Until a few years ago, VPN (virtual private network) services were necessary for Internet enthusiasts and security “fanatics.” However, times are changing, clouds are moving over the free Internet, so they are beginning to find applications among ordinary users.
We have come across the concept of VPN more and more often in recent years. As countries try to usurp more and more control over the Internet, the number of users who do not want to like it grows, and information about their Internet activity intends to protect. VPN is the ideal tool for this activity. This article, designed for beginners, will describe the principle of VPN operation, including its advantages and disadvantages.
VPN (from the English Virtual Private Network) generally means connecting computers into one secure private network. An encrypted tunnel is created between the computers, which “flows” all communication between the computers connected to the virtual network. You may find that using this VPN most often at your job when you want to connect to a corporate network from a remote location securely.
However, in this article, we will focus on the use of VPN, where you are connected through one of the VPN protocols through an intermediary through which all your Internet traffic passes. The same simplified VPN designation has gradually been experienced for such services, although it is inaccurate and confusing.
VPN Operating Principle
The data is first encrypted on your computer through the so-called VPN client and later tunneled to the selected VPN server. It decrypts the data and forwards it to the destination server, e.g., website. Operation in the opposite direction works the same. Thanks to this architecture, your ISP does not see who you are communicating with on the Internet and what sites you visit. The page you are visiting does not see your actual IP address and cannot determine where you came from. Both parties – the provider and the end server – see only the address of the VPN server (provider).
Users often mistakenly believe that their data is entirely protected by encryption. As mentioned, the transmitted data is decrypted on the VPN server, and it has complete access to it. Trust is therefore essential in the VPN provider-customer relationship. Unfortunately, it is usually not enough to trust only the VPN service provider but also the data centers in which it has leased (located) servers.
Here we come to the next important point. VPN and HTTPS (a protocol enabling secure communication in a computer network) are not substitutes, but they complement each other perfectly. If the communication takes place via unencrypted HTTP, the data usually is readable on the way from the VPN to the end server. Data encryption only occurs in a tunnel between your computer and the VPN server, and the data is encrypted between your computer and the end server when using HTTPS. In this case, the most sensitive information to which the internetetsecurite VPN provider has access is the list of visited IP addresses, resp. Website.
What are VPNs for?
Privacy protection. That is obvious. As mentioned, using VPNs will significantly reduce the amount of information that your ISP and the servers you visit can get about you. Unfortunately, in some countries, already in some European ones, providers have to store information about the client’s online activity. However, using a VPN, they find almost nothing about it. Fortunately, we don’t have it in our region yet, but even here, the VPN will protect you, e.g., when connecting to public (and highly untrustworthy) Wi-Fi hotspots.
Mixing operations. This is another way to protect privacy when one VPN server (or an IP address) is usually used by many people simultaneously, sometimes hundreds or thousands. This makes it very difficult for a potential spy to separate your traffic from other users and keep track of when and where you go online, even if he can read metadata from all endpoint servers.
Geoblock bypass. Many Internet content and services are accessible only from certain countries, resp, which is blocked in some countries. The solution is to connect to a VPN server where the content is available. VPN services typically have servers in many countries on multiple continents that you can switch between.
They are bypassing local censorship—basically the same as circumventing the geoblock. If the provider blocks access to some sites, either voluntarily or by government regulation, the VPN will help again. Therefore, VPN services have gained considerable popularity, for example, in Turkey, where free internet belts have been tightening fast lately.
Bypass protocol blocking. Sometimes the connection provider blocks certain types of data traffic or specific protocols. The most common are various P2P protocols such as BitTorrent. If the data flow through a VPN tunnel, the provider considers it differently, and usually, P2P works through the VPN. By analyzing the data flow structure, it is generally possible to know that you are torrenting through the tunnel, but so few providers deal with this in-depth.
Disadvantages of VPN
Worse speed. The VPN protocol itself will reduce the data transfer rate a bit, but not very significantly. Typically about 5 to 10 percent. Then, of course, it’s about how fast a VPN provider’s data centers can handle it. The services are very different here, but if you choose well, you can reach around 100 Mbps and often higher for a reasonable price. And that’s more than enough.
Worse latency (reaction time, delay). When using a VPN intermediary, packets have to “skip” multiple points and thus cover a greater distance overall, which is reflected in the connection latency. The further apart the three points (your computer, VPN server, and end server), the higher the latency. Even if you choose a relatively close server, expect an increase in latency by several tens of milliseconds compared to a direct connection. This is negligible for surfing the web, but it can be a problem for action online games.
Price Running servers that ship and mask your data flow costs something, as does connectivity itself. The price of VPN services typically ranges from 3 to 15 euros per month, which you will have to add to your internet connection account. Although there are also free VPNs like internetprivatsphare, these can be used at most for casual use without a severe interest in privacy.
IP on blocklists. VPN services are also misused for various malicious activities, which often results in such a user getting the IP address of the VPN service blocked (blocklist of IP addresses that have denied access to the server). And since IP addresses are shared, neither can you. This problem is quite common, especially for more extensive VPN services, which sometimes have blocked entire ranges of IP addresses, so changing the server may not help.
VPN services are the Swiss knife of the Internet user. They will help you deal with the various problems (and especially deliberate limitations) you may encounter on the Internet. We already know what they are for and what they can’t. However, choosing such a service is not entirely straightforward, and you can get lost in various technical parameters.