TechWhy use a VPN? Unpacking the technology for secure connections

Why use a VPN? Unpacking the technology for secure connections

VPN can ensure our security and privacy online - illustrative image.
VPN can ensure our security and privacy online - illustrative image.
Images source: © Unsplash
ed. KMO

10:54 AM EST, November 7, 2023

A VPN, or Virtual Private Network, is a technology that facilitates a secure connection between the device in use, like a computer or smartphone, and a remote server or network. The chief purpose of a VPN is to ensure privacy and security when transmitting data over public networks, such as the internet.

Operation of a VPN

The overall process of how a VPN works can be separated into the subsequent parts:

  • Data Encryption - When a VPN is activated on your device (computer, smartphone, tablet), all data transmitted between your device and the VPN server is encrypted. This transformation converts your data into an unreadable code to keep unauthorized viewers at bay ensuring both privacy and security.
  • VPN Tunnel - The term "tunnel" refers to the virtual connection between your device and the VPN server. Built on a point-to-point basis, this connection travels via public networks like the internet.
  • IP Address - The VPN server allocates a new IP address to your device, which could be in a different geographical region than the one you're in. This feature lets you seem as if you're accessing the internet from a different location.
  • Data Transmission - Once your data is encrypted and dispatched through the VPN tunnel, it exits the VPN server and enters the internet. This process allows your requests and responses to be transmitted via the VPN server, hiding your original location and IP address.
  • Data Reception - On the recipient's end (website, online service), the data is processed, and responses are returned via the VPN server, which then transmits them back to your device through the tunnel.
  • Data Decoding - When the data reaches your device, it is decrypted so you can read and use it normally.

A VPN service offers three major benefits. Firstly, privacy - the encryption and obscuring of the IP address protect your data from unauthorized access. Secondly, security - a VPN adds an extra layer of protection when using public wifi networks. This can help thwart "man-in-the-middle" attacks (where a hacker intercepts data being transmitted between two parties without their knowledge) and other threats. Thirdly, a VPN allows you to change your online location. By seeming to connect to the internet from a different place, you can access region-specific content. For instance, you could watch content exclusively available in the US while you're in a different country. This feature also enables you to sidestep online censorship. Some countries or networks block specific websites and services. A VPN allows unhindered access to the internet, bypassing such restrictions.

It's important to note that an individual VPN service's quality, the encryption it uses, and the level of privacy it offers can differ based on the VPN provider. As such, if privacy and security online are important to you, choosing the right VPN service is imperative.

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