How Does a VPN Work? Everything You Need to Know About VPNs

how does vpn work

Virtual private networks (VPNs) appear to be used by practically everyone these days to unblock websites and safeguard their online privacy. But what are virtual private networks (VPNs) and how do they work?

VPNs (virtual private networks) have become synonymous with internet safety. By routing your Internet traffic through a secure server, VPNs help keep your passwords and other sensitive personal information safe from prying eyes. VPNs can also be used to unblock prohibited content, browse the web anonymously, and torrent safely, among other things.

A VPN, on the other hand, is more than just connecting to a remote server. So keep reading to discover more about VPNs, how they function, and what to look for when selecting a VPN provider.

What Is a Virtual Private Network (VPN)?

A virtual private network (VPN) is a service that hides your Internet Protocol (IP) address. No one can link your data to your IP address, allowing you to access the internet anonymously.

Simply break down the words “virtual,” “private,” and “network” to understand what a VPN does:

  • Because VPNs are a digital service, they are called “virtual.” They don’t require any cables or hardware to utilize.
  • VPNs are “private” because they encrypt your connection and allow you to browse the internet without being tracked by governments, internet service providers (ISPs), cybercriminals, or others.
  • Because they provide a secure link between your device, the VPN server, and the internet, VPNs are referred to as “networks.”

VPNs: A Brief History

According to the VPN Consumer Usage, Adoption, and Shopping Study 2021 conducted by security.org, 85 percent of internet users aged 18 and up are aware of what a VPN is. This is a 13% increase over 2020.

Consumers who know what a VPN is.

VPNs, on the other hand, were not always so well-known.

After the advent of the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET), experts understood the world required VPNs. ARPANET was an early form of the internet developed by the United States Department of Defense.

Transfer Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) was inspired by ARPANET. TCP/IP made it possible for devices and local networks to communicate over a common network. An outsider might utilize the network to access devices inside it, posing a cybersecurity concern.

In 1993, AT&T Bell Labs and Columbia University researchers created the first VPN, Software IP encryption protocol (swIPe). In 1994 and 1996, Wei Xu and Gurdeep Singh-Pall developed more VPN technologies. IPSec was established by Xu, and the Peer-to-Peer Tunneling Protocol was created by Singh-Pall (a Microsoft employee) (PPTP).

VPNs were widely utilized by businesses and governments in the early 2000s, and consumers began to use them in the mid-2010s.

VPN Users

VPNs are beneficial to those who want to:

  • Use WiFi in a public place where it could be hacked or spoofed (like airports, coffee shops, and coworking spaces)
  • Surf the web in complete anonymity
  • Ads that are specifically targeted should be avoided.
  • Hide data from your Internet Service Provider (ISP).
  • Get a better bargain on flights, hotels, and other significant purchases, among other things.
  • Bypass censorship or surveillance by the government
  • Websites and material that are geo-restricted can be accessed.
  • Viruses, ransomware, worms, and trojan horses must all be avoided.

“For general security” (55 percent), “for general privacy” (54 percent), and “to access secure networks for my profession” were the top three reasons people used a VPN in 2021. (41 percent ).

According to Security.org, 41% of Americans use a VPN for professional or personal reasons. However, a bigger number of people may be using a VPN on a work or school computer and are unaware of it.

Is Using a VPN Illegal?

China, Iraq, North Korea, Russia, Turkey, Belarus, and Turkmenistan are among the countries that have deemed using a VPN illegal as of early 2022. Uganda, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Oman are among the countries that have partially blocked VPNs.

However, most countries, including the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom, and New Zealand, consider VPNs to be completely lawful.

VPNs are legal in many places, but you can’t use them to conduct crimes or hide your internet behavior from authorities. VPNs are a service that allows you to browse the internet safely, not a license to commit wrongdoing.

Using a VPN may also violate the Terms of Service (ToS) of streaming providers like Netflix and Hulu. If a streaming provider discovers you using a VPN, they may terminate your account or ban you from using the site.

Because it violates their license agreements with content producers, streaming services have tightened down on VPN use. Because these license agreements are often country-specific, Netflix is potentially breaking its contract if you watch content from other countries.

Because the agreement is between the content provider and the streaming platform, the content provider may hold the streaming platform liable for displaying the content to you.

VPNs are classified into several categories.

Though we’ve talked about VPNs as a whole in this article, there are a lot of different kinds. The three most prevalent are as follows:

VPNs with Clients

When most people hear the term “VPN,” they think of client-based VPNs. Through a browser extension, app, or desktop software, these VPNs build a private network surrounding a single user and a remote network. NordVPN, StrongVPN, and ExpressVPN are three of the most popular client-based VPN companies.

VPNs with SSL encryption

SSL VPNs are often used by companies with traveling employees to provide remote access to their work internet when they are away from the office or at home. These VPNs also allow employees to connect to their company’s network using personal devices, securing both the company’s network and the employee’s device from hostile actors.

VPNs for site-to-site connections

Site-to-site VPNs enclose Local Area Networks (LANs) in a secure bubble that only other (authorized) networks can enter. Large enterprises with several locations that need to access each other’s intranets are the most common users of VPNs.

Multiple intranets can be connected to the Wide Area Network by a site-to-site VPN (WAN).

What Does a Virtual Private Network (VPN) Do?

VPNs aren’t simply for companies that want to keep trade secrets safe or for travelers who want to utilize airport WiFi without fear of being tracked. Anyone using the internet at home, work, or school can benefit from using a VPN.

Here are some of the things a VPN can accomplish for you:

Hide Your Online Activities

Your ISP and search engines track your internet searches in order to serve targeted adverts, provide a more localized experience, and sell your information. Because VPNs allow you to browse under a different IP address, search engines are unable to target you because the data is related to the VPN rather than you.

However, unless you deactivate advertising trackers, firms like Google and Facebook will continue to watch everything you do if you’re still logged in.

Large corporations also employ techniques such as device fingerprinting to monitor you even if your IP address changes, though this method is less reliable.

Malware and trackers must be blocked.

Many cybercriminals take advantage of weak public WiFi networks to infect people’s computers with malware and trackers like keyloggers (which record everything you type, including passwords). Cybercriminals, in particular, intercept traffic passing over public servers and utilize it to identify potential victims.

Your VPN provider encrypts your computer’s communication with the destination server when you use a VPN app. End-to-end encryption prevents cybercriminals and hackers from gaining access to your information.

Encrypt Your Information

VPN services encrypt any data you transfer when browsing the web. Governments and corporate spies will be unable to access any sensitive information or data that you need to transmit if it is encrypted.

Is DuckDuckGo a Virtual Private Network (VPN)?

People frequently inquire, “Is DuckDuckGo a VPN?” after hearing what a VPN performs. DuckDuckGo is a search engine that allows you to explore the web without revealing personal information.

DuckDuckGo isn’t a VPN, however it does provide several VPN-like features:

  • Internet searches that aren’t being logged
  • Searches that are encrypted
  • At the end of each session, a “burn bar” will remove your online history.
  • Preventing leaks through search (which prevents website owners from seeing how you found their website)
  • Through the extension, the tracker is blocked (often included as part of VPNs)

The search engine of DuckDuckGo

The Advantages of Using a VPN

What motivates people to utilize a virtual private network (VPN)? Let’s have a look at some of their advantages.

They safeguard you against identity theft.

Identity theft is becoming a more serious issue. Identity theft losses jumped 42 percent to $712.4 billion in 2020, up from $502.5 billion in 2019.

VPNs protect you from identity theft by preventing cybercriminals from stealing your banking, financial, employment, and identifying information by exploiting your online habits (like your address).

They put an end to price discrimination.

Many eCommerce websites use cookies to track your browsing behaviors so that prices can be adjusted based on your location, gender, and browsing history. Many products, such as flights, textbooks, technology, and hotels, are subject to price discrimination.

Using a VPN masks your browsing habits and location, ensuring that you are not subjected to price discrimination.

They defend you from attacks.

Are you a gamer or a streamer who spends a lot of time on the internet? A VPN is your best bet if you want to play a game without the fear of a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack destroying your connection.

They can’t target you if no one knows your genuine IP address.

However, a VPN just protects your computer and internet connection, not your web server or host. Download the “Site Security Cheat Sheet” if you want to learn more about protecting your website.

They assist you in working from home in a secure manner.

When working remotely, VPNs allow you to connect to your company’s network, guaranteeing that you have access to your work documents and are secured by your company’s security safeguards.

They assist you in gaining access to geo-restricted content.

VPNs allow you to access content that would otherwise be geo-restricted since they allow you to browse the internet from a server outside of your native country (restricted by an IP address). Geo-restricted content on video streaming services, websites, and social media platforms falls under this category.

They assist you in circumventing internet censorship.

VPNs enable you to access websites and web pages that have been prohibited by your school, employer, internet service provider, or government. These restrictions are normally imposed throughout your local network or in a specific area, thus using a VPN to change your location circumvents them.

How Does a VPN Work?

To use a VPN, you must first join up with a reputable service and then download and install the VPN software or plugin.Here’s how a VPN can help secure your internet connection once you’ve signed up.

Step1: connect to the VPN server.

To begin, you must first activate the VPN software by pressing a button within the app. The software will establish a connection between your computer and a VPN server, which will serve as an intermediary between your computer and any servers you wish to access.

Many VPN providers allow you to choose the server’s nation or city, allowing you to access local content.

Step 2: Establishing a VPN Tunnel

Any data you download or post will be encrypted and sent back and forth through a “VPN tunnel” once you’ve connected to the VPN server. A VPN tunnel is a secure connection in which the VPN server connects to any servers and sends and receives data from your VPN client using end-to-end encryption.

Your client decrypts the information and displays the webpage or material you requested.

This data still passes through your ISP, but it’s encrypted, so your ISP can’t see it. Your ISP can only see that you’re using the VPN server to send and receive data.

Most VPNs have a “no log” policy, which means they won’t save any of your browser history.

Note that different VPNs utilize different security methods, therefore there is no one “correct” approach to encrypt data. The following are some of the most common VPN protocols for 2022:

  • OpenVPN
  • Version 2 of the Internet Key Exchange (IKEv2)
  • PPTP
  • SSH (Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol) is a protocol that allows you (SSTP)
  • Tunneling Protocol at Layer 2 (L2TP)
  • Wireguard

Step 3: Encryption, encapsulation, and decryption of VPN traffic

When you visit a website or use an online service, the VPN server first downloads and encrypts the data that is intended for you. The encrypted data is subsequently sent back to your computer. The data is then decrypted by your computer using the VPN client or extension you’ve installed.

Encapsulation is also used by many VPNs to wrap individual “data packets” in packets created by the VPN, making it impossible for the ISP to determine what you’re doing.

Though it appears to take a long time, it just takes a fraction of a second. As you browse the internet, your computer and VPN server will repeat this three-step process numerous times. VPNs run in the background, so you wouldn’t notice anything strange if you didn’t know they were on.

A diagram depicting the operation of a virtual private network (VPN).

Imagine a box traveling through the mail to better understand how a VPN works. You begin by wrapping the item in bubble wrap and delivering it to the post office. The post office verifies the address before delivering it to the intended recipient. When it arrives, your recipient unwraps it and puts it to use.

The package represents data from a server, the bubble wrap represents encryption, the postal service is the VPN connection, and the destination is your PC and VPN client in this case.

How to Select a Virtual Private Network (VPN) Service

Selecting a VPN that matches your needs can be difficult if you’ve never used one before, but we’ll go over all you need to know to pick the best VPN for you in 2022.

Step 1: Make a list of possible options.

The first step in choosing a VPN is to narrow down your options and compare them.

The VPN industry was valued $30.05 billion in 2020, and by 2027, it is estimated to be worth $92.6 billion. There is an ever-expanding array of VPN providers to choose from. Here are a few of the most well-known and well-established service providers:

  • NordVPN
  • ExpressVPN
  • SurfShark
  • TunnelBear
  • CyberGhost

When searching at VPN companies, you must distinguish between commercial and individual ones. Large organizations, educational institutions, and businesses work with commercial providers. Individual VPN services cater to individuals that require a VPN for personal use.

74.1 percent of VPN users fall into the “business use” category as of 2019.

Market share of VPNs by end-user

Step 2: Evaluate Each VPN Provider’s Features

Next, look at each provider’s features to see what they have to offer. Look for the following characteristics:

A Log-Free Policy

A no-log policy (also known as a “zero-logs policy”) specifies that your data will not be collected, tracked, or logged by the VPN provider. This policy only stores your login information and customer data (name, email address, phone number, and so forth), not your online activities.

Using an adblocker

As you browse the internet, adblockers prohibit you from seeing pop-up advertising, search engine ads, and website adverts. Adblocking is necessary because hackers can use advertisements to get you to visit malicious websites, download malware, or contact someone who will use social engineering to defraud you.

They also block monitoring programs that try to trace your online activities on a variety of websites.

Adblockers may also improve the speed of your browsing. According to Opera research, webpages load 51 percent slower when you don’t use adblockers than when you do. Websites loaded in an average of 3.8 seconds with advertisements and 1.89 seconds without ads in the survey.

There’s a Kill Switch

If your VPN connection fails, a kill switch disconnects your internet access immediately. Your data would become available to anyone with malicious intent if you didn’t have a kill switch until you rejoined to your VPN.

IP Addresses That Are Shared

This functionality enables multiple users to share the same IP address. It may seem illogical to use a single address, but it’s actually rather clever. Because so many individuals use the internet at the same time, it’s hard for anyone tracking data to know what each individual is doing.

When you browse over shared IP addresses, neither the individuals you’re sharing with nor you can see each other’s location data. Outsiders and other VPN users are kept at bay by your secured connection.

Step 3: Evaluate the suitability of each option in light of your requirements.

Because everyone’s needs are different, you may require a different VPN than others. To choose your best tool, thoroughly examine your possibilities and ask yourself the following questions:

Is This VPN Compatible With Multiple Devices?

The average American home contains 10.37 gadgets that may benefit from VPN protection. Other countries have less devices on average than the United States, with the United Kingdom leading the way with 9.16 devices per home, Norway with 8.82, and Sweden with 8.51.

The average number of devices per family

When choosing a VPN, consider all of your devices.

On their basic services, many VPN companies limit the number of devices that can connect to the VPN. Examine the prices of each service to discover the greatest overall offer. Getting a VPN that works on several devices may be less expensive than paying for a Mac, iPhone, and work computer package.

Is there a limit to the amount of data you can store?

Because maintaining servers can be costly for VPNs, some providers limit your internet access through bandwidth throttling (i.e., imposing a bandwidth limit on customers). If you require a lot of bandwidth, make sure your potential suppliers can handle it.

What are the locations of the servers?

If you need to use a VPN to access the internet in a specific location (for example, for video streaming), make sure the VPN clients you’re considering offer servers in that country.

Is It Compatible With Mobile Devices?

Mobile devices accounted for 54.4 percent of all web traffic in the fourth quarter of 2021. Furthermore, 46% of Americans spent five to six hours every day on their cellphones.

Though it’s easy to get caught up in choosing a VPN for your computer, don’t forget to secure your phone as well. Before you invest, make sure your potential VPN works on your mobile phone.

How much time do Americans spend on their phones on a daily basis?

What Operating Systems Are Supported by the Software?

Finally, find out which Operating Systems (OS) your potential suppliers support. If your VPN provider doesn’t support your operating system, you won’t be able to use it.

Reliability and speed

The speed and dependability of the provider’s VPN servers is the final and maybe most important component in your browsing experience.

The average speeds of VPN companies are usually advertised, but you should also check at third-party speed tests for individual regions before making a decision.

Summary

It’s simple to see why 41% of adults in the United States use a VPN for business or pleasure. VPNs protect you from cybercriminals, allow you to browse the internet anonymously, and allow you to access video streaming content from countries outside your own.

Naturally, not all VPN providers are made equal. When choosing a VPN service, look for the following features:

  • A log-free policy
  • Adblocking
  • There is a kill switch.
  • There are multiple server sites.
  • Mobile compatibility
  • Multiple operating systems are supported.
  • Servers that are dependable and fast

Also, check for a VPN that offers reasonable price and a money-back guarantee.

We’d love to hear your VPN recommendations now that we’ve shared everything we know about VPNs with you. Which VPN do you think is the best? Have you tried any free VPNs? Please let us know in the comments section below!