VPNs in 2023: How They Work and Why You Need One

This article gives you everything you need to know about VPNs ( Virtual Private Networks)

In an age where our digital footprints grow ever larger and the virtual world intertwines more deeply with our daily lives, the significance of VPNs in 2023 cannot be overstated. As we surf the waves of the internet, the importance of safeguarding our digital identity and data privacy continues to surge. In this ever-changing landscape, VPNs stand as our digital guardians, offering protection and anonymity

Key takeaways

  1. VPN Essentials: VPN stands for Virtual Private Network, a technology that encrypts your internet connection, ensuring your online activities are private and secure.
  2. Online Privacy Matters: In an era of growing digital footprints, safeguarding online privacy has never been more crucial. A VPN helps protect your data from prying eyes.
  3. Security in Public Wi-Fi: When using public Wi-Fi networks, be aware of the security risks. A VPN shields your data from potential threats on unsecured networks.
  4. Unblocking Geo-Restricted Content: VPNs empower you to access content that might be restricted in your region. Connect to servers in different countries to unlock a world of entertainment and information.

These are the top 4 reasons people use VPNs, but there are others. we will examine each of these topics in more detail below.

What is a VPN

A VPN is a Virtual Private Network. It allows you to access the internet with more security and privacy, It transforms your online experience into an enigmatic journey, where the details of your connection are hidden from snoopers. In this guide we will discuss the following VPN terms:

VPN Client: A VPN client, often simply referred to as a “client,” is a software application or program that enables a user’s device, such as a computer, smartphone, or tablet, to connect to a Virtual Private Network (VPN).

VPN Protocol: A VPN protocol is a set of rules and procedures that dictate how data packets are formatted, transmitted, authenticated, and encrypted in a Virtual Private Network (VPN). These protocols are essential for establishing a secure and reliable connection between a user’s device and a VPN server, ensuring that data remains private and protected from interception during transmission over the internet.

VPN Server: A VPN server is a remote or cloud-based computer or network that acts as a gateway between a user’s device and the internet. Its primary function is to handle incoming and outgoing network traffic for VPN connections.

VPN Service: VPN services enable users to establish encrypted connections through VPN servers, ensuring their online activities remain private and protected from surveillance, data interception, or cyber threats.

How does a VPN Work?

A VPN works by creating a secure and encrypted connection between your device (such as a computer, smartphone, or tablet) and a remote server or network. This encrypted connection, often referred to as a “tunnel,” ensures that your data is transmitted privately and securely over the internet. Here’s how a VPN works in more detail:

  1. User Initiates a VPN Connection:
    • When you activate a VPN on your device (using VPN client software or applications), your device sends a request to connect to a VPN server.
  2. Authentication and Encryption:
    • The VPN client on your device authenticates your identity and credentials.
    • Upon successful authentication, an encrypted connection is established between your device and the VPN server. This encryption is essential for maintaining the privacy and security of your data.
  3. Data Routing:
    • Once the VPN connection is established, your internet traffic is redirected through the VPN server. This means that all data requests from your device, including web browsing, file downloads, and accessing network resources, first go through the VPN server.
  4. Changing IP Address:
    • The VPN server assigns your device a virtual IP address. This virtual IP can be located in a different geographic location or network, which helps you bypass geo-restrictions and appear as if you are browsing from a different location.
  5. Access to the Internet or Private Network:
    • The VPN server acts as an intermediary. It forwards data requests to the appropriate destination, which could be the broader internet or a specific private network (intranet).
  6. Data Decryption and Transmission:
    • The VPN server decrypts data received from your device, processes it, and then re-encrypts it before sending it out to the internet or the private network. This process helps maintain the security and privacy of your data.
  7. Data Arrival at Destination:
    • Data from your device eventually reaches its intended destination, be it a website, server, or a private network resource. The recipient sees the data as coming from the VPN server rather than your device.
  8. Response and Return Data:
    • When data is sent back from the destination, it follows a similar path: it’s encrypted by the VPN server, routed to your device, decrypted by your device’s VPN client, and presented to you securely.

When you browse the internet without a VPN, your every online move can be pinpointed to your exact location and the specific device you’re using, thanks to your device’s unique IP address. Whether you’re on your computer, phone, or tablet, each of them has its distinct IP address. However, when you activate a VPN, you obscure your actual location and IP address, replacing them with those of the VPN server you’re connected to.

The majority of VPN service providers operate servers across the globe. This extensive server network opens up a wealth of connection options, granting you access to content from all corners of the world. Notably, two prominent VPNs, ExpressVPN and NordVPN, are renowned for their expansive server networks that span the globe.

Why use a VPN

Why do countless individuals worldwide opt for VPN services?

Imagine sitting at your favorite coffee shop, sipping your latte, and connecting to the free Wi-Fi. It seems harmless, right? Wrong. Public Wi-Fi networks are a playground for hackers. They offer the perfect hunting ground for cybercriminals to intercept data from unsuspecting users.

Your Data, Your Business

With a VPN, your data remains safe, even on unsecured networks. It acts as a shield, ensuring that your confidential information, be it personal or professional, stays out of the reach of cyber snoops. Whether you’re logging into your bank account or sharing sensitive work documents, a VPN is your trusty sidekick in the world of digital defense.

The choice to use a VPN depends on your specific circumstances, but there are ten compelling reasons to consider:

  1. Online Anonymity: Surf the internet without revealing your actual IP address and geographical location, ensuring your online anonymity.
  2. Enhanced Security: Bolster your online security by encrypting your internet connection, safeguarding your data from potential threats.
  3. Privacy Shield: Shield yourself from prying eyes, including your Internet Service Provider (ISP), third parties, network administrators, and government entities, by encrypting your online activities. You can explore our comprehensive ISP logging report for more insights.
  4. Access Unrestricted Content: Access and unblock websites and content restricted to specific geographic locations, broadening your online horizons.
  5. Safe Downloads and Streaming: Engage in secure torrenting, P2P downloads, and media streaming while preserving your privacy.
  6. Overcome Censorship: Bypass online censorship and gain entry to geo-restricted content, transcending digital barriers.
  7. Savings on Online Purchases: Save money on flight bookings and other online purchases by altering your IP address, effectively changing your virtual location.
  8. Public Wi-Fi Security: Safeguard yourself against potential hackers and security threats when connected to public Wi-Fi networks in places like cafes, hotels, and airports.
  9. Protect Personal Data: Ensure the protection of your private information, including bank passwords, credit card details, photos, and personal data, while engaged in online activities.
  10. Peace of Mind: Enjoy peace of mind as you explore the internet, knowing that your online experiences are secure and your data is shielded.

Are VPNs Safe?

When it comes to VPNs, your safety is a priority, provided you choose a top-tier VPN service. However, this is where the challenge lies.

Currently, the market boasts over 200 VPN options, and that number grows even more when you factor in the abundance of free VPN applications available in the Apple and Google Play stores. Regrettably, many VPN services, particularly the free ones, come riddled with issues, bugs, and vulnerabilities that jeopardize your online security and privacy.

In essence, only a select few high-quality VPNs offer comprehensive protection against data leaks across all your devices.

For instance, a concerning study revealed that a staggering 84% of free Android VPN applications leak user data. Although it’s widely known that free VPNs should be approached with caution, there are still millions of users who unknowingly expose themselves to these perilous apps.

As highlighted in my previous discussion on free VPN services, there are myriad compelling reasons to steer clear of free VPNs:

  • Embedded Malware: Free VPN apps are often notorious for harboring hidden malware, a widespread issue.
  • Hidden Tracking: Numerous popular VPN providers surreptitiously employ tracking mechanisms within their apps to collect your data.
  • Third-Party Data Access: Free VPNs may inadvertently grant third parties access to your data.
  • Bandwidth Misuse: Some free VPNs engage in the unauthorized use of your bandwidth.
  • Browser Hijacking: The risk of browser hijacking is prevalent with free VPNs.
  • Traffic Leaks: This includes IP address leaks and DNS leaks that can compromise your privacy.
  • Fraud: Risks extend to identity theft and financial fraud.

Moreover, there’s a slew of VPN scams that warrant caution, spanning from questionable “lifetime” VPN subscriptions to deceptive features and fake reviews. In general, with VPN services, you tend to get what you pay for.

Are VPNs Legal?

The answer is YES! VPNs are perfectly legal to use to protect online privacy and security, but there exist specific exceptions in regions like the United Arab Emirates, where VPN usage is currently under restrictions. In some Middle Eastern nations, such as Saudi Arabia and Iran, there’s a general disapproval of VPNs due to their capacity to circumvent internet censorship measures.

It’s worth noting, however, that in these countries, the regulations typically target the use of VPNs to bypass state censorship, rather than the VPN technology itself.

A parallel scenario can be observed in China, where the government has been bolstering its “Great Firewall” to block VPNs and specific websites. Nevertheless, even in such circumstances, you can still utilize top-tier VPN services designed to overcome these challenges.

Russia has also made efforts to “ban” certain VPNs, although these measures often prove ineffective due to the ability to obscure VPN traffic, making it resemble standard HTTPS traffic. Some VPN providers have excelled in obfuscating VPN traffic within their applications.

However, there are some important considerations:

  1. Illegal Activities: While VPNs themselves are not illegal, using a VPN for illegal activities remains illegal. For example, using a VPN to engage in cybercrime, hacking, fraud, copyright infringement, or any other unlawful activities is not protected by the use of a VPN.
  2. Government Regulations: Some countries have imposed restrictions on or banned the use of VPNs, often intending to control or monitor online activities. In such regions, using a VPN may be subject to legal consequences.
  3. Local Laws: It’s essential to research and understand the laws and regulations in your specific location. Laws surrounding VPN usage can differ significantly from one place to another.
  4. Company Policies: Many organizations and companies have policies that govern the use of VPNs on their networks. Violating these policies could have workplace consequences.
  5. International Use: When using a VPN to access content from other countries, ensure that your activities do not violate international copyright laws.

How do I set up a VPN?

After you’ve made your selection, your initial step is to obtain the service’s application. Typically, you can find a dedicated “Downloads” section on the VPN provider’s website for this purpose. Don’t forget to acquire the applications tailored for your mobile devices as well. If the VPN service you’re evaluating lacks an app compatible with your devices, it may be prudent to seek an alternative service.

It’s worth noting that some companies offer one set of apps through App Stores and a distinct set on their website, likely to adhere to app store guidelines. Determining which set suits your needs can be a bit intricate, so it’s advisable to peruse the company’s documentation attentively.

Once the applications are installed, you’ll typically be prompted to input your login details. In most instances, this involves the username and password you established during the service’s registration process.

Following a successful login, your VPN app will generally connect to the VPN server closest to your current geographical location. This is done to optimize connection speeds while using the VPN, as performance tends to diminish with greater distances between the VPN server and your actual location. And just like that, your data is now securely tunneled to the VPN server.

Universal steps 

StepAction
1.Choose a good, trustworthy VPN service.
2.After purchasing a VPN subscription, download the VPN software for the device/operating system you will be using.
3.Once the VPN client is installed on your device, log in to the VPN service using your credentials (through the VPN app).
4.Connect to a VPN server and enjoy using the internet with privacy and freedom.

 

Why a VPN is necessary for online privacy

A reliable VPN offers a dual advantage: ensuring your online privacy and enhancing your security.

In the absence of a VPN, your Internet Service Provider (ISP) holds the capability to easily monitor and record your online activities, encompassing the websites you visit, comments you post, interactions on social media, personal preferences, and more.

In many countries, regulations mandate that internet providers log user data and online activities. To safeguard your privacy from these encroachments, a VPN emerges as the optimal solution. When you employ a VPN, your internet provider’s view is limited to recognizing your online presence and connection to a VPN server. It stops there. With the protective cloak of a VPN, your data becomes encrypted and secured, rendering it indecipherable to third parties.

Public WiFi hotspots once again become safe havens when you use a VPN, thanks to robust encryption that shields your data. Venturing onto public WiFi networks without a VPN poses risks, as hackers can exploit these wireless connections to pilfer your identity, credit card information, bank accounts, passwords, and more. A VPN acts as the guardian, encrypting and safeguarding your data against potential threats from third parties and hackers.

Do VPNs Make You Anonymous Online?

By encrypting your internet traffic and routing it through a VPN server, you can significantly reduce the likelihood of online observers identifying and tracking your activities. While VPNs don’t guarantee complete anonymity, they do play a crucial role in enhancing your online privacy.

For instance, your Internet Service Provider (ISP) is one of the entities with extensive insight into your online behavior. In 2021, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) published a report revealing the extent of information ISPs possess about online activities. Furthermore, due to regulatory decisions, ISPs can anonymize and sell customer data. If you’re concerned about your ISP profiting from your data or accumulating detailed records of your online actions, a VPN offers a solution. When using a VPN, even your ISP cannot monitor your web traffic.

VPNs also thwart attempts by advertisers and other entities to track your online movements. Typically, data transmitted from the internet to your device includes your IP address. When you activate a VPN, your actual IP address remains hidden, and any prying eyes can only see the IP address of the VPN server. By concealing your genuine IP address, VPNs deprive snoops of one method used to trace your online activities.

Nonetheless, it’s crucial to acknowledge that VPNs do not render you completely anonymous on the internet. Advertisers, for example, employ diverse techniques to identify and track your online presence. Tracking tools and website cookies aim to create a unique digital fingerprint for each user, enabling entities to monitor your online journey.

Additionally, websites and advertisers can identify you based on specific characteristics, including your browser version and screen size. Individually, this data may appear harmless, but when combined, it forms a distinctive online signature, a process commonly referred to as browser fingerprinting.

VPN protocols and encryption

Understanding VPN Protocols:

A VPN protocol is a set of guidelines that dictate the encryption of data and the flow of online traffic between a user’s device and a VPN server. VPN service providers rely on these protocols to establish reliable and secure connections for their users. Each protocol is designed to prioritize specific features, such as compatibility and high-speed performance or robust encryption and network reliability.

Here are the most popular VPN protocols in use today:

1. OpenVPN

OpenVPN is a very popular and highly secure protocol many VPN providers use. It runs on either the TCP (transmission control protocol) or UDP (user datagram protocol) internet protocol. The former guarantees that your data is delivered in full and in the right order, while the latter focuses on faster speeds.

2. IKEv2/IPsec

IKEv2/IPsec establishes an authenticated and encrypted connection. Microsoft and Cisco developed it to be fast, stable, and secure. As part of the IPsec internet security toolbox, IKEv2 uses other IPsec tools to provide comprehensive VPN coverage.

3. WireGuard®

WireGuard is the newest and fastest tunneling protocol the entire VPN industry is talking about. It uses state-of-the-art cryptography that outshines the current leaders – OpenVPN and IKEv2/IPsec.

4. SSTP

Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol (SSTP) is a fairly secure and capable VPN protocol created by Microsoft. It has its upsides and downsides, meaning that each user has to decide for themselves whether this protocol is worth using. Despite being primarily a Microsoft product, SSTP is available on other systems besides Windows.

5. L2TP/IPsec

Layer 2 tunneling protocol (L2TP) doesn’t provide any encryption or authentication – it’s simply a VPN tunneling protocol that creates a connection between you and a VPN server. It relies on other tools in the IPsec suite to encrypt your traffic and keep it private and secure.

6. PPTP

Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol (PPTP) was created in 1999 and was the first widely available VPN protocol designed to tunnel dial-up traffic. It uses some of the weakest encryption ciphers of any VPN protocol on this list and has plenty of security vulnerabilities.

VPN logs

When you use a VPN, your online traffic passes through the VPN servers. VPN logs track the data that passes through the servers, including information such as your IP address, location, bandwidth usage, and more. This information is essential for VPN providers to optimize their services and troubleshoot issues.

VPN logs can be categorized based on the log retention policy and VPN logging policy of each provider. The log retention policy refers to how long VPN providers keep the logs, while the VPN logging policy refers to which type of data is being logged.

Most reputable VPN providers have strict logging policies and maintain anonymous VPN logs. They do not store any personal identifying information and delete all connection logs, metadata, and activity logs as soon as they are no longer needed. However, some VPN providers may store more data than necessary, which could pose a risk to your privacy

Conclusion

Browsing the web without a VPN can put your online security at risk. More and more people are realizing the importance of staying safe online, which is driving the popularity of VPNs. With the growing interest in streaming content and accessing websites from different parts of the world, the need for VPNs is on the rise.

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