm your privacy rather than improve it.

Sub-topics: Personal VPN, Private VPN, VPN, VPN Connection, VPN Definition, VPN Meaning, VPN Services, Virtual Private Network

References

  1. Statista [ VPN market size worldwide 2032 ] July 2, 2024
  2. Statista [ Average number of devices residents have access to in households worldwide in 2020, by country ] July 2, 2024
  3. Statista [ Mobile internet usage worldwide - Statistic & Facts ] July 2, 2024
  4. PrivacySavvy [ VPN Usage Statistics and Trends You Should Know in 2024 ] July 2, 2024

Contributors

Last Modified: July 13, 2024