How Does a VPN Connection Work?
Updated: April 6, 2016
A VPN, or Virtual Private Network, is a complex sounding piece of kit, which is actually relatively simple. It provides an encrypted private connection between your device and one of a range of private servers operated by the provider around the world. From this server you can connect to any website, and the IP Address you will be using belongs to the server, not your internet connection. In this way, a VPN will make you both more secure and almost completely anonymous online.
In the months and years since the Edward Snowden revelations awakened the world to the reality of the extent of Government snooping into their online activity, the number of VPN users has grown substantially around the world. Yet many people remain unaware of what a VPN is and how it works.
Here at Fried.com we are frequently approached by potential VPN customers who want to know more, and one of the most frequent questions we are asked is, how does a VPN Connection actually work. Hence this guide, which will explain in a clear step-by-step format how a VPN connection works, and what benefits each stage brings to VPN users.
1. A Private Encrypted Connection...
The first thing a VPN can do is create a private encrypted connection between you and one of the VPN providers’ servers. What this means is that all the data which travels down this connection is encoded and only the user and the server can see the content.
Have this level of encryption on your internet traffic brings a number of advantages. Firstly, no Government surveillance officer or hacker can see the content of your internet traffic. And secondly, it protects from a number of the most common types of cyber-attacks.
So the encrypted connection of a VPN helps to keep you both secure and more private online. There are a number of different types of encryption, and the one you wind up with will depend on the VPN provider you sign up with. PPTP, L2TP, OpenVPN, SSTP, and IKEv2 are perhaps the five most commonly used.
Most VPN users don’t need to worry too much about which of these types of encryption they end up with. All have their pro’s and con’s, but are still much better than having no encryption at all. The exception to this is probably PPTP, which is now very outdated and has already been dropped by a number of big IT companies such as Microsoft. That aside, all the others are worthwhile.
2. … to an external server…
After your data has travelled down this encrypted pathway, it arrives at a server owned and operated, or rented, by the VPN provider. Passing data through an external server before connecting to your website does have its disadvantages, primarily that it can cause some slowing to your connection. But it also brings with it two significant advantages.
Firstly, the server has its own IP Address, and because your connection to the server is encrypted, the only IP Address the sites you visit can see, is that of the server. How is that beneficial?
Well your IP Address is a piece of data which tells websites about you, principally where in the world you are. This data can be used to identify which sites you have been using and also to restrict your access to certain websites where only users in certain locations are allowed to access them (a technique known as geo-blocking).
Changing your IP Address is another great step to boost your anonymity online, as it is impossible for websites and search engines to use your IP Address to monitor your online activity for the purposes of selling on data or targeted advertising.
It is also the best, and most cost-effective way to get around geo-blocking, and enable yourself to be able to watch streaming services such as Netflix from wherever you are in the world.
Secondly, most VPNs will offer a choice of servers located in a variety of countries around the world. This is also beneficial because it lets you get around geo-blocking, as you can log on with a IP Address from pretty much any country you want.
The other perk of this, is if you live in a country where the Government does not recognize your right to an open and free internet, such as China, you can use a VPN to get around their censorship, by seemingly logging onto the internet from the USA, the UK, or indeed anywhere else in the world, even if you are actually in China.
3. … to any site or streaming service you want, regardless of where you are.
By using a VPN, you are opening up the whole world of the internet to you. You can watch streamed content, or access restricted sites from every country in the world. And you can do so completely anonymously, and with greatly enhanced security.
It is little wonder the world is turning to VPNs in light of the level of scrutiny our internet usage seems to come under these days.
Perhaps the only surprise is that everyone isn’t employing this simple and cost effective kit. Plenty of experts think you should, and if you are convinced having read this article on how a VPN connection works, you can browse this site to find the best VPN for your needs.