What is a VPN, and How Does It Work?

how vpn works

You must have heard about VPNs, and how they are a must for the 21st century.

You might even be considering some VPN options, but you just need some clarifications on how a VPN works, and it’s understandable.

In case you’re not aware already, VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. You’re most probably reading this post because you don’t know how a VPN works, and you want some insight.

A VPN helps users to achieve a secure connection to the internet by passing it through a virtual network. It also helps to bypass geo-restrictions, making websites accessible from where they shouldn’t be.

I’m aware that my VPN definition might not be making much sense, but stick with me for some minutes and you’ll have a clear view of what I’m talking about.

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How do VPNs Work?

It can’t be simpler than this.

I have a mobile phone, and I’ll like to connect to the internet.

If I make a direct connection, the connection is made from my Internet Service Provider, and details of my location, device, and other information that should be private are sent along with the connection data.

Let’s say I’m in Nigeria and I’m trying to subscribe to Crackle, (which is unavailable from Nigeria).

When I send my data packets for the connections, Crackle servers inspect the packets and get accurate information about my location, my Internet Service Provider, and even my IP address.

Remember I said Crackle is unavailable from Nigeria.

But Crackle has already gotten some solid information about me by just viewing my connection details! Crackle now knows my location, and you can guess what will happen next.

My connection fails, and I’ll be unable to subscribe to Crackle.

A VPN can help.

A VPN works by hiding your IP address, and your ISP details, effectively masking your location. This authorizes you to access websites and apps which you shouldn’t otherwise be able to access.

Instead of making the connection directly from your internet service provider, the VPN makes the connection through a virtual network. It encrypts the connection details, disallowing anyone, including the VPN provider itself from accessing your information.

Since the connection is made using a virtual IP address from your VPN provider, you become anonymous. Instead of getting your actual connection details, websites, and apps you use will only see the details of the virtual server.

Back to our Crackle connection.

From the explanation above, you’ll know that if the VPN server is from the United States or any other Crackle supported country, the error message that results from the connection will be cleared and you should be able to access the service without hitches.

In short, a VPN can help change your location.

Also, a VPN encrypts your data. This is an extra layer of security, but most users don’t care, except the nerdy ones. You don’t need to be nerdy to use a VPN, anyways.

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If you’ve viewed some VPN commercials, you might have heard them advertising encryption.

What does this mean exactly?

Firstly, you should be aware that encryption is the act of scrambling a piece of data. This makes it unreadable, or rather meaningless to the average person.

Encrypted data can only be unscrambled using a key. This key can be compared to a very complex password. If you’re on a standard VPN connection, your key should only be known to your computer, and the VPN server (you don’t even need to know it).

How does encryption help?

When you enter sensitive information into a website, you should worry about hackers intercepting the connection and stealing your data, especially if you’re someone that makes online purchases.

Most trusted e-commerce websites these days should encrypt your connection using the standard web encryption protocols to avoid this.

However, hackers are getting smarter each day, and many have cracked these encryptions.

You might not realize the severity of this until you start losing money on purchases you never made. A VPN is designed to prevent this, by adding an extra encryption protocol atop the standard web encryption protocols.

A hacker trying to get your information will have to crack the standard web encryption, only to encounter another indecipherable code, making your connection flawless.

Forgot to mention that your IP address is also encrypted, which is not the case when you’re not on a VPN. Encrypting your VPN makes you untraceable, in the case of any illegal activity (which you shouldn’t engage in anyways).

However, you should note that there are many different types of encryption, and some encryption protocols aren’t as safe as they used to be. Before paying up for a VPN, you should check its encryption protocols to see if it’s up to date.

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What are the types of VPN protocols?

All VPNs are dependent on a specific VPN protocol to keep them up and running. The VPN protocol controls the encryption, regulates the connection and data transmission between your computer and the web.

Many VPN protocols are adopted by VPNs today. Here is a list of the most common VPN protocols that are used by the most popular Virtual Private Networks.

  • PPTP

PPTP stands for Point to Point Tunneling Protocol. It is one of the most common VPN protocols in use by popular VPNs today. It is dated back to the nineties and was created by Microsoft.

PPTP is a relatively insecure VPN protocol, despite still being used by a good number of VPN providers. The main reason for its popularity is that it’s fast to set up, on the side of the VPN provider.

If Bruce Schneider’s recommendation is anything to go by, you should, by all means, avoid a VPN that uses PPTP, and go with one of the more secure alternatives in this list.

  • L2TP/IPSec

L2TP is short for the Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol and is bundled with IPSec to create a full security package. It is created PPTP, but with an extra layer of security and encryption. This makes it transfer and handle connection data quite more securely and efficiently than PPTP.

As L2TP isn’t equipped with encryption and privacy, it relies on IPSec for security, and it is considered relatively safe to use, with no major security flaw since it was introduced.

  • SSTP

Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol (SSTP) is a very secure VPN created by Microsoft to make up for the PPTP flop. It is considered as one of the most secure VPN protocols, used by popular VPNs and networks.

When it’s used, the connection information can only be decoded by the client, sending the connection requests, and the recipient.

  • OpenVPN

And finally to the most common VPN technology around, OpenVPN. OpenVPN is an open-source project, just like Linux, which makes it overly secure. Open source means multiple developers are working on the project at the same time, and anyone can request for, see, and probably modify the codes.

So, if you’re a badass nerd, you can go through the codes of this VPN protocol, to see if it’s secure enough for you (something most of us won’t worry about). Many VPN technologies are currently using OpenVPN, and it is popularly known as the safest VPN protocol around.

Do Free VPNs Work; how do they Work?

It’s either free or good when it comes to VPNs

Almost every purchase of a premium VPN comes with a bad experience with a free VPN.

There are two conclusions a free VPN user can make. It’s either they believe VPNs are bad, or they conclude that free VPNs are shithole.

Free VPNs are simply not worth it. There are many disadvantages to a free VPN, but I’ll take you through the most important.

  1. They are extremely limiting

Before getting a premium VPN subscription, I tried getting a free VPN. I knew previously that free VPNs are bad, but I’m sure there must be a good egg.

Fortunately, I found a free VPN from a respectable cybersecurity company, —Kaspersky VPN.

After downloading the VPN, here are some of the significant limits attached.

  • You cannot exceed 200 Megabytes of data each day.

Once you’ve reached the threshold, you’ll have to wait until the next day to connect to the internet again.

That would be pretty cool if we were in 1991!

  • You cannot choose what server to connect to.

Let me give you a perfect reason why this feature (in collaboration with the first) makes the VPN pretty useless.

Say, I created a Fiverr account using the United States as my country. If I have a VPN that connects to a server in the United States, I’ll easily stay out of trouble because Fiverr will always think I’m in the US.

Now, imagine if Kaspersky connects me to Australia this morning, and hours later, I’m in Namibia. Fiverr will easily find out.

Disclaimer: I don’t do this, seriously. I’m on Fiverr as my real name and picture and here is the link to my Fiverr account.

  • Free VPNs are painfully slow

Don’t expect to get a free VPN that can stream Netflix.

Wait, who streams Netflix with 200 Megabytes a day by the way?

  • Your information might be at risk

Are you using a free VPN from lesser-known companies?

Don’t worry, you’re paying in another way.

Your free VPN provider could sell your information to third parties (this is a stats backed statement). The buyers of your information could do whatever they like with it.

If you’ve not been paying for a VPN, you should know about Hotspot Shield, a popular free VPN provider. They promised an encrypted connection for their users in their Privacy Policy, but they were found to be allegedly spying on their users’ internet activities.

If Hotspot Shield can do this, why not any other VPN?

  • Generally not trustable

86% of free VPNs have serious privacy and security flaws, according to a research report from Top10VPN.com.

Also, 59% of free VPNs are reportedly owned by Chinese companies. Previous reports of China spying on internet users through their online services make that fact creepy.

Obviously, most of these VPN providers must have entered into some dirty agreements with the Chinese government before being allowed to operate. If you don’t want your information with the Chinese, avoid free VPNs.

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Is a VPN necessary?

I won’t want to answer this question for you, as I have provided enough information to help you make an informed decision.

In summary, if you’re having difficulties accessing a foreign website due to government restrictions, a VPN is all you need.

If you’re worried about getting your connection information falling out to the hands of hackers, you’ll need a VPN.

If you hate to be spied on by the government, or any organization, you’ll also want to get a VPN.

Lastly, if you engage in illegal actions (like torrenting), you might get caught, and punished. If you’ll want to avoid this, you need a VPN.

Otherwise, you might just be fine without any VPN.

Considerations to make before choosing a VPN

Choosing a great VPN is pretty much a vocation. There are laid down rules for good VPNs, and every VPN you should use must “follow the rules.”

Here, I’ll not preach “use a paid VPN”, or “this is the best free VPN”. I’ll just give you the rules in the simplest manner possible. If a free, or paid VPN follows these rules, you’re free to use it.

  • Server Location

This is an important aspect of choosing a VPN that you should never ignore. Your VPN’s server location determines its capabilities, to a large extent.

For example, if you’ll like to connect to a country-restricted service, (Google Voice for example), you have to choose a VPN with a server in one of the whitelisted locations.

Free VPNs won’t give you this freedom.

Remember my Kaspersky VPN?

It just connects me to a random location that I had no control over. It could connect me to Somalia, and who uses Google Voice in Somalia?

  • The VPN Protocols

I’ve explained everything in a section above, and you know what VPN to choose in terms of the protocols they use.

You won’t want to go for PPTP, and OpenVPN should be your ultimate choice. Just ensure that the encryption protocol is secure enough.

  • The Logging Policy

VPNs that log your information aren’t necessarily bad, and VPNs that promise not to log your information aren’t necessarily good.

Before choosing a VPN, it is important to view their privacy policy and a couple of online reviews to make sure they’re not logging any sensitive information.

When they start logging your IP address, it starts to get suspicious.

  • Are VPNs Legal in your Country

While VPNs are legal in most parts of the world, some countries are cracking down hard on VPNs. A good example of one of these countries in China.

While using a VPN may be allowed in these countries, they are fond of banning good VPNs, leaving you with undesirable options, so it becomes a game of the devil and the deep blue sea.

If you’re in Belarus, Iraq, Turkmenistan, or some other VPN-banned countries, you’ll want to avoid using a VPN to completely keep out of trouble.

  • Is it suitable for the task you need it for?

Again, I’ll use the Kaspersky instance. If you need a VPN to stream Netflix or Crackle, Kaspersky free isn’t the way to go.

In addition to suppressing your speed, it also imposes a bandwidth limit that can’t go half an hour on Netflix!

Get a usable VPN to save some hair.

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What are some cool VPN suggestions?

There are some VPNs I’ve tested, and I’ve verified workable. These VPNs all have a safe logging policy and are legal in almost every country. I’ve segmented them by their unique selling point, and you should choose one from these, to avoid pulling off your hair.

  • ExpressVPN (All around)

Although ExpressVPN is no match or NordVPN when it comes to speed, it is better when you’re trying to unblock websites. This is due to the huge number of server locations ExpressVPN possesses around the world.

However, it is fairly expensive, compared to other VPNs; a fact that is justified with its multi-platform support and efficient syncing.

In addition to using the OpenVPN protocol, it also uses a certified hashing algorithm that’s too complex to be understood (4096-bit SHA-512 RSA certificate with AES-256-CBC, precisely).

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  • NordVPN (For speed)

When you want to have a speedy experience, go with none other than NordVPN.

Averaging 115 Mbps in a Techradar test, it is one of the speediest VPNs on the market. It is a step cheaper than ExpressVPN while offering largely similar, and even better features in some aspects.

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  • Surfshark VPN (best budget VPN)

Surfshark VPN gets a good balance between good and cheap. Despite having a huge list of server locations, it is also speedy and will prevent you from pulling at your hair in anger.

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This is a quite lengthy post, and not many of us can spend eight minutes trying to figure out how a VPN works. You should endeavor to read it, however, as it uncovers many secrets of a VPN that will help you make powerful choices, and determine if your current VPN is due for an upgrade.

In short, all this post is trying to say is that a VPN secures your connection and allows you to connect to websites you should otherwise not be able to connect to.

Also, VPN protocols are discussed briefly and OpenVPN is generally agreed upon as the safest VPN protocol. PPTP is the least safe, so if you’re on a VPN using PPTP or some other unsafe protocols, you should upgrade.

I also uncovered the truth about free VPNs, and whether or not they work. They don’t work, to be honest.

Next, I discussed some exclusive tips for choosing a VPN, and I rounded it off with my top VPN suggestions, which are ExpressVPN, NordVPN, Ivacy VPN, and Surfshark.

Are you done reading this piece?

I hope you now have an idea of why, and how a VPN is used.

What are your suggestions and comments?

Please drop one, and share, for your friends should know this too.

Kindly subscribe to my mailing list below to get the hottest VPN coupon codes to get VPNs at an amazing discount.

Thanks for making it to the end.

Don’t be me, get a VPN

About Raji Ridwan 188 Articles
I'm a tech geek, marketing prodigy, and poetry enthusiast with years of blogging experience. When I'm not writing, I'm trying to catch up with the latest episode of Boruto. I'm still in Naruto by the way! I do freelance writing.