What is VPN? VPN Simplified.

What is a VPN?

A Virtual Private Network (VPN) is a network technology that creates a secure network connection over a public network such as the Internet or a private network owned by a service provider. Large corporations, educational institutions, and government agencies use VPN technology to enable remote users to securely connect to a private network.
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A VPN can connect multiple sites over a large distance just like a Wide Area Network (WAN). VPNs are often used to extend intranets worldwide to disseminate information and news to a wide user base. Educational institutions use VPNs to connect campuses that can be distributed across the country or around the world.
 In order to gain access to the private network, a user must be authenticated using a unique identification and a password. An authentication token is often used to gain access to a private network through a personal identification number (PIN) that a user must enter. The PIN is a unique authentication code that changes according to a specific frequency, usually every 30 seconds or so.

Protocols

There are a number of VPN protocols in use that secure the transport of data traffic over a public network infrastructure. Each protocol varies slightly in the way that data is kept secure.
IP security (IPSec) is used to secure communications over the Internet. IPSec traffic can use either transport mode or tunneling to encrypt data traffic in a VPN. The difference between the two modes is that transport mode encrypts only the message within the data packet (also known as the payload) while tunneling encrypts the entire data packet. IPSec is often referred to as a “security overlay” because of its use as a security layer for other protocols.

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Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) and Transport Layer Security (TLS) use cryptography to secure communications over the Internet. Both protocols use a “handshake” method of authentication that involves a negotiation of network parameters between the client and server machines. To successfully initiate a connection, an authentication process involving certificates is used. Certificates are cryptographic keys that are stored on both the server and client.
Point-To-Point Tunneling Protocol (PPTP) is another tunneling protocol used to connect a remote client to a private server over the Internet. PPTP is one of the most widely used VPN protocols because of it’s straightforward configuration and maintenance and also because it is included with the Windows operating system.
Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol (L2TP) is a protocol used to tunnel data communications traffic between two sites over the Internet. L2TP is often used in tandem with IPSec (which acts as a security layer) to secure the transfer of L2TP data packets over the Internet. Unlike PPTP, a VPN implementation using L2TP/IPSec requires a shared key or the use of certificates.
VPN technology employs sophisticated encryption to ensure security and prevent any unintentional interception of data between private sites. All traffic over a VPN is encrypted using algorithms to secure data integrity and privacy. VPN architecture is governed by a strict set of rules and standards to ensure a private communication channel between sites. Corporate network administrators are responsible for deciding the scope of a VPN, implementing and deploying a VPN, and ongoing monitoring of network traffic across the network firewall. A VPN requires administrators to continually be aware of the overall architecture and scope of the VPN to ensure communications are kept private.

Advantages & Disadvantages

A VPN is an inexpensive effective way of building a private network. The use of the Internet as the main communications channel between sites is a cost-effective alternative to expensive leased private lines.

The costs to a corporation include the network authentication hardware and software used to authenticate users and any additional mechanisms such as authentication tokens or other security devices.

The relative ease, speed, and flexibility of VPN provisioning in comparison to leased lines make VPNs an ideal choice for corporations who require flexibility. For example, a company can adjust the number of sites in the VPN according to changing requirements.

There are several potential disadvantages with VPN use. The lack of Quality of Service (QoS) management over the Internet can cause packet loss and other performance issues. Adverse network conditions that occur outside of the private network is beyond the control of the VPN administrator.

For this reason, many large corporations pay for the use of trusted VPNs that use a private network to guarantee QoS. Vendor interoperability is another potential disadvantage as VPN technologies from one vendor may not be compatible with VPN technologies from another vendor. Neither of these disadvantages has prevented the widespread acceptance and deployment of VPN technology.

Why should I use a VPN?

There are many advantages to using a VPN, both for business owners and for individual users. VPN offers security and privacy while surfing the web, sending sensitive information, making payments or looking for information. It protects the user against identity theft or loss of important data, such as personal information or financial information. It can make any network connection safe, so the user can securely check their mail, social sites, payment information and others without fearing that their data will be intercepted or stolen.

For business-related purposes, a VPN can allow link computers across the country or from different countries in a single secure network. It can also help employees access the corporate network safely whenever they are and through any connection.

For the individual user, the VPN protects their search history, download history and allows to access blocked sites or regionally locked content. It can help the user have a safe Internet experience, to protect any forms of sensitive data, to allow the user to access content that is unaccessible from their current location, to bypass unfair censorship and to achieve many other purposes.

A free WiFi connection or an open network can easily be intercepted, while the data sent through VPNs is encrypted and remains safe. VPNs also prevent loss of data, ensuring data integrity, and prevent other users from intercepting content or using it for malicious purposes. A VPN can also offer malware and spyware protection and other features that keep the user safe and anonymous in their Internet use.

Is safe to Use a Free VPN Service?

There are many VPN services out there. Some of there are paid for and others are free. Those last ones may be tempting, however, are they safe? For the use of a VPN provider, a lot of trust is required.

You need to be sure that the provider doesn’t use the history or data for themselves. Many free providers are a scam, however, even those that give the services they promise may use the data for marketing or more nefarious purposes to make money.

If a service is completely free, it needs to have a stream of revenue, so it’s more likely that those providers will misuse the information that they receive and have access to, such as the user’s history and personal data. In short, the use of free VPN providers entails a huge risk for these reasons, as many of them are not trustworthy or can misuse the information the user provides.

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Can I use a VPN if I have a Mac and Windows?

A VPN can be used on any device that supports the specific VPN. It can be used on a Mac, as well as on other Apple devices and Windows. VPNs can be used and configured on a Mac if the VPN in question supports it. Most Macs have the option to configure a VPN network.

How can I use VPN on my mobile device?

VPN or virtual private networks can be configured for most devices that have Internet access. However, not all VPNs support all devices, so it’s important to check if the chosen VPN has mobile apps for Android or for iOS.

Most VPNs do offer support for mobile users, offering the chance to download and use mobile apps for Android and iOS devices. Some VPNs offer mobile versions for their premium plans or for specific paid plans, however, most do support mobile devices and offer the user the option to get secure Internet connections on their phone or tablet as well as on their computer.

Usually, mobile versions are not offered with free plans or by free VPN providers. It is easy to find a VPN that supports either Android and iOS devices or both types of mobile operating systems.  It is important to check what mobile options a specific VPN has before choosing a plan.