A Simple Way of Understanding How a VPN Connection Works
The internet presents a very interesting paradox: it enables people to share even the tiniest aspect of their lives (personal or otherwise) while it also compels them to go to a certain extent just to hide the stuff that needs to remain hidden. The people who need to maintain the confidentiality of their online activities are mostly those who work with sensitive data on a daily basis. This data is often work-related and could cost companies millions of dollars in losses if these ever get into the wrong hands if they did not use a VPN to stay protected.
This is why a lot of companies nowadays invest in providing each of their employees with VPN access either in the form of Hardware they plug into a device or software already installed. VPN is an acronym for Virtual Private Network. It is mostly used by people who are travelling but still need to access their sensitive data on a secure environment. In some companies dealing with sensitive data, VPN keys are provided not only to the high-ranking members of the company but also to every employee. This is especially true in companies wherein the employees may be required to or may need to work away from the headquarters for some reason but still require secure access to files or documents.
Using a VPN is easy. It mostly requires simply using VPN software installed on the device or the hardware issued to you by the company that allows you secure access . Once it is connected, the system should automatically pull up prompts that walk the individual through on how to connect to the virtual private network. This automated process is why most employees or individuals know how to connect to a VPN network even if they are still asking themselves this question: What is VPN and how does it work?
In most cases however a VPN will be used by an individuals who are simply looking to gain access to content which may be blocked in their country, or looking to securely browse and encrypt their data safely away from the prying eyes of hackers or anyone looking to exploit the information.
What is a VPN Connection?
A simple answer to that question of ‘what is a VPN connection’ is that it ensures the safety and security of data transmission. This does not mean that the connection will no longer go through the usual internet channels. A person who is trying to access the company’s intranet through the remote access VPN connection will still need to have a stable internet connection through an ISP. However, the VPN connection ensures that any data that is accessed through the VPN connection cannot be stolen or hacked.
This means that even if hackers somehow get hold of the data, they will not be able to access any of the information that it contains. Sometimes, they may access some parts of the data, but then they wouldn’t be able to make heads or tails of it because an encryption key protects it. This encryption key is part of the IPSec features that are built into most VPN connections. IPSec or Internet Protocol Security provides the following security features to data that are transmitted over the secured VPN network:
- Authentication – The IPSec ensures that the data being received on both ends is authentic. This authenticity is often done through the presence of an IP header that contains the data’s routing information. This information authenticates the identity of the sender to ensure that data transfer did not come from the network sent out by hackers.
- Confidentiality – This is where the encryption keys are relevant. Simply put, they protect and hide the data from prying eyes.
- Integrity – This feature of the IPSec system ensures that no changes have been done to the data at any point during transmission. Without a VPN connection, data can easily be modified so that it would already contain harmful viruses or malware once it reaches its destination.
Aside from IPSec, there are also several other internet protocol suites that have been developed for use on virtual private networks. Some of the more well-known protocols include:
- L2TP or Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol
- SSL/TLS or Secure Socket Layer/Transport Layer Security
- PPTP or Point-to-point Tunneling Protocol
- SSH or Secure Shell
There is also OpenVPN protocol which Hide My Ass a well known VPN provider makes great use of. It’s an open source VPN protocol with a modular network design with it’s best feature being ease of use especially for individuals looking to get started with VPN’s. It’s also one of the most stable connection types and depending on your internet service provider can see you connecting at high speeds regardless of the high levels of security it provides.
Each of these protocols above may vary to some degree. However, one thing that they all have in common is that they all involve a secure authentication process. This means that the data packet that is being transmitted across the internet cannot be accessed unless the network that is trying to access it holds the correct authentication keys.
Knowing that a VPN connection provides such a high level of security for sensitive data, some people may expect it to come in a huge software package, but that is not the case. VPN software’s are typically small in size and easy to download from your chosen provider. Once you have signed up you will be given access to the VPN client they provide and within seconds can start browsing knowing your browsing and data passing across the internet is protected.
Aside from protecting data through encryption and authentication, a VPN connection can also protect the user’s actual location. This is beneficial for people who are trying to access information that are designed for specific geographical locations only like for example watching a Youtube video that is only viewable in certain countries. This is done through the process of spoofing the IP address. Without a VPN connection, the individual’s location would be determined according to the IP address that is associated with the ISP that he is using.
A simple example of this is a person who is travelling around Asia and wants to access a US-specific content on Hulu. He will not be able to access that content because the site will see that he is currently trying to access it outside of the US. He can then connect to a VPN like HideMyAss that will allow him to choose an IP location within the US and tell a service like Hulu he is allowed to view the content from his current location.
Do note that this is just an example of how a VPN works. Geographical accessibility and IP address spoofing may not be available on certain services depending on the VPN providers specifications. However, this IP address spoofing has allowed people in certain countries to bypass the censorship that have been strictly implemented by their respected governments. Some countries, such as China and Iran, strictly regulate the online content that citizens can access. By connecting to a VPN provider, an internet user in China or Iran can successfully access the websites that are accessible to the country where the VPN redirects the internet traffic.
That’s pretty much it for explaining what is a VPN connection and how it works for most users, but if you really aren’t sure and want some more advice on things you can do while using and VPN to stay protected then you might want to check out this next guide: Benefits of VPN