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How does a VPN work?

How does a VPN work?

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Over the past few years, the use of a virtual private network has skyrocketed as more and more people look to improve their online security and privacy. Using the best VPN will encrypt your personal data, secure every Wi-Fi network you use, and protect against DDoS attacks – but more and more people are asking the question: How does a VPN work?

Besides offering a host of security and privacy benefits, VPN services also allow users to unblock geo-restricted content online, stop bandwidth and data throttling, find the cheapest deals on the internet, and much more.

While VPNs offer a lot of different advantages, you may be wondering how they work. These services rely on a combination of important technologies, such as encryption and protocols, and unless you are a tech savvy, you may not know what these things mean. Here, we’ll explore exactly how VPNs work, and we’ll also suggest some of our favorites.

What does a VPN do?

Although there are a lot of VPN services in the market, they all work the same way. In simple terms, a VPN is a software-based tool that provides an end-to-end encrypted tunnel between your connected devices and a VPN server. This effectively directs your traffic away from and through your ISP’s servers.

In this tunnel, web traffic sent to and from your computer will be encrypted at all times. Moreover, the VPN server will hide your Internet Protocol (IP) address. So cybercriminals, government agencies, ISPs, companies, and other third parties cannot intercept your personal data, track your online movements, or know where you are in the world.

However, one thing to keep in mind is that VPNs are not just useful security and privacy tools. VPN services usually provide servers all over the world, and by connecting to a global network of servers, you can spoof your location to bypass geo-restrictions and unblock online content that would normally only be available in a specific country. This makes VPNs ideal for streaming.

So, in short, a VPN redirects and encrypts your internet traffic, effectively making it invisible to anyone outside – including your ISP.

What is VPN encryption?

One of the most important functions of VPNs is their ability to encrypt personal data and web traffic. Using encryption techniques, VPNs ensure that credit card numbers, passwords, messages, transaction history, browsing data and other sensitive information travel through a tunnel encrypted in an unbreakable code.

How does this work in practice? Well, if you try to log into your email account, this request will be sent to the VPN service. After a connection is established between your device and the VPN server, the VPN service will send a login request to the VPN server through an encrypted tunnel.

Once the VPN server receives this request, it will send the data to your email provider’s server, still encrypted. The email server will then get the request, grant it, and return this data to your VPN server. At this point, the VPN server will re-encrypt it and send it to your VPN service. Finally, the VPN service decodes this data before sending it to your device.

At every step of this process, your data is encrypted and decrypted. While the VPN encryption process may seem long and complicated, Surfshark points out that each step “happens in a second” – sometimes “in a split second” if you have a fast internet connection. The vast majority of VPN services use one of the strongest encryption methods available, AES-256.

What are VPN protocols?

In addition to encryption, another essential part of VPNs is their protocols. So what are they? VPN protocols are basically commands and processes that define how web traffic travels from one server to another within an encrypted tunnel.

NordVPN says that each protocol provides a “different solution to the problem of connecting over the somewhat secure, private, and anonymous Internet”. There are a lot of VPN protocols, but the most common are Secure Sockets Layer (SSL), Transport Layer Security (TLS), Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol (PPTP), IP Security (IPSec), Internet Key Exchange (IKEv1) or IKEv2 ), Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol (L2TP), WireGuard, and OpenVPN.

But with VPN services constantly evolving, protocols are quickly becoming obsolete and new protocols have entered the industry. NordVPN believes that each protocol is imperfect, stating that “each protocol may have potential vulnerabilities, documented or not yet discovered, that may or may not compromise your security.”

In essence, most VPN providers currently use the OpenVPN and WireGuard protocols, which are very secure and generally very fast. However, you will find that many VPN services allow users to switch between different protocols. So, if there is one you like, you can use it as the main VPN protocol. Usually, you will need to go into the settings of the VPN app to change the protocols.

Being aware of these different protocols is important because they often determine the overall speed, security, and privacy of your VPN service. Using an outdated VPN protocol may put your internet data and experience at risk. In short, OpenVPN, WireGuard, and proprietary protocols like ExpressVPN’s LightWay and Hotspot Shield’s Catapult Hydra are widely seen as secure, with IKEv2 also useful for mobile VPN applications. Others have their uses, but in modern VPNs, we prioritize using these protocols for both speed and security.

How VPNs Can Unblock Streaming Sites

As mentioned earlier, VPNs are capable of much more than just keeping users safe on the Internet. With many of the best streaming VPN services, you can unblock streaming platforms globally.

but how? It is actually very simple. Most of the premium VPN providers operate thousands of servers globally, and when you connect to these servers, you can appear like you are somewhere else in the world thus avoiding geo-restrictions. For example, if you want to access the US Netflix catalog in the UK, you will need to find and connect to a US VPN server. Then Netflix will see that you’re connecting from a US IP address and think you’re physically located in the US, and provide access to their US streaming catalog.

In short – how does a VPN work?

In short, a VPN redirects your traffic away from the ISP’s servers and sends it through their servers. While doing so, it encrypts it so that no one else can read it, even if it is intercepted.

VPNs use a number of different protocols to transfer your data, with OpenVPN and WireGuard now the most popular and secure.

While VPNs do well to protect your data, many use them to unblock streaming content from abroad. This is possible thanks to the global networks of servers that a particular service owns, and by routing through a server in a different region, you can trick sites into thinking you actually exist.

Overall, VPNs are easy-to-use apps that provide a lot of different functions. Now that you know more about how it works, you should be in a better position to choose a VPN provider that fits all your needs. However, if you want to learn more about VPNs, see What is a VPN? Instructs.

What VPNs do we recommend?

Compare the top 5 public VPN services:


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