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VPN 101: A Quick Run Through The World of Virtual Private Networks

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In today’s world of constant and endless connectivity, privacy is very important. One of the best tools for that is the Virtual Private Network, popularly known as VPN. While the VPN was designed for the purpose of boosting security, it is also useful for visiting sites that are restricted by public authorities or accessing content that is locked for a particular region. In this post, we will find out more about virtual private networks (VPN) and give you a quick insight into their world. Let’s get started.

VPN: Important Things To Know

What is VPN?

A virtual private network, or VPN for short, is a virtual network: Unlike your home network, for example, the various end devices in a VPN are not directly physically connected to one another or to a central router – for example via a network cable or a WLAN connection.

A VPN usually uses the connection paths in the public Internet, whereby in the private environment a connection is usually established from an end device – for example your smartphone – to a VPN server. The VPN server assigns a new IP address to your end device internally. 

When surfing, the external IP address of the VPN server is then visible instead of the original IP address of your device on the websites visited. At the same time between the end device and the VPN server, all transmitted data is sealed off from the rest of the Internet by encryption.

How does a VPN work?

When users want to access any website via a web browser, they write the domain name of that site in the address bar or click on the link of that domain. In case of a direct connection with the Global DNS server, the user can access this site without any intermediaries. However, if the VPN system is used, users will be placed in a session opened on the VPN server and from now on, they will be able to act as if they are doing all their operations from that computer, and not from their own computer. 

For example, if a user in India receives service through a VPN server in Mexico, the information of this source is transmitted to all the sites that the user accesses. In addition, the sites entered by this user cannot be detected by the authorized units that monitor the line. Because those sites will not appear to the user with their own names, but with the values ​​of the server in Mexico.

How to use a VPN?

 System administrators should be consulted to connect to company VPNs. In order to connect from a mobile device, tablet or computer, it is necessary to bring the devices to the necessary security standards. After the VPN setup, the connection is automatic. In other VPN types, the service is purchased and then the software can be installed and used. As all VPN services have special applications, all operating systems now offer manual VPN installation. VPN can be used on all mobile devices and computers.

Can you evade tracking via VPN? 

VPN service providers work every day to establish a more invisible system. Public authorities can monitor the lines. In countries such as America, Germany, England and the Netherlands, VPN is a less used system in these countries, as it is not legal to monitor the lines by any authority, including the public. However, many countries still use VPNs due to limitations and monitoring concerns. 

Of course, VPN doesn’t make you look like you’re not doing anything. However, the sites you connect to and what you do cannot be tracked. While you are connected to the VPN server, you only appear to be pulling data from this server, but the data content is encrypted. So your data is confidential. However, it should be noted that the confidentiality of data is within the limits of certain laws.

Is VPN free to use?

Although VPN may seem like a free service at first glance, this is actually not the case. VPN services have to have very powerful servers and data lines in order to serve, which indicates a serious cost. Free VPN service is provided for a limited time and/or with limited capacity and speed. It will be necessary to subscribe to paid services in order to use VPN as if you are getting direct access.

How can I set up a virtual private network (VPN)?

What is recommended for technical implementation in individual cases depends both on the planned application and on the individual usage behavior of the respective VPN user. In principle, all end devices used for surfing the Internet should be protected with basic protection.

Set up VPN via the home network router

Some router manufacturers now allow a VPN server to be set up directly in the heart of the home network. This saves time and effort because a separate VPN access (VPN server) in the home network and the already mentioned port forwarding no longer have to be configured on the router. As soon as a central router establishes encrypted tunnel connections, all devices in the home network automatically benefit from the tap-proof connection. 

This also applies to networked devices for which there was originally no independent VPN configuration intended, such as an answering machine or an IP camera used in the house.

The procedure for activating the VPN functionality in the router can hardly be described in general terms since the concrete sequence of steps depends on the respective router model. In most cases, however, detailed instructions can be found on the website of the manufacturer concerned. Some of them also offer an app for accessing the VPN router from the end device.

Apart from a router, a VPN server can in principle even be installed on a network storage device (NAS) or a computer in the home network. However, because risky port forwarding is often necessary for this, this option should only be implemented by very experienced users who know exactly what they are doing. Theoretically, routers that do not come with VPN functionality can still be converted into a VPN access point. However, this can only be achieved with a relatively high level of effort and well-founded IT knowledge.

VPN via smartphone

One possible way to use VPN is to install a corresponding app on your end device. Such apps are now available for all common operating systems – for Windows and Android as well as for iOS and Linux. Regardless of whether you prefer a smartphone or tablet, a PC or laptop – the way most VPN apps and programs work is always the same: in order to establish an encrypted connection to a VPN server, the app or program needs the IP address or the domain name of the respective VPN server and the access data required for use. 

Either an appropriately configured home network router or the server of a VPN provider can be used as the VPN server. A VPN app then signals that communication is taking place via the VPN at a given moment, for example with a small key symbol on the edge of the display on Android devices or with the lettering “VPN” on an iPad or iPhone.

VPN via browser plugins

Corresponding browser plug-ins represent another VPN variant. In this case, however, only the transfer of websites is processed via encrypted tunnel lines. Your emails, for example, will continue to be transmitted unencrypted. If you want to encrypt your entire network traffic, you usually need separate VPN software. With the majority of commercial VPN server offers, suitable apps are available for download in the app stores of the supported operating systems. 

After successful installation, the VPN mode is then usually activated with a simple button click. Technically experienced users can usually set up the VPN functionality directly via the system settings of the operating system without the software from the provider.

How to choose the right VPN provider?

When selecting a suitable provider, the first thing that matters in day-to-day use is a fast connection to the VPN server. Adequate internet speed should be guaranteed even when the load is high. To do this, the VPN operator must have several server locations in order to be able to absorb peak loads when there is a high volume of use. It should be noted, however, that local data protection law does not apply to foreign servers. In many countries outside the European Union, data protection and informational self-determination are not that important. In general, choosing a VPN provider is a matter of trust. Because all your data traffic runs through its server and could theoretically be monitored and manipulated there.

In addition to paid accounts for commercial VPN servers, the market also has a number of free offers. In individual cases, it can make sense to try out several offers. With a free VPN, you usually have to accept functional restrictions or live with a comparatively poor connection quality. In addition, you often pay for a free VPN with your personal data, which can be evaluated for marketing purposes, for example. Always remember, if you are not paying for a service, you are usually the product.

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