VPNs: An Overview

VPNs: An Overview

What is a VPN?

A Virtual Private Network, or VPN, is a technology that protects your privacy when you use the Internet by routing your connection through a server that hides your IP address and encrypts your online communication.

How do VPNs Work?

A VPN consists of a network of servers, typically located in multiple countries around the world. When you use a VPN, information sent from your computer passes through one of the VPN provider’s servers before going to its online destination, such as your online banking account. Similarly, information sent to your computer from outside your network passes through the VPN server before reaching your device.

As a result, you’re able to send and receive data without giving up your online location. The online destination will only see traffic coming from the VPN server, not your device or true location. Additionally, messages sent from the server are encrypted, blocking unwanted access from third parties.

VPN Advantages

Using a VPN to protect your privacy has some big advantages over using an unprotected connection.

Full message encryption
VPNs encrypt all messages passing between their servers and your computer. This prevents anyone (such as your ISP) from spying on your connection and intercepting your data. This is especially important in countries with high levels of censorship, or when you’re sending particularly sensitive data.

Although your Internet traffic passes through the VPN’s encryption software and servers can slightly slow down your internet connection, it’s only by a small amount. For everyday use, you probably won’t notice the difference.

Easy to install and use
While the technology that makes a VPN work is complicated, most of them are easy to install and use. With just a few clicks, an installation wizard will install and configure the software. The wizard can set the VPN to start automatically when you start your computer so you are always protected.

Compatible with most devices
The top VPN services provide software that works on most popular devices. Computers with Windows or Mac or Linux operating systems? Check. Smartphones running Android or iOS? Check. Some services even provide software that can run on your home router or set-top box.

VPN Disadvantages

Using a VPN can provide good security against most kinds of surveillance. However, there are ways that your privacy can be compromised when you use a VPN.

VPN software failures
For VPN service to protect you, the VPN software on your computer must be working properly. If the software crashes for some reason, messages to and from your computer could travel unencrypted and outside of the VPN network. This would leave them vulnerable to your ISP or anyone else who wanted to spy on them.

To protect against this problem, many VPNs include a kill switch in their software. A kill switch is set up so that if the VPN software fails for any reason your computer is disconnected from the Internet. While losing Internet access isn’t great, it is better than using the security the VPN gives you.

Varied logging policies
While using a VPN provides security against outsiders, you have to trust the VPN provider. As you’re using their software and their servers, the provider knows a lot about what you do online and where you go.

Most VPN services keep various types of logs of the activity of their users. Sometimes the services keep these logs for their own use, and sometimes they are forced to keep these logs by their government. These logs include:

  • Usage logs: Records of where you go and what you do online when you use the VPN. Some VPNs keep detailed logs of each user’s activities, while others aggregate the usage information in a way that makes it difficult or impossible to identify individual users.
  • Connection logs: Records of information such as when you log onto the VPN, the IP address of your computer, your username, and similar data. Not as bad as usage logs, but still a lot of information that could be used against you.

Which logs a service keeps and how long they keep them determines how much of a risk this is to you. One VPN provider might delete this information immediately. Another might log this information for maintenance and support purposes, then delete it once you disconnect. Still other VPNs are required by law to keep this information for days, weeks or even months.

Some VPN services advertise that they keep no logs, which provides the maximum level of security for you. However, you have to be cautious with the provider you choose; some VPNs claim to be “no log,” but actually keep detailed connection logs.

If a log exists, there’s the potential that an agency could use that information against you, and there there are limits to what a VPN can do to protect you. No matter how pro-privacy a VPN service might be, if a government agent with a subpoena demand their logs, they are under obligation to surrender them.

Potential for weak encryption
For the communication between your computer and the VPN server to be safe, the encryption used by the VPN service must be unbreakable. This is true of the best VPNs, which use the military grade encryption 256BIT Advanced Encryption Standard (AES). However, some lower tier VPNs use weaker encryption algorithms like PPTP and Blowfish, so you’ll want to look carefully at the encryption each VPN uses when choosing a provider.

For the ultimate in protection, you need some way to make yourself anonymous. That’s why they created Tor.

Source: https://thebestvpn.com/tor-vs-vpn/

When Should You Choose a VPN over Tor?

A VPN is a great option for users who engage in online activities that could put their personal or sensitive information at risk, including:

  • Checking an online bank account
  • Shopping online
  • Connecting to public Wi-Fi
  • Traveling to countries with high censorship
  • Accessing blocked websites
  • Torrenting

Any time you send information over the Internet, there is a chance that someone will intercept it. If you send any sensitive information over the internet, such as your login information to your online bank account or your credit card number, you should use a VPN to ensure it’s protected.

This is especially important if you use public Wi-Fi services. While these services are commonly used in places like coffee shops, hotels or airports, they’re notoriously insecure and the equipment to hack into them is both cheap and easily available. VPNs are also efficient ways of protecting privacy if you travel internationally, live in a country with high censorship or torrent.

Additionally, there are several benefits of choosing a VPN , including:

  • Speed: VPNs are generally faster than Tor since messages pass through only one VPN server instead of 3 Tor nodes.
  • Compatibility with all devices: VPNs work with a wider range of devices than Tor. In particular, as of today, Tor does not work with Apple’s iOS. If you use an iPhone or iPad, Tor is not an option.
  • P2P file sharing: VPNs are better suited for P2P file sharing or watching videos.
  • All online connections protected: A VPN will protect all your Internet connections; Tor only protects those designed to use the Tor network.
  • Price: Several VPNs are free; the ones with a small monthly fee are very affordable.
  • Easy to set up and use: VPNs are extremely easy to set up; all you have to do is download the software onto your computer and run it whenever you need to be protected.
  • Access to support team: Because VPN providers are major companies, they have helpful FAQ pages, as well as support teams should you run into any problems.

Source: https://thebestvpn.com/tor-vs-vpn/