VPN connections are by no means a new invention, but it is now that they are beginning to gain traction among the general public. While traditionally, their use was more common in the business environment, the great versatility of this type of connection, and their multiple applications make them increasingly popular.
But what is a VPN, and what advantages does it bring? That versatility we were talking about is the same that creates some confusion about it. As it is increasingly related to VPN connections with “evil” (with extensive quotes), as some of its applications include the leap of geographical blocks, greater anonymity in the network, or even blocking advertising.
What is a VPN?
Let’s start with the basics. VPN is the acronym for Virtual Private Network or virtual private network, which, unlike other more cryptic computer words such as DNS or HTTP, does give us quite precise clues as to what they consist of.
The keyword here is virtual because it is this property that generates the need for the VPN itself, as well as the one that allows VPN connections to offer you the multiple uses that we will see later.
To connect to the Internet, your mobile, PC, TV, and other devices generally communicate with the router or modem that connects your home to your Internet provider, either by cable or wirelessly. The components are different if you are using your mobile’s data connection (which includes its modem and talks to the telephone antenna). Still, the essence is the same: your device connects to another, which connects it to the Internet.
What are VPN connections for?
With the explanations above, you’ve probably already imagined a few situations in which VPN connections might be useful. It’s an open secret that they are especially crucial in the corporate environment, but their uses don’t end there at all. These are the primary uses of VPN connections.
The most apparent use of a VPN connection is interconnectivity in networks that are not physically connected, such as workers who are currently away from the office or companies with branches in several cities that need access to a single private network.
From a security point of view, allowing random access to a company’s network from the Internet is nothing short of insane. Even if access is password-protected, it could be captured at a public WiFi hotspot or sighted by a malicious observer.
Avoid censorship and geographic content blocks
With the heyday of the Internet and the picaresque of both content providers and users, other more playful uses of VPN connections have become popular, many of them related to a straightforward concept: misrepresenting where you are.
When you connect to a VPN, your device communicates with the VPN server, and it is the server that talks to the Internet. If you are in China and the VPN server is in the United States, generally, the web servers will believe that you are surfing from this country, allowing you to access the contents available only there, such as Netflix.
Similarly, this same logic can be used to access content that was censored or blocked in your country, but not where the VPN server is located. It is how millions of Chinese citizens manage to connect to Facebook and 3,000 other websites blocked in the country. This is best explained by this website Generation NT.
An extra layer of security
Although it is not strictly necessary, it is common for VPN connections to come with an encryption of the packets transmitted with them. It is normal to hear the recommendation that, if you need to connect to a public WiFi access point, at least use a VPN connection.
Logging in to your bank accounts while connected to a public WiFi network that you don’t trust is probably not the best idea in the world, as it’s relatively easy for a thief to capture packets unencrypted and get hold of your user accounts. It is where the extra layer of security that you can get through a VPN connection comes in, as the packets would be sent encrypted, so the listener probably couldn’t do anything with them.
Another everyday use of VPN connections is found in P2P downloads, which these days is generally synonymous with downloading from BitTorrent. Before you put a patch on my eye, a wooden leg, and force me to go through the keel, VPN connections also have used in P2P downloads even if you download completely legal torrents.
Unfortunately, it is common that Internet providers decide to stick their noses in how we send and receive zeros and ones on the Net. Although they love that we visit official web pages, that we download is not so funny: too much traffic, and you’re probably downloading something illegally.
Some providers completely block P2P downloads, while others boycott it to malfunction and give up on your own. Just as you can use a VPN connection to avoid censorship of your country, you can also sometimes prevent your ISP from boycotting your P2P downloads.
Advantages of VPN connections
Now that we know what a VPN connection is and what it’s for, it’s time to summarize a list of the advantages and disadvantages of using this technology. First, the positive side:
It works in all applications, because it routes all Internet traffic, unlike proxy servers, which you can only use in the web browser and a handful of other apps that let you configure the advanced connection options.
It connects and disconnects easily. Once configured, you can activate and deactivate the connection at will.
Additional security at WiFi access points, as long as the connection is encrypted, of course.
False of your location, as we have already seen in the previous section, a VPN connection is an effective way to avoid censorship or access content limited to a particular region.
Your Internet provider can’t know what you do on the Internet. Don’t you want your Internet provider to see that you spend hours watching videos of kittens on YouTube? With a VPN, they won’t know what you do, but be careful, the company that manages the VPN will.