What exactly is a VPN (and what does it do)

VPNs are not a new network technology by any means, but in recent years they have been gaining more and more importance and attention at the private and business levels.

Initially, it was primarily of interest to businesses, but as time has passed, the versatility and possible uses of such a connection method have expanded and become more widespread.

Despite the widespread use and knowledge of VPNs, there are still many questions about the concept, its benefits, and the advantages it offers when surfing the web.

This article explains what you need to know to properly use a VPN.

What is VPN?

VPN stands for Virtual Private Network, and when compared to other computer terms such as HTTP, it gives you a clue as to exactly what this concept is.

To connect to the Internet from a device such as a cell phone, computer, or television, you usually connect to a router or modem that connects your workplace or home to your Internet provider, either wired or wirelessly.

The procedure varies depending on the device you are connecting, but the essence is the same: your device connects to another device that provides Internet access.

All devices that connect to the same router providing Internet access are assigned a local IP address, invisible on the Internet, assigned by the company providing the service.

A local network refers to all devices connected to the same router, allowing you to share files and printers without using the Internet.

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With a VPN connection, a local network can be established over the Internet even if the members are not physically in the same room. This is why it is called a virtual private network.

In other words, a VPN allows you to get all the benefits of a local network, but with more flexibility, because you can connect from one end of the world to the other over the Internet without compromising the security of your connection.

Properly implemented, this technology can achieve and guarantee the confidentiality and integrity of all data and information transmitted over the network.

What does data encryption mean?

To better understand what a VPN is and how it works, you need to understand the concept of data encryption, which is used several times in this content.

Encryption is the process of scrambling information (your data) so that it cannot be read; when you connect to the Internet via a VPN, only your connection is encrypted. This means that even if a cybercriminal succeeds in intercepting the flow of data, they will only be able to see unintelligible code.

The term can be viewed as a kind of secret cipher that cannot be deciphered without a key or logic to convert it into meaningful and readable information.

The best encryption standard is 256-bit AES (Advanced Encryption Standard). The higher this number, the more complex the code used to encrypt the data and the harder it is to guess the key, which is why it is used in the most secure VPNs. 

256-bit encryption is the most reliable. It is even used by banks and government agencies to prevent data leaks.

How a VPN network works

Given what has been said about VPN connections consisting of virtual private networks, it is important to explain how they protect our connections in order to better understand how they work.

  • They hide our real IP address and location.

When connecting to a VPN network, we have the option to connect from a new server that acts as a gateway. Thus, the public IP address displayed is not our own, but that of the server in question.

Simply put, the VPN service spoofs our original IP and makes it look like we are in another city or even another country.

  • Encapsulates our Internet traffic.

Data circulating on the Internet is transmitted in packets; with a VPN connection, all personal data packets are encapsulated in other data packets.

This encapsulation creates a private tunnel within the public network.

  • Encryption encrypts personal data.

When using a VPN service, Internet traffic and personal information within the private tunnel is encrypted using encryption.

This encryption refers to a method of hiding information by making it look like random data, so that it can only be decrypted by a specific person or process.

In other words, the VPN connection prevents all information circulating through it from being hacked from the outside.

What a VPN is for

VPNs have several uses, both private and professional. Below we discuss the most important ones to help you understand the importance of this private network.

1. access to the organization’s internal network

One of the main reasons for using a VPN is to allow employees to access company or organizational tools from home.

For example, let’s say a company has several employees who need to use different internal systems to perform their daily tasks. To accomplish this, the administrator has two options.

  • To provide these services directly over the Internet, even if they are vulnerable to attack.
  • Enable VPNs so that all staff can access the servers as if they were in the same workspace, avoiding exposure to internal servers.

2. Access to restricted content in certain regions.

Some countries, such as China, prohibit residents from accessing certain websites or have sites that are only available in certain regions.

A VPN removes these barriers and allows access to information. Some VPN services offer the option for users to select the region from which they wish to leave the Internet.

If a user tries to access a message and cannot see the video or information in their country or region, they can connect to the VPN service and select the country in which they want to access the Internet, such as the United States, and they will be able to do so without any problems.

This is possible by accessing the VPN address and then accessing the desired website from there, rather than the user accessing the website directly.

3. greater security

Although not always the case, VPN connections generally encrypt outgoing data packets. For this reason, it is often recommended to access the Internet via a VPN when going through a public wireless LAN.

The additional security provided by a VPN is especially useful when connecting to a public network to access bank accounts. Otherwise, it is relatively easy for a thief to intercept unencrypted data packets and access user accounts.

With a VPN connection, data packets are sent encrypted, so anyone who intercepts your data cannot decrypt it and therefore cannot do anything with it.

It is important to know that not all VPN connections are 100% secure. Some can intercept all communications you send, record your activities, and even sell your bandwidth.

VPNs are only as secure as their providers, so you really need to choose one you trust in order to have a layer of security.