VPN Security – a Hero or a Villain?
The Internet is an unexplored jungle where you can run into the most dangerous species if you’re not equipped with adequate protection.
However, when going online, not so many people think about putting a safety helmet – most of them usually use the Internet for information, social media, Netflix, or torrenting, without knowing that each of the activities can be a potential threat.
Even though you’re sitting in front of your computer, in the suburbs of the smallest town in your country, the Internet will know your exact location. How is it possible, you might be wondering.
The “culprit” is your IP address – a numerical label assigned to each device that’s connected to a computer network. That way, your Internet presence is visible, as well as the data you’re sending.
Luckily, a tech revolution has found a way to beat that problem – a virtual private network (VPN) that provides you with the highest level of encryption and makes sure your Internet surfing is safe.
Let’s get started then.
What is a VPN?
Observe the VPN as the Harry Potter’s Invisibility Cloak – you set it up, and you can start your journey without leaving any trace.
Still, a technical VPN definition would be a connection method used to add a layer of security and privacy to public or private networks. It is like an additional tunnel through which the data passes, and it’s mostly used by companies, organizations, and even governments in order to protect their sensitive data.
However, more and more people are using VPN for personal purposes as well, and that’s because their location stays private, the data is encrypted, and they can surf the web anonymously.
It’s too good to be true, many people would think – and that leads us to another question.
Is VPN Legal to Use?
Generally, when it comes to VPN, the answer is yes.
The virtual private network doesn’t contain any illegal particle, and it’s massively used in countries like the United States, Canada, the UK, and Western Europe.
But, that’s not the case with China, the UAE, Turkey, Iran, Oman, and Russia – in these countries, only the government-approved VPNs are allowed, while in Belarus, Iraq, Turkmenistan, and North Korea, the VPNs are fully banned.
The reason is mostly preventing the foreign media from penetrating the country, but some countries did it due to political reasons.
As you may conclude, your physical location is what determines whether you can “wear the cloak,” or not. Hence, before you decide to do it, check if VPN is legal in your country.
How Does a VPN Work?
And now it’s time to see how this service works.
To help you understand the VPN meaning better, we’ll start by explaining the basic process of Internet surfing:
When you search for a website, the data you enter is automatically sent to a website server, which translates the data and sends you back the site you requested.
However, when you’re sending that data to a server, you’re also sending your location, IP address, and more sensitive information – and that’s a goldmine for hackers.
That’s the main reason why it’s not recommended to use public Wi-Fi for checking bank accounts, or money transfer – hackers can easily access your password and e-mails by logging into the network. Once it’s done, there’s no back button.
To avoid situations such as this one, techs have come up with a virtual private network. When you connect to a VPN, the data you send to a server first goes through a tunnel that encrypts your info, preventing it from being exposed and read, and then it’s sent to a server.
In that way, the website you want to reach will see the VPN server instead of your real location, it is much more difficult for someone to identify you or your computer, and since your data is encrypted, nobody will get the raw information.
Can VPN Protect Me Fully?
Even though it’s considered one of the most secure ways of searching the Internet, VPNs are not 100% reliable. The technological revolution keeps developing, and so does the hacking science – that said, it’s possible to break into almost any system.
When it comes to hacking VPN, the “only” thing that could be breakable is the encryption. However, hackers need to try finding a particular vulnerability or stealing the key, which is an advanced cryptographic skill.
All in all, breaking the encryption is a time-consuming and demanding activity, and it may take years until it’s completed.
It’s important to know that not every VPN will provide you with the same protection. When purchasing it, choose wisely, and go for those that support the latest version of OpenVPN and SHA-2 algorithms since they’re considered the most secure solutions.
That said, let’s learn about VPN security protocols.
What are the VPN Protocols?
The protocols are what define how the services handle data transmission via a VPN. Let’s have a look at each of them, and see the brief explanations:
1. Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol (PPTP)
PPTP is Microsoft’s oldish protocol, which is still in use. It works entirely on older computers, but, for the modern standards, it’s not considered the most secure option. Hence, avoid purchasing the VPN that comes with this protocol only.
2. Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol (L2TP/IPsec)
The combination of PPTP and Cisco’s L2F protocol created L2TP/IPsec. It’s slightly better than a single PPTP, but it’s still unreliable in some spheres. It uses keys to establish a secure connection on each data tunnels’ ends, but the execution is not safe. Overall, it’s not recommended, as well.
3. Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol (SSTP)
SSTP is another of Microsoft’s built-in invention. It uses the encryption of the highest nowadays’ standards, which is built on symmetric-key cryptography principle. That way, only the two parties involved in the process can decode the data, which means that SSTP stands for a very safe option.
4. Internet Key Exchange, Version 2 (IKEv2)
IKEv2 is the encryption protocol that provides outstanding protection to the VPN. It establishes and handles the Security Association attribute, which is a fundamental part of IPsec, and, accordingly, it provides you with an extremely high level of security.
5. Open VPN
Open VPN is a combination of the best particles of the protocols mentioned above. It’s an open-source project, and various developers are continually working on its improvement and efficiency. That said, it’s the best protocol you can find today.
What Does a VPN Do?
VPN can be used for both business and personal purposes. It’s got a wide range of features that can be applied to various fields, and we’re going to present some of them:
1. Hide Your IP Address
The IP address is equal to your location, and sometimes you don’t want to reveal it. Once connected to a private network, it’ll assign you a different IP address, and it can look like you’re surfing from New York, and you’re actually in Paris.
2. Watch Movies on Netflix or Hulu
It is known that Netflix and Hulu are not available everywhere. With VPN, you can access them – it’ll simply replace your location with another one, supported by Netflix and Hulu, and you can enjoy your favorite shows.
First, it’s essential to make a difference between piracy and torrenting – if you download the files which are not copyrighted, you’re not doing anything wrong. Now, most VPNs allow torrenting, but you can face a slower Internet connection during download.
4. Booking Hotels and Plane Tickets
The prices of tickets and hotels may vary depending on location, and VPN can help you save your money when traveling.
5. Unblock Censured Websites
Some popular websites are banned in certain countries, and you will be able to access them using the virtual private network.
6. Watch Your Favorite Shows on Smart TV
You can connect the VPN to your smart TV as well. You can watch live streams without anyone else knowing what you are watching, and you can configure it on the device itself, or the router. Still, double check if your VPN client supports smart TV connection.
7. Protection of Your Android or iOS Devices
Many people, especially the millennials, use public Wi-Fi on their mobiles when sitting in a café. To avoid any potential inconvenience, it’s recommended to install a VPN app to your smartphone. However, be careful with free VPN apps since they mostly contain malware – instead, consider NordVPN, or ExpressVPN.
8. Avoid Government Surveillance
If the government, for some reasons, requests the data collected by the websites you’ve visited, you’ll be safe if you’ve used the private tunnel during your surfing. In that way, the only info the government gains will be the VPN server and not your IP address.
How to Set up a VPN?
And now it’s time to see how to set up VPN.
Most VPN providers offer simple installation, and they’re compatible with a wide range of devices, including a computer, smartphone, router, and tablet.
Let’s go through three simple steps that show you how to use a VPN:
Step 1: Download the Desired VPN
When you choose the desired VPN client, you should go to its website and download it. However, if you need a secure network for work, contact your IT support to get you the adequate software – they’ll need to install it on your computer to access your company’s servers.
Step 2: Install the VPN Software
Once you’ve downloaded it, it’s time to start the installation process. Most VPN clients will ask you to create an account and sign in with your e-mail address, and when you finish it, together with other steps, you can access the application from your Start menu.
Step 3: Run the VPN
Now that everything is set up, you can start using your private network. Depending on a client you’ve chosen, you’ll be asked to select a country from where you’re browsing, and then, to choose the one that you want to view from. For instance, if you’re in Europe, you can change your location to the U.S. and enjoy the U.S. Netflix.
Even though this is the most common installation form, bear in mind that not all the software follow the same scheme. Also, make sure you’ve read Terms and Conditions before you started using the software – for example, many free VPNs include some third-party apps or give you limited use of data.
What are the Downsides of VPN?
Every invention comes with downsides as well. Even though VPN protection might look impeccable to you, it still has some disadvantages.
1. Performance and Speed are Reduced
VPN uses a lot of the processing power for encryption, which leads to reduced Internet connection speed. So, if you want a private network that won’t affect the performance, you’ll need to purchase a decent, more expensive service.
2. Security Loopholes and IP Leaks
Again, VPNs are not 100% secure, especially the cheaper ones that sometimes come with certain vulnerabilities, such as IP leaks. For example, when you want to access the geo-restricted website, and it still shows the blocked content, that means that VPN failed to hide your IP address.
3. No Kill Switch
Kill switch is a handy feature that automatically stops the Internet access when the encrypted and secure connection fails for some reason. If your VPN is not provided with Kill switch, the unprotected connection will be restored.
4. Logging policies
What is the Best VPN?
Now that you’ve got VPN explained, it’s time to find the best service for your safe Internet connection.
Here are three best VPN security services:
1. BitDefender Premium VPN – a Budget-friendly Solution
BitDefender Premium VPN starts with $33.33 per month, which makes it one of the most cost-effective solutions on the market. It doesn’t affect the speed, it provides the user with top-notch security, and it’s got quite a responsive customer service. However, it’s limited to a few geo-blocked websites.
2. NordVPN – Top-Performing VPN Provider
NordVPN allows you to have up to six connections at the same time, which is more than most of its competitors are offering. You can access Netflix, and you can enjoy torrenting with a high-speed Internet connection. The only drawbacks would be its price ($11.95 per month), and the inability to purchase additional simultaneous connections.
3. CyberGhost VPN – Fast and Secure Virtual Private Network
CyberGhost VPN cares about the users’ security. It has a strict No-Logging policy, it allows you to use Torrent and Netflix, and all that will cost you $2.75 a month if you opt for an 18-months plan. Still, the only downside would be slow performance.
Final Words – Why Do I Need a VPN?
Since you have become a true VPN savvy, let’s get back to the very first question – Is VPN a hero or a villain?
Based on the features it offers, we can say that it is Luke Skywalker in our contemporary cyber galaxy – it protects it from the evil and makes sure your cyberspace journey is entirely safe.
Speaking of its Darth Vader’s sides, you can’t find many – as the system keeps improving, the downsides will disappear as well.
To conclude, VPN brings a lot of benefits and brings safer data transfer, and it’s recommended to add it to your everyday Internet surfing – it’s a step forward to using the web more consciously, and with more precautions.
And stay tuned – the next article will lead you through the best free VPN services.