What is a VPN, and why should you use it? Top Reasons 
If you are online and use the Internet both privately and professionally, you have probably heard about VPN services already. But maybe you have not yet thought about the benefits of VPN access – there are many. Let me explain what a VPN service is and what it can do for your online security!
What is a VPN connection, and how does it work?
What is VPN access? VPN stands for “virtual private network.” This can be your router or the network at home or your office. A VPN provider works just as well, with the difference that the VPN servers are distributed across locations worldwide. Via VPN software on your PC (for instance, Windows, Mac, Linux), Laptop, smartphone (either iOS or Android), or tablet, you first connect to one of the VPN provider’s servers and then to the websites you want to visit.
How does a VPN work?
The VPN client creates a “tunnel” for you on the Internet. The server hosting the website you’re visiting cannot see your IP address when visiting it. In addition, the “origin data” of the users are lumped together on the provider’s server, which guarantees increased online anonymity. You can usually choose which server on the network you want to use according to your VPN requirements.
What exactly is VPN protection for?
Now that you know how a VPN client works, you can probably better imagine how it protects you. Even regular websites collect data about you every time you visit them – the so-called cookies. This data is usually anonymized. It’s a different case if you visit a website designed to „spy” on your computer – simply by clicking on a link in a phishing email. Especially when using open Wi-Fi networks, the back doors of your system are usually wide open. A VPN connection ensures that hackers and data collectors can’t identify you but only the server of your VPN service.
Why should you use a VPN?
The VPN doesn’t show the IP addresses of its users. So your online identity can no longer be determined. Nevertheless, there are many good reasons to use VPN services – and most of them are eligible. We introduce a few of them.
Protection against hackers and governments
With a VPN connection, you protect yourself from hackers and other unauthorized third parties, but also from overly curious authorities. Even your internet provider can see your online activity at any time. In addition, VPN software with good encryption secures your privacy.
Online security in public networks
Dangers also lurk in public networks, such as those offered in educational establishments, restaurants, and shopping malls. With a VPN application, you can protect your laptop or smartphone from malware and hackers.
Anonymity when surfing the Internet
To be online anonymously is another advantage of VPN services. And that is fully appreciated by law-abiding people, including journalists who work under repressive regimes or human rights activists and politicians in states with universal censorship. For them, a VPN acts as a protection and a window into the outside world.
Bypass censorship and geoblocking
Suppose you like to use streaming services like Netflix or Amazon Prime Video. In that case, you can watch movies, and TV shows offered in your home country with a VPN and access offers from other countries, and stream with media players like Kodi. It is much more secure with VPN connections.
Anonymous download and upload
Torrent clients take a high risk with their downloads and uploads. Whoever is caught in the process has to expect a warning with a very high fee to some extent. In addition, the use of a VPN server obscures your Internet connection.
What types of VPN are there?
There are two main types of VPNs.
You probably know this type of VPN from your work. Employees usually use it to get secure remote access to corporate data from outside the company. A remote-access VPN connects laptops, smartphones, or tablets, called endpoints, with each other.
Before enabling the secure connection to the network, the VPN checks those endpoints to ensure they are safe and meet specific criteria before connecting. Therefore, the remote access VPN connects one computer with another.
A site-to-site VPN is used to connect headquarters to branch offices via an internet connection. This kind of VPN connection is used for more considerable distances and enables connection worldwide securely. Therefore, a site-to-site VPN is a network that connects to another network – a router with another router.
What VPN protocols are there?
When you connect to a VPN server, the software or VPN app encrypts the data. Such encrypted connections are referred to as VPN tunnels. The nature of this connection can vary, depending on the so-called protocols. Which ones are available depends on the provider. The most crucial VPN protocols are the following:
One of the oldest and most well-known protocols is the OpenVPN open-source protocol. The data is encrypted using SSLv3 / TLSv1 and OpenSSL. This protocol is compatible with most operating systems and works with Microsoft Windows and Linux and Mac Os, Android, and iOS.
IPSec / L2TP
A combination of IPsec and L2TP ensures a secure VPN tunnel when other protocols, such as OpenVPN, don’t work.
IKEv2 is also based on IPSec. It’s appreciated because of the fast connection, especially if the network is switched repeatedly. IKEv2 is, therefore, well suited for use on smartphones.
Softether isn’t really about protocol. The open-source application is compatible with almost all platforms and supports standard VPN protocols such as OpenVPN, SSL VPN, L2TP / IPsec, and the Microsoft Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol.
The abbreviation PPTP stands for “Point to Point Tunneling Protocol” – a first-hour protocol that points with speed but has some security gaps. As a result, it’s well-suited for streaming.
The new VPN protocol WireGuard runs on a Linux kernel and should surpass known protocols such as OpenVPN and IPsec.
What types of VPN encryption are there?
Encryption is one of the most important features of a VPN. It makes sure that no one can access your data and read it. Encryption is data conversion from a readable format to an encrypted format that can only be re-read or processed after decryption. The way your data is encrypted depends on the type of encryption the VPN provider uses.
This type uses the same key for encryption and decryption. It’s necessary for both parties to communicate with each other. This is the most commonly used way of encryption for VPNs.
For this type of encryption, the software is used to create public and private keys. The public encrypts the data; the private key is to decrypt the messages.
Network-based firewall service
This kind of encryption is a cloud-based firewall that continuously watches the internet traffic.
Handshake encryption (RSA)
The RSA is used to secure your connection, not your data. This is why this type is used together with public-key encryption, which secures your data. Together both your data and connection are encrypted.
Secure Hash Algorithm (SHA)
This type of encryption is used to authenticate data and SSL/TLS connections. While connecting, it creates a unique fingerprint to validate the TLS certificate. This makes sure that your connection is to the correct server. If this encryption isn’t used, a third party could re-route your traffic to another server without you noticing.
What other reasons do you need for a VPN?
A good VPN service with a careful selection of protocols contributes significantly to your data protection. For example, you can connect to the servers when performing money transactions online. This way, you protect your access data – especially if you’re on the go and cannot use your Wi-Fi. Even with a slow internet connection, a VPN can literally help you jump on the bandwagon. In fact, there are Internet providers that throttle data traffic to persuade customers to switch to a more expensive package. With a VPN, you can sometimes increase your transmission speed. However, the service can also affect the speed due to the redirection.
What does a VPN cost?
Most good apps allow you to use their software via a subscription. The cost of the monthly rates depends on the duration of the subscription. You often get a powerful VPN service for less than 2 euros a month with an annual subscription. You can also test some VPNs to convince yourself that a subscription is worthwhile.
Should you use a free VPN?
There are free VPNs, and we are not talking about the professional test versions of the professional providers here. However, if you use a VPN for free, you have to put up with limits on monthly data volume and bandwidth. The server selection is also limited. Therefore, free VPNs are no longer suitable for streaming. In addition, with a free provider, there’s always the risk that they don’t encrypt your data but instead spy it out!
iOS, Android, PC: Setup VPN – this is how it works
Using a VPN client is very easy because the provider creates complicated technical requirements. You proceed step by step as follows:
- Sign up for a VPN service of your choice – either for a free trial or a subscription.
- Download the VPN client, which is compatible with your device or operating system. The installation is usually uncomplicated; just follow the instructions that guide you through the process.
- Now you need to set up the VPN software (Windows, Mac). Enter your username and password, and # select which server location you prefer to connect to. Done! Now you are protected!
What is a kill switch, and what does it do?
The kill switch is a critical feature every VPN should have. It blocks your internet connection entirely if, for any reason, the VPN cannot connect to the server you’ve chosen. This is crucial because you would be unprotected if the VPN allowed you to connect without using a VPN server. If there’s no kill switch, you might think your data is secure and encrypted, but it isn’t.
There are two different kinds of kill switches: One is integrated into the VPN app on your computer. If the VPN connection fails, the app blocks the internet connection. Given the VPN app on your device is working. If it crashes, the kill switch also doesn’t work anymore and won’t block your internet connection. In this case, your traffic is not encrypted and secure anymore.
The other type of kill switch is implemented directly in the operating system. In this case, it always works, no matter if your VPN app is running or not. This way, your traffic is always encrypted and safe, and if the connection to the VPN server should fail, your internet connection will be blocked.
You probably don’t have time to learn all the details about VPN services, but you want to know which one is the best for you. Here are six trustworthy VPNs I can recommend to you, depending on the scope of use of each of them.
- Best VPN overall: NordVPN
- Best value for money: CyberGhost
- Cheapest annual subscription: PIA
- Best for streaming: Surfshark
- Best premium VPN: ExpressVPN
- Largest country selection: VeePN
For more information, see our picks for the best VPNs here.
Now you can answer the questions “What is a VPN provider” and “What is a VPN app” and know the main advantages of using such a service. To protect your privacy, a VPN in 2023 is hotter and more important than ever. You can use it anonymously, securely, and freely, stream without borders and protect your personal data from unauthorized third-party access – both at home and on travels. Moreover, you can get a good VPN client subscription already for a small amount of money. So try it right away – you will not want to miss it anymore!
Given the numerous threats that can be sneaked onto your computer or mobile phone via unsecured internet connections, a VPN client isn’t only useful but increasingly important. It offers you data protection, the overcoming of geo-blocking, and anonymity online.