VPN for Beginners – Virtual Private Networks Complete Guide
A VPN is the most commonly used tool by internet users worldwide for securing their online activities. A VPN basically means a "tunnel" that connects the internet user securely and anonymously with a website or a public network such as a Wi-Fi.
The rising instances of government tracking and hacking activities have made the VPN an ideal tool for warding off such threats. This tool has made it easier for frequent internet users to work online without any fear of unwanted tracking. A VPN is a paid service offered by numerous VPN service providers for a fee based on the duration the user opts for.
How is a commercial VPN different from a corporate VPN?
The first VPN was formulated solely for the use of business organizations to ensure confidentiality of their data. These VPNs are termed as "corporate VPNs".
On the contrary, a commercial VPN is meant for the use of ordinary users for their private usage. This guide mainly focusses on the commercial virtual private networks, while most of the providers offer both types of VPN services.
Types of VPN
Basically, there are two types of virtual private networks - the remote access VPN and Site-to-Site VPN. The former type helps the users to remotely connect to a LAN device and access their private servers or databases securely, while the latter helps the users to connect securely to a public network or website.
There are different types of VPN protocols which have their own level of encryption. The PPTP is the most commonly used protocol which requires the users to access the VPN server only after authentication via username and password.
How Does A VPN Work?
To understand how a VPN works, it is important for users to know about the various types of VPN protocols used in for encrypting data transmitted to the VPN servers.
Refers to the point-to-point transfer protocol that helps the user to securely connect to a private server from a remote location.z
Layering-2-Tunneling Protocol is similar to PPTP and helps users to securely connect to two websites
IP security helps to establish a secure connection between two networks or an individual device with these networks.
Secure Sockets Layer is a three-way system to ensure safety by using digital certificates for the websites.
The users are first connected to their internet service provider (ISP) which provides them the access to the websites they wish to visit or surf.
The user activity is encrypted and monitored by the ISP who can see the data being transmitted to the websites.
The VPN process starts with the user's network being connected to an encrypted server that is hidden to the ISP.
A VPN protocol is associated with the server connection to provide varying levels of encryption for the user.
The end result is a completely secure and anonymous connection for the user on a virtually created private network.
Setting up a VPN
Following is a short checklist for the users wanting to set up a VPN on their handset/desktop PC.
- Users must check the type of device, operation system (OS), and its version. This is important to make sure whether the VPN is compatible on their device or not.
- There are different versions of VPN applications for routers, smartphones, tablets and desktops. For example, Windows 10 OS and Macintosh OS X have different VPN software. Similarly, iOS and Android have different VPN apps for users.
- Users need to download and install the compatible VPN software on their devices from the official website of the VPN service provider. Android/iOS users can download the VPN apps from their respective app stores. Often, there are free trials offered before users can make their purchase.
- Next, the users need to purchase the subscription of their choice from the VPN provider for the duration specified. Most commonly offered packages by VPN companies are annual and monthly subscriptions.
- Finally, users need to log in to their VPN accounts by entering the Username & Password obtained at the time of purchase. Post login, the users can easily connect to the available VPN servers across the globe.
Phases of a VPN Connection
There are three important phases for establishing a VPN connection successfully:
Users need to verify their identity before they can access the VPN server. They need to provide the login credentials like Username and Password in order to use the server. The device sends a request to the VPN server to initiate authentication of the user.
b) Secure Tunnel Creation
Post authentication, the user can connect to the available VPN server by selecting the server country/location.
Once the VPN connection is established, a virtual "tunnel" is created through which the data can be transmitted securely and anonymously.
Finally, the user data is encrypted to prevent any tracking or hacking activities. The tunnel is used to transmit the coded data between the websites. Free VPN providers do not provide this privilege. The IP address of the user can be changed or hidden to prevent ISP to monitor their online activities.
Results of Using a VPN
Following are the implications the users should know before utilizing a VPN software.
1. The users' Internet Service Providers (ISP) would not be able to track or monitor any data or websites. VPN servers use high-end encryption technologies to ensure maximum user privacy.
2. The Internet Protocol Address (IP) is changed temporarily while using VPN. The user's IP address is set by the VPN server of the selected country/location, thus hiding the real IP address of the user.
3. The VPN provider can track the user data and websites visited by the user. Privacy is guaranteed by most of the VPN providers through their "no log" policies.
4. It is possible for the internet speed to reduce due to the power required by the servers to encrypt or decrypt data.
Legality of Use
Using virtual private networks is completely legal in most of the countries around the world. Such countries usually do not impose restrictions on internet access for its citizens.
But there a few countries which do not encourage unrestricted usage of internet due to security reasons.
Some of the countries which have banned the usage of VPN include China, Iran, France and Saudi Arabia. Despite the government restrictions, some of the VPN servers do operate in these countries without any legal trouble.
Features of VPN
Following are the key characteristics of virtual private networks:
1. Security: VPN companies provide users with maximum privacy and safety while using their servers. The data is encrypted web service with state-of-art coding technologies. A VPN also acts as a mediator between the use web services, allowing them to access websites securely.
2. Privacy: While using the VPN servers, the IP address of the users is changed due to which the privacy is maintained. The ISP, government agencies or hackers will not be able to monitor the user activities as the original IP address is hidden and the data is encrypted.
3. Accessibility: Most of the VPN providers have a global distribution network. Users can connect to a server located in a different country easily. This provides an international accessibility to the users who wish to visit geographically restricted websites. For example: Viewing videos on YouTube that is not available in the country where the user resides.
4. Faster Speeds: VPN servers often provide faster uploading and downloading speeds to its users. They have multiple servers in different countries to reduce server load, thus improving overall server speed and efficiency for the users.
5. Reliability: Often, VPN providers have a system in place to keep the user data safe from the public internet traffic. The auto-kill switch is a feature that disconnects the user immediately from the internet in case of a server failure. This way, the data is kept intact without being exposed to unsafe internet traffic.
6. Inbuilt Firewall: Some VPN servers have an inbuilt firewall as an extra safety layer for the users from malware and network attacks by hackers. This may be an additional feature which can be charged extra by the VPN providers.
7. User Anonymity: VPN provides the users with anonymity to some extent, but not completely due to security reasons. The user data is kept private, but some of it may be logged solely for the purpose of user assistance. But it is better than the ISP, which continuously monitors the users' online activity.
8. Multiple Devices: VPNs are capable of connecting multiple devices simultaneously. This feature varies with different providers and subscriptions. Users can easily connect their laptops, tablets, iPads, smartphones, gaming consoles and many more devices on a single VPN network. This enables multi-tasking for the users.
9. Cloud Service: This feature is offered by some VPN providers as a part of their premium packages. The VPN server data can be securely stored on the cloud server without compromising on security. It makes it easier for users to access any data on the go.
10. Cybersecurity: VPN prevents the hacker activities, government tracking, and malware attacks and data thefts. The user is protected from all these threats with the help of encryption. Hence, VPNs help to strengthen the level of cyber security for the users.
How to Choose the Best VPN?
Users who are looking for buying a VPN subscription must consider the following factors before making a decision in order to get the best value for the money invested.
- 1. Price
Comparing the prices of different packages offered by various VPN providers is important. Users must know the duration for which they need a VPN. Usually, the longer duration subscriptions are more cost-efficient. Most common packages are monthly and annual subscriptions.
- 2. Privacy
This factor varies from different providers. If the user wishes to have enhanced privacy, then he may opt for the VPNs with "no-log" policy. Generally, no provider guarantees complete anonymity, as certain data is required to be logged for security reasons.
- 3. Money Back Guarantee or Free Trial
Users need to make sure that they are satisfied with the performance of the VPN provider they choose to opt for. Money back guarantee or trial would ensure that the user experiences the software in guarantee period and if not satisfied then ask for refund. Most of the providers allow 3-30 days of money back period for users to try the application.
- 4. Security
It is vital for the users to check the credibility of the VPN provider for its safety and security performance. Customer reviews would help the users to find out the credibility of the users.
- 5. Server Speed
The greater the number of servers, the lesser the payload and higher the speed. Users need to check the number of VPN servers available along with the locations to gauge the speed for uploading and downloading data from the internet. It also depends on the server's capacity to encrypt/decrypt the user data.
- 6. Network Distribution
The VPN providers have their networks distributed to a global level. There are several countries that have these servers available for users. The better VPN companies have a strong global network, for which the users should be looking for.
- 7. Multi-tasking
Most of the VPN providers allow the users to connect multiple devices to a single connection. It depends on provider chosen by the user. Higher the number of simultaneous connections, the better for the users who need to multi-task.
- 8. Vulnerability
Users must check for any security flaws, data leakage, malpractices or any other unlawful activities. If the VPN provider has any record of such activities, then it would be advisable to look for a better one rather than compromising on security.
- 9. Add-Ons
Additional features such as Firewall, Auto-kill switches, DNS protection, etc. are offered by many VPN providers. Users can choose the VPN provider which provides these add-ons for a reasonable price.
- 10. Device compatibility
Users need to check whether their devices are compatible with the VPN application offered. Usually, most of the VPN software support Windows OS (Vista, XP, 7, 8, 10), Macintosh OS (X) for desktop and iOS/Andriod apps for the mobile devices.
- 11. Customer Support
Users should check the quality of customer support offered by the provider. The means of communication, helpdesk, FAQ's need to be reviewed. Users also need to check the response time of the support team in answering the queries before purchasing from them.
- 12. After-Sales Service
This refers to the handling of customer complaints in case of any problems faced by them. If the user is not satisfied, then there should be a money-back guarantee available. This needs to be checked by the user for avoiding problems post purchase.
Advantages & Disadvantages of VPN
Advantages of Using VPN
- Privacy and security for the users
- Greater speed and reliability
- Prevents geographical restrictions to websites
- Media streaming made easier (access Amazon Prime, Discovery, etc.)
- Protection from hackers and tracking
- Good for business - to store confidential data securely
- High-end encryption for user data
- Global network coverage
Disadvantages of Using VPN
- Relatively expensive to buy
- May not be fully reliable
- Logging of sensitive data
Service Utility of VPN
1. Gaming: VPN can be used for playing online games without any restrictions on access to the gaming websites. Users can connect their mobile phones, gaming consoles, desktops, tablets and many more devices simultaneously to a single VPN account.
2. Media Streaming: Watching videos, movies and clips can be easily done with a VPN server without any location-restriction. Downloading and uploading data is faster on a good VPN network.
3. Torrenting: Users can use torrent websites without any restrictions. They can download movies, games, software, etc. through torrent websites like U-torrent, Torrentz, and much more.
4. Save Travel Money: VPN servers provide IP address camouflage. This prevents the travel companies to track users and over charge them on the basis of their location for booking flight and hotel tickets.
5. Business: The users who have online businesses can connect privately to their databases on a secure VPN connection. This makes it easier to send information to a large number of people at a time.
6. P2P: VPN servers help in peer-to-peer connection directly to upload or download data safely as such information is highly encrypted.
7. Privacy: Organizations and companies which conduct their transactions online need to have the privacy of their corporate data. VPN helps to achieve this objective easily with the help of encryption.
Top 5 VPN Providers
Here's a list of top five VPN providers on the basis of performance and customer ratings as of 2017:
This beginner's guide aims to educate the readers who want to know about virtual private networks (VPN) and the host of benefits offered to make the online experience safer and easier.
A VPN is basically an intermediary between the user and the website that helps to keep all the data encrypted. The users can explore the "freedom of internet access" by breaking all the restrictions put in place by various regulating authorities.
Finally, it could be concluded that Virtual Private Networking is one of the best marvels in the internet software industry. It has helped to break numerous barriers to ensure a free flow of information across the globe.